Tackling a well-known established character isn’t an easy task for any creative team. Not only are there mountains of history behind them, but a preexisting idea of how the character should act and what challenges they face. Then we add the “immortality problem.” The idea when a character becomes immortal, the story starts to get bland, lose any sense of tension, and we don’t fear for the hero. The Hulk faces this potential series-ending “immortality problem” in his newest comic run.  Then why is IMMORTAL HULK shaping out to be one of the best comics run for the character?

SPOILER WARNING: I will be going into critical moments from IMMORTAL HULK written by Al Ewing and art by Joe Bennett Issues #1 -5.

What Are The Problems In The “Immortality Problem?”

High octane fights that get the readers adrenaline pumping build action stories. There is a sense of danger and risk. This is a common rule in storytelling known as “the problem,” something that will upset the status quo. In action stories, the problem is the risk of severe injury or death. Tensions and suspense build as we fear the hero is seconds away from death when they have a storm of bullets raining down on them. However, immortality breaks that tension.

Think of this: we would be worried about Spider-Man if both Wolverine and he were shot. Wolverine’s healing factor would pop out the bullet, and he would be okay, whereas Spider-Man’s life is in danger. Spider-Man is a mortal man under the mask, and this will be fatal for him. The story continues to dangle this threat of death over our heads when we know the character can die. This doesn’t exist for immortal characters. Tension fades, the suspense dies, and we get bored.

How do writers tackle this idea then? What do they do to keep us hooked? Wolverine, a virtually unkillable character, has done this in the past. Wolverine has survived everything thrown at him, even death itself with his most recent revival. His series took a creative approach to immortality and succeeded. OLD MAN LOGAN uses his immortality as a curse. Logan, unable to die, symbolically kills the Wolverine in the story and vows never pops his claws again. Determined not to save anyone, and live his immortal life as an old regular man. This adds layers of depth to the story and becomes a driving force for the whole series. Logan may be alive, but our hero is dead.

We see the same elements in IMMORTAL HULK.

How do you hurt an IMMORTAL HULK?

Hulk Starring down the Immortality Problem
Image Courtesy of Marvel

The new and improved Hulk doesn’t have many weaknesses if any at all. Then how do you hurt an immortal being? Easy. You don’t hurt them physically but emotionally and mentally. We see this in Wolverine’s stories. Wolverine fans have developed an emotional connection with him. By diving into Wolverine to find a way to hurt him mentally like in OLD MAN LOGAN, he has become one of Marvel’s most complex characters.

IMMORTAL HULK tackles this well. Issue #5 is where we see the Hulk for the first time afraid and hurt. When he confronts his long-dead father who’s possessing the body of Sasquatch (you know, like how we all face our fathers), the Hulk starts to lose the fight, but not because he is overpowered. Instead, the emotional trauma of seeing his father affects Hulk. Brian Banner physically and verbally abused Bruce throughout his childhood. This made Bruce feel weak and afraid just at the sight of the man.  The scars are still there and are just as tender as ever.  His father becomes the ghost over the Hulk’s shoulder. Now his immortality becomes a curse because he cannot escape his father’s reach as he is doomed to live forever.

Banner Is A Mess

Bruce and The Hulk have a Chat
Image Courtesy Of Marvel

IMMORTAL HULK #2 introduces a familiar trope found in Wolverine comics and the Hulk mythos too. The reader gets to see the daily life of the person behind the hero name.  We see how this affects Bruce Banner’s personal life. The storyline focuses on the day’s events through Banner’s eyes. He used to be able to go a while without hulking out. Days to months would pass between them allowing him to set up a home, get money, and establish a sense of structure and home.

That changes in this series. The Hulk is a nightly occurrence, shattering any chance of normalcy in his life. Everyday Banner wakes up with a vague memory of what has happened, uncertain of where he is. Banner must scrounge for money to buy anything to eat as he drifts from town to town. He sleeps on the streets, confident that if he stays somewhere with many people, they will be in danger because of the Hulk. The gap separating him and society is greater than before. There is no support group he can rely on. It’s just long days alone hoping to get some food, fearing the nights as it is “his turn.”

Even death is played with. The Hulk is immortal, but Bruce does die and stays dead. His body will lay lifeless for hours until the moon rise when he is reborn as the Hulk.  The Hulk reverts back to a newly reborn Banner at sunrise, still scarred by his deaths.

Bruce doesn’t get an escape from the Hulk in the day. Every reflection, Banner sees the Hulk lurking, waiting for his turn. This all depends on both sides of the character. We get a more rich Banner with every struggle, every death he faces.

Rebirth of A Hero

Introducing Sasquatch
Image Courtesy of Marvel

A way to grow a story where the main character is nearly unkillable is to introduce or reintroduce characters. We see it in Wolverine with the introduction of Daken. In fact, the Hulk needing an opponent who can provide a real threat birthed Wolverine. We see this again with the reconstruction of an old character.

IMMORTAL HULK #4 brings back to the forefront another classic Canadian hero, the good old member of Alpha Flight Walter Langkowski aka Sasquatch, and introduces a new one, reporter Jackie McGee. Both have one thing in common — the effect the Hulk has on the world.

Sasquatch represents the effect the Hulk has on the superhero community. In the issue, we see the story of how he was Bruce’s roommate in college. Langkowski was a jock who entered the school under a football scholarship but is still a capable scientist. Bruce looked down on him as the gap between them was massive. After the Hulk enters the world, Langkowski tries to replicate the experiment with the intent to make a “Hulk he can control.”

Langkowski’s grief of being possessed and the pride in how he can now control his powers is explored in the issue. Bruce still haunts his mind, and we start to explore a character who hasn’t had much shine in the past few years.

THE IMMORTAL HULK’S Effect On Us

Introducing Jackie McGree
Image Courtesy of Marvel

Jackie McGee is the image of the regular person in the world where the Hulk exists. We saw a glimpse of how monstrous the Hulk looks to people in IMMORTAL HULK #3 and the horror movie framed first issue, but Jackie adds more. Through her arc, we see the lasting effects he has on regular people.

She is on the hunt to find the Hulk who is believed to be dead. We are led to believe it is because she wants to break the scoop on Bruce Banner’s revival, but we see something more profound. Her motivation for pursuing a story on the Hulk is a traumatic memory of the Hulk rampaging in her town. The look in his eyes haunts her and motivates her to find the Hulk once more.

Jackie’s need to confront her fears in the eye and eventually move past them is a feeling in all of us. We are left wondering if she can ever overcome her fear and if there is more to her than we see.  All of this adds to the tension in the plot that the “immortality problem” could take away.

More Risks for the IMMORTAL HULK

When you face a problem with no simple solutions, you get unique solutions. Adding a difficult situation to a series changes the way you would usually approach a story. The creative team’s creativity bleeds into other avenues. They are willing to take more risks that pay off for the readers than they would normally in other stories.

An example is IMMORTAL HULK #3 where an irritated man seeks help at a church and holds it hostage. The creators tell this story through multiple perspectives. Through many viewpoints, each accompanied by a different art style, we are told what happens. There is a teen shojo art style when the old lady thirsts for the young strapping criminal. We see an old “Golden Age” style when the police officer geeks out over the Hulk. Then the horror comic inspired style when the priest claims the hulk is a “devil.”

“Told through a bunch of interviews” and switching up the style has been done before in other mediums. That is true, but not in this series or with the Hulk. We get to see how the world reacts to the walking green monster. The fear of danger isn’t on the Hulk, but on the people telling the story. The diverse art style and unique approach is a breath of fresh air for many Hulk readers and helps keep them engaged.

A Solution To The Immortality Problem?

Hulk getting some well deserved therapy, as he faces the Immortality Problem
Image Courtesy of Marvel

IMMORTAL HULK tackles the “immortality problem” head on. New and creative takes on characters replace the suspense death brings. We explore Bruce and the Hulk’s psychology and end up with more complex characters. The stories’ tone and techniques are played within new and unique ways. This all makes the series as a whole better.

There are many great fights in the first few issues and after where he faces off with the Avengers. The comic never gets stale because of the creative routes the creative team takes. The series tackles something we have seen fail in the past and takes cues from stories that have beaten the immortality problem like OLD MAN LOGAN. The IMMORTAL HULK lives up to its name as a series that’ll live on for years and years.

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