Immortal Hulk #31 Review

by Charles Martin on February 12, 2020

Immortal Hulk #31 Review
Writer: Al Ewing

Main Story Art
Joe Bennett
Inkers: Ruy José, Belardino Brabo & Cam Smith
Colourist: Paul Mounts

McGowan Sequence Art
Penciller & Colourist:
Javier Rodríguez
Inker: Álvaro López

Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

One of the impressive things about a tight creative team doing "greatest of all time" work is how remarkably efficient it can be.

Immortal Hulk #31 brings the big Phoenix fight to a premature (yet satisfying!) conclusion, drops disturbing hints about Xemnu's abilities, and looks back into Dr. McGowan's personal history. Plus we get a few new breadcrumb-clues about the "rules" governing the different Hulk personalities.

Each of these plotlines gets satisfying development in this issue. What's more, they interact with each other to a frightening degree. Xemnu's actions reverberate into Dr. McGowan's story in a revealing, transformative way.

There is enough content here to fill up three issues in the hands of a less-integrated team. I think even the Immortal Hulk creators, had they tackled this earlier in the run, would have split it in two. 

But woven together into one unified story, these disparate threads don't just work, they thrive. 

For me, Dr. McGowan's story is a little more compelling and a little more complicated than the top-billed Xemnu developments. She stands revealed as a flawed person with more than her share of mistakes to live down. She cooked MGH for the Kingpin, and she speaks compellingly about the sense of false security you can feel when you are too far down a bad path to change course. 

She also gets a wonderful extra layer of meaning thanks to a nigh-undeniable revelation about her identity. I won't spoil the twist beyond saying that there's a community out there that will be inspired to parse her words with much greater care when they discover what sort of drugs she was brewing on the side of her MGH-cooking gig.

And I do think Al Ewing laid in a rich vein of extra meaning for that community. Dr. McGowan's words and feelings about the Hulk carry heavy subtext along with the engaging text. For her, the Hulk is a mirror, reflecting rage and frustration and a desire to remake the world.

Dr. McGowan has consistently been one of my favourite parts of this volume, and this latest complication just endears her to me that much more.

As another example of instinctively great collaboration, I point to the way this issue's art duties are organized. Though the reader arrives prepared to dive straight into Joe Bennett's Hulk-vs-Xemnu slugfest, instead, Javier Rodríguez leads off with Dr. McGowan's more cerebral story.

(Never fear, Mr. Bennett gets to flex his considerable carnage-muscles later on, delivering wonderful Hulk action and a wild new twist on Crusher Creel's powers.)

Mr. Rodríguez's clean characters and active layouts make a perfect contrast to the established visual tone of the story in progress. They set Dr. McGowan's memories aside as something distinctly different yet equally compelling.

Paul Mounts and Álvaro López carry that constructive contrast into the colour palettes, emphasizing the difference in the two stories while still setting them up to harmonize with each other.

All the visual work comes together when the art duties make one last flip for the final scene. It moves directly from Mr. Bennett's McGowan to Mr. Rodríguez's version, and those two styles couldn't be further apart in tone. But they nail the most important job, effortlessly convincing us we're looking at the same woman through two different lenses.

When I'm assigning a rating to this issue, I go yet again with an imperfect 9/10. This is not to imply that there are any serious (or even minor) flaws; it's just such an integrated part of an ongoing story that it can't be perfectly satisfying without the context lent by past (and, I expect, future) issues. Xemnu's powers, in particular, come off a little too ambiguous in this initial demonstration. I have every confidence that they will come into sharper focus soon.

Immortal Hulk #31 delivers another masterfully-balanced chapter that offers equal delights to readers who want slugfests and readers who want to put supporting characters under a microscope. Xemnu's uncanny powers serve as a nice bridge between the two, messing with memories and swaying the outcome of the big fight. It's not a standalone story -- it cries out for more Xemnu details -- but it is an enthralling one.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
"Know what I like best about these powers of mine? I got 'em off a trickster god. So it ain't like there's rules, exactly. And some days … some days there ain't even guidelines."