The Incredible Hulk TV show scared the hell out of me in the late 1970s. Granted, I was a yet but a wee tike (I was only 4 when the show debuted), but some of the nightmares the Hulk induced in my little brain still stick with me to this day. Of course, as I got a little older, I ended up loving the show. I still remember the first time I watched it with my parents and I proudly didn’t find myself afraid of the big green guy. Since that long ago time, I’ve rarely associated the character with horror or fear. Then I read The Immortal Hulk #1 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett and suddenly, I’m a little worried that my long ago conquered fear of Hulk-induced nightmares might be awaiting me when the sun goes down and I grow weary...and that’s an awesome thing.
Al Ewing captures the original essence of the Hulk with his frightening take on the character. Way back when The Hulk debuted, the character was meant to be a frightening, nocturnal brute; a horror of the atomic age. This night stalking brutish beast of a man wasn’t the product of a curse, magic spell, or conjured demons. No. He was the all too real horror of the atomic/nuclear age made real while the mutually assured destruction height of the Cold War was waging. Man’s proclivity towards self destruction had unleashed a power that was more horrifying than any old folk tale or monster story. This was the mad scientist trope taken to the extreme and fueled by atomic energy. Like every Marvel Comics character conjured up during the fertile years of the 1960s, The Hulk was yet another brilliant character who commented on the precarious state of mankind in contemporary times. The horror/night stalking aspect of the character just made him all the more spooky, as if the atomic energy run amok wasn’t frightening enough.
Now though, the fears associated with atomic horror have, perhaps prematurely, faded from mankind’s consciousness for the most part, and The Hulk, as a character and franchise, strayed far from his horror roots, becoming a vehicle for sci-fi, split personality, inner demon, and the psychology of the fracturing of the modern mind themed stories. All of these aspects of the character have birthed plenty of great stories over the years, but they’ve been tread and retread repeatedly. The time is ripe for a rebirth of the character that acknowledges the split personality aspects of the character, but reawakens the fear that a 12 foot, 1 ton weighing angry green monster of a man can inspire. Accordingly, the horror aspects of The Hulk as a character that Ewing is exploring here are primarily psychological, but Ewing makes them physical as well, though Bennet’s excellent art...just like they were in my (and I’m sure many others’) childhood nightmares.
Ewing’s Hulk isn’t a rampaging brute though. He’s an uninhibited, and quite loquacious vigilante. I must admit that I haven’t followed The Hulk’s recent comic book exploits. I heard that Bruce Banner was dead or something, but that somehow he came back to life (like most comic book characters are wont to do). The Hulk/Banner’s recent story is not a prerequisite to enjoying, understanding, and (again awesomely) being spooked by The Immortal Hulk #1. This Hulk is the uninhibited righter of wrongs that we all wish we were, especially when we were young and powerless…
Speaking of being young, one of the most vivid TV Hulk induced nightmares that has stuck with me over the years is one of being face to face with the Hulk (who in the dream looked a lot like my dad-there’s a Freudian opportunity for some psychoanalysis if there ever was one), and the Hulk having this HUGE growling face that was simply overwhelming in its size. Man, I get a little chilled just dredging up the memory. So imagine how I felt while reading The Immortal Hulk #1 and came across this image:
The revisited, and almost forgotten, childhood fear filtered through the intellectual rationalization of adulthood did indeed induce a slight chill.
It is the story though, which is a master class in storytelling put on by Ewing, of the psychological horror that plagues all men of conscious when faced with what they are capable of, even in the face of great evil, that really powers The Immortal Hulk #1. Folks, this is only the first issue of the series as well. I simply cannot wait to see what other horrors, physical and psychological that Ewing has in store for us.
Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, The Hulk is back, and he just might be better than ever. Thank you Mr. Ewing and Mr. Bennett for frightening and inspiring this reader...and for the trip down nightmare’s memory lane.