The Immortal Hulk Volumes 1 - 6 (Written by Al Ewing, Mainly Illustrated by Joe Bennett)
Before I start, Marvel keeps putting out volumes that collect more issues, so the volume 6 I read ended with issue #30. Also, I read volume 6 in July, but because I didn't get around to writing this quickie for a few months, I'm reviewing it here with the rest of the series.
The Immortal Hulk is the current interpretation of the Hulk, and there are two ways to look at it - first as its own thing, and second as a continuation of the Hulk canon. On its own, it eschews the superhero aspect of the Hulk and goes full-on horror. This isn't going to be for everyone, which might not be the most useful thing to say since nothing is really for everyone, but to read this you're going to need a stomach for body horror and visceral gore including but not limited to:
- Eyes frequently getting gouged, shot, or acid-melted out, or being replaced with rotted holes.
- Absorbing Man draining the Hulk's power and getting ripped in half length-wise down to the groin trying to contain it, leaving him to stagger around with his guts dragging on the ground.
- After being dissected as Bruce with all his body parts in different specimen jars, the Hulk breaking out and crushing a guy inside himself as he reforms on top of him.
- Betty in her Red Harpy form tearing the Hulk's heart out and eating it.
- The Hulk getting doused in acid, ripping the half-melted chunks of flesh off his face and torso, and hurling them at his attackers.
- Whatever the fuck this is.
The primary persona of this series is the Devil Hulk (okay, I'm not sure if he's supposed to be called "the Devil Hulk" or just "the Devil" so bear with me here), who was introduced back in 2000 when Bruce was having one of his mind journeys and encountered him as a snake-man that embodied his self-loathing. While most Hulks hold "puny Banner" in contempt, the Devil Hulk is fiercely protective of him and it's implied he was born not out of Bruce's self-loathing, but his desire for a father who actually gave a damn about him (the Gray Hulk, acting through Bruce's body, even calls him "big daddy" at one point). Although when he gets angry enough he mentally reverts into the Savage Hulk, making him feel more like a younger brother who got all the muscle and trashes anyone who messes with his older, more vulnerable sibling. Whatever the case, he wants nothing more than to destroy the world that's abused Bruce all his life.
That said, he comes across as more chaotic than truly evil, and even shows concern for the humans screwed over by the same system as Bruce. In particular, a reporter and sort of audience surrogate Jackie McGee, whose house was destroyed by the Hulk when she was a child and pursued a career in journalism to seek him out. Immortal Hulk takes the "is he man or monster, or is he both" theme that's been at the core of the Hulk since the first issue and revisits it as his dichotomy between force of good or force of destruction, angel or demon, Geburah or Golachab... or is he both? The first two issues have the Hulk sorting out a gas station robber and an idiot who killed his own son with gamma radiation, but before long he's being pursued by a secret government military just like the good old days, with a philosophy lecture on "Geburah" and "Golachab" and trip to Hell thrown in for good measure.
The idea behind the "Immortal" in the title is that when a gamma-irradiated person dies it's not permanent and they come back to life sooner or later. As well as Bruce reviving whenever he Hulks outs at night, Betty gets shot in the head and ressurects as a hybrid of the Harpy and the Red She-Hulk (not sure if there's supposed to be a phoenix analogy in here, or if I'm thinking too much), Rick Jones (who I've since learned through Linkara was killed in the Secret Empire event. You know, the one with Nazi Captain America) is brought back to life when his corpse is used as the foundation for a new Abomination, and Doc Samson bites it so many times it starts to become comical.
The art, primarily by Joe Bennet, is fittingly dark, gritty, and morbid, with great attention to anatomy and detail... mostly. There's something off with his art of people yelling, screaming, or just looking terrified I can't quite pin down. Maybe it's the overexaggerated teeth, maybe it's their eyes and mouth not matching and making them look like surprised Pikachu, maybe it's a mix of both. I mean, the guy in that first image* looks more like he's doing a horse impression than yelling in panic.
* If you're wondering why his gun looks weird, he's basically a T-1000 and the gun is his shape-shifted arm.
Occasionally the art is done by somebody else, once or twice as an issue's guest artist, but often within the Bennet issues for scenes from another point of view. There's a cool thing in an early issue where Jackie is interviewing multiple people about an encounter between the Hulk and Hotshot, and each person's story is illustrated in a wildly different style. So an old lady's dreamy take on it is bright and colorful, while the pastor who's seen some shit is scratchy and dark.
As a horror take on the Hulk, it's a sea of despair with pockets of warmth among the ice which may actually be piss. As a continuation of the overall Hulk story, some story elements rub me the wrong way. The big one is that gamma radiation is really magic from Hell or something? And the gamma bomb test that turned Bruce into the Hulk also opened "the Green Door", the gateway to Hell? And the gamma-irradiated get sent down there until they resurrect? So, does that include those gamma-enlarged chickens Betty flipped out over in that issue where Bruce was mind controlled and fighting alongside the Juggernaut? What about anybody who ate them?
And whatever joy you might have felt from older stories, this series... well, "shits on" it is not the right term here. Embitters it, maybe? Hey, you know Rick Jones, the Hulk's fun-loving, pop-culture referencing sidekick, right? He's a psychokinetic zombie now! Remember Hotshot and Jailbait, the kids who got gamma powers after the Leader nuked their town? He hanged himself after she was driven insane by the Green Door! Was there a Hulk book for children you have fond memories of? Remember, kids, he actually gets his power from Hell! And as you're watching Bruce be a bit of a goof in Avengers: Endgame, know that billions of years from now, the Hulk is going to become the next Galactus, flying through the cosmos as a green star and punching planets into oblivion! Yeah, that's the issue that twisted Hulk image I showed earlier came from, and believe it or not the next page is even more fucked up. Reading it left a hella sour taste in my mouth, at least until the thought occurred to me that he basically becomes Sargeras and I started laughing hysterically.
Volume 6 takes a weird turn. After defeating the secret military organization that had been pursuing him up until then and taking over the remains, the Hulk turns his attention to a Fox News/Exxon Mobile hybrid run by a minotaur (who I believe is a pre-established Marvel character, but from Daredevil?) and it shifts from horror to the Devil Hulk's anarchist mindset. It's uncomfortably relevant in Summer 2020, especially the issue with the protesters wearing Hulk masks and a cop trying to assassinate his own daughter, it's just kind of jarring after all the body horror. It's mostly transition issues, ending with the minotaur doing the "unleash monsters on people, then deal with them himself for popularity" trope, but since he's capitalism to the Nth degree you could read as him creating a problem and selling the solution.
Puss in Boots (PG)
It's fitting that this movie was produced by the same company as How to Train Your Dragon, because the first word to enter my head after finishing it was "toothless."
In this prequel to the Shrek series, Puss in Boots gets his first taste of adventure when he, Humpty Dumpty, and new character Kitty Softpaws steal the goose with the golden eggs by way of overly long action and dance scenes and things just happening with little sense of flow, logic, or tension. This is exemplified at the end of the movie, when after the antagonist has been nothing but an irredeemable bastard, Puss makes one last appeal to his emotions and he suddenly goes "Duh, okay" and helps saves the day. That's only a slight exaggeration.