There's an old cliche that superheroes never truly die - and it turns out, for at least one of them, that may be a literal truth.
With The Immortal Hulk, writer Al Ewing and artists Joe Bennet, Ruy Jose, and Paul Mounts are taking Bruce Banner and his apparently unkillable other half to a place much darker than even the tormented Hulk has gone before.
Following a first issue which displayed a very different dynamic for Banner and Hulk, Ewing is ready to go deeper into Banner and Hulk's collective psychology as future issues take Hulk into the realm of the supernatural.
Newsarama spoke to Ewing ahead of Immortal Hulk #2's July 4 release about what's to come in the title as Bruce Banner's story edges deeper into the horror genre, with Ewing promising a smarter, stronger, more vicious Hulk than we've seen in a long time.
Newsarama: Al, you’ve set up a very different status quo for Hulk and Bruce Banner with Immortal Hulk. How did Bruce wind up acting as an agent of retribution?
Al Ewing: Bruce Banner's not in a good place right now. After he was killed back in Civil War II, the Hulk rose to rampage again - aimed like a gun by the Hand, Hydra, and even a cosmic elder named the Challenger. Coming out the other side of that has left Bruce at one of the lowest points of his life. He understands now that he'll never be free of the Hulk - not even in death - and that's sent him spiraling away from his friends and loved ones and heading out to wander the country alone, looking for ways to atone for his "sins". And at first glance, the Hulk seems happy to help Bruce do that... but who's in control here? And what does the Hulk want?
Nrama: In Immortal Hulk #1, was Hulk acting as a kind of conduit for social rage at gun violence? And if so, will his anger continue to serve as a social metaphor going forward?
Ewing: There was an element of that - it's difficult to write about something like this without anger creeping in - but at the same time, calling Hulk an instrument of any kind of justice feels risky. It'd be just as true to say that he was only acting as a conduit for Banner's rage, Banner's revenge - and revenge for which murder? Sandra Brockhurst's, or his own? I'm not sure even I know.
One thing I will say is that that panel with the Hulk staring right at you and asking what you think is maybe the most important panel in the issue. I want the reader to feel uneasy, to think about what they've read long after they've finished reading, and telling them exactly what they should be thinking at every point is a good way to make that not happen.
Nrama: There’s a mystery building here with Jackie McGee. What can you tell us about this new character?
Ewing: Jackie's a reporter for the Arizona Herald, a state-level paper - something with enough budget to send her out looking for the Hulk. When we start, she's assuming the story is the cover-up - that the government and the Avengers know the Hulk is alive. Like many in the Southwest, she has a history with the Hulk, one that's maybe a little different from the New Yorkers who've seen him palling around with the Avengers and maybe think of him as a slightly more unpredictable form of super hero - that's going to spur her on, to find out if the nightmare monster she remembers really did come back to life, but it's also going to color her interactions with Hulk, and with Banner.
Nrama: This feels like the first time in a while that the Hulk's gone after a normal human - especially so directly. How did this Hulk get so comparatively brutal?
Ewing: Banner's been through a lot, and the Hulk that's come out is in some ways a response to that. We get into the dynamics of the new Hulk/Banner relationship in #2, but in the meantime, the thing to remember is that he's smart - maybe smarter than Banner - and he doesn't seem to have any qualms about who he uses his smarts or his strength against. Anyone who incurs his anger - or Banner's - seems to be fair game. How troubling you find that thought is up to you.
But you really don't want to lie to him. Ever. He can smell a liar.
Nrama: Speaking of which, Joe Bennett draws Hulk as a huge, looming monster. What’s your favorite thing he’s drawn for Immortal Hulk so far?
Ewing: He does a wonderful Sasquatch - of whom more later - and obviously, his Hulk is absolutely phenomenal, a wonderfully solid being, full of weight and mass. But if I had to pick one thing he does that's my absolute favorite - it's his transformation sequences. I think we see the first example in #5 - I'm looking for a way to give him a real close-up of one, something to really go to town on. What else? The fights, when they come, are incredibly kinetic, brutal affairs - fans of a Hulk who smashes will get what they want, albeit at our own pace.
Nrama: Your Hulk here seems fully intelligent, but with a very different voice than we’ve heard before. Is this Hulk sans Banner’s moral compass?
Ewing: It's a good guess, and it's close. Certainly this isn't a Hulk who feels like Banner's the moral half of the equation. And while he's not Bruce's enemy - not exactly - but he's not a friend, either. He's not anybody's friend. And right now, he's not talking to Banner - not the way he used to. But then, if he's running the show, maybe he doesn't have to.
Nrama: There’s a theme in Immortal Hulk #1 of mirrors and reflections. Is there any hope that Bruce can look himself in the mirror again one day?
Ewing: Mirrors keep coming back in the first arc. We set up a simple idea - when Bruce looks in the mirror, it's the Hulk who looks back. We play with that a little, in ways I won't spoil. It's a metaphor that just keeps on giving - what do you see in the mirror? What looks back at you? But it's also a classic horror trope in its own right - the reflection with a mind of its own. When Hulk punches that glass, from the inside... will it break?
Nrama: From the looks of upcoming solicitations, Immortal Hulk is getting into some stories that may brush with the supernatural. What can you tell us about what’s ahead?
Ewing: Issue #2 is our Banner issue, lays down a new potential threat for the Hulk - a potential monster that might be as tragic as he is - and after that, yeah, things start getting a tinge of the supernatural to them. #3, our multi-artist Rashomon issue - already being talked about in hushed tones by the cognoscenti - brings back an old Hulk foe, albeit a minor one. But it also introduces something that'll be a big problem for the Hulk over the course of our first year, a lurking, eldritch threat that's maybe bigger than even the Hulk can handle.
Nrama: Speaking of those solicits, it looks like Hulk may have no mercy for Alpha Flight’s Sasquatch when they meet later this year. Should we start drafting our obit for poor Walter Langkowski?
Ewing: I would if I were you. In issue #4 - final order cutoff for that is the ninth of July, if you want to tell your retailer you want it - something pretty fatal happens to Walter. But before that, we get his take on the Hulk - and on his college relationship with Bruce Banner. If issues #1 and #2 were about the Hulk and Banner, issue #3 and #4 are about what they look like from the outside. The question is, is Langkowski as different from Banner as he thinks he is?
Nrama: You previously spoke about Immortal Hulk as a horror story. As the series goes on, how do you plan to lean into that idea? What should readers be afraid of as Immortal Hulk continues?
Ewing: It's all about the tone. We've got our big battle with the Avengers coming up in a few short issues' time - I just wrote that one - and that was probably the trickiest in terms of keeping it as a horror book, finding a way to do that, to show something that's been shown over and over since the sixties, and take an angle on it that felt fresh, new and different. It's the big test of the lens we've built - can we look at a team everyone knows, and show them through that horror lens, and make them seem unsettling? And it turns out, we can.