In 1962 creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced readers to a decidedly different comic book superhero; one whose inspirations were rooted in classic monster tales like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Universal’s Frankenstein series of films. His name was the Hulk and he was the monstrous, super strong, rage-fueled, alter ego of an atomic scientist named Bruce Banner. That combination of horror and heroism would make the Hulk a comic book superstar and later a pop culture icon who would go onto to star in television series, animated programs, and feature films including Marvel Studios’ blockbuster series of Avengers films.
That level of mainstream success and exposure may have some people thinking Hulk has moved far away from the horror stories inspired his creation. That would be an incorrect assumption though because in 2018 Marvel Comics kicked off a brand new series, Immortal Hulk, that is a full-blown horror comic featuring a multitude of creepy sub-genres. It’s also an incredibly accessible book that has something to offer a variety of horror fans including ones who’ve never read a comic book before. To help illuminate that, I spoke with series writer, Al Ewing, about the classic horror films that helped inspire his series, the types of horror stories featured in the book, and how you don’t need to know anything about the Hulk’s past comic book adventures or read any other books to enjoy Immortal Hulk.
“There’s something very creepy about being unable to die, and I knew there were roads from that to some very fun ideas and stories.”
Dave Richards for Nightmare on Film Street: A lot of people only know the Hulk as a more superheroic figure who saves the world alongside the Avengers, but your monthly Immortal Hulk series is a full-on horror book. What inspired you to take the series and the character in this direction?
Al Ewing: Partly, it’s because that’s how it started. If you pick up Incredible Hulk #1, from 1962 – which is easier than you’d think, since it’s been reprinted a bunch of times and is available digitally – you’ll be reading a classic monster comic of the era with some fairly disturbing flourishes. Bruce Banner literally screams for hours when he’s hit by the gamma bomb, and the Hulk only emerges when night falls – there’s a sequence of Bruce Banner sitting terrified in his chair as the shadows lengthen, waiting for the night to fall and his dark side to emerge. So a horror take was baked into the character to an extent.
The rest of the puzzle – I was one of the writers working on an Avengers crossover, and at the time, Bruce Banner was dead. And part of the job we were given was working out a way to bring him back that was fresh and interesting. I wondered what it might be like if he couldn’t die – if he was an immortal being, he just didn’t know it. There’s something very creepy about being unable to die, and I knew there were roads from that to some very fun ideas and stories. So I pushed for that direction, and to cut a long story short, I ended up on the Hulk’s ongoing title – which we rechristened The Immortal Hulk.
NOFS: Your Immortal Hulk stories are brought to life by Joe Bennett and other artists who seem to enjoy the horror genre. What’s it like writing a creepy moment for your collaborators and then seeing it brought to life? Have you ever been unnerved by some of the scenes they’ve drawn?
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AE: It takes a lot to unnerve me – in print, at least, it’s pretty easily done on the cinema screen – but there’ve been many, many times when Joe’s taken a description I’ve given him and brought back something beyond visually stunning. His command of imagery is constantly impressive – I’ve had scenes come back that look like tarot cards, or eerie paintings from some dark museum, and then he’ll turn on a dime and deliver some classic 80s horror effects – no mean feat in pencil on paper.
“…there are a whole bunch of different types of horror […] it’s very much a creepy story of things that go bump in the night, and dark secrets in small towns.
NOFS: A potential barrier that can keep new readers from starting a book like Immortal Hulk is the feeling that they have to know a character’s many years of back story or perhaps buy other titles they might not be interested in to get a full story. Is that the case with Immortal Hulk?
AE: Absolutely not. We went in with the aim of proofing it against that – we don’t even have recap pages or editorial captions. Any tie-ins to other titles are handled in optional specials – if readers want to pick them up, we do our best to make it worth their time and dime, but they’re not forced to if they just want to read the main book. Immortal Hulk does go back into Hulk’s past, but we explain everything on the page as we go – I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s the first Hulk book they ever read, and some people have told me it’s their first comic book entirely, so you definitely don’t need to read anything else before issue #1.
NOFS: Immortal Hulk is part of a shared superhero universe where things like the Avengers do exist and can cross paths with your title character. What does that mean for the tone of the book when it happens?
AE: The Avengers did drop-in in #7 – and they’ll be back – but the tone of the book doesn’t change to fit them into it. The tone remains the same, and the Avengers have to fit into it – so the fight between them and the Hulk in issue #7 isn’t a popcorn spectacle, it’s a desperate struggle to control something uncontrollable, in which these heroes are brought down, one by one, until finally they’re forced to take unthinkable measures just to slow the Hulk down. It’s the same when other outside characters enter the narrative – we put them to the uses we want to put them, rather than deforming our narrative to fit them into it. Even in those optional tie-ins I mentioned – we might be seeing what Hulk did during a Venom crossover, but it’s still a Hulk story first and foremost.
“I’d been planning from near the start to take things in a more satanic direction, leading to a visit to hell and a close look at the various Satans of mythology.”
NOFS: Immortal Hulk is a story with a beginning, middle, and eventual end that you’re building towards. It’s also a series of arcs, which gives you the opportunity to tell many different types of terrifying tales. So, what do you want prospective readers to know about the types of horror they’ll see in Immortal Hulk?
AE: We do shake things up very often – something about the Hulk demands that kind of constant motion, where the narrative doesn’t stay still or allow the reader to get bored. So there are a whole bunch of different types of horror – to begin with, it’s very much a creepy story of things that go bump in the night, and dark secrets in small towns. Around the time I learned Joe was also a big fan of Carpenter’s The Thing, the book took a turn into that kind of gruesome body horror – but I’d been planning from near the start to take things in a more satanic direction, leading to a visit to hell and a close look at the various Satans of mythology.
What else? The horror of the modern world – Hulk, as Marvel’s most anti-establishment character and an avatar of human anger, was bound to get into the unique horrors of capitalism. We manage to take in both the dark 3A.M. nightmares as the brain digests the day’s news, and slightly more lurid business-level horrors – think Society or The Stuff. Not to mention we get into some Lovecraftian cosmic horror and even take a ringside seat for the death of a couple of universes… there’s a lot there for a horror fan.
NOFS: Finally, if you were to program a night of horror movies with films that inspired your work on Immortal Hulk, or you felt were sort of kindred spirits, what are some of the movies you’d include?
AE: Well, I’ve already mentioned The Thing. That’s really the cornerstone of it. The Fly is worth a look, too – we’ve dropped Easter Eggs related to that a couple of times, and Bruce Banner shares a little DNA with arrogant scientist turned tortured monster Seth Brundle. But there’s also a little of Roddy Piper from They Live in the Hulk, so let’s add that one to the pile. And I’ll finish up with one I need to make time for myself – Quatermass And The Pit, full of more crusading scientists, ancient secrets and Satanic imagery.
“We manage to take in both the dark 3A.M. nightmares as the brain digests the day’s news, and slightly more lurid business-level horrors”
There are currently seven Immortal Hulk trade paperbacks available, collecting issues #1-#35, with the eighth on the way – and if you’re isolating right now, a lot of comic shops will send one to you via mail order. Let us know your thoughts on the Hulk as a Horror Movie Monster over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.