Review: The Immortal Hulk (Issues 1-21) by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett

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The Hulk has had more status quos than most characters starting at the beginning when Bruce Banner turned into a gray monster at night. Since then he’s turned green (mostly) when triggered by anger. He’s been super intelligent. He’s been mindless. He’s been a gladiator. He’s been a bouncer. He’s been a SHIELD agent. He’s been a John Carter style hero. The beauty of the Hulk is he can be anything.

But has he ever been a horror book? Sure we know the Hulk is a “monster but has his book ever really been a horror title? Not really. There’s been hints of it but only hints. In a universe with literal Dracula as a major threat, Bruce Banner is just another superhero.

In fact in the ultimate mark of how not viewed as horror he is, the great Dread Central ran a review of the (excellent) 2008 film only to face castigating. Their defense was The Incredible Hulk is a kaiju film and a damn good one so yes they reviewed it. I’m with them.

Regardless of what we’ve had, there’s no debate about The Immortal Hulk, the current book by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett. It’s horror. It’s strong horror. It’s at times so hard to read you want to avert your eyes horror. It’s, pardon the pun, incredible horror.

The status quo this time is easily the darkest yet. Bruce Banner can be killed. He gets killed multiple times in the book. But come nightfall, he gets back up, turns green and giant, and the terrifying side of the Hulk known as Devil Hulk is unleashed. He can’t be destroyed. He can’t be stopped. He may literally draw his powers from hell. This is a new take on Hulk.

Or is it? Because while Ewing and Bennett take the character in a darker direction closer to Marvel’s 70s horror books, this honestly draws hard on continuity. Peter David’s multiple Hulk personalities? They’re here. Rick Jones’ time as an Abomination. It’s here. Betty Ross becoming Red She-Hulk and Harpy? Big time here. Jack McGee from the tv show? Now a black woman named Jackie McGee but here. This is a hell of a read for Hulk fans.

That blend between the old and the new is a genius choice because it makes the tonal shift work better. This is a book that takes virtually everybody connected with the Hulk and either literally or metaphorically puts them through Hell. There is so much body horror in this book ranging from the darkest take on Hulking out ever to Betty Ross becoming a monstrous version of the Harpy. It’s a book that accepts the retcon that Banner subconsciously kept Hulk from killing…but Devil Hulk isn’t going along with it. And it’s all palatable because you can tell Ewing & his art team know their history.

The book also understands that strip away all the status quo changes and at its core, the Hulk is the story of a man outrunning his darkest nature. This was something I had thoughts on earlier this week. Bruce Banner is always running. He’s always afraid of himself. Add to his hell that he can’t even die and that’s terrifying. This book wears the skin of a 70s horror book but it bleeds gamma green.

It’s also just a damned great crafted serial. Ewing is of the Kurt Busiek school, continuity heavy and solid as it gets. He routinely writes great story after great story. The art by Bennett is stunning, grotesque yet impossible to ignore. Each issue builds to a brutal cliffhanger the next issue only ramps up.. These are how comics should be.

Jump on now!

The Difference Between Mourning 80s All Over and Channel Awesome

80s All Over ended recently. It wasn’t sudden as the cast had gone on a hiatus to figure out if it was sustainable but it ended and the effect is the same. Something that had become a regular part of my routine is now gone and won’t be coming back. 90 minutes of time I’d gotten used to is out from my schedule.

Theoretically I shouldn’t write this entry. There are literal concentration camps in this country right now and I should speak on that. I should put my emotions towards the epic state of the climate crisis. I should rage against economic inequality. Something real. But I’m not.

I’m writing this entry as a way of wrestling with a weird emotion: grief. Because I do grieve for the end of the cast. I do mourn it. Not as intensely as I did the death of a dear friend 5 years earlier. But definitely I feel a sense of loss at something I loved going away.

We don’t really discuss the way entertainment can seep into our lives. It’s surreal. We come to love the way we can count like clockwork on a new edition. And with things like Harry Potter or the end of the Infinity Saga we get a chance to steel ourselves for the end. We’re able to adjust so when those (highly satisfying) endings come we get closure and move on.

I don’t get that with 80s All Over. There’s a mountain of films I don’t get to hear discussed in the inimitable fashion of McWeeny and Weinberg. The cast ends right outside Back to the Future. I’ll never get to hear them shred Top Gun or Ghostbusters II. I have to never get the joy of hearing them get why Hellbound: Hellraiser II is so cool.

I’m left hanging, incomplete. And I don’t even have the hope that one day someone will take over. No, it’s done. And I get why it is. I get that it was too expensive, too difficult. I respect greatly the men who made it and always will.

But I’m still mad. I’m so mad I haven’t gone back to the archive yet. I should in time. But I can’t. Not yet.

I’m also so mad that I can’t move on to a new podcast. Everyone has suggestions. Some are probably precisely ideal. Some likely aren’t. But for right now when I would listen? Just hearing silence because as silly as it is, I don’t want to move on.

I wonder if it would be easier if there wasn’t another thing I lost. In the past year I’ve lost pretty much every ex/current Channel Awesome member I watched in my rotation save for Todd in the Shadows, Rap Critic, and Linkara. I’ve had to abandon those shows because there’s a hell of a lot of ugliness that’s come out about all involved and even the ones I do watch aren’t all clean.

Channel Awesome’s contributors vanishing for me hurts because it’s just as open ended but I’m the one who walked. The shows are still going. Brad Jones probably has a new episode now as I speak. But the fun times I had watching these shows are tainted because I now know what uncomfortably toxic people created them. To be blunt I regret my fandom. I endorsed faulty product and while I couldn’t know all or even any of this, I feel bad that I ever supported something I shouldn’t.

And that’s the difference. I feel safe feeling sad 80s All Over is gone. I don’t feel like I backed bad people. Based on my interactions with the men, just the opposite. And I know in a few months I’ll celebrate that at least the first half of the decade was preserved and I’ll listen straight through.

I’m going to have to deal with the frustrating impulse on CA and its crew. I won’t go back. I can’t ethically. It’s done for me.

But ultimately the net effect is the same. There is silence where there wasn’t. And in time there won’t be. I’ll find a new cast. I had to find those too after all. In time there will be a new routine. But it’ll take time.

The Hulk and Meltdowns

Imagine this situation. You’re triggered. Someone says something to you to set you off. It can be innocent or malicious. Just like that the bomb goes off. You’d been calm and collected. Now you’re a force of rage. Something is wrong and your primitive instincts take over. The primal need to fix what’s wrong. You are a force of anger and wrath. Later, when you’ve calmed down, you look back at your actions in horror. What have you done.

Yeah, I’m going to guess I’m not the only autistic person who relates hard to the Hulk.

The Hulk is often understood as an allegory for the id. He’s Bruce Banner’s vicious rage made manifest in an inhuman form. The Hulk is usually not very intelligent, a caveman essentially. He’s the emblem of brute base emotions released. It’s easy to associate him with road rage or bar fights, sudden acts of violence caused by selfish need.

But that’s not the connection I make. For the purposes of this entry, I’m ignoring all the different versions of the Hulk to focus on the most classic one. (I’ll get to those next entry!) I’m talking the guy who gets angry and becomes a giant green rage monster. That Hulk. That’s the one we all know and get.

The Hulk is a deeply relatable character for the autistic reader. He’s mostly a good guy, a nebbish even. He’s smart. He’s good at his job. He never stops trying to do right. We all would be happy to be Bruce Banner. A loving, good soul.

The problem is Bruce Banner is cursed. He carries with him this monster that lives in his brain. He knows it can come out at any time. He does all he can to avoid him. That often means self denial because giving in is too risky. He knows the consequences are dire. He’s as scared of him as the rest of the world.

Everything I just described? That’s what living with a meltdown feels like. You do all you can. You’re in therapy. You’re on meds. You control your stimuli. But it’s there, in your dna.

And then it goes off. For Banner there is no control. For you? Some but the worst meltdowns? They feel like you witness them. They’re bad. So bad.

Then there’s the aftermath. Like Banner, you’re left with ruins. But yours are smaller yet worse. With a bad meltdown maybe you don’t destroy a town, but you develop a list of places you can’t go. People you can’t talk to. Coworkers you upset. Jobs you lose.

And like Banner, the sad piano music plays as you walk away, moving on, knowing you’ll do all you can. But it’ll always come back.

What a severe depression episode feels like

Terminology is so tricky. I go back and forth on how to describe the period between January 2017 and September 2017. Was it a nervous breakdown? It fit the hallmarks certainly. But that term is outdated and useless. It’s like hysteria. No longer valid. I don’t feel comfortable using it.

What I can use is depression. I am diagnosed with it. I have extensive experience. I know that period resembles the period of chronic grief I felt after my dear friend Lauren passed. So that’s what I’ll call it. I survived a severe depression episode.

I’m not going to go into the details of this episode. It happened. A combination of things brought it on from the election and the anxiety it caused to dealing with the changes brought on by adding Lola to my life. It’s over now and I’m better. I could easily not write about it. But this site exists to help people so I must tell this story. I hope by sharing what I feel I went through, maybe someone else can heal.

The first thing you must understand is that depression is individual. This is how it felt to me. It will manifest differently for you. Insomnia and chronic sleep are equally likely. Don’t consider this a checklist. Just personal experience.

Depression is a giant fog of gray. The best depictions of it show people desperate to feel ANYTHING. The Haunting of Hill House and Inside Out in particular nail it. That’s how I remember this period. Everything was permanently hazy. Never nice. Never any color. A slate yellow gray without rain.

It’s reinforced by lack of appetite. I’m a big eater but during the worst of the episode I couldn’t eat. Forcing even delicious food into my mouth was hard. Nothing tasted good even when I knew it did. How surreal that is. Yet I was nauseated all the time.

There’s a cliche that you drink alcohol constantly during these periods. I found that shockingly less than true. Drinking gave me no pleasure, even when it was an ice cold Zima on a June day. I mean that’s heaven. But it wasn’t. You don’t even really get that drunk. Probably because you’re not drinking fast enough in enough quantities to.

You do feel worse during this period. I was physically ill for a lot of it. When you’re severely depressed you’re absolutely more infection prone. I can’t explain it but it’s true. I was sick while watching Batman and Harley Quinn. And that was before the film started.

I did several rash things. I wouldn’t have shaved in a sane state of mind. But I did. I looked awful too. I spent my money a bit freely. Shouldn’t have. Did. I sold a bunch of books for pennies of what they were worth. Bad move.

One thing I really regret is how I wreaked havoc with my friends and family. I’m not going into detail but it has to be admitted I made mistakes. I was hard to be around. Realizing that helped me get better. I still feel guilt. I always will.

But that’s how it works. You aren’t thinking clearly. You’re flailing mentally trying to do any damned thing to make you feel again.

And yes, you cry. You cry at times when you didn’t realize you were crying. You cry in public. You cry in the car. You cry and cry and cry and it drains you.

Do you still love the things that you love? I did. In fact I would’ve been lost without my comics and the movies. I’m glad I had them to get me through. I’ve thanked several creators for what they did for me.

But mostly you just exist. You crawl through the day. You are just trying.

And then it gets better. There’s no demarcation line in reality. Just one day it isn’t there. And you notice it. And you keep going on. I hit that point in the fall. No idea why. But I did.

But it didn’t happen by accident. I was in therapy. I was on meds. I still am. I’m constantly working. I’m prepared too. There will be more of these incidents too. I know that’s coming. I’m going to fight again when they do.

Depression is fundamentally a lie. You’re told it won’t get better. Never forget this. It does.

Thanks to Chris Janisko for his support. If you want to support the site, click here.