For the Love of Hulk

GhostAndy

When some listeners ask me to name the current comic books in my monthly pull pile, invariably the first one that rolls off my tongue is Al Ewing’s Immortal Hulk. Mainly this is because not only is it my favorite monthly title, but it has been since it first started its run more than 2 years ago.

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A savagely honest book which melds horror, dark humor, and serious commentary on the current political and social climate under the guise of a story about what if the Hulk stopped even pretending to be “the nice guy” and really started wrecking shop. In fact, in conversations I’ve had on this topic with my fellow co host Stew about questions he had about exactly which of the “established” Hulk personas we get in this book, I had to say that it’s not really the point of the series.

“I thought he was the Devil Hulk? I mean isn’t he the bad guy Hulk in this?”, said Stew.

To which I answered, it’s not as easy as all that. This is a murky book filled with characters that are all on that “shade of gray” spectrum. Morality isn’t as cut and dry, and it’s more about the fact that everyone has the capacity to be a monster. The Hulk is just the most obvious one given his immortal ability to smash will always make him stick out like a big green mountain in the midst of the rest. In fact, the most important aspect of this book isn’t the fact that they created this brand new version of the Hulk (which I’d technically argue isn’t exactly brand new…he’s sort of Grey Hulk meets Green Scar combination), it’s that fact that Al Ewing has connected the Hulk character to another famous Marvel creation in terms of his overall purpose: Galactus.

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It’s been well established among comic book nerds for years that Galactus isn’t exactly a bad guy because he noms on planets. He’s a necessary force within the universe as an agent of death and therefore also in turn an agent of rebirth.  To rebuild a house, you must first demolish the old one. Similarly, in order for new planets to form, old planets must die. Galactus is an agent of change, of entropy, of the necessary destruction and clean up of the old to usher in the new. He has an integral part of the cycle of life, and he serves an important purpose as an impartial force of nature in that regard.

Similarly, in the Immortal Hulk book, it’s been said that just like Galen was the last survivor of the previous universe, and so adopted his role of Galactus in the new, that Bruce Banner will be the last survivor of the 616 and thus take his role as the destroyer of worlds in the next.

This flips the script on the Hulk as just simply a mindless engine of destruction but in fact gives purpose to his rampage as a necessary precipitant in the up ending the status quo. His actions are not chaotic, but purposeful in the grand scheme. And that’s why like Galactus, he must continue to exist until the end of time, to be that universal sledgehammer breaking down the last of the walls so which the new ones can be erected.

So that’s what the Immortal Hulk is about in my opinion in the end. The Hulk is not good or bad, but like Galactus, his morality is not as important as his purpose. And right now in the main story, the Hulk is working to break Roxxon as a way to tear down the old “outdated” ways of thinking about the world into order to pave way for new ideas. He’s not really offering better solutions like he might have done as say Professor Hulk, he’s just doing what he does best with all the smashing, and letting others take it from there.

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It’s a fascinating new trick for this old dog of a character, and one I find myself hungry for more of with every passing issue.

Speaking of the Hulk though, I recently saw rumors floating around that he might get some screen time in the upcoming Black Widow movie, despite this being primarily a flash back told in between the Civil War and Infinity War movies in the MCU timeline. Now it could be that the only reason they are really saying this is because William Hurt was seen filming scenes for this movie and as we all know, he plays the role of one of the Hulk’s main antagonists in General Thunderbolt Ross.

In fact, some are saying this could be a teaser for an eventual Hulk vs. Red Hulk showdown, as Ross has yet to adopt his more beefy crimson skinned alter ego in the MCU, and that fight is sure to put fannies in the seats.

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Personally though, I think that’s a dumb way to use up the final movie that Marc Ruffalo has in his 6 film MCU commitment (which he hasn’t been shy about pointing out in interviews). In fact, all that buzz does for me is make me even more angry that Marvel can’t work out the rights with Universal long enough to finally give us a solo film with this character.

Well that is to say another solo film as he has had 2 other ones prior to his breakout performance in Avengers 1. However, neither of them really set the world on fire, mainly because I think those films were made by directors that really didn’t “get” the core character of the Hulk like Joss Whedon did The Avengers and therefore had a difficult time making the audience care.

That’s sad really, as I would definitely put Hulk among the “A” list properties that Marvel has, and as a Marvel purist I still have issues with the general public thinking of the character as solely a member of the Avengers. Mainly, because if you are a fan of the Avengers, then the Hulk doesn’t even cross your mind as being an essential member of that group.

Sure, he’s a founding member, and he does have a definite history with the Squad, but for the vast majority of their history, he has not been an active member. If anything, the Hulk is a core member of the Defenders, a completely different superhero team in the Marvel universe. So if you see all these kids talk about the most important members of the Avengers and lumping Hulk in there, well, it can be somewhat like nails on a chalkboard. Sure, it’s not as bad as Black Widow, who should NOT be anyone’s conversation about essential Avengers, but still you get my point.

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If anything, really, solo Hulk films should be where this character shines the most because that’s really what the character is about: being solo.

Like Spiderman, the Hulk is a much better character doing his own thing: jumping around the desert, fighting for the sake of fighting, defending the planet inadvertently through his rage and his refusal to be pushed around. Hulk doesn’t really need a team like the Avengers to get the job done. He just needs to get more angry. Hulk is the strongest one there is ,and since his strength really has no limit, technically his capacity to handle any threat has no limit.

Maybe that’s why the audience appreciated him the Avengers so much. They knew he was heavy hitter, a “A” list star, someone that could battle all the Chitauri by himself if he really needed too. So once he started smashing, well, you knew that sooner or later, victory was assured. They just needed to be reminded of that. There’s a reason he was the breakout star and that’s because really he’s always been a breakout character. Given the chance, people will always like the Hulk.

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Plus I feel like in the movies since Thor: Ragnarok, The Hulk has been somewhat neutered in his ability to be a one man wrecking crew by  being made to be the goofy “comic relief” of the Avengers ensemble. This was especially true in Endgame, where although he got some character growth in becoming the Professor Hulk version of him, and yes it was his initial “snap” with the reformed Infinity Gauntlet that helped pave the way to victory for the good guys, who here wasn’t just a teensy bit disappointed that you didn’t get to see him whomp on Thanos in a round 2 of the fight they started at the beginning of Infinity War?

If you said, “No”, then you are damned liar.

In fact of all the Marvel heavy hitters that the Russo Brothers had to pick from, it was the Hulk that actually got the least stuff, especially in that final chapter. Heck, Scott Lang has to save his bacon for god’s sake!

That’s why I’m somewhat disappointed about the other possibly rumor concerning the future of the Hulk in the MCU. That one postulates that instead of a Hulk vs. Red Hulk showdown after Black Widow being the end of Mark Ruffalo’s MCU appearances, he will actually be the “elder statesman” character of the next Avengers movie and help usher in his cousin, She Hulk, on to the squad before disappearing into the sunset.

This is mainly due to rumors that Bruce Banner will appear briefly in the new upcoming She Hulk Disney+ show as being the impetus of how Jen Walters gets her powers, similar to the comic book. This fact plus the possibly of Natalie Portman becoming the new Thor in “Love & Thunder” plus the increased role of Captain Marvel in future movies, tends to point to the next Avengers movie being more of an “A-Force” deal than an Avengers one, so She Hulk makes sense.

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Although my disappointment with that idea is that again, it regulates the Hulk to being a secondary character again, stripped of his power to smash and be the real game changing force for the heroes. It’s almost the complete opposite of giving him a solo movie, in that you have made him just another cog in the MCU machine instead of an “A List” character.

Sure, there are some out there that consider the Hulk too “one note” any more to give him full leading character status in a MCU movie (including some co hosts of the GotS podcast.) However, if there’s anything that the Immortal Hulk series has taught me, its that every time you count the Hulk out as a character, think he’s too one dimensional, too smashy smashy to be carry a serious narrative, original and daring writers come along and turn all those preconceived notions of what you can do with the Jolly Green Giant  on their head.

It happened with Steve Ditko introducing the fact that he gets angry and that causes the transformations. It happened with Peter David marrying the two aspects of his being together. It happened with Bruce Jones and the early 2000 run, playing up the suspenseful and mysterious aspects of the monster angle. And there’s Planet Hulk, or Joe Fix it in Vegas, or countless others I don’t have the space to list here. Most importantly though, it’s still happening today with Al Ewing’s run.

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The Hulk is an extremely dynamic character. There is a ton you can do with him beyond just having him punch things to death. He’s that inner primal rage within all of us, it’s universal and it’s intense.

Here’s hoping that we do get something more worth wild of the character in the twilight of his MCU appearances beyond just a exposition connector or a punching bag for subplots that require resolution. For the Love of Hulk, he should be worth more to comic book fans than just that.

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