Braving Marvel – She-Hulk
After taking the plunge into the Marvel Universe last month with a massive crossover event, I decided to make my next step a bit less ambitious. While the story in Civil War is great, there were so many characters that I had never seen before. The war affects just about every Marvel character and it is a bit hard to wrap your head around who they all are, especially since many of them show up in illustrations but are never mentioned by name. I decided to focus on a solo story, hoping that it would ease me into things better.
Comics Read: She-Hulk by Dan Slott Complete Collection Vol. 1 (2004-2005)
The solo adventures of She-Hulk are not very hard to get into. There are two runs early on: The Savage She-Hulk (1980-1982), and The Sensational She-Hulk (1989). After that she makes appearances in numerous series and events, and joins forces with Avengers for a long time. She didn’t have her own series again until Slott’s run starting in 2004, and then re-starting in 2005 after a hiatus. There are more solo series and Hulk-centered events published since 2004, but this seems like an obvious place to start for new readers.
Jennifer Walters is living the good life as She-Hulk. She has a job at a law firm and is a long-running member of The Avengers. She is all about having fun and enjoying life while trying to balance her two roles. She loves being She-Hulk so much that she has almost completely abandoned her ‘normal’ human alter ego. But all good things must come to an end, and her lifestyle eventually causes her to lose both her jobs, and her room in the Avenger Mansion. She is soon requited at a law firm wanting to specialize in super-human law. However, the condition of her employment is that she cannot be in the form of She-Hulk while working on cases. Now, with her life turned completely upside-down, she must find her new place in the world, at the same time as handling bizarre law cases involving her super-powered friends and foes.
As I mentioned in my introductory post, I have been reading a bit about comics, heroes, and events despite not having read the comics themselves. Through this researching I became very fascinated with She-Hulk early on. Unlike her cousin, Bruce ‘The Hulk’ Banner, she is able to control her powers. In her private life she is a lawyer, meaning she is one of the few heroes with an academic background. She struggles to balance the life of a hero with a career. Most importantly, she embraces what makes her different. She feels more confident and beautiful when living her life as She-Hulk. She lives her life as she wants despite what other people say about it, something that has inspired me personally as a part of the LGBT community. I have all this love for this character without having read a single page of her comics. So now it is about time to do so!
The first thing that struck me when reading the first issue was how different the tone is compared to Civil War. Civil War attempted to tackle some difficult themes and it put the characters in a war-like scenario, so it was natural that the story and attitude was dark and mature. The She-Hulk solo series is a huge step away from that. There is a lot of humor, both in the clever writing and some funny illustrations. I was laughing to myself on several occasions. The tone fits the fun-loving She-Hulk very well.
As the story starts, She-Hulk is partying through life. She does what she wants to do, throws wild parties, wins law cases, and smashes super villains. She loves her jobs, and loves being She-Hulk. Her life suddenly changes dramatically: she loses both her jobs and gets evicted from her home. She has to come to terms with having a new job, new colleagues, a new apartment, a new (old?) body, and a new lifestyle. She-Hulk is not very happy about any of these changes, especially having to be Jennifer Walters again. The main plot is not about a hero vs. villains (though there are plenty of sub-plots involving that), but about a person learning about her limitations, accepting every side of herself, and finding her place in the world. This is a story I can really connect to, and I’m sure many of you can as well. I’m impressed by the writing in the series as a lot of thought has been put into her personal development. I had previously thought about Marvel as a universe that is all about good vs. Evil, and heroes fighting villains. I’m positively surprised to see that solo series can go much deeper than that and focus on the emotional and psychological life of a character. The constant action and fun keeps the book very entertaining at the same time.
This She-Hulk series feels a bit like an episodic TV show. Jennifer handles one case at the time. Often it is one case per issue, but some spans 2 or even 3 issues. That doesn’t mean that each case is completely isolated from the others. Characters that appear in earlier issues might show up again, and things that have been said or done can come back later with unexpected results. For example, a line spoken casually by a character in one issue can be the very thing that helps She-Hulk break as case in a later issue. That way the world seems dynamic and evolving, instead of being broken into small segments. I really enjoy these small consequences showing up, and I wonder if the writer had planned everything from the beginning.
During her work with different cases, She-Hulk meets some of her friends and foes from her adventures with The Avengers and Fantastic Four. These cameos are fantastic as they let me learn more about her place in the universe and about her relationships with other characters. My favorite has to be the issues where she teams up with Spider-man. The cameos were also a great way for me to be introduced to new characters. Since this solo series is a lot smaller in scale than Civil War, characters are usually introduced a lot better and you get a sense of who they are and their history with She-Hulk. I particularly enjoyed meeting Doc Samson, a super-powered psychiatrist and friend of Jennifer. I never thought that super-heroes might need therapy once in a while, but now I think it is obvious that they do. Imagine all the stuff they see and do. They would probably need a little help to deal with it somehow. And of course the shrink would have super strength too! Oh, Marvel universe, you amuse me. I really hope to see more of him as I venture into other series.
Despite her job as a lawyer on Earth, She-Hulk ends up with cases that transcend time and space. Through these storylines I learned a lot about other creatures and orders in the Marvel Universe. I had briefly seen a Watcher in Civil War, but in She-Hulk I got to see more of them and understand how their order is organized. I also learned about time cops and the creation of battle worlds without it ever becoming confusing. My understanding of the Marvel Universe has expanded a lot through reading this book, and I feel more prepared to tackle some later events.
My gripe with this book is the constant change in the art style. I was not a big fan of the art in when I started reading. While the simple style suited the lighthearted tone of the series, I found it to be a little too simplistic for my taste. Starting at issue 9, a new artist takes over and there is a vast improvement in the art. I really liked the new style. However, some issues later the old artist returned, and I felt really disappointed to see the characters turn much less detailed again. On some occasions there were even guest artists that only did two pages or so. Because of this the visual experience of the comics became very disjointed. I never realized that comics had these abrupt changes in a single run, and I honestly found it a little annoying.
In the end I have greatly enjoyed my time with She-Hulk. There is a Volume 2 of this collection that I really want to read as soon as I am able to. While the art style didn’t really do it for me most of the time, it didn’t take away any of the fun I had reading about the characters and the bizarre cases they ended up in.
I would say yes. The first issue does a great job of setting the scene and introducing us to the character, so it’s not difficult to follow the narrative at all. Naturally, the characters will on occasion reference things that has happened during her previous adventures, but they are simple mentions that are easy to understand. In later issues they focus a bit on an incident where She-Hulk lost control of her powers. I’m not sure if this happened in an Avengers run or somewhere else, but they do spend a lot of time in some issues to explore how Jennifer is affected after that incident. I did not find this to be a problem, but I suppose that some readers might find it a bit of a spoiler. But honestly, unless you start reading Marvel from the very beginning, you are bound to get some things spoiled. The run also overlaps with Avengers Disassembled, so there will be some spoilers about what happened in that event. If you really don’t want spoilers about that event, I suggest reading the 2005 issues later.
The Road From Here
Another month, another comic read. Since I decided to properly read Marvel comics I have looked into which stories and series I am interested in picking up. The more I learn, the longer the list of ‘Must Reads’ is getting. However, I have neither the money nor the time to read everything at once. So I must pace myself and only read a bit at the time.
Like I have mentioned earlier, I’m generally a bigger fan of teams than solo acts. Next month I will be reading The Avengers, though I admit that those X-men are pretty tempting too.