And it all comes down to this: The Immortal Hulk comes to a definitive end with its 10th and final trade volume. My biggest complaint about the last few trades was mostly how they ended: on cliffhangers.
That can’t happen here with this volume, subtitled Of Hell and Of Death.
The Hulk has it bad, both of them. Joe Fixit managed to become a new Red Hulk, one that absorbs gamma radiation and seems to make people in his vicinity angrier just by being there. The Savage Hulk is behaving more childlishly, so it’s Joe’s job to go out and deal with things like the U-Foes and the Avengers. The Hulk still has some allies in the form of Harpy Better Ross and Gamma Flight, to say nothing of Ben Grimm still looking out for him on the side, but the real problem is a simple one: Banner is still in what is basically Gamma Hell. The Leader and the One Below All seem to have merged into a composite being, something that did not work out well for the Leader. In the meantime, with Joe in the driver’s seat, can he do the right thing and rescue Banner?
That’s what this final volume becomes. Writer Al Ewing has been good about redefining the various Hulks, and while the Devil Hulk proved far less immortal than promised and the Savage Hulk is basically the angry child lashing out at the world, he finally sits down to explain who and what Joe Fixit is supposed to be. It fits well. The Hulk has long been played with as a man with multiple personality syndrome, and Ewing more than most actually looked into the psychology of most of the different Hulks to explain how they all came from one man who had a highly abusive childhood. Sure, they never got the Professor Hulk persona during this run, and Worldbreaker Hulk was perhaps not the real thing, but as far as Devil, Savage, and Joe goes, Ewing explained them all very well in a manner that made sense.
In the end, it does mean Joe and the Savage Hulk, along with reporter Jackie McGee, journey into Gamma Hell to save Bruce, as deep down, the Hulk’s mission has always been to “save Bruce”. At least, that’s how Ewing has seen the characters, and it works very well in the end. Ewing even does something where he shows how the Hulk’s birth acts as a counterpart to the creation of the Fantastic Four. It’s all part of weaving the Hulk into the greater Marvel Universe, one that asks questions like whether or not the Hulk can show mercy or if there’s even the possibility for peace for a man like Bruce Banner.
That said, my trade actually had some pages out of order in the final issue reprint, something that definitely affected my enjoyment of this last story. That last issue likewise may not have answered every question, but arguably, the ones it didn’t answer are not the sorts of questions that perhaps can be answered. Will there ever be a Hulk series as philosophical or psychologically deep as this one? I have no idea, but in the meantime, this one ended as well as I could have hoped for it to do.
8.5 out of 10 ruined afterglows for the trade and 9.5 out of 10 eyeless souls in the afterlife for the series.