23rd Feb2021

‘The Immortal Hulk: Flatline #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Declan Shalvey | Art by Declan Shalvey | Published by Marvel Comics

It seems Immortal Hulk reviews by me are like buses, nothing for a while then two come along at the same time. As I said before, Immortal Hulk had been a book I had been meaning to pick up for a time and just hadn’t got around to. I reviewed issue 43, which I really enjoyed, and have been re-reading the run in my own time. It was impossible then for me to not pick up this one-shot from Declan Shalvey, who writes, pencils, inks, colours, and does the cover. He’s Kirby reborn! This is, I don’t doubt a real labour of love, but is part of Marvel’s plan to put out Immortal Hulk one-shots to satisfy demand as the main book ends with Issue 50 in the near future. They all tie in to the main continuity, and all have relevance. Let’s dig in.

If, like me until recently, you aren’t up to speed on the Immortal Hulk book it goes something like this. A new Hulk persona, the Devil Hulk, had emerged, with an intention to bring down the world of man so as to rebuild a better world (in his eyes, anyway). It’s kind of like the Hulk with all safeguards removed. Intentional killing is no longer off the table, and any and all action that the Hulk can take is justified. As you can imagine, this has made a lot of people nervous. Just ask Bruce Banner. This story starts as he wakes up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Imagine every day you wake up being an adventure, not knowing where you are or why. Bruce is doing what he does best, working menial jobs and keeping his head down, staying off the grid. Until now.

Bruce is pretty shocked when one of his old College Lecturers shows up from nowhere. Professor Noreen Noolan was Bruce’s mentor, and one of the early pioneers of Gamma research. She’s been keeping tabs on Bruce his whole life, and obviously feels now is time for an intervention of sorts. She has other reasons, but we’ll get to that later. She talks with Bruce, asking him about him, Bruce, rather than the Big Man, as she calls him. The talk goes too well, and dusk falls, time for the Big Man to put in an appearance if Bruce likes it or not. Noreen’s got things to talk about with Hulk, too, it seems, though he doesn’t plan to listen. So she punches him 100 feet through a warehouse wall.

I think it’s safe to say neither we, nor the Hulk, were expecting that. Turns out Noreen’s exposure to gamma radiation has left quite the impression on her too. Oh, and she can fly…or hover…or something. Noreen doesn’t like Hulk, she blames him for ruining Bruce’s life. He could have done great things, been the hero the world needed, but the Hulk has held him back the entire time. Hulk, of course, believes the opposite, that Banner has held him down. As Hulk again tries to solve this attack on his world with physical violence, though Noreen gives better than she gets, she explains that he needs Banner. Without Bruce, Hulk is nothing. Bruce holds them together. Deep down Hulk knows Bruce is the more important and hates him for it, punishing him by always leaving him in awkward and embarrassing places to wake up in. Pretty petty, right? Hulk, for all his power, is essentially a child.

You just know the way this story has gone, with its emotional and psychological subtext, that there is going to be a gut punch in there before the issue ends, and Shalvey doesn’t disappoint. Bruce wakes up, this time on the roof of a hospital. Three guesses as to why. Noreen is a patient there, she is dying from gamma radiation exposure, which has led to cancer. She wanted, before she died, to just show Bruce and the Hulk that the same thing that created their relationship is the same thing killing it. Gamma. It both creates and destroys, and they need to understand that before they can understand each other.

It’s a nicely philosophical ending to a revealing character study. Psychologically speaking, these have always been two damaged individuals taking out their anger on each other, depending on who was the dominant one at any one time. Noreen has tried to show them, life’s too short, they are wasting their time in being so destructive. Ultimately, the gamma kills everyone in the end, so you need to do your best in the here and now. It’s a beautifully constructed story. The art and colouring is outstanding. At times sombre and subdued, at time big and loud. The fight scenes, with the big panels and double page spread, are just amazing visual treats.

Declan Shalvey has created a real piece of art here, a synergy of words and pictures that simultaneously justify why comics exist in the first place, why the Immortal Hulk book exists, and reminds us just what an incredible character Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave us all those years ago.

****½  4.5/5

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