Marvel Two-in-One (Under the Surface of The Immortal Hulk #12, with Apologies to Benjamin J. Grimm)

(CAUTION: This post contains SPOILERS for The Immortal Hulk #12, on sale now from Marvel Comics. If you don't want to be spoiled for this issue and, potentially, the next issue, read no further.)

"Or Is He Both?"

It's been the central question since Jack Kirby's cover to The Incredible Hulk (vol. 1) #1 back in May of 1962. It's also the title of the very first issue of Al Ewing & Joe Bennett's masterful revival in 2018's The Immortal Hulk. Of course, the full version of the question bears mentioning: "Is He Man Or Monster Or Is He Both?"

Over the last year, we've seen a lot of intriguing details in the new series. This Hulk appeared at first to be unlike other incarnations we'd seen before. He was prone to vengeance against those who wronged the helpless, such as when he decimated a biker gang to get to the young man who'd killed a 12-year-old girl (and Banner himself) at a gas station convenience store earlier the same day. Furthermore, like the original, grey-skinned Hulk, he only appeared at night, but this time only after Banner himself died.

It was in that first sighting (outside Avengers: No Surrender, natch) that people around our Green Goliath started making interesting comparisons:

It didn't stop there. This vengeful, judgmental monster found he kind of liked the moniker of "Devil Hulk" while in battle with the Avengers. The name recalled a seldom-seen version of the Hulk who was never seen outside the recesses of Banner's mind (in Paul Jenkins' underappreciated run).

This Hulk also had the uncanny ability to remain alive and even control the parts of his body even after being disassembled into several glass jars. Although the Hulk had previously demonstrated fast healing bordering on total invulnerability, doing what Humpty Dumpty couldn't do puts him in a different and highly unusual league.

But most importantly, Ewing's Immortal Hulk has introduced the extradimensional "green door," a gateway to the lowest of hells ruled by a Cthulhuesque being called the One Below All. (The name inspired by its direct opposite, the One Above All, from Ewing's New Ultimates series of recent vintage.) Unable to gain entry to our world alone, it instead wears the souls of the dead like clothes. In its first direct strike against the Hulk, it used the soul of Banner's abusive father, Brian. "Brian" in turn possessed Walter Langkowski, Banner's college roommate who exposed himself to gamma rays and became the superhero known as Sasquatch.

The Hulk's newfound ability to absorb gamma radiation worked to his disadvantage during the battle with Sasquatch. Because the One Below All uses gamma as a medium, draining the energy from Langkowski's body allowed the creature, still wearing Brian's soul, to possess the Hulk. The creature persuaded him to return to Los Diablos Missile Base, where the fateful gamma bomb had originally detonated.
There the Hulk fought "Crusher" Creel, a.k.a. the Absorbing Man, who absorbed the gamma energy from his body--and with it, the One Below All, who appeared very differently to Creel. And when Creel stumbled into the spot where the detonation occurred, the world turned upside down. He and those around him were transported into the hellish domain the One called home.

In this Hell Below Others, the various parties near the event are divided into teams of two, with the Hulk alongside Jackie McGee, the reporter tracking him since issue #1, while Creel is teamed with Eugene Judd, friend to Langkowski, better known as Puck. So far, Langkowski and Carl Burbank, an assassin better known as Bushwacker, are unaccounted for in the "Hulk in Hell" story.

However, most remarkably, Bruce Banner appears separated from the Hulk, bathed in green light upon a high cliff, while his father Brian stands and explains the story of the One Below All. In addition, Ewing narrates a comparative religions study. He burrows into Kabbalist Jewish lore, evoking the unity and duality of God. In fact, the story in issue #10 is titled "Thaumiel," which are the twins of God. In #11 he defines Thaumiel further, explaining that its ruler is Satan, whom, conveniently, Hulk has been compared to since the very first issue of this run.

However, I think those looking for a deeper reading of the text are emphasizing the wrong part of the puzzle, and issue #12, titled "All on That Day" (an ode to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman"?), crystallizes my thinking by keeping the Kabbalist view of Hell but also bringing in the Zurvanite Zoroastrian concepts of the god Ahura Mazda and its opposite, Angra Mainyu, as twin brothers.

Credit where credit's due to Cth on the Hulk Message Board for highlighting this, because in an issue where we get a lot of new history on Bruce's father Brian and his relationship with wife and son, we also get this panel amid Ewing's narrations:

Looking back, the same panel is found on the very first page of issue #11, with different captions:

In a book where the focus is the dysfunctional relationship between father and son, it's hard not to see a panel such as the above as related to the characters' past.

But then, why are there two cribs in the picture in question?

Then another thing hit me when I went for another reread. When Jackie McGee tells the childlike Hulk to put the Devil Hulk back in charge to talk, he has a marked aversion to her characterization of his relationship to Banner:

Through McGee, Ewing seems to be metacritiquing the historical interpretation of the Hulk that's existed since Peter David's revolutionary Incredible Hulk #377, where the two Hulks (to that point) were explained as multiple personalities of Bruce Banner given form by the G-bomb. And the extant personality seems to disagree with that interpretation.

Now why would he do that?

The answer is one I think we've already seen without realizing. It's staring us in the face since the very end of issue #11, in the climactic moment where we see Brian talking to the suspended body of his son in the green light.

If you think of Hell in the strictest interpretation, it's a place where souls go when they die. So, if the Hulk, or Hulks if you prefer, are mere alters of Bruce Banner, why would they be separate in Hell?

Unless, of course, Bruce Banner and the Hulk have an altogether different relationship than we've been led to believe all of these years.

Unless Bruce Banner and the Hulk are brothers, not alters.

Twin brothers.

Remember that twins aren't an aberration in the Hulk mythos. In Peter David's out-of-continuity novel, What Savage Beast, Betty gave birth to twins named Ross and Brett before Ross died and Brett was kidnapped to be raised in a dystopic future by the Hulk's future self, the Maestro. And in-continuity, Greg Pak wrote of Skaar and Hiro-Kala, the Hulk's twin sons by his alien wife Caiera. And twins, as anyone with a passing familiarity with genetics will say, run in families.

So why haven't we heard anyone talk about Bruce Banner's brother before now? There are a few possibilities. It could be that another son was expected but that he was stillborn. Or perhaps he fell victim to the vanishing twin syndrome, wherein a twin dies in utero and its tissues are reabsorbed, often by the mother or sometimes by the remaining twin.

What if the Hulk were that vanished twin, absorbed back into Bruce, brought to life when the G-bomb struck?

It might even go to great lengths to explain how the Hulk possesses such remarkable healing abilities as he's demonstrated in the body-horrific issue #8. If the Hulk is a vanished twin--fetal tissue reabsorbed into his brother--then fetal tissue has unique properties that developed tissue does not. Hence why many scientists have begun experimentation on stem cells in therapies for treating various genetic diseases. I'm spitballing here, but perhaps the Hulk's healing derives from being, in effect, a mass of super stem cells?

Remember, one thing Ewing also brought up courtesy the Hulk's inner monologue back in issue #9 is the idea that perhaps he wasn't only with Bruce since the G-bomb, or maybe not even since being abused, but even further back in some form:

Put it all together and it sounds like the only remaining questions are just why there's so often a childlike Hulk and a smarter, craftier one.

Oh, and...

We'll see at least a few of the answers in The Immortal Hulk #13, on sale a week and a half from now. But in the meantime, we've got a lot of speculating to do. If the answers are even close to what I've postulated here, well, we're in for a grand old time as Hulk fans.



The Incredibly Morbid Hulk (Avengers #684 & Immortal Hulk #1, Forecasted)

He's baaaaaaaaaaccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkk.

And he's PISSED.

Since the last time I wrote, the Hulk--my favorite fictional character, as you should know if you've been following me for any length--largely remained dead since Marvel had him killed in their publicity stunt masquerading as event series, Civil War II, in mid-2016.

The series was written by Brian Michael Bendis, a writer whose work I've at times enjoyed (Alias, Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man--the first 50-ish issues) and other times loathed (gobs of Avengers and X-Men of varying flavors; Secret Invasion; Guardians of the Galaxy). As I've said before, his characterization of Banner and the Hulk just leave me cold, and each time I have to read something he wrote about them, I cringe at the total lack of knowledge of and utter disgust for them he seems to possess. I know not everyone holds Bruce Banner and his monstrous id in the same high regard as I, but dammit, do people who seem to outright hate him need to be so obvious about it?

The only thing more disgusting than the way in which Marvel chose to kill the Hulk is the way in which they've teased, time and again, his "resurrection." It's true that you knew they would never let him stay dead, but really, they tease by having the Uncanny Avengers fight a version of him apparently raised by the Hand and wearing tatami that still lets his green skin peek out around the edges? Not content with that, Banner's body is then turned over to Captain America, who at the time was a deep cover Hydra agent, his memories rewritten by the Cosmic Cube as part of a revenge scheme by the Red Skull. (Say that five times fast, I dare you!) Of course, Captain America Hydra turns the corpse over to Arnim Zola, who programs him to return to life just long enough to shred through Cap's heroic opposition like a sickle through chaff.

So of course, primed by these three "deaths," the new Hulk status quo is that he's--wait for it--immortal, and each time he's died, he was just destined to come back. That's the premise of the new series by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, coming in June to a comic shop near you, called--yup--The Immortal Hulk. (Interview at link.) And Marvel is previewing this new take in their 16-part weekly series, Avengers: No Surrender, of which issue #684 is now on sale.


Not My Batman V. Not My Superman

I didn't like Man of Steel.

I'm not talking about the 1986 DC Comics miniseries by John Byrne, which is, to the contrary, revelatory in nature. That book brought Superman singlehandedly into the modern era and paved the way for hundreds of terrific tales. (It's also, as I pointed out before, the starting point for my own Superman collection, recently begun anew with the resurrection of the Post-Crisis iteration of the character.)

Rather, I'm talking about Zack Snyder's 2013 film that endeavored to reintroduce Krypton's Last Son to modern audiences. I liked the trailers and I even was excited enough to attend a midnight screening of the movie. I started out really enjoying the scenes that took place on Krypton, displaying the conflict between Superman's father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). But the Superman of this narrative contrasts starkly with the version I know and have enjoyed for the last few decades. Gone was the optimism that's often encircled the character, replaced by cynicism at best and pervasive xenophobia at worst. (I shouldn't have been surprised, as executive producer Christopher Nolan always was more at home in Gotham than Metropolis.) Add in enough property devastation to make even Michael Bay blush, and I might have considerable pause. But then--then--give Superman, the very same guy who always, always finds a way to win, an unwinnable situation where the narrative forces him to kill Zod. I checked out like Mark Waid (a writer whose work on Superman: Birthright and other tales I enjoyed).

So when DC announced the "sequel" to Man of Steel would be a battle with the Darkknight Detective himself, as a pitstop between the original and a Justice League movie, I should've known better. When I saw the film back in March, I dismissed it as an unmitigated disaster that got so, so much wrong about both lead characters as well as the villains of the piece. Batman (Ben Affleck) saw everything in terms of absolute good or absolute evil and was a frequent accessory to murder (with the bat-brands on criminals he caught serving as, essentially, a death sentence). Superman (HEnry Cavill) was a man of few words, and those he did say he growled in ways more accustomed to Batman. Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg, horrendously miscast) was just a lunatic. And Doomsday could fly, shoot heat rays out of his eyes, and explode over and over again like a bomb because, well, I'm not quite sure why. The narrative was a mess, the characters were a mess, and by the time Superman died in the final battle, I was nauseatingly numb.

Of course, like a fool I decided I absolutely needed to watch the "Ultimate Cut" released on July 19. Could the additional 30 minutes of footage turn my opinion of the film around? Putting aside the fact that an R-rated version of a Superman movie shouldn't even by rights exist, I watched.

The verdict? Although the film is still deeply flawed and especially wrongheaded in its treatment of Superman, the Ultimate Cut is a leap forward when compared to its theatrical predecessor.

Others have given more thorough reviews of the films as a set, so I won't go into much detail. The strongest bit re-inserted into this film is the lengths to which Luthor went to manipulate the characters, from Superman and Batman on down to Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy) and Kahina Ziri (Wunmi Mosaku), the latter of whom has the most expanded role. What could have been believed as too many coincidences in the theatrical version is spelled out as Luthor's machinations in this version. Granted, very few of the additional scenes actually involve Eisenberg's Luthor himself, so there's an even greater disconnect between the actor's portrayal and what we know the character has done. But putting forth the idea that Luthor knew who Batman and Superman really were from the beginning puts everything in perspective, just as making him direct prisoners to kill other prisoners with bat-symbols exonerates Batman in a way, and makes the opening sequence and the bullet sub-plot have a more sensible connection to Superman.

However, there are things besides Luthor that remain problematic or become even more so as result of the added footage. Batman's visions of an "Apokoliptic" future and the cameos of all Justice League members still stick out like sore thumbs. The explosion at the Capitol Building gets a bit of a tradeoff, as we find out Keefe's wheelchair was lined with lead which prevented Superman from seeing the bomb. However, nothing in this film or Man of Steel shows why Luthor would have any knowledge of this particular weakness of Superman's. (Filmmaking 101: Set 'em up and knock 'em down.) And Snyder really, really doubled down on the bleakness and carnage of the prior film's denouement, using it to form his basis of this one.

The biggest problems of the movie are still, sadly, the biggest problems. Batman still reacts nuttily toward Superman's exclamation that they're going to kill Martha, and Doomsday is still a big gray deus ex machina meant to give all three protagonists something to punch and hit since Luthor's body can't take that kind of punishment. But what was worst of all was the entire sub-plot making Superman out to be some kind of god being worshiped by the people of the world. True, he never actively encouraged any of them, but he never discouraged them, either. Snyder takes pains to dismantle the myth, at least in Batman's eyes, by making him see that he's not a god--that he's just a man, in the "Martha" scene, and then impresses it upon everyone else in the story by having Doomsday kill him at the end. He can die just like the rest of us! O, sad day!

This is all well and good, of course, so long as you don't consider that, in order for Superman to appear in Justice League, he's going to need to be restored to life. And, if you think the huddled masses were going ga-ga over Superman before, just wait until they see that Christ parallel in action! The very direction of the narrative decimates any statement Snyder (or screenwriters Terrio and Goyer) attempts to make.

So, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has a better version in the Ultimate Cut; however, there's still much to overcome. Seeing this cut gives me a little hope in Justice League. Maybe, at the very least, they'll resurrect Superman with the ability to smile, laugh, and see the best in people? After all, Henry Cavill has really looked the part in these last two films, and I know from films like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that he's got charisma to spare. So why not let him, you know, actually use it?

Stranger things...



A Delusional Flashback: The Hulk Is Dead, Long Live...John Byrne's Hulk?

I thought it might be a good time to throw a new spotlight on another time the Hulk was threatened with death...by acclaimed writer/artist John Byrne!

If you haven't read the below articles, well...they're new to you!

John Byrne & The Hulk That Might Have Been (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Post-Script)

Delusional Honesty will return later this week, with a long-delayed review of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.



The Physicist Has No Purple Pants: Marvel's Hulk-Sized Problems (2 of 2)

(Updated thanks to an eagle-eyed Facebook friend. Thanks, GG!)

When last we left our intrepid blogger, I was constructing a narrative by which I proved that there's a great, big target on the Hulk's green butt, put there by Marvel's powers-that-be and set to have the bull's-eye hit on Wednesday, July 13th, only 3 short days from now, in the pages of Marvel's Civil War II #3. Now, get ready to go beyond the actual event, into what the Hulk's death means for the world of Marvel Comics and its creators, for you the fans, and for the entire doomed comics industry.

(Whoops. Did I just say "doomed"? Heh-heh.)

While I've been taking the time to write these new chapters, I hope you've familiarized yourself with Totally Awesome Hulk #7-8, both now on sale, the latter of them since I published part one. As writer Greg Pak stated himself, the books mark his return to writing Bruce Banner. What he didn't say--but which is patently obvious from reading the eighth issue in particular--is that these stories are intended as a final look back at our favorite physicist, since his next appearance in Civil War II will end with an arrow through his [insert whatever part of Banner's anatomy you want].