The One-Above-All is Marvel’s undisputed most powerful character, but it was only this year that Immortal Hulk made it one of the most interesting.
While fans can always debate which of the Avengers or X-Men are more powerful, when it comes to the Marvel Universe as a whole, there’s only the One-Above-All. A traditional monotheistic god figure in Marvel lore, the One-Above-All (aka Above All Others) is the custodian of the entire Marvel multiverse, far above Galactus, the Celestials, and All-Father Odin. But while the One-Above-All may sit at the top of Marvel’s power ladder, the character has been deeply flawed almost from its conception… until this year.
Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s Immortal Hulk #50 redefined the One-Above-All, as the Hulk’s cosmic Odyssey ended in the Below-Place – the hellish realm that lurks under all creation. There, the classic Hulk and his more worldly Sunshine Joe persona confronted the demonic, Cthulhu-like One-Below-All, only to discover that it and the One-Above-All are one and the same – that Marvel’s devil and its god have the same relationship as the Hulk and Bruce Banner. This was especially alarming as the One-Below-All had involved Hulk in a plan to permanently extinguish the Multiverse, sick with hatred at the existence of anything but itself.
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The biggest issue Immortal Hulk #50 fixed was quite how simplistic the One-Above-All had become. In Marvel stories, power tends to come with complexity – Galactus is an energy-being with the vague memory of having once been a man, the Celestials have such alien intellects that even communicating with them is dangerous, and the Beyonders are so far above mortals, just one of their children is perhaps the greatest threat Marvel’s heroes ever faced. Marvel’s cosmic forces are individuals with personalities and perspectives, but they’re also unknowable, and that’s communicated both in their attitudes and in their designs (most of which originate from the inimitable pen of Jack Kirby.) And yet at the top of the tree, the One-Above-All is commonly depicted as an all-powerful floating head reminiscent of any number of alien despots or magical tyrants the Avengers might deal with in a single issue. In terms of scale alone, Immortal Hulk makes the One-Above-All feel worthy of its name.
While respecting the glowing body used in prior comics, Immortal Hulk’s One-Above-All fills the sky, its eyes subtly but creepily drawn like mouths. This is fitting, since it speaks not in its prior casual conversation, but in epic, scriptural pronouncements so abstract, it feels as if the heroes are merely there to witness them, with any answers to their questions coming from their own ability to figure out which of the cosmos’ grand truths are most relevant in the moment. The One-Above-All’s connection to the One-Below-All likewise fits with Marvel’s complex cosmic ecosystem – the most powerful being is the one least familiar to a human perspective.
This One-Above-All isn’t better just because it’s more complex, but because that complexity fits into Marvel Comics’ larger, gestalt concept of a universe which offers endless questions and answers but can never be totally understood. As countless artists and writers (including Alex Ross) have suggested, the simplest way to differentiate Marvel and DC is that the former is more defined by sci-fi, and the latter by fantasy. Immortal Hulk takes a fantasy uber-god and reinterprets it as science fiction.
As it did with Hulk’s lore, Immortal Hulk takes past One-Above-All stories and offers a satisfying explanation for how their incompatibilities actually indicate a larger truth. Now, the time a divine figure appeared to tell Spider-Man he’s a hero, or the time the Fantastic Four met god in the form of Jack Kirby, can sit comfortably with the times the One-Above-All was written as a vast, detached multiversal force. What were once largely unconnected stories with very different conceptions of Marvel’s supreme power now fit together, expressions of the idea that an impossible being seen from different perspectives will manifest in different ways. In 2021, Immortal Hulk took the One-Above-All and changed it from being a bland, inconsistent head in the sky to the infinitely dangerous, infinitely intriguing mystery the Marvel Universe deserves.
Next: How The First Hulk Redefined The One-Below-All
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About The Author
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Robert Wood is a comics editor for Screen Rant and the author of ‘The False Elephant (and 99 Other Unreasonably Short Stories).’ He received his Master’s in English Literature from Lancaster University, and now happily spends his days applying it to Daredevil and the Hulk.
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