HULK: GRAY is another volume in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s ‘colour’ series, which recount quintessential moments from the histories of Marvel Comics’ greatest heroes. With HULK: GRAY, the esteemed writer/artist pairing takes on the days following Bruce Banner’s exposure to the gamma radiation that forevermore altered the trajectory of his life, and the Hulk’s first conflict with General Ross.
The tale is narrated by Bruce Banner, speaking to his long-time ally, psychiatrist Leonard Sampson, soon after the death of his only love, Betty Ross. These sequences are rendered in beautiful black-and-white, with colour reserved for the green of Banner’s eyes. The flashbacks, which comprise the majority of the collection, embrace Matt Hollingsworth’s wonderful painterly colours, which gel perfectly with Tim Sale’s illustrations, who accentuates his reputation as one of comics’ premier storytellers. Equally adept at portraying raw emotion on the faces of the large cast of characters as he is at double-page slashes of the Hulk smashing, bashing and crashing, it’s a shame Sale has stepped away comics; his style is distinct and unrivalled.
Jeph Loeb’s script is nuanced, as they always are when he works with Sale; almost like the artist’s style has a pacifying effect that dampens some of the more outrageous moments we saw in his later run on “Red Hulk.” The framing sequence, of Banner talking to Sampson, is a tad redundant, and doesn’t offer much to the overall narrative, besides allowing for an emotional climax. The story begins at the precise moment Banner was exposed to the gamma radiation, and flits between his transformation into the behemoth, General Ross’ determination to destroy the beast, Rick Grimes desperate attempts to hide Banner’s secret, and the Hulk’s obsession with Betty Ross. The emotional beats come in the moments between the Hulk and Betty, as she desperately tries to explain, as if to a child, that she wants nothing to do with the mindless beast, that she’s afraid of him; and the monosyllabic Hulk unable to elucidate his feelings.
HULK: GRAY is another fine addition to the ‘colour’ series, and a perfect sampling of Hulk for those, such as myself, who aren’t especially enamoured with the character, but don’t mind dipping their toes into his world. It’s a short, action-packed, and ultimately emotional tale. In my mind, it’s up there with the best Hulk stories.
by Simon McDonald