Irradiated Magic Realism

Everything about The Immortal Hulk, from that glorious Alex Ross after Marie Severin cover on #1, onwards shows the best of creators looking back to move forward. I cannot pretend Marvel’s insistence on killing characters and bringing them back to life is something I love but, Ewing, Bennett, José et al have taken Hulk’s resurrection to a unique place with the light horror tone of this book. It is something that Marvel did really well in the 70’s and I was surprised to see how skilfully this team revived that Bronze Age feel whilst remaining contemporary.

In #13 I noticed the panel mentioning science and magic. This comes from what I guess would be a broader editorial move across Marvel comics to unify and modernise how the MU works. I might be reading too much into but it made me recall all the stuff that came up in Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch and other Marvel magic user’s books from a few years back. There seemed to be an over-arching intent to structure a concept for how magic in the MU works, where the power comes from, what the costs are etc. Doctor Strange Series 5 (2015) by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo is well worth a read if you haven’t already, by the way.

Of course Hulk is a Lee and Kirby creation from the Silver Age. Like some of their other creations he is partly inspired by the idea that late 19th century discoveries like radiation and gamma rays might lead to super-powers. It seems naive to modern audiences as we all now know that people who get exposed to too much radiation are poisoned and usually die. Hulk is also inspired by Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s late 19th century Gothic novella where some vague scientific experiment with a serum turns a ‘respectable’ man into a violent ‘monster’. The metaphors are obvious but always entertaining and relatable for a lot of readers. It is no wonder the character seems so at home in the Gothic horror tone of The Immortal Hulk.

Modern audiences are still willing to suspend disbelief but we also love how sophisticated current stories are and how creators keep pushing boundaries for beloved characters. How could gamma rays alone turn Bruce Banner into a super strong monster? How could anyone’s body metamorphosise so radically on a regular basis without long term damage? Maybe the answer lies in how science and magic converge in the Marvel Universe. It will be interesting to see if and how this is explored in upcoming issues of The Immortal Hulk.

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