Friday, January 16, 2015


Storytellers: Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale | Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering & Design: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's John Roshell
Managing Editor: Nanci Dakesian | Associate Managing Editor: Kelly Lamy
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | President Bill Jemas
Dedicated to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, the original Jade Giants!

I don't know much about the original Hulk comics on which this story is based, but as it turns out, I really needn't have read them anyway. Unlike the other two "color" series, DAREDEVIL: YELLOW and SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, as we'll see in coming weeks, I had forgotten that HULK: GRAY draws much less on early Marvel continuity, instead creating much of its story from whole cloth.

The tale is narrated by Bruce Banner and Dr. Leonard Samson, set up via a framing sequence. Banner is on the lam as usual, but wants someone to talk to. Enter Samson, his psychiatrist pal. Together they delve into the first day or so after the Hulk's creation in order to better understand the triangle relationship between the Hulk, Betty Ross, and her father, the Hulk's arch-antagonist, General "Thunderbolt" Ross.

Even though it was published last in the set of "color" series, I've chosen to cover GRAY first because it's my least favorite of the group and I want to go in ascending order of preference rather than publication order. I suppose part of the reason this series does so little for me is simply that I've never been much of a fan of the Hulk as a solo character. I like him as an antagonist in other characters' series, and I enjoy him solo when he's intelligent -- but reading about the big dumb Hulk is about as appealing to me as reading about the adventures of a brick.

So as a result, HULK: GRAY doesn't do a lot for me. It might've appealed to me more if, as with YELLOW and BLUE, it drew heavily on existing continuity, threading itself through classic issues while telling its own take on those stories. But instead it sits, more or less, squarely between the panels of the first two issues of the Hulk's original series, making up a great deal of material, none of which is particularly compelling. The story's main purpose seems to be to show us what a terrible, inhuman monster General Ross is, and to explain that Betty's feelings for Bruce Banner are "daddy issues" since Banner turns into a monster, too.

Unfortunately I have a hard time buying Ross as this mustache twirling cartoon villain. Late in the story, Banner and Samson more or less agree that Ross was, at the time, a psychopath, which does not fit with any version of the character I've ever seen. Granted, I've not read the original Stan Lee Hulk stories, but anytime I've seen Ross pop up anywhere, he's not unlike the Hulk's version of J. Jonah Jameson -- a blustery, angry man with misplaced hatred toward the Hulk, but nothing more than that. The Ross seen here, however, is an inhuman monster, willing to sacrifice Betty to stop the Hulk, and happy to beat a teenager in custody (Rick Jones) as he seeks information about the rampaging monster. I've never before seen him played so outright evil.

But there are things to appreciate in GRAY as well. The artwork by Tim Sale is, as usual, brilliant. His Hulk is a lumbering lummox prone to all sorts of wacky facial expressions. His depictions of Rick, Betty, and General Ross are all great as well. And when Iron Man, in his original bulky armor, shows up to help Ross with the Hulk, the resulting fight, which comprises the entirety of issue 4, is beautiful to behold.

On the story front, I was pleased to see Loeb and Sale explicitly go with the long-established idea that the Hulk had never, in any of his numerous battles and rampages, killed so much as a single innocent civilian. Sure it makes no sense, but he's a comic book superhero -- you can't have him mindlessly slaughtering bystanders, even indirectly, or he becomes as much a villain as the foes he fights, and you wind up rooting for the likes of Ross and the Hulkbusters to defeat him. Though I have to note that the scene in which the Hulk becomes Lennie from OF MICE AND MEN, and accidentally kills a poor little bunny rabbit he's petting, did not please me. I'd almost rather see him offing all those innocent people than killing a cute little rabbit!

The other high point for me is the lettering by Comicraft. These guys lettered the majority of Marvel's comics in the late nineties. Their effort here, comprising letters and design work, is absolutely gorgeous and fits the "retro-timeless" feel of the series to a tee. Comicraft provided letters for WOLVERINE & GAMBIT too, turning in beautiful work there as well, and they will (or already did, publication history-wise) letter DAREDEVIL: YELLOW and SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, too. I get the impression that Jeph Loeb must be a fan of Comicraft too, because they've even lettered his more recent Marvel work, long after Marvel had dumped them for far less impressive letterers across most of their books. I won't be mentioning Comicraft in the next couple reviews, but just know that I'm as impressed with their work on YELLOW and BLUE as I am with it here. When it comes to computer lettering, no one is better than Comicraft.

And since I just devoted a very long paragraph to the series' letters, I think we can safely determine there's nothing more to say about HULK: GRAY. It ended the "color" books on a low note -- but fortunately we have the benefit of reading them in whichever order we choose, so the quality will go up quite a bit as we tackle DAREDEVIL: YELLOW next week.


  1. I think I have a bit more affinity for the Hulk in general than you do (incidentally, do you have any idea why the Hulk is pretty much the only one of Marvel's "big" characters to not get an Epic collection started yet?), but this is definitely my least favorite of the Color series as well.

    As you say, there's just not as much there, there. The Iron Man fight is pretty great though. I'm a sucker for bucket head Iron Man.

    I've never before seen him played so outright evil.

    The movies have definitely toed that line (and maybe even crossed it at times). Not that the movies are right, either, but there's definitely something in the character that people are picking up on.

    1. I hadn't really thought about the fact that Hulk hasn't received an Epic Collection volume yet. My only guess as to why is that, a couple years back, Marvel published a trio of super-thick trades collecting Bill Mantlo's run on the title from the eighties (PARDONED, REGRESSION, and CROSSROADS). Given that these books are basically Epics in all but branding, perhaps they feel that the Hulk already has a few under his belt, and have decided to concentrate on other lines.

      As far as Ross, like I said -- I haven't read a ton of Hulk -- mostly just Peter David's run, during which Ross was believed dead -- so maybe I'm just off base with my assessment of the guy. I just always thought of Glenn Talbot as the ruthless one, and Ross as, like I said above, a Jameson type who was more talk than action. I think I thought "Thunderbolt" was an ironic nickname.

    2. Good point about the Mantlo collections - I'd forgotten about those. Plus, there were 8 volumes of the Peter David run, so maybe Marvel does indeed think Hulk is "collected out" for the time.

      Still, seems a little odd they haven't thrown a token Epic volume at him, just to assure fans he'll be included. I mean, if I were Hulk, I'd be a little miffed that Moon Knight's Epic collection started before mine. :)

    3. True, I forgot about all those David books -- and I own them. Between the Mantlo and David volumes, plus the single Byrne collection, the eighties Hulk is extremely well represented in trade paperback format. By my quick count, those volumes collect issues 269 - 319 and 331 - 396, encompassing March 1982 through August 1992 (that little 320 - 330 gap notwithstanding, of course).

      But I do agree that it's odd the Hulk didn't even get a volume 1 when all those other character did. Even the X-Men, who have tons of issues in other collected edition formats and no other Epics to their name, at least received a volume 1. Though personally I'd like to see some of Roger Stern's Hulk (issues 218 - 243) in collected edition format. I may not be a huge fan of dumb Hulk, but I love Stern and would happily pick that up.

    4. I'd love the Stern issues, and also the pre-Mantlo stuff after Stern's run, where Hulk gets smart for an extended time for the first time.

      Basically, I'd be happy with any Epic collections that start with stuff not otherwise collected. In some cases, they've been really good about that (like the post-Under Siege Avengers collection), but that approach lost some steam once they started pumping out all the "volume 1s" (which, admittedly, was probably a necessity, cuz those'll always sell).


  2. I haven’t read a lot of Hulk either, really, but I’ve always thought of Gen. Ross as rather — and increasingly — far out there. Jameson has made some questionable alliances too, despite often being depicted at worst as a blowhard whose schemes find him in over his head. Ross, though, has worked with outright supervillains knowing full well what he’s doing, and it’s not like commanding Marvel Universe army tech in a monomaniacal vendetta is a just or safe use of his power. Bill Mantlo had Ross allied with MODOK for Pete’s sake, and nearly taking his own life out of shame in the aftermath, while John Byrne had him actually shoot Rick cold in the gut at Bruce & Betsy’s wedding. So over the character’s first few decades, at least, there was definitely an arc bending towards irrational, utterly malignant hatred. I don’t know how much of that has been retroactively ascribed to him as far back as this story goes, however. Where untold tales are concerned there’s definitely a hazard in both stuffing more sheer plot into history than it can comfortably hold and portraying characters, latently or explicitly, with shades they didn't take on until later.

    1. Good point about Ross shooting Rick, Blam; that story I have read, but I forgot about it. I guess I just don't have enough exposure to the character to make a real judgment on him. What little Hulk I have read (mainly the early to mid Peter David stuff) had Ross dead at the time.

      (It occurs to me I have no idea when the character actually returned from the grave, but I think he was dead for a good long while in the comics.)