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Hulk: Gray
Review by David E. Miller

Story
Hulk: Gray Reive Cover Image
Hulk: Gray

Story
Jeph Loeb
 
Art
Tim Sale
 
Colors
Matt Hollingsworth

Publisher
Marvel Comics
 
Format
Softcover Collection
 
Publish Date
June 2, 2005
 
Cover Price
$16.99
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Anything Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale touch seems to turn to gold…or gray in this case. Bruce Banner goes on the couch in a more erudite take on the Hulk, examining the brute's psychological motivations and relationship with his alter ego, Bruce Banner. On the surface, this is a traditional take on the Hulk as an Id character, acting on impulse, while Banner represents the ego, the more rational thinking side of the character. Scratch underneath the surface, however, and the reader will find that the two sides of the character parallel each other much more closely and are each an integral part in the path of destruction that each one forges in much different ways.

Jeph Loeb started his career in Hollywood, penning such seminal hits as "Teen Wolf" and the totally necessary sequel “Teen Wolf, Too.” Partnering up with artist Tim Sale, the two went on to develop their own distinct style in comics and have put their very unique spin on other very worthwhile trades such as The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die and Batman: The Long Halloween. Previously, for Marvel, they have also tackled two other seminal mainstays in Spider-Man: Blue and Daredevil: Yellow.

In following the color-coded theme, Hulk: Gray is their take on the Hulk’s origin and dual character conflict. It is intriguing that Loeb and Sale chose gray, the color Hulk was in his first appearance(Incredible Hulk #1) rather than his trademark green, which he became in the second issue. Historically, the reasoning for Hulk’s color change was because the gray color tone caused printing difficulties that were solved by turning the Hulk green. In the comic, the change from gray to green was explained as the further effects of Banner’s exposure to radiation. Hence, it is fascinating that Loeb uses this as the crux of his psychological examination of the Hulk and develops the reasoning through the story as to why the Hulk became green.

Hulk smashes Iron ManThe story begins initially in black and white as a distraught Banner tries to console himself with a close friend and psychiatrist, Leonard Samson. The topic is Banner’s continual mental anguish over Betty, who is now out of his life. Banner needs absolution and clarity as to how the Hulk has come to ruin his life. As Banner reflects on his past, Loeb puts his unique spin on the Hulk’s origin.

The entire story is narrated through Banner's discussion with Samson. The relationships are simple at first: Banner and Betty love each other, but Ross does not want them together. Everything gets complicated from there. Banner thinks that Ross set him up to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in an accident that goes horribly awry as he should ostensibly be killed in a gamma radiation explosion, but instead survives to become the Hulk. Only Banner’s young peer, Rick Jones, discovers the Hulk’s true identity, and tries to isolate Banner and help him deal with turning into this monster. The Hulk has other ideas, though, and finds and kidnaps Betty, thinking it is for her own good, as Ross goes after him.

After an initial failed attack, Ross enlists the services of Iron Man (ironically whose first costume was gray, but was changed to gold after one issue) in an all out battle with the Hulk. During battle, the Hulk accidentally injures Betty. Upon realizing this, the Hulk sweeps Betty off to a hiding place to heal her and we find that Betty is a much stronger character than we realized. This raises the crux of the dilemma. Hulk feels that ”Betty need Hulk” because it is Ross who is dangerous, Betty thinks Hulk is dangerous, but in the end “Hulk is Hulk.” The rest is a college-level dissertation on the psychology of personality.

Art
Iron Man retaliatesI’d like to say that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale go together like Bruce Banner and the Hulk, but after reading Hulk: Gray, I’d have to reconsider. Loeb and Sale have each had success working with others, but the two are like the Wonder Twins when they work together. They take the form of a phenomenal tandem able to tackle even the most revered characters in a fresh way that makes their origins exciting to read and think about again. Tim Sale respects the creators who forged the path for him to develop his style. He doesn’t mimic, but rather compliments the style pioneered by Hulk’s original artist and legend, Jack Kirby. It is a trademark style that is recognized in all of his work. Sale captures the lonely, confused, and isolated glare of Banner as well as the angry and disgruntled nature of the Hulk. Matt Hollingsworth has the enviable task of bringing Sale’s pencils to life. Color is integral in this work as defined by the title and Sale’s work is in more than capable hands as Hollingsworth is able to translate the mood and tone adeptly.
Final Words

It is really difficult not to thoroughly enjoy anything that Loeb and Sale produce. I have always found myself deeply intrigued and very satisfied with all of their work. However, I do not think that Hulk: Gray is their best work, but I also think that the Hulk is a very difficult character to take on. Few writers and artists have ever really been able to put their name on this character other than Stan Lee, Peter David, and Jack Kirby. Even Todd McFarlane did a run on Hulk, but clearly made a name for himself with Spider-Man instead. Loeb did a wonderful job delving deeper into the psychological aspects of Banner’s tortured world, but in the end this book does not hold up as well as their other work. If you are a fan of Loeb and Sale, then I definitely think that this is a welcome addition to your collection. However, if this is your first introduction to this team, I would suggest that you start elsewhere.

Recommended


David E. Miller (email) has been involved in the comic book industry for almost 20 years. He started out attending Serendipity Comic Book Conventions in Suburban Philly and befriending top independent creators like Reggie Byers(Shuriken for Comico). He parlayed his industry expertise into recruiting the Honorary Board for the New York City Comic Book Museum. His highest related achievement was sitting down with Stan Lee in his studio office for an hour talking history. His lowest was selling off most of his collection in High School.
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