Two roads meet in a yellow sky, and they are mirrors of each other's monsters.
Here’s this guy who’s “always angry.” And beyond that, he’s always afraid of himself, hating the Other Guy, and always always certain that everyone around him is terrified of him.
"Are you here alone?” Bruce asks Natasha, knowing the answer. He scares her, pretends to be about to Hulk out, just to get that very bitter confirmation that, yes, the world still thinks he’s a monster—or not even that, that they think he’s a guy who happens to have a monster in him, and that the monster’s the part they really need to pay attention to.
And then here comes Tony Stark, brilliant and crude and irreverent, and he tells Banner I love your work and how you turn into a giant green rage monster, pokes him in the side with a pokey thing, tells him he’s got a terrible privilege, argues with and challenges the man who can become the Hulk—and, yeah, he’s irritating as all heck, teasing and mocking with all the maturity of an eight year old—but that’s exactly it.
He’s not frightened; he’s curious.
“Bongos?” Tony says and pokes Bruce with a stick to see what will happen, while in the same giant air ship, SHIELD has a death trap built just for him.
In his little clinic, before SHIELD came to call, Bruce's nurse, a colleague if not a friend, freaks out when the little girl peeks over the steps and says, “There is a sickness here!” (She means, “There is a monster here! He’s not safe,” and that’s how Bruce hears it too).
That’s how Bruce tells it, even, his story. He’s always angry and the “Other Guy” is a monster and an “incident.” And then Tony calls him a miracle, or at least heavily alludes that his life is as much of a miracle as Tony’s; that they were saved by their own worst disasters, in a lab and in a cave with a box of scraps.
Since Bruce went green, everyone who knows anything has been frightened of Bruce’s “Other Guy.” And then here comes this guy who pokes him in the side to see if he’ll Hulk out; which either implies a suicidal death wish, a too-the-point-of-idiocy sense of curiosity, or Tony’s expectation that he’s not going to Hulk out. Tony’s heard of him—read his papers in fact—and he knows what happens when Bruce Hulks. And he’s standing there with his pokey thing going, “Big bag of weed?”
Tony has faith in the man, in the man and the monster both. He has respect for Bruce, both his smarts and his control—this is Tony Stark, genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist, who’s never been able to control himself, lived half his life in a self-destructive spiral—in a lot of ways, Tony’s monster is much more noble than his man. Tony respects this man and his giant green rage monster, because Tony’s got one, too, and he’s nowhere as good at keeping it inside.
Banner’s not the only one cursed with awesome and blessed with suck, a terrible privilege, an exposed nerve. Tony’s thoughtless faith, the way he teases a man who becomes a giant green rage monster while in an enclosed space with him—that’s so antithetical to how Bruce expects his world to function, that that moment, right there, begins to rewrite Bruce’s own story for himself. “A terrible privilege,” Tony says, this man, not even a super, just a guy who’s not wearing his suit, needling Bruce like he’s a person and not a time bomb.
"We're not a team, we're a time bomb," snaps Banner, talking about the Avengers—he’s talking about them, but he’s also talking about himself. He recognizes the way these people think, these damaged goods, these angry men (and woman), who define themselves not by themselves. They are all so afraid of all their own green rage monsters, the red dripping from their ledgers, the shrapnel in their hearts, their worlds abandoned, the wars they didn’t stay to win, and the years and lives they slept away, the brothers they never saw falling until it was too late (I mean both Thor and Steve here). They define themselves not by themselves, but by the people they save, because the only worth they find in their lives are things outside themselves.
And then, the other half of the bromance: Tony’s so important to Bruce’s journey (“Tell me when Banner shows up,” not if, but when), but the bromance goes both ways. Ironman's story has been about making the solitary genius someone who is not alone. Rhodey and Pepper of course are major in this (that this opened with Pepper and Tony working on something that was both of theirs was touching and telling, I thought); but here’s Bruce.
Tony walks into the room and there’s this little guy, as smart as he is, with as much destruction left behind him (“I wrecked Harlem,” says Bruce , explaining why he doesn’t belong back in New York; and Tony thinks: I supplied weapons for a hundred wars I didn’t even know were happening ), a deep and abiding rage inside him, death lurking in his chest.
Tony offers that hand to Bruce , a friendship, faith and respect, but he’s offering it to himself as well. He knows these flaws, he’s seen them before, and he’s had this hard-earned, hard-won journey to the realization that he’s something akin to a hero, that he deserves a chance (and that if he can’t cut the wire, though he will always always try his best to find a way, but if he can’t , then he’ll lay on it and let the guy behind him crawl over him—but that’s a different friendship and a different essay).
Tony gives Bruce that, that chance, that respect (and gives it to himself as well, in years and scars and worlds saved, Tony earns his own soul back), and Bruce —well, Bruce catches him when he falls.