Today sees the final issue of Immortal Hulk #50 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett – it’s an awkward moment for some as this is the first and only issue from Marvel Comics after Al Ewing publicly split over some old cartoons by Bennett that Ewing found offensive, and it’s hard not to see Ewing’s lack of mention in the letters pages jar with Bennett’s effusive thanks to Ewing. But together they created a run on the Hulk that will stand the test of time, a modern classic and a cert to be adapted into TV or movies in decades to come. Treating the Hulk as a horror story, specifically body horror, delving into pulp traditions and the long storytelling history of the Hulk at Marvel, while also filtering all that through modern concerns and gloriously depicted interpretations or the body as moulded meat, ripping through panels. More of a body-conscious horror. And so, in the final issue, taking on the history of Bruce Banner, The Hulk and Samuel Stern, The Leader, over a century ago. Given such a division between the creators of this book, so we have a division between Stern brothers, involving the Banner family, and giving a new history to the legend of the Hulk. That’s as well as looking at the scientific and magical origins of gamma radiation, the reasons for the many divisions of Robert Bruce Banner, defining The One Below as the Hulk of God, and finding some resolution to a storyline that has spanned the billennia.
And giving us a Robert Stern, a Samuel Stern and a Beatrice Stern from the beginning of the twentieth century in snowy Ohio, and tapping into the real history of gamma radiation,
Professor Antoine Becquerel at the École Polytechnique in France had discovered in 1896 that uranium gives off invisible rays that fog photographic film, and Marie Curie had shown that thorium acted similarly. In November 1898, they reported the chemical separation of two unknown materials from the ore pitchblende, both highly radioactive — the first use of the word. Just before he left Cambridge University to become a Professor at the McGill University in Montreal in 1898, Ernest Rutherford conducted a simple, systematic experiment to study the absorption of rays from uranium. He found “at least two distinct types of radiation” which he called alpha and beta for convenience. French chemist Paul Villard had a laboratory position at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in France, and ijn 1900, investigated the radiation from radium salts that escaped from a narrow aperture in a shielded container onto a photographic plate, through a thin layer of lead that was known to stop alpha rays. He was able to show that the remaining radiation consisted of a second and third type of rays. One of those was deflected by a magnetic field (as were the familiar “canal rays”) and could be identified with Rutherford’s beta rays. The last type was a very penetrating kind of radiation which had not been identified before. And in 1901 Rutherford determined that Becquerel’s rays are indeed electromagnetic rays and in 1903 called them gamma rays.
An in Immortal Hulk, though families, betrayals and the sins of the fathers being revisited upon the son, grandson and great-grandsons, the rivalry between Samuel Stern and Bruce Banner is now one of tragic proportions, echoing down the centuries, and tapping into both the magical and scientific aspects of the gamma radiation in the Marvel Universe to finally conclude this most excellent of stories, that has division at the heart of it, on every level. After all, that’s what radiation is, isn;t it? The division of particles, the power released but also the damage that can be caused.
IMMORTAL HULK #50
(W) Al Ewing (A) Joe Bennett (CA) Alex Ross
THE GIANT-SIZED FINALE! Down in the Below-Place, the Hulk searches among the ghosts of the past for the answers to all his questions. The One Below All, the Green Door, Samuel Sterns, Jackie McGee and Bruce Banner. It’s all been leading here. This is the last issue of THE IMMORTAL HULK.
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