After a few months of guest artists and backstory, Marvel's Immortal Hulk series leaps back headfirst into compelling body horror in Immortal Hulk #36. Picking up directly after the last issue's explosive, gamma-irradiated cliffhanger, writer Al Ewing immediately starts to deal with the aftermath. As the Leader wears Rick Jones' skin, the Hulk becomes the unwitting source of a massive gamma explosion, one that turned his public photo-op into a green-tinged hellscape.
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Matt Milla
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
But Gamma Flight isn't interested in talking it out, only containing the Hulk, even as the Unjolly Green Giant proclaims his innocence in oddly affecting Hulk-Speak.
Though essentially a 'fight' comic, Al Ewing once again injects raw emotion and vulnerability into his script by flipping the idea of the Hulk as the aggressor on its head, laying out the issue with a tragic inevitability after the comparatively 'happy' stories the Hulk had been enjoying lately. Couple that with the return of Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Matt Milla and you have Immortal Hulk #36 standing as a return to horrifying form for the series.
Opening mere moments after the Hulk's latest gamma-irradiated accident, Immortal Hulk #36 throws readers instantly into the deep end of the series' return to its unique brand of horror. Goosed by the Leader, the Hulk basically exploded into a burst of radioactive energy, turning his day of honor into a day of horror, killing most of the citizens that had gathered to thank him for his recent defeat of Roxxon and Xemu. And artist Joe Bennett isn't shying away from the grisliness of the scene either, greeting readers instantly with a splash page abattoir of horrors.
It's a bold, almost off-putting opening gambit for the issue, but one that fully sells the return to the bleak, stomach-churning stakes and visuals of the title. Also returning is Jackie McGee and Gamma Flight, all of whom move effortlessly back into 'lead' positions as the Hulk struggles to understand what just happened. It is here where Ewing starts to twist the knife deeper. By once again focusing on the co-stars, he recontextualizes the Hulk once again, casting him as the 'victim' of the explosion as much as the actual victims, while also highlighting the Hulk's uncertainty through the 'Marvel Misunderstanding' he and Gamma Flight and Jackie engage in. With both the bystanders and the title character himself so grimly affected, Ewing reintroduces the personal horror of the Hulk in a shocking and intimate way.
The return of regular art team Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Matt Milla also hammer home the dire feel and drive of this new issue. Starting with the opening splash page, which is sure to add to the high-octane nightmare fuel this series has generated already, Bennett and company set the visual bar for themselves fairly high fairly early. But as the team and script start to move outward, establishing the range of the Hulk’s "explosion" and how it's affected the nearby area, things start to get even more intense as the once idyllic and inviting scene is replaced by melted skeletons and gamma-scorched earth, dominated by the weeping form of the Hulk.
Things really pick up after Gamma Flight makes the scene. The creative team moves into a pitched, highly fraught battle between the Hulk, the Absorbing Man, Titania, and Puck inset into the pages with keen dutch-angled panel layouts. Unfortunately, Jackie McGee gets a bit lost in the shuffle in these scenes, even though Ewing is very much using her as the voice of reason. She can see that the Hulk doesn't understand what just happened, while Gamma Flight only is working to contain him with extreme prejudice, but sadly, this doesn’t translate as well as it should visually until the ending beats.
But even with this visual misstep, the sequence itself is incredibly harrowing, made even more so by the art team's expansive, hard-hitting layouts and Ewing's pitched dialogue. As the Hulk tries to defend himself, giant tears in his eyes, Gamma Flight takes the fights right to him, pinning Ol' Jade Jaws down and leading Crusher Creel to take on a major power upgrade. To spoil it would be to give away the issue's biggest moment, but trust me when I say, it's much more than just a run-of-the-mill comic fight. With a sharp darkness and eye-grabbing, unsettling artwork, Immortal Hulk #36 returns to its main story with a bang.