There are times when Jeph Loeb’s writing is brilliant. So good in fact, that the story often becomes something of a seminal landmark such as Batman: The Long Halloween. Other times, and for whatever reason, his writing just misses the mark such as the much maligned Red Hulk series. Perhaps it is a case of trying to live up to those larger than life works he has produced, that if he should write anything that does not do so, is often qualified as poor. It is good to say that Gray, one of his ‘colour’ stories produced for Marvel with Tim Sale, is a wonderful piece of fiction that stands tall with some of his best work.
Gray provides us with a glimpse into the early life of the Hulk during the period immediately following the detonation of the gamma bomb. At this point, as everyone knows, his skin was gray in colour and not the familiar green. It is narrated by Banner to Dr. Samson during one rainy night, a tale that he had never revealed before but felt the need to unburden himself of it. In it, he recounts how he had saved Rick, and afterwards, as the monster, all he could think about was getting back to Betty, to protect and look after her, proving that there was still some of the man left in the monster. We also see through the telling that Hulk was not as simple-minded as many believed him to be originally. And as Hulk tries to understand why Betty does not want to be with him, he has to confront her father, the General as well as facing off against Iron Man in an appearance that pre-dates his joining the Avengers.
The story, quite frankly, is one of the best tales to ever feature the incredible one. It is highly a emotional and empathetic story about a man who bears a burden that is more than any man should have to handle. Coupled with the memories of what happened during that time and the love of a woman that he could never quite recapture due to his alter-ego, Banner is truly, a tortured soul. Loeb has Banner’s personality nailed down perfectly and really gets to the heart of the man and simultaneously, the story.
Bringing this book to life visually is Tim Sale, Loeb’s long-time partner on various stories such as Daredevil: Yellow and Spider-Man: Blue. Sale, outside of Sal Buscema, Dale Keown and Mike Deodato, draws one of the most definitive versions of the Hulk to ever appear on the printed page. He is monstrous and bestial at times with rage filled eyes and jagged, broken teeth. With Betty, he is meek and gentle and almost pitiful in his ignorance. The other characters are given life with just as much love by our artist, such as Rick who looks like a skinny James Dean, Ross who looks like a crazed maniac more often than most and Betty who is drawn so wonderfully, she breaks your heart when she cries.
Thematically, the book is more about loss than anything else. It chronicles the loss of innocence, of normality, of one man’s sanity, of youth and of love. Nothing was ever the same after the bomb went off and it affected everybody there that day, and those that would ever come into contact with the Hulk thereafter. Choosing to look at this period in the Hulk’s life was an interesting choice, and a smart one on the creator’s part. There are not a lot of stories detailing this period of his life, the early gray incarnation that is, so to do so really fleshes out the mythos of the character. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have given us a truly great book, one where they try to understand one of the most misunderstood characters in the Marvel universe and one where we get to enjoy the results.
5 out of 5