Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's Immortal Hulk has become a hit book by depicting the Jade Giant with a mixture of horror, pathos, and shock.
And yeah, a lot of smashing.
Over the course of 20 issues, Ewing and Bennett have added to the Hulk mythos, re-focused on Bruce Banner's father issues, and forged a new big bad with General Fortean and Shadow Base.
It all appears to be coming to a head with October's Immortal Hulk #25, that promises the end of.. well, everything. Check out this just released solicitation:
IMMORTAL HULK #25
Written by AL EWING
Art by GERMÁN GARCÍA with JOE BENNETT
Cover by ALEX ROSS
GROUNDBREAKING DOUBLE-SIZED ISSUE!
- You’ve never read a Hulk comic like this before. You’ve never read a Marvel comic like this before.
- The heat death of our universe has come and gone. The Hulk is finally dead. Now, billions of years later, the Ninth Cosmos cowers...
- ...before the BREAKER OF WORLDS.
On the eve of Immortal Hulk #21 and after a couple of particularly gruesome issues, Newsarama spoke with Ewing about the hit series, what dark places he goes to for his stories, and on how the success of the series has brought more focus on his work.
Newsarama: Al... I just re-read Immortal Hulk #19 for this interview. Are you okay?
Al Ewing: I'm very busy. But that's a good problem to have.
Nrama: I think we can talk spoilers here, so I have to say... Betty Ross eating Hulk isn't what I expected. Can you walk us through conceiving that scene as a writer, and following it through editorial and Joe's art to get to what we readers saw in those gruesome pages?
Ewing: I had to get some pages to Joe fairly quickly - I had a flash of Betty devouring Hulk's heart, like an image of a tarot card, and very quickly saw how the lead-up to that event could seem nightmarish and disturbing. All this was very early in the morning, on not much sleep, and I also saw how it could lead to a cool scene we needed to happen before the big fireworks of the next trade. I don't always work that way, but the deadlines ebb and flow, and right then they were really flowing.
Joe threw his all into it - making it even more gruesome than I'd originally conceived - and editos Wil Moss and Sarah Brunstad backed us up. I'm not sure it met with any pushback at all - I think the fact that Hulk's blood is green probably helped quite a lot, but also that we went heavy on the weird portent of it rather than just going for a 1990s or 2000s-style big shock. It was crowded with symbolism, down to which hand Betty uses to tear Hulk's heart out.
Nrama: How long had this issue's story been festering (I think that's a good word for this) in your mind?
Ewing: That particular idea - as I said, it sprang on me in the night. I think all the pieces were there - I knew I wanted the Hulk to be mostly melted when Betty arrived, and I knew I wanted to give the impression that she was teaming up with Abomination. But the "No, she has to eat his heart to destroy the cage of his body so he can confront his father in Hell" is the kind of non-rational thought that has to come in the night, or the early hours of the morning.
Nrama: So, at the end of #19 Hulk is seemingly dead - but in #20 we found out that worked to reset the Hulk and his healing. How deep into the physiology of the Hulk have you thought out?
Ewing: I don't know if readers have noticed yet, but we started with the Hulk in a position of absolute strength and now we're piling up the weaknesses, rather than making him stronger - his enemies can harness artificial sunlight against him, and now we learn that there are biological weapons he can't heal from without dying, and dying takes him off the board for a while and forces Bruce into a confrontation with his satanic Father, so that's not a go-to solution.
By his nature, the Hulk rejects hard and fast rules, but hopefully this all makes a kind of irrational gut-sense - I do get bombarded with a lot with questions from readers who are very deep into the inner workings of the Marvel Universe, the power hierarchies and the exact nature of how things work, and sometimes I'll try to give them a good answer, but to be honest I'm a bit more interested in how things work on that gut level. It's like, I'll obsess over the significance of which hand people use for big actions, but I don't really know where the Hulk's extra mass comes from. So as long as it feels correct, I think it plays. (Also, I still think the answer to these questions should always be dug out of the text itself.)
Nrama: I spoke with Marvel's Executive Editor Tom Brevoort at a convention just as this book was launching, and he seemed particularly invested in this. How have Tom and editorial been in supporting you and your vision in this project?
Ewing: The support from Tom and Alanna Smith, and then Wil and Sarah from #3 onward, has been absolute. I've always felt them in my corner 100%, which is something that's worth its weight in gold. It's a little hard to describe exactly how good these folks are at their job - it's editing with an incredibly light touch, and once again I'll say how grateful I am for that level of trust, but at the same time, there is that safety net there. I know I'm not in the wind on my own. And this is just one book - these same editors are handling a whole lot of others, all just as important, all needing to get out of the door on the print day, all with their own weather patterns and chaotic terrain that has to be navigated. So Editorial in general has been absolutely fantastic.
Nrama: And Joe Bennett is doing the work of his career here - The shock has worn off, and Bennett is still excelling. You must now be writing #22 or after - what's it like now knowing what you can expect after over a year's worth of issues?
Ewing: Joe's design work is the secret weapon of the book - his monster designs are obviously what people immediately notice, but he also designs all the machines and spaces and people and everything else. For instance, the War Wagons in #20 - they're only War Wagons because Joe sent these fantastic designs through the email and asked if we could call them War Wagons after some Hulk-attacking hardware of old. In the plot, they were just "Shadow Base Flyers".
Also, I find I'm deferring to him a lot more in terms of action and horror beats - there's a moment coming up in #23 where he introduced a particular piece of tech and then said "hey, could [Character X] do [violent thing] to it?" and I just put that into the script, because I knew it was going to be an amazing beat. I've not seen how he draws it yet, but I still know it's going to be amazing.
Nrama: In August Marvel is releasing a director's cut edition of the early issues. What's that like for you as a writer to first elicit the desire for people to read that, but also in your script pages being shown off?
Ewing: I hope they hold up! They're not really designed for public consumption that way. I will ask readers not to attempt to interpret the panel descriptions too hard - I got in a bit of trouble with some fans for putting "Bruce is not a good person" in a panel description that got out into the wild. That was just an aside to the artist, for tone, long before I had any crystallized idea of how I saw Bruce. Similarly, some of the panel descriptions in #1 and #2 might show some thinking that's since changed direction, especially in terms of the Hulk-Bruce relationship, or even which Hulk we're looking at. (Although I still don't think Bruce is 100% a good person...)
Nrama: Before we let you get back to it, can you tease us about any research you've been doing, or anything fans can get excited about they may not expect?
Ewing: I need to find a free afternoon sometime soon to read America: a Prophecy by William Blake. That's specifically for Immortal Hulk. And the main track I've been listening to while working on Immortal Hulk #25 is "Everything In Its Right Place" by Radiohead. Oh - and to make it clear, all those events the mysterious Voice reels off at the end of #20 are things yet to happen in Act II and Act III. That's probably plenty to be going on with. And as always - thanks for reading!