Word of mouth spread very rapidly about what a fine series Al Ewing and Joe Bennett were responsible for with Immortal Hulk, and barely a year after the first paperbacks had been issued the first two, Or Is He Both? and The Green Door, are combined for the first of a hardcover series. While that’s not as unusual as it once was, for anyone coming in late it offers an attractive alternative presentation, and Immortal Hulk is a series worth spending the extra cash on.

That’s apparent from a stunning opening chapter that’s part horror story, part tragedy, part morality play and all human drama. Ewing efficiently deals with past continuity that saw Bruce Banner dead, or so we think, because it’s something he returns to a few chapters on. This picking at threads or adding layers to the onion is a significant aspect of the series as a whole, as Ewing keeps puncturing what we think we know about the Hulk, and does so logically and respectfully. A big influence is the way Alan Moore reconstituted Swamp Thing in the 1980s, transforming him into something well removed from his presumed identity. Ewing shows Hulk-sized ambition in doing the same with the Hulk, a character who’s been around for far longer and has a greater prominence. He’ll take it far further, but by the end of these ten chapters he’s already thoroughly undermined our long-held certainties about Bruce Banner and the Hulk.

Disassociative Identity Disorder plays a part, enabling the resurrection of assorted forms the Hulk’s taken before, and Ewing stretches his net over pretty well anyone who’s played an important supporting role in the past. Another influence is the 1980s Hulk TV show, in which David (not Bruce) Banner wandered from town to town, a fugitive desperately attempting to suppress his alter-ego, although the added twist here is that Banner is no longer a genius and suspects the Hulk’s controlling intelligence may now be smarter that he is.

The majority of the art is supplied by Joe Bennett, skilled and adaptable in drawing whatever’s needed, be that ordinary people in ordinary locations or a giant green monster. The Hulk’s kept hidden over the opening story, and when finally revealed is an astonishing mountain of towering rage. Because Ewing has such a widespread approach, there is room for other artists. Lee Garbett is the nearest in tone to Bennett, although not as emotionally strong, while the surprising roster of Garry Brown, Paul Hornschemeier, Leonardo Romero and Marguerite Sauvage are called on for a few pages at a time to give us the gritty, grainy, glamorous and awkward as several people’s recollections of meeting the Hulk are conflicting. The only artistic mis-step is the use of pages from Martin Simmonds alternating with Bennett over a fight scene. Either separately would be fine, but going from one style to the next and back is plain wrong.

It’s a fight scene with the Avengers midway through that establishes how the Hulk is now even more powerful, smart with it, and not inclined to do anything just because Captain America says so with Iron Man and Thor behind him. Several other scenes work just fine, but also set the stage for events to follow. Immortal Hulk is a multi-functioned re-imagining that reads very well and looks spectacular. It’s worth the hardcover format.

At the same time as this was published Marvel also put out the Immortal Hulk Omnibus, larger and bulkier and additionally featuring half the content of Volume 2.