A lot has been happening in the news today, but one of the biggest you might have missed is... how to break this gently? ... Carnage has infected the Hulk with a symbiote.
That's right, in September 18's Absolute Carnage #3 (as seen at right), the "Immortal" Hulk was subsumed by the gloopy symbiote mess that Kletus has been carrying with the Cult of Carnage. And while what happens next won't be revealed till October 16's Absolute Carnage #4, the story of how Bruce Banner/Hulk came become attached to a symbiote - and some deeper emotional insight into how it unfolds - will come to light in this week's Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk one-shot.
Immortal Hulk series writer Al Ewing pens this one-shot, giving some much needed nuance to Bruce and the Hulk's side of this story - and also revealing more about the Banner/Hulk dynamic at the core of Immortal Hulk.
Newsarama spoke with Ewing earlier in the week about the one-shot, and how it ties into the overall Absolute Carnage and Immortal Hulk stories.
Newsarama: Al, hate to be the one to break this to you - but Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman just got the Hulk subsumed by a symbiote in Absolute Carnage #3. What are you going to do now?
Al Ewing: HMMMMM. [Long pause] I can make that work for me...
...Which was exactly the reaction I had when Donny pitched this whole epic rumble in the writer's room. Actually, if it had been scheduled for a month or two later, it would've been even easier to make it work - the biggest problem was getting Hulk from the American Southwest to New Jersey, and that won't be such a problem in future. But that's spoiling some Immortal Hulk beats.
Nrama: But you're making that work in this week's Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk one-shot. Can you tell us more about how this came together?
Ewing: It was two factors, really. Factor one being that Donny pitched it and I didn't tell him no. There wasn't a conversation as such - it just sounded like an epic beat, and I could see some fascinating potential character beats in there too, which is my own jam, so I was very happy to get involved.
Factor two - and this was the clincher - we choose not to do tie-ins in the main Immortal Hulk book. If it didn't have the buzz it does, and sell as well as it does - and here's my obligatory plug for Immortal Hulk #25, from myself, German Garcia and Chris O'Halloran, which is going to get a whole new level of talk going and stretch our boundaries even further - that resolve might be tested a little, but I feel like I'm pretty secure in making the promise that that won't be a thing we do.
Instead, we do tie-in specials - like the one last year we did for Defenders: The Best Defense. These function as annuals, almost - non-obligatory extras that Immortal Hulk readers can choose to buy or not, as their wallet dictates - but if they do choose to jump in, the tie-in is full of juicy character beats that make it well worth it. Back in Immortal Hulk: Best Defense, for example, we got to see Bruce Banner's own angry, violent side unleashed during the day, and this time we'll be getting even more insights.
So regarding something like Absolute Carnage, we really are in a position where we can have that cake and eat it too, which makes agreeing to this kind of thing very easy.
Nrama: According to the solicit for Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk #1 (which came out before Absolute Carnage #3), this one-shot comes about when Thunderbolt Ross' corpse is dug up by Carnage because it was once the host to a symbiote. What's going on?
Ewing: Like you said, it was Carnage - quite possibly with his own hands, given that in the "post-credits scene" from Immortal Hulk #20 we showed that it only took a few seconds and that he could block Shadow Base's remote viewers while he did it.
What he's doing it for - well, there are these things called "codices", little markers that symbiotes leave in the spine of every host they've ever bonded with, even for very short periods, and they stay around even when the host dies. And Carnage wants as many of those as he can get, and he's going to use them to contact a monstrous dark god from before time. And unfortunately, the Red Hulk did at one time wear the Venom symbiote - so he's on the list.
Nrama: So does this week's Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk #1 take place before or after Absolute Carnage #3?
Ewing: Before. It's basically telling the story of how Bruce Banner got from the end of Immortal Hulk #20 to the end of Absolute Carnage #3 - but it's also a closer look at the Bruce Banner system than we've seen in a long time.
Nrama: Digging up the body of Ross - and Ross, a one-time Red Hulk - is obviously concerning for Banner. What does he think of #1 the desecration, and #2 the possible power play?
Ewing: The fun thing for us is that we're just coming off a storyline where Rick Jones' body was dug up by Shadow Base and turned into the new Abomination. So naturally, when Bruce sees the General Ross graverobbing on the news - and when a recently deceased member of the government, who was allegedly murdered by Captain America, has their body stolen from West Point Cemetery, it really is big news - Bruce comes to the natural conclusion... that it's all about him.
Even hearing about Knull and Carnage's larger plans doesn't stop him being completely self-absorbed about the whole thing - after all, an evil cosmic satan from before time began? That sounds a lot like a Hulk story right now.
So we have fun with that - Immortal Hulk: Absolute Carnage is a story about a guest star who thinks they're the main character. Or characters - it's also about how the various sides of the Hulk relate right now, and how they react to the situation.
Nrama: You're working on this simultaneous to Immortal Hulk #25 - how does this all fit together for the larger story you're telling? And what's it like working with Donny and Devin to fit this into their larger Absolute Carnage story?
Ewing: In terms of how it relates to Immortal Hulk - plot-wise, as I've said, I've made sure it doesn't. You can keep reading Immortal Hulk and never pick this up at all, or come back to it later, and that'll be fine.
What it does have, for Immortal Hulk readers who might want to pick it up, is a whole bunch of juicy character stuff. We get to see Bruce's first sight of Harpy, and what he asks of her. We get to see Devil Hulk, the Big Guy, Joe and Bruce all talking together - and what they each look like in a mindscape, which we haven't seen in a while. For Immortal Hulk fans, this is a juicy dessert they'll want to tuck into as soon as possible.
And it explains some stuff for Absolute Carnage fans as well - we get to see how a few of the dominoes we've seen fall in that series were set up, and we get a serious clue as to the outcome in issue #4.
Nrama: For this you're working with Filipe Andrade for the first time. How does he fit the story you're telling in this one-shot?
Ewing: Filipe is great - his style is that perfect mixture of horror, characterization and unique artistic flavor that makes for the kind of guest artists we love on Immortal Hulk. The things he's done with the various character beats here - as well as the grimmer scenes of nastiness - will take your breath away.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk?
Ewing: Hopefully, what we've made here is a book that functions for Absolute Carnage lovers as a great advert for Immortal Hulk, and for Immortal Hulk fans as a great advert for Absolute Carnage, while at the same time being a great story in its own right, divorced from either of those. That's the ultimate goal. Hopefully readers enjoy what we've done!