Immortal Hulk #34 Review

by Charles Martin on June 24, 2020

Immortal Hulk #34 Review
Writer: Al Ewing
Guest Penciller: Butch Guice
Guest Inker: Tom Palmer (!)
Colourist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Up to now, the Leader has put in just one appearance in this series, catching the apocalyptic warning about Cosmic World-Breaker Hulk sent back in time by those massively weird aliens in #25

#34 gives itself over entirely to the Leader, telling his life story and tying him inextricably into this volume's long-term plot. It starts with humble Sam Stearns, who "spent [his] life hauling crap" before getting accidentally Gamma-irradiated.

Where the Hulk is a brilliant scientist cursed with tremendous physicality, the Leader is a blue-collar joe who received a super-intellect from his brush with the Gamma.

That's just the first of the many dualities this issue explores. The Leader -- and Sam, who, like Bruce Banner, remains a separate character -- decides early on that his fate is entwined with the Hulk's. 

Al Ewing's script revisits a "greatest hits" montage of past Leader antics, smoothly massaging old continuity and fitting it right in line with this volume's Green Door mythology.

The Leader has died, a lot, and this issue reveals that that makes him intimately familiar with the Green Door, Gamma Hell, and the One Below All. In fact, the Leader beat the Hulk there by a considerable margin, and he's had a hidden hand in at least some of this volume's prior events.

Guest artist Butch Guice brings a distinctive look to the Leader's story, nicely separating it from this volume's visual status quo. I'm a big fan of Mr. Guice's naturalistic style. He gives me the impression, more than any other artist, that even the wildest comics action is something happening to Real People in the Real World, and he just happened to be there with a sketchbook.

His pencils are enhanced by expert inking from Tom Palmer. Woah, is that "kept Gene Colan looking good in the 70s" Tom Palmer, continuing to kick inking butt in 2020?! Awesome!

The volume's regular colourist, Paul Mounts, puts the finishing touch on the visuals with a palette that strikes a balance between realism and symbolism. Modulated colours help to create light and shadow on the characters, but a strong colour theme throughout the issue returns repeatedly to blue settings, and it tracks meaningfully with the amount of control the Leader has in any given scene.

Al Ewing's script does a stellar job of making the Leader an antihero. He's a ruthlessly logical man, and his actions make sense. But he is also a monster, making unforgivable choices without shame or remorse. 

Perhaps the most interesting and meaningful part of the issue is the clear evolution in motivation the Leader goes through over its decades-long scope. From trying to understand the accident that empowered him, to understanding and then dominating the world, to cheating death, and finally back to achieving total control. 

That last goal remains active, and this mostly-retrospective issue includes just enough new development to paint a frightening picture of how the Leader's ambitions fit, like a key in a door lock, into the Hulk's story. He knows -- he might be the only one who knows -- what will happen if the One Below All successfully turns the Hulk into its avatar. 

And the Leader wants that possession to happen. On one level, he wants this because he's a bad guy. But because Al Ewing examines his motivation so closely and so skillfully, every reader can see that the Leader has much more compelling reasons to act besides pure mustache-twirling villainy.

The Immortal Hulk #34 is the definitive character sketch of the Leader. The creators use finely-crafted words and naturalistic art to reshape one of the Hulk's goofier villains, turning him into a dark reflection of the hero and setting him up as a menacing éminence grise in the contemporary story. This issue may be slightly short on action, but it has a powerful, transformative effect on the narrative so far.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
I love "Kirbons" as fundamental particles in the Marvel Universe. I believe they're a little bonus gift Jonathan Hickman delivered along with his X-Men, yeah?