Immortal Hulk Unearths a Secret Link Between Bruce Banner and His Worst Foe
Immortal Hulk #50 quietly reveals a deep connection between the Jade Giant and one of his greatest enemies that could change everything for the Hulk.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Immortal Hulk #50, on sale now from Marvel Comics.
Immortal Hulk #50 is largely set in the present-day, focusing on Hulk, Joe Fixit and Jackie McGee as they try to rescue Bruce Banner from the Below-Place and stop the plans of the Leader to become a true avatar for the One-Below-All. Doing so would allow the force to eventually wipe out all life in the universe and survive into the next as the World-Breaker.
Along the way though, flashbacks throughout Immortal Hulk #50 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennet, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, Paul Mounts, and VC’s Cory Petit focus on events happening in 1901 –revealing more about the Banner and Sterns family history and quietly confirming they’ve been connected for far longer than either the Hulk or the Leader have ever known.
The flashbacks take place in Ohio at the turn of the 20th century and focus on two brothers — Robert and Samuel Sterns. While Robert is a god-fearing pastor, Samuel is a scientist. Samuel’s wife Anne has left him with their son Phillip, living with her family in Oklahoma. But Samuel has continued his work despite her fears over the effect it could have on him, focusing on Radium and the Gamma-Energy it produces. Samuel believes that the research shall make him immensely wealthy, and will define the Sterns family history. However, as Samuel tries to show his brother his work, Robert reveals his wife Beatrice “sends her warmest regards.” It turns out that Robert had discovered an affair Samuel and Beatrice had, which has seemingly resulted in her pregnancy.
Before Samuel can explain himself, Robert beats his brother with his cane and threatens him with the glowing green light he’d been working on. Robert tearfully reveals that in his loneliness and grief over Anne’s departure, he had bonded with Beatrice. Robert’s wife had felt alone with her husband, unseen and unloved by the unfeeling Robert. Enraged, Robert forces Samuel to swallow the green light, seemingly killing him and opening the Green Door. When he later confronted Beatrice, he forced her out into the cold and abandoned her to her fate — all in the name of God. He refuses to let the child Beatrice carries continue his name, instead demanding she return to her maiden name as she raises her child alone — Banner.
It’s a massive reveal, especially in light of how it seems to tie the crimes of the past to the events of the present. In 1901, Samuel’s shadow appears as the Leader, while Robert’s is unmistakably the Hulk. In his rage, he kills his brother and forces the gamma energy down his throat — seemingly setting the stage for the Green Door and all the chaos that would come about because of gamma energy, including seemingly the birth of both the Hulk and the Leader as a result of Robert’s destructive acts. But in the present, when the Hulk instead forgives a depowered Leader for his transgressions, the One-Above-All — revealed to be the true identity of the One-Below-All — appears to allow them to simply walk away from his plans and free themselves, having learned mercy instead of just destruction.
It’s almost as if the crimes of Robert began a cycle of pain and misery that have engulfed the lives of the Banners and the Sterns ever since, with all that chaos spilling out into the greater world as a result. It’s a shocking reveal too, effectively making it so that Bruce Banner has actually always been a member of the Sterns family (with the modern-day Samuel Sterns possibly hailing from the same Oklahoma-based pocket of the family that Samuel lost contact with). In this way, the entire story of the Hulk is truly one of destruction and ultimately forgiveness, with the Hulk and the Leader — now more or less confirmed to be distant cousins — seemingly destined to end up on this path and experience the forgiveness that their ancestors couldn’t find.
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