The Hulk's co-stars, both human and otherwise, take center stage in Immortal Hulk #42. Still largely cut away from his system of alters and at the mercy of the newly powered-up Leader, Bruce Banner can do little to fight his fate at the moment. But that doesn't mean the world above has stopped moving as writer Al Ewing places Jackie McGee, Dr. Charlene McGowan, and Gamma Flight into the spotlight, transitioning them from co-stars to leads with ease.
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Alex Lins, Adam Gorham, Rachael Stott, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Chris O'Halloran, and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Sweetening the pot, Ewing comes prepared with a metric ton of plot developments and a murderer's row of artistic talent joining the regular team of Bennett, Jose, and Mounts. Calling to mind the more episodic nature of the opening arcs (specifically Immortal Hulk #3 'Point of View,' which also carried off multiple art teams), Ewing breaks each scene down to easy-to-process vignettes, each providing juicy new story beats and handled in turn by a different art team. All of whom adhere closely to the dark, expressive visuals we have come to expect from the Immortal Hulk. Though the titular Jade Jaws and his systems don't have a lot of stage time this issue, Immortal Hulk #42 proves that it doesn't always need the Hulk to hit hard.
We open back on the Immortal Hulk #41's nightmarish cliffhanger tableau. Emboldened by the Place-Below-All's pure gamma power and his, shall we say, consummation with Brian Banner, the Leader has Banner right where he wants him; lashed to horrible, Cronenbergian gamma 'tubes' while the Leader continues to try and crack the code to get at the One-Below-All's ultimate power. But Al Ewing cannily doesn't let us dwell on that for very long, cutting instantly from the opening page to the world above where the Hulk's allies are stuck in tight spots all their own.
It is here where Ewing's keen character work and incisive commentary on power structures start to shine through. As we move into the world above, Ewing starts to provide ample spotlight to the secondary cast of characters he has built out. Specifically the actions and thought processes of the remaining members of Gamma Flight (Doc Samson, Titania, and Puck), Charlene McGowan, and Jackie McGee.
Broken into tense, substantial vignettes, Ewing pings us across all three sections of plot, wonderfully dovetailing both Jackie and Charlene into a side-character team-up for the ages (along with a brand new Gamma-flavored reveal around Jackie that is sure to turn heads) and providing Gamma Flight yet another scene-stealing sequence. Obviously, a reader's mileage is going to vary with this sort of episodic storytelling, which does keep the issue from feeling like the singular experience that it usually feels like as it is blocked into separate plot threads this month. But the strength of the character work as well as the smartly lobbed commentary on the state of print journalism, the not-so-subtle evil of middle managers (given an oily, immensely punchable face in Peter Henry Gyrich), and the nobility of outlaws gives Immortal Hulk #42 a real strength even without the Devil Hulk, Banner, and the rest of the systems.
This is a strength even further bolstered by the nearly four complete art teams this issue boasts. Bookended by the trademark Immortal Hulk grossness by artists Adam Gorham and regular art team Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Paul Mounts, the center pages reveal a whole other level of intensity and emotional expressiveness in the action. Gorham, arguably the primary artist for the issue's action provides us a tight, wonderfully cramped "meeting" between Gyrich and the remains of Gamma Flight, all being lectured by their new boss for "allowing Banner to escape," leading to a sweat-inducing standoff between the new Samson-squach and Gyrich.
But while Gorham brings the tension, artist Rachael Stott packs in plenty of expressionism and keen scene blocking to support it. Focusing on Jack and Charlene (still on the run from Shadow Base and looking for Hulk-friendly allies), Stott almost transforms the title into an engaging, highly stylish slice-of-life comic book, taking us from a meeting with McGee's new, slightly soulless editor ("How do you feel about lists? Fun, right?!" which may be the most horrifying single line in all of Immortal Hulk) to her ramshackle, barely lived-in apartment where she links up with McGowan.
Again, it is a small scene within the scheme of the title, but one that Stott plays up beautifully, laser focusing on both Jackie and Charlene's expressions and mindsets while somewhat transforming the 'real world' around them into a hostile, almost alien place. This is then provided a ghoulishly fun aperitif by Bennett, Jose, and Mounts who reveal the next antagonists to take a shot at the Immortal Hulk.
All in all, another substantial issue of Immortal Hulk, but one that shows that it doesn't have to keep relying on shocks, scares, and body horror in order to be compelling. With the grounded, emotionally weighty script by Ewing and a gaggle of wonderful artists providing their A-games, Immortal Hulk #42 stands tall amid the series and it didn't even have to "Hulk Out" once.
Al Ewing's Immortal Hulk run is among Newsarama's best Hulk stories of all time.