Collects: Hulk: Gray #1-6
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
By Doran Murphy
A little known fact amongst non-comic readers is that the Hulk started off gray. The change from gray to green came not too long after his debut, but remains an integral part of Hulk history. Mostly because it signified the first change the character would undergo and there would be many over the years. Gray and green, smart and dumb, rampaging and controlled, bonded with and separated from Banner. And an even lesser known fact is that anger didn't always force the transformation from Banner to beast. Instead, Banner's guilt brought a weaker (yet still very strong) gray Hulk out at night. It was also at this time that Hulk donned a suit over his gray skin and took on the name Joe Fixit. So while we've all come to know and love the green Hulk, his gray skin/persona is very much important to the development of his character.
And that's where Hulk: Gray comes in. Much like the other titles in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's color series (the other two being Daredevil: Yellow and Spider-Man: Blue), Gray is about the Hulk's origins. Also like the other two color books, this is a tragic love story telling how Betty Ross fell in love with the Hulk, against all logic and conceivable odds. While Blue is an audio recording to the late Gwen Stacy and Yellow is a letter to the late Karen Page, Gray is a conversation between Bruce Banner and his friend/psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Samson about the late Betty Ross. (It's has to suck to be in love with a superhero: you fall in love, have a troubled relationship, then you get killed.)
We all know the story of how the Hulk was made. Bruce Banner saves a kid from being dosed with gamma radiation from a bomb that Banner himself created, but isnt fast enough to save his own hide. Instead of killing him, the radiation affected Banner on a molecular level, and next thing we know it's HULK SMASH! Then the army starts tailing him, and Hulk wrecks their shit. This maddens General Ross, whose daughter, Betty Ross, is the apple of Banner's eye. It's a very tight-knit group. This only makes General Ross angrier, and the fun spirals upwards from there. It's great to see another take on the Hulk's origins. The army had no idea what it was going up against, and that's something that Gray captures really well.
However, Gray twists things up a bit. First of all, in Gray, Hulk fights Iron Man. And by "fights" I mean "breaks". Literally, he fucks Tony Stark up good. Stark is trying to land a military contract for Stark Enterprises at the time, and the Army sends Stark out to stop the monster. As I've already said, it doesn't really work. Gray also puts a more intense focus on the Betty/Hulk relationship, and sticks a shocking twist on the whole thing. It doesn't change any of the Hulk canon, it merely adds some interesting scenes into it. Part of what makes Gray so good is the continuing interaction between Samson and Banner Samson catches his friend Banner on everything a psychiatrist would consider interesting. It's also great to hear Banner describe himself in the beginning, as opposed to the third-person view of the original.
There are some really memorable scenes that must be noted. For example: When the Hulk held a gray rabbit while sitting on a cliff. But he goes all "Lennie" and bad things happen. Then there's when Hulk gets his hands around General Ross, and Ross' reaction is rather surprising. Hulk also proves he's not stupid, just kind of slow and clumsy through the way he treats Betty. All in all, Loeb writing on Gray isn't as moving as it was in Blue, but it's better than Yellow.
Now, the writing is in the middle of the color series, but the art is the very best. Sale uses a style akin to the one he employed in Blue. It's somewhat dated to look like it could have been rendered in the 60s, the time of the Hulk's origin but it's also very modern. Imagine a contemporary rendition of the Mona Lisa: It's still the same girl, but she might have blonde highlights and a tanktop. There are several stunning moments in each of the six issues of the Gray series, proving Sale is at the top of his game. One thing I found particularly interesting is that the scenes between Banner and Samson are in black and white, with no shades of gray at all.
The book also includes the best bonus material of the color series. The sketchbook is the most organized, and the artist/author comments are really spectacular. It's interesting to learn that Sale based his version of the character on the original parody of the Hulk The Incredible Bulk. This is because his art teacher was the artist of Bulk. It's also great to see side-by-side views of the original and more contemporary Hulk. The more things change...
All in all, Gray is almost a better book than Blue. The writing isn't as tear-jerking, but it's more interesting because it provides an angle that we haven't seen before. It's also the most intimate, as no one knows the Hulk better than Banner. The art is through the roof, and is comparable to Superman: Godfall quality-wise. The graphic novel add-ons are super, making this edition well worth picking up. It's a can't miss book, really.
Hulk am strongest there is.