WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #16 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennet, Ruy Jose, Paul Mounts and VC's Cory Petit, in stores now.
The Immortal Hulk continues to push Bruce Banner down a rabbit hole from which there may not be any coming back. Unable to be killed and only emerging at night, this even more unforgiving version of the Jade Giant is as cerebral as ever, even killing for the fun of it.
But while we've seen his gamma origins retconned and tied to the mystical Devil Hulk, Banner's latest travails with Shadow Base have brought forth a classic Hulk we haven't seen in quite some time. And as he flips the script on the secret organization hunting him, it appears that once more the Green Goliath is embracing the grey areas of what it means to be a hero and a villain, turning it into something new.
With Rick Jones' body stolen and being experimented on, Banner and Leonard Samson end up at an old Shadow Base site digging for clues. Unsurprisingly, it's a trap, but just when the Immortal Hulk emerges, the covert ops team unveils solar emitters, which nullify his presence and cause him to revert into Banner. Using this pseudo-daylight as a weapon, Shadow Base ends up putting a bullet in Samson and wounding Banner with a gunshot through the lungs, leaving him critically injured.
With no Green Goliath to save him, it appears he's a sitting duck. Or so his hunters think. As Banner scampers off and tries to hide, his eyes turn grey and his inner monologue clearly indicates a real monster is coming to the fore in the shape of Joe Fixit, or as we also know him, the Grey Hulk.
Earlier on in this series, CBR theorized this new Immortal Giant might be a mix of the Savage and Grey Hulk, and this development confirms it. For the uninitiated, when readers were first introduced to the Hulk in 1962's The Incredible Hulk #1 from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the behemoth was grey rather than green. While this remained canon, the hue of his skin was simply due to a coloring issue at Marvel, and he was turned green later on in subsequent books.
He did turn grey again decades later in The Incredible Hulk #324, where writer Peter David fashioned him as Joe Fixit, a mob enforcer. What stood out was that this Grey Hulk was a conniving schemer in full control of his senses, which often gave the impression this is what Banner would really be if he embraced the monster within. The main advantage, apart from his intellect, was Joe also grew stronger as he got angrier, which draws parallels to how this Immortal Hulk has been in terms of being the right mix of brains, brawn and rage in Al Ewing's stories thus far.
Admittedly, this is the right opportunity for Joe to return, because, apart from being needed, he hasn't really been provided a window of opportunity to do so since the Immortal persona took over. Hints have been dropped Joe wanted to peek his head out, though, especially in the Avengers: No Road Home adventures, where Hulk confirmed he wanted to be a godlike gamma gangster and wipe humanity off the map.
Whether or not Joe has been totally suppressed by the Immortal side, or if he did leave some small imprint that's now been given free rein, remains to be seen. But as it stands, Joe is possessing Banner's human form like a demon in order to cause chaos and show that the man's just as much a killer as the monster. And amid all this bloodshed, it's painfully obvious his real mission is to remind Hulk fans that, while we may underestimate him, Mr. Fixit may well be the strongest Hulk there is -- immortal or not.