It's Christmas time, for everyone - including the Immortal Hulk. In this week's one-shot King in Black: Immortal Hulk #1, series writer Al Ewing uses the looming King in Black event to tell a very human story about Immortal Hulk - and particular, two of the personalities inside him: Joe Fixit and the child-like Savage Hulk.
Newsarama spoke with Ewing ahead of the one-shot's December 16 release to find out what Hulk, stuck alternating between some of his most vulnerable forms, will be up against when Knull comes calling, and why Aaron Kuder is the perfect collaborator for this wordless story – which Ewing promises goes "Full Christmas."
Nrama: Al, December has a new issue of Immortal Hulk along with a King in Back special. When you launched Immortal Hulk, did you expect it to branch into the tie-ins and spin-offs it's spawned, almost its own franchise?
Al Ewing: In a way, yes. Part of the original pitch, in terms of the tone, involved doing no tie-ins at all in the main book - but I knew going in that we'd need some way to tie into events that the Hulk would realistically be a part of.
When the Defenders specials came along, that gave us a methodology for tying into things while keeping to our original intent - putting the tie-ins in specials, giving them that space from the main narrative while keeping them in the Hulk's ongoing continuity.
And so far, it's something that's worked well, and it's allowed me to tell a lot of different kinds of stories - the tie-ins are generally more experimental than the main book, and this one's no exception.
Nrama: Speaking specifically of Immortal Hulk: King in Black, what can you tell us about how Hulk and his story get tangled up with Knull?
Ewing: Hulk is in a bad place when the story starts. He's alone in New York, heavily depowered after the events of #39, homeless and friendless. The Devil Hulk is gone, and only the child-like Savage Hulk is left.
And it's Christmas, which isn't a good time for a child to be alone on the streets, even a childish Hulk. Oh yeah - and the King In Black is here and running rampant over Earth, so there's all that going on as well.
So it's not so much Hulk getting tangled up with Knull, as Hulk's story being unable to avoid Knull - a dark, slimy present waiting under Hulk's Christmas tree.
Nrama: The one-shot focuses on Joe Fixit, who's also been in the driver's seat in recent issues of Immortal Hulk. Where does this one-shot find him – and how will it affect that specific aspect of the Hulk going forward?
Ewing: It's equal parts Joe and Savage, and it's continuing the story for the two of them. This is potentially a really spoiler-y question in a lot of ways - I won't get into detail on how their relationship evolves during this, but I will say that this special has an ending which I think will probably make a lot of readers cry actual tears.
Nrama: The dark god of the symbiotes sounds like a threat that dovetails nicely with the eldritch weirdness of Immortal Hulk. How are you leveraging the horror of Immortal Hulk for this story?
Ewing: I get to play with symbiotes! And in the world of King In Black, symbiotes get to be very, very, very horrible! Aaron's done a wonderful job of designing a symbiote menace that's going to test the weakened Hulk to his limits.
But there's other kinds of horror - like I say, Christmas is a tough time for some people. It was a tough time for Bruce Banner, and the Hulk carries those scars. It's quite a sad story in a lot of ways.
Nrama: You're working with Aaron Kuder on Immortal Hulk: King in Black. What's it like doing a one-shot like this with a powerhouse artist?
Ewing: Going in, I designed it as a wordless issue, thinking that if need be I could add some text later.
It doesn't need it.
Aaron's work - his line, his storytelling - is so beautiful, and beautifully crafted, that I honestly felt any additional dialogue from me would only drag it down. That's very rare for me, and I had a serious struggle with it - I had to conquer some very deep internal fears to make that decision, because it can be terrifying to ask the reader to come all the way in like that.
I'm effectively asking readers to read even more closely, to take in each panel, explore every detail, and that's a scary thing. It's not just putting your story completely in the hands of the artist, it's putting it completely in the hands of the reader.
But I trust our readers. And frankly, what Aaron's done here doesn't deserve anything less than total commitment from me.
Nrama: The obvious question is, will Hulk find himself Venom-ed up in this story – and if not, what kind of symbiote threats will he face?
Ewing: Well, we've seen a 'Venom Hulk' during the Absolute Carnage event, so that's a well we've been to. In terms of particular symbiote threats - there's one that stalks him through the whole issue, and it definitely has an eye on turning him into one of Knull's playthings.
Will it succeed? You'll find out.
Nrama: When you're doing a tie-in to both an ongoing series and an event, what are the things you're keeping in mind to make the most of that real estate?
Ewing: This is going to sound awful, but I always put my book first. When the tie-in happens in the main book, it's always about that book, about advancing the plots and characters I'm working with.
With a book like Immortal Hulk, where the tie-ins have their own space, they become a showcase for Immortal Hulk - both a tasty additional extra for people who want more of our book that month, and also a kind of commercial for event readers coming in to take a look at us.
So we're always on our A-game, we're always taking risks, we're always doing the best we can to make every tie-in worth the five bucks. It's never just a tie-in - and it isn't this time, either.
Nrama: Marvel has been focusing on character-driven events like King in Black for a while now. Could we see the pendulum swing the other way for Hulk, with him anchoring a larger event that brings in other characters (it wouldn't be the first time)?
Ewing: Not on my watch! Which doesn't mean we're not going bigger than we've ever gone. Put it this way - who needs other characters to do an event?
All you need is an absolutely massive, universe-shaking story... and ideally, a nice, round number.
Nrama: What should Immortal Hulk readers know as his story intersects with this Venom event – and what should Venom fans know about Hulk before diving into the one-shot?
Ewing: Hulk fans: The King In Black has attacked planet Earth with an army of evil Venoms.
Venom fans: Bruce Banner has been taken to Hell, the scary Hulk you've heard so much about might be dead, and all that's left is a drastically weakened child-Hulk and a Vegas dirtbag with no powers.
Everybody: you're going to want to read this on a cold winter's night, with a mug of cocoa at the ready. We're going Full Christmas.
King in Black has begun with Knull's arrival on Earth - here's everything we know about the Venom-centric event.