This weekend, for reasons I couldn’t really begin to explain, I found myself reading the Joe Fixit era of The Incredible Hulk in its entirety. For those without long memories, that was the point of Peter David’s The Incredible Hulk run where, having been assumed dead by the world at large, the grey, intelligent, snarky Hulk found himself in Las Vegas, working as a bouncer in a casino. It only lasted just over a year, and even in the middle of that, there’s a fairly dramatic status quo change — the Hulk gets fired from his job, and Banner becomes the dominant personality again in terms of the book’s focus — but re-reading it this time around, I got to thinking about this run, and how it relates to modern Marvel.
The most obvious thing that stuck out was that, today, this storyline would be reason to relaunch the book. The Hulk is presumed dead for an entire issue ahead of this run, absent from the book with the supporting cast remembering his death; these days, that would be the final issue of a series and a much-hyped event. “The Hulk is dead? Call USA Today! See if we can get it onto CNN!” Then the Joe Fixit run would be a new series that followed, with a new title like The Enforcing Hulk or something similar.
It’s clear, though, that David was trying to reboot the series to an extent, and as such might have welcomed the new #1. The first issues of the Fixit run go through the motions that new Marvel series did at the time, including a Spider-Man guest-shot in its third issue, and a Fantastic Four crossover an issue later; David was definitely trying to draw more eyeballs to the book as it reset itself, to cement this new world he was creating. And it was a new world — I’m sure that Marvel Vegas had shown up before, because what are the odds, but no other Marvel book at the time was set in the city, allowing David to do whatever he wanted with it. (That there was no West Coast Avengers tie-in feels like an oversight, to be honest.)
Given the speed at which David does away with the his new set-up, however, it’s unclear whether the attempt to lure in new readers was unsuccessful, or David himself just grew bored; the Fixit status quo lasts less than a year before it’s unpacked and discarded in favor of a more generic “Bruce is in hiding in Nevada” set-up which itself only lasts a handful of issues. This second incarnation of Hulk: West is a really strange one, being far less interesting and more generic than what had come before, and also something that feels as if it’s something David himself isn’t particularly interested in. Reading the run as a whole, it comes across as a temporary course-correction enforced by editorial because either the Fixit-as-enforcer run wasn’t selling well or wasn’t Hulk enough for some reason; it’s an aberration in David’s otherwise consistent shift in focus from Banner to Hulk as focus for the book.
(In new Marvel terms, though, it would have allowed for a relaunch of the book, even for the six or so issues it lasted before the next status quo shift.)
The speed of the changes is interesting, though; there’s a restlessness throughout the run that extends beyond the “What if we put the Hulk in Vegas” change, as if David is trying to work out what to do with the book as a whole, in terms of tone, supporting cast and purpose. Is the Hulk a villain? An anti-hero? It is a team-up book, or not a superhero book at all? It’s aimless, albeit entertainingly so (David’s Hulk run as a whole — or, at least, through the Gary Frank era — is one of my favorite Marvel runs, I should admit), and something that I feel is missing from today’s Marvel launches and relaunches: they always seem to have short-term missions that are very set, without the space to explore and get lost along the way. Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic in that, however.
Despite that, reading these Hulks was a welcome reminder for an old stick-in-the-mud like me that the constant reinvention and relaunches of the Marvel icons has been an ever-present thing, merely less obvious in an era where renumbering just wasn’t done. More interesting than the majority of the All-New, All-Different Marvel announcements, though, but what isn’t?