"I believe in the Hulk and I believe he needs his friends."
The latest round of the Thing versus the Hulk gets a deeply emotional and morbidly hilarious 'Immortal' makeover in the Immortal Hulk #41.
Written by Al Ewing Art by Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Picking up directly after Joe Fixit's dramatic escape from Gamma Flight and new director Henry Peter Gyrich, writer Al Ewing again neatly bisects the issue's plot. The A-plot following Ben Grimm and the Hulk's latest scrap and the B-plot following escaped Shadow Base scientist Charlene McGowan who is working to not only stay ahead of the authorities but also to try and 'recenter' the Hulk and his systems. All still out of whack thanks to the relentless attacks/body takeovers from the Leader through the Green Doors.
Though that might sound a touch busy, Ewing once again flips deftly between both plots, displaying through another full issue the title's keen ability to juggle tone. Art team Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, and Paul Mounts also continue to show out, bouncing themselves between the grounded dramatics of McGowan's scenes and the heavy kineticism of the Hulk/Thing fight, which also manages to throw out even more signature 'Immortal' era body horror in the final panels. Though definitely an unexpected and emotional take on the Hulk/Thing rivalry, Immortal Hulk #41 might have just delivered the best Thing/Hulk match of the modern era.
The Hulk and the Thing fighting is a staple of Marvel Comics. But in Immortal Hulk #41, Al Ewing delivers a much different fight than we are used to seeing. Tasked with containing the Hulk on the Coney Island boardwalk, Ben Grimm prepares for a little payback after the Devil Hulk's interruption of his honeymoon back in Fantastic Four #12. But this isn't the Devil Hulk. It is Joe Fixit and the Big Guy, both occupying the same body. This pairing of characters brings a raw, instantaneous emotional engagement to the fight, providing Ben a neat 'moral superiority' as he more than holds his own in the fight only for it to be ripped away from him once Joe reveals who they really are. Forcing Ben to not only reckon with himself (and his Judaism) but with Joe and the Big Guy as he explains the Hulk's new 'system' of alters over hot dogs.
It is here where the issue starts to show a real heart. A heart that is then further supported as Ewing and the art team continue to check on McGowan in action that is happening concurrently with the fight at Coney Island. As Joe and Ben Grimm start to allow cooler heads and voices to prevail, Charlene is on the run, ousted from the main Shadow Base HQ and going to ground in one of her personal safehouses. I will say, though I do love Charlene and think she's one of the better co-stars of Immortal Hulk, her scenes slightly sap the energy away from the Hulk/Thing scenes. Especially since it's largely just a quick check-in with her and where she is now before the title starts to head into the final issues. But even with this slightly hampered energy, Immortal Hulk #41 still gives readers plenty to chew on.
It also provides plenty to look at thanks to the continually impressive combined talents of Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brado, and Paul Mounts. Better still, readers are provided the whole spectrum of the team's visual powers in Immortal Hulk #41. In the Charlene scenes, Bennett and the art team are allowed a chance to show off their rarely used realism, providing the issue focused humanity and groundedness as Charlene navigates her safe house alone and with her own thoughts.
But back on Coney Island, Bennett and the team are all strength, rollicking readers through wonderful Dutch-angled panels, a visual tool this title seems to make continued, effective use of throughout. Quickly gaining the upper hand, the Thing jostles and boxes the Big Guy/Joe Fixit to a stalemate, all swagger and imposing blocking thanks to Bennett. But once the turn comes ("He's just a LITTLE KID!" screams Joe before Clobberin' Time), the art team takes a much more melancholic and introspective look at the pair, continuing the wonderful scaling of the Thing compared to un-Hulked Joe and allowing the pair to just emote at one another as they start to speak. Of course, it wouldn't be Immortal Hulk without some nightmarish imagery, which the issue provides in the cliffhanger and Joe's stomach-churning "healing" of his broken arms from the escape from Gamma Flight, but issue #41 finds the art team providing much more heart, expression, and quiet moments instead of the usual dread and fear (though that's there too).
All told, another tremendous issue of Immortal Hulk. One that adds a wonderful new layer to one of the Hulk's oldest relationships while also providing more of what readers have come to expect from the title and creative team. The Hulk needs his friends and now after Immortal Hulk #41, at least one of the new systems can count Ben Grimm among them (for now).
Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's Immortal Hulk is already one of the best Hulk stories of all time - but have you read ALL the best Hulk stories of all time?