“The Immortal Hulk” has changed the face of one of the most iconic heroes in American comics. Taking it back to its horror roots, the Hulk becomes more monster than man in their Marvel series, as the Hulk comes out at night through gruesome body transformations. Writer Al Ewing has scaled Hulk back to his inception–the gray, night-faring monster of the early day Marvel–to inject a little horror into the superhero genre.
Horror and superheroes have been lumped together since the early ’50s, with Comic Code Authority spawning from legal allegations leveled at Comic-book Industry for misleading the impressionable youth. Though the mature content of early comics was aimed at adults, it wasn’t uncommon for children to pick up “A Vault of Horror.” While superhero comics were challenged for a myriad of subjects, that led to the self-censorship of comics. This common history has made horror and superheroes an unlikely pair.
The first time horror and hero were mixed, to great success, was “Hellboy.” Though “Hellboy” came after other successful characters blending the genre of hero and horror like “John Constantine” and “Blade,” “Hellboy” was notable for its mix of cosmic horror, fairytales and literary allusions. These elements not only inspired a genre but created a standard for horror moving forward. Horror comics were more than the art or the scares, rather it became a new addition to the literary canon.
A New Hulk
In the first collected volume of “The Immortal Hulk,” each issue is presented as a self-contained chapter following a vagabond Bruce Banner as he solves Gamma-related mysteries and attempts to unravel the core mystery of the Green Door. The one-off stories are presented like “Tales from the Crypt” issues, each chapter ending with a twist or horrific consequences as our monster, the Hulk, stalks away, into the night.
What Al Ewing imagines, and Joe Bennette pencils into life, is an anti-hero evocative of an ’80s slasher villain. The Hulk is a monster who dispenses a horrific justice in the name of some greater cosmic structures. His rationale is fueled by his senses as he follows up cases. Though he rarely kills, the Hulk stands as a veiny isometric being, similar to a body horror creation of a David Cronenberg film. This stature and design make the Hulk threatening and grotesque as he dominates each panel of the comic, lending to an unsettling representation of the green being.
Re-defining the Superhero
The representation of the Hulk as a horror monster changes the presentation of comic book heroes. The Hulk is not a misunderstood, purpled-pants wearing hero, rather he is a monster of the night who dispenses justice. Through this, the Hulk becomes a critique of the vigilante. Though the Hulk destroys the monster or captures the villain, he is always perceived as a greater monster.
Being the hero and monster of every story allows for a new interpretation of the hero genre itself. Like most horror, “The Immortal Hulk” is a critique that allows the reader to interpret ideas, here superheroes, through a new lens. Though cape crusaders are held as bastions of justice, their actions are always removed from the law. The Hulk provides a new way of reading and interpreting the concept of the hero since he is both hero and a monster. This perspective not only informs the Hulk moving forward but the genre itself, with the Hulk acting as an example of the “Horror Hero” for a new generation.
Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him firstname.lastname@example.org.