BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

HULK GRAY by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

 Cover Image

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Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale weave magic.  Everything they touch together seems to turn to gold.  I like Loeb’s work overall, although he’s written a few that I’m not quite as fond of, but when he’s working with artist Tim Sale, the best of both of them finds its way to the page each and every time.  I loved their work on Daredevil: Yellow and couldn’t wait to see what they would do with the Hulk.

Bruce Banner/the Hulk is a combination (literally) that requires a lot of understanding about the character and about the human psyche.  And the comics scripter has to know what will draw a reader in emotionally.  Peter David had a great ten year run with the character but never quite found the nuance that Loeb chooses to explore in his six-issue run.

The story is framed well.  Still on the run in the present, Bruce Banner makes an unannounced visit to Leonard Samson, a psychologist, friend, and superhero in his own right.  If anyone can understand the Banner/Hulk schism, it has to be Samson.

Tim Sale opens the book with sharp-edged black and white illustrations of Banner standing in Samson’s office.  He’s obviously there to get something off his chest, and Sale’s artwork delivers that emotion in lean strokes.

The dialogue between Banner and Samson is pared down and emotionally compelling.  Even readers that never picked up a single issue of The Incredible Hulk will totally understand where Banner is coming from and the torment he has been through for several years.

Basically, this story retells the Hulk’s origin.  But in just a couple of pages, Loeb and Sale have the story up and running at breakneck pace.  I loved the interaction between Banner and Rick Jones.  I’d always known that Rick felt guilty about what happened to Banner, and that guilt has been revealed numerous times in Rick’s various incarnations.  Rather than dwell on it, Loeb chooses to hurtle through that subplot and leave it with a minor tweak that makes perfect sense regarding Rick’s presence at the bomb site that day.

The exploration of Banner’s character measured against the relationship of General Ross and his daughter Betsy is amazing.  I thought I knew everything about these three characters, and on some levels, I did.  However, the final revelation Loeb springs on the reader regarding that relationship fits perfectly and makes the story even more heartbreaking.  No one in this series was ever truly at peace during those early years.

One of the best sequences in the book is the battle with Iron Man.  Hearing Hulk call Iron Man “robot” is hilarious.  The sheer power of the scenes, the violence that is being done in these panels, is drawn with authority by Sale.  The scene is so simple, yet again so deep in what makes the Hulk a tragic character.

This graphic novel works as an action tale, but it also serves as a psychological study of Banner, the Hulk, and the relationships between those two sides of one man with the love of his life and her abusive father.

If you’re new to the Hulk, or new to Loeb and Sale’s work, this is a perfect place to start.  You gain understanding into a mainstream comics character and get to see these two storytellers at their peaks.

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