Immortal Hulk #14
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Kyle Hotz and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
It’s telling that Al Ewing has gotten so much acclaim for his run on Immortal Hulk, and yet it’s taken 14 issues to bring in one of the longest-serving members of Bruce Banner’s supporting cast: his ex-wife Betty Ross. Of course, that same haunting atmosphere - that same claustrophobic sense of foreboding - has permeated Betty’s life like a disease, as she grapples with the death of her father and the return of the Hulk with an anger that may rival her immortal ex-husband’s. Teaming up with guest artist Kyle Hotz, Ewing continues to explore the psychological wounds of his characters with precision and delicacy, as Immortal Hulk #14 continues the writer’s well-earned hot streak.
While the Hulk’s archnemesis General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross was killed in the pages of Captain America, it makes sense for Ewing to bring that sense of emotional ambivalence back to the Hulk’s supporting cast - particularly the way that Betty herself is navigating the Marvel Universe in her father’s wake. It’s easy to see superhero comic books as a binary - you’re either a good guy or a supervillain - but Ewing realizes that portraits of anger are often painted in shades of gray. Taking the lion’s share of the spotlight this issue, Betty guards herself with an armor of distrust and resentment - she’s angry at her father’s checkered past, angry at the Avengers for their hypocrisy, angry at both the Hulk and Bruce Banner for ruining her life and for dishonoring the legacy of the fallen Rick Jones.
But like Ewing’s best scripts in this series, it’s also a bit of a mystery — bit by bit, we start to peel away at what’s really bothering Betty, and how this might affect her dynamic with Bruce down the road. And without giving too much away, Ewing delivers a couple of doozies here - there’s a moment that brings Betty back into the fold in a big way, but there’s a deeper character realization about Bruce that’s almost painful in its honesty. Just like the Hulk’s towering rage is more than meets the eye, given the destruction with no body count, Ewing puts a smart twist on Bruce’s “nice guy” act that casts his relationship with the Ross’s in a harsh new light.
Speaking of recasting visuals, artist Kyle Hotz subs in for this issue, and honestly, with colorist Paul Mounts at his side, Hotz’s angular and cartoony style makes for a strong fit on this book. There’s little hints of big bombastic artists like Sam Keith or Dale Keown in Hotz’s linework, particularly the larger-than-life way he portrays the Hulk at his most vicious - but at the same time, there’s a cinematic quality to his pages that also reminds me a bit of Paul Gulacy, especially the soulful way he portrays his expressive characters. Hotz’s inking feels simultaneously sharper and more fluid than regular artist Joe Bennett, but he still keeps that horror vibe brewing, particularly as we see Bruce Banner’s shadow creeping up alongside the wall as he sits on Betty’s porch, not to mention his show-stopper of a last page. Given that fill-in artists can often be a book’s demise, thanks to Hotz’s striking artwork, it’s good to see that the Hulk’s immortality has not been exaggerated.
Funerals and exes are never easy to cope with, but Al Ewing and Kyle Hotz skillfully navigate love, loss and lethal super-spies with aplomb in Immortal Hulk #14. Even as Ewing shifts the spotlight from his title character, readers’ reunion with Betty Ross proves to be a heartfelt but moody tale, a brutally honest look at a woman’s shattered life, given all the more poignance given how often she’s been trapped between her scheming father and her brutish husband. (Or, given Ewing’s intelligent character work here, perhaps it’s the other way around.) Either way, Immortal Hulk continues to be one of Marvel’s smartest and most deliberate comics on the stands, and this issue proves to be no exception.