(Part one of an ongoing series analyzing the role of communists in the early Marvel Universe and how they have been adapted - or, in some cases, how they glaringly haven’t been adapted - by comics creators in a post Cold War climate.)
So this guy is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of the Marvel Universe.
He was, you may recall (though you’d be forgiven if you don’t), the Soviet spy sent to infiltrate Bruce Banner’s gamma bomb project. Tries to get Banner to give him his notes, but Banner's all "I don't make mistakes." And when Banner goes to warn Rick Jones off the testing ground because the bomb’s primed to go off, Igor (he’s not given a last name until much later than this story) decides not to halt the countdown – he’ll let the bomb take Banner off his hands if he’s not going to cooperate. This, of course, results in the creation of the Hulk.
So yeah, this is the dude directly responsible for the Hulk’s existence, so you figure such an important guy’s gonna keep popping up in the Hulk comic, right?
Except that after Incredible Hulk #1 in 1962, not counting flashbacks to the origin, he does not appear again until issue #393 in 1992.
That’s a phenomenal time span, especially for superhero comics. Comics writers and editors seek out and extrapolate and elaborate upon the tiniest, most obscure details of continuity and ephemera, and yet nobody except Peter David wanted to use this huge player in the scheme of things. He appears in that ’92 issue of Hulk where he’s driven insane after realizing that he’s responsible for all the destruction the Hulk has caused, but also for the good things the Hulk has done. And I didn’t know it before I did a bit of research, but Igor appeared just a couple months ago in a Winter Guard one-shot where he, ah, gets turned into a monster by The Presence and fights Russia’s answer to the Avengers. Modern-day Marvel, you guys are scamps. Anyway, it’s totally not important.
So why is it that, even before the Soviet Union collapsed and enough time had passed to make the Red Menace irrelevant to modern-day readers, nobody wanted to touch poor Igor?
Igor, I would suggest, was made irrelevant very early on in Hulk history when Stan Lee & Co. decided to depoliticize the series.
Because that first story is pretty explicitly political. The amoral scientist Banner is a weapons maker to put Tony Stark to shame; Marvel historian Peter Sanderson points out the gamma bomb is, after all, a “dirty” bomb that he’s making on behalf of the U.S. Government. It’s a pretty standard sci-fi trope for its time – a scientist blinded to the consequences of his actions by his own hubris is made to pay himself for the horrors he threatened to unleash on mankind. It’s the political and military presence that makes it interesting. There’s incredible potential for black comedy and satire – here you have this weedy intellectual who has trouble communicating with his girlfriend, so he builds a weapon of mass destruction as an expression of his surpressed emotions. You’ve got General Ross, who hates Banner for not being a “real man” and dating his daughter, and yet he can’t just totally dismiss him because otherwise he won’t build that bomb they need. Igor seems oddly dejected by Banner’s refusal to show him his notes; it stops being a matter of his spy mission and becomes almost an affront to his dignity. The whole thing’s entering Dr. Strangelove territory, and if they followed through with it, you could take this places Kubrick wouldn't've dared to tread.
But then the Hulk becomes about psychology instead of politics. You know the drill – an uncontrolled, unhealthy expression of repressed emotion, the conflict between brute force and intellect, struggling with base desires, loneliness and alienation, multiple personalities – all that stuff Peter David took and ran with. Okay, I’m not fond of the multiple personality angle, but I can’t say this new direction was a terrible idea. It’s fertile ground and it’s clearly touched a nerve in the public consciousness, and anyway they’d soon come up with Iron Man to do political stuff with. The military that's always after the Hulk becomes just a symbol of authority.
But where Igor comes in, or rather where he doesn’t, is because if you’re going to set up the Hulk series as internal conflicts externalized as a giant monster, the whole damn thing is muddied up by Igor acting as an external prime mover for the series. It weakens the dynamic; Igor becomes a cheap device who’s more trouble than he’s worth, and that’s why he’s forgotten. You’ll notice the movies and TV series don’t want to deal with Banner the bomb-builder; he’s invariably portrayed as a guy who’s trying to use gamma power to help mankind rather than blow it up, but tampering with nature is still tampering with nature, and thus is punished. But it’s always a freak accident, or some matter of hubris getting back at him. There’s no Igor or Igor stand-in. It’s just Banner.
If the Hulk is about personal demons and personal mistakes, it’s got to be Banner’s finger on the button, not some Commie spy who never shows up again. So Marvel hasn’t really had to rehabilitate Igor or make him relevant for the 21st century (although John Byrne did try to retcon, in that particular John Byrney way of his, that Igor was a Skrull). He’d been phased out long before changing political fortunes would have necessitated it.
Although you know, if I were handed the keys to the Hulk franchise and told to write whatever I want … frankly, I think the psychodrama aspect’s been so thoroughly mined I’d be pretty anxious to swing it back into the political arena, to exploit that potential for satire and commentary. And if the Hulk were back in that mode, maybe Igor could come along for the ride.
But then again, we’d have to figure out just what Igor’s deal is if he’s not a Soviet agent, so we’re right back where we started from. SORRY FOR WASTING YOUR TIME, EVERYBODY.