-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
One of the more celebrated titles of last year was She-Hulk, a new ongoing series starring lawyer-Hulk Jennifer Walters. After twelve issues, though, Marvel cancelled the series to the dismay of many. They tried to clarify that the goal had always been to publish the first twelve issues and see if it got enough traction to keep going, but that’s not how they sold the series.
The second (and final) volume of She-Hulk issues was released today, so we decided to look at the final arc of She-Hulk’s short-lived series.
Twelve issues, collected in two volumes; words by Charles Soule, art by Javier Pulido, published by Marvel
Synopsis: Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, is a lawyer for a big-shot law from in New York. Even though she wins every case she takes, her bosses don’t believe she’s pulling her weight — none of her superhero friends become clients! Angry, she breaks their fancy boardroom table and leaves to set up shop for herself. Employing Patsy Walker (a.k.a. Hellcat) and paralegal Angie Huang (and her pet capuchin monkey Hei Hei), Jen finds herself defending the incredible, from Doctor Doom’s son to Captain America, and kicking ass in the spaces in-between.
Steph: She-Hulk was given a run of just twelve issues. A short run, to say the least, but a valiant effort on this creative team’s behalf. We reviewed these twelve issues of this green superhero, who was not given nearly enough time to make her mark.
-J.: Which is a problem, because without a title to help define her, she’s at risk of being defined by dismissive assholes who should probably write a little less canon.
Steph: Don’t remind me. This series starts with her existing backstory: She-Hulk is Jennifer Walters, cousin of the Incredible Hulk, (a.k.a. Bruce Banner). Jennifer became the She-Hulk when she was wounded and Banner gave her a blood transfusion to save her life, resulting in a milder version of the Hulk. She can control her emotions and therefore hulks out when she chooses.
-J.: And she’s a lawyer who never loses a case! Which sets up a bit of a Superman problem — how do you build tension with a character who doesn’t lose?
Steph: The story seems to start, and end, with the mysterious Blue File. It’s the only case Jen takes with her when she starts up her own firm. But all leads have been dead-ends, and she has nowhere to go with it. So she takes other cases to distract her, including an attempt to get Kristoff von Doom (son of villain Doctor Doom) asylum in the United States, or defending a now-aged Captain America from a wrongful death suit.
-J.: Which are actually really good concepts. Even though you have a lawyer who always wins, these cases really play with expectations.
Steph: And yet I was disappointed in this book. I’ll admit that, at first, I was simply excited to have another lady superhero ongoing book, and She-Hulk is definitely an awesome character, and the cover art by Kevin Wada is just gorgeous…
-J.: Oh, and Javier Pulido’s art and layout is brilliant. I was initially skeptical of his style, but as I read through the series, I was intrigued by the ways he played with the conventions of layout and sequential storytelling. Honestly, if I was teaching a class about visual storytelling, volume two of She-Hulk would be on the short-list for class reading. It’s a great story, but…
Steph: …but this entire run seemed to be more about people not named She-Hulk! Most of volume two was taken up by Captain America and Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil). We hardly get any time with the three leading ladies, and Jen actually has the least amount of dialogue in book. It’s totally neat when characters make appearances in each others’ books. I love watching them interact with the larger Marvel universe, but the title is She-Hulk and I would’ve liked to get more time with her.
-J.: That’s true. In this volume we got another facet of Hank Pym’s legacy, and a great Captain America story, followed by a hurried capstone that was (kind of) about She-Hulk.
Steph: There is some action in this arc, but most of it takes place in court rooms, and conference rooms. Not that I want there to be non-stop fighting and butt-kicking, but if you’re trying to get people interested in a book, long-winded conversations about the law and research are not the way to go.
-J.: I love using too many words, but… yeah. In issue #10, Hellcat presents a file she stole — a possible deus ex machina — which results in a LOT of word balloons discussing its admissibility and ultimate purpose. It’s interesting, but very word-heavy. This is immediately followed by Murdock’s and Walters’ closing arguments, each of which is it’s own full-page monologue. Again, I give major kudos to how Pulido presents all of this as visually interesting as possible, but it’s still three straight pages dominated by large swathes of words.
Steph: The writer says in his epilogue that he wanted to see the person behind the superhero, that it shouldn’t just be about fighting, and I absolutely agree with that. I just wish he would’ve actually explored the person. We know that Jen is strong-willed, and brilliant, and takes no shit from anyone, but if you’re going to spend twelve issues just talking, then let the main character talk. Let her confess her hopes and dreams, let her explore her fears, let us get to know her. After all that I still feel like I have no idea who she really is.
-J.: This is where the crime procedural format and lawyer-as-protagonist work against the She-Hulk title. In this format, the stories themselves aren’t about the lawyers, they’re about the clients.That’s why She-Hulk volume two has: a one-shot about a client who hates Hank Pym (and his many alter egos), a three-issue Captain America story, and finally a two-issue finale where Angie, Jen, and Patsy close the mysterious Blue File.
Steph: That damn Blue File. It is the crux of the whole arc, but is handled very hastily at the end. It is as if they found out the series was ending, and the File was a loose end just hanging there, and they tied it quickly with an unsatisfying knot.
-J.: I know, right? The thing is, even though it was tied up rather hurriedly, that story was when we finally got to see Angie display some of her power. Finally! I wanted to read more about her! She’s got some kind of Dr. Henry Killinger vibe about her! But no, that was the last issue! GAH!
Steph: I have always been a fan of the character She-Hulk, and I know the support for this book was very positive. I myself would’ve supported it no matter what, just to keep it going. The world needs all the leading ladies it can get. I just wish they would’ve taken more care with her, and I wish they were given the opportunity to in the long run.
-J.: I think that’s the great frustration. The procedural style of storytelling works best when you have the slow accretion of character development. Issue after issue, episode after episode, the character emerges from the reflection of her cases. But we only got a half-season of this show, so we’re left where we started: with Jennifer Walters, a lawyer who never loses and is also a Hulk. We haven’t learned much beyond what we already knew in issue #1.
Steph: Now we can only wait to see what the upcoming Secret Wars does with her, when the entire Marvel Universe is rebooted. Again.
To Sum It All Up…
The She-Hulk series had a lot of good things, but overall left us wanting. Despite our desire for a longer or less frustrating series, Jennifer Walters is still a great (and beloved) superhero. We can only hope the reboot of the Marvel Universe will do her character justice in the future.