Frustrating name change aside, 'She-Hulk' furthers the top-flight drama of 'Hulk'

Frustrating name change aside, ‘She-Hulk’ furthers the top-flight drama of ‘Hulk’

By Don Alsafi. One year ago, Marvel was wrapping up its latest crossover slug-fest extravaganza, Civil War II. It wasn’t one of the better received events; apart from branding itself with an association to the sales juggernaut that was 2006’s original Civil War event (perhaps unwisely), this new iteration was, by all accounts, unremittingly dark. By the epic’s end, it had killed off James “Rhodey” Rhodes (a character who had been around since 1979 and made a big splash in the MCU), left She-Hulk in a coma (following a beat-down by cosmic villain Thanos), and saw Bruce Banner – the original Hulk – straight up murdered by another hero. Grim stuff.

Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk) later woke up only to discover all that she had lost. In contrast to the green-hued, light-hearted hero she’s been for decades, Jen is filled with bitterness, rage and now – like the original version of the Hulk, in his first appearance – she transforms into a body that’s ashen gray.

But in the wake of all this trauma, who is Jennifer Walters today? Let’s find out…

She-HulkShe-Hulk #159

Written by Mariko Tamaki.

Art by Jahnoy Lindsay.

Colors by Federico Blee and Chris Sotomayor.

Letters by VC’s Travis Lanham.

Marvel Primer Pages by Robbie Thompson, Dalibor Talajić, and Miroslav Mrva.

Creators with a surprisingly light touch. Writing Jen’s newest exploits is Mariko Tamaki, perhaps best known for her award-winning graphic novel This One Summer. Here, her work takes what could have been a very one-note portrayal of grief and depression and instead delivers an incredibly nuanced depiction. Not at all unlike Brian Michael Bendis’s creation Jessica Jones, Jennifer Walters attempts to mask her underlying jaded viewpoint by interacting with the world around her via wry observations and a healthy dose or two of snark. Jen isn’t self-indulgently wallowing in her grief and despair; she is simply dealing with her losses as best she can.

Joining Tamaki on art is Jahnoy Lindsay, a relative newcomer who nonetheless shows a deftness of skill in both staging and characters. His figures often have a lightness to them, which you might expect would work against someone in Walters’ currently dour position. But it gives an added depth and complexity to the complicated issues she’s clearly working through. At some point, Marvel might make great use of his strengths by putting him on a book starring teenaged characters, like Champions or a new volume of Young Avengers. For now, Lindsay’s work on She-Hulk is very promising, indeed.

Interior panels from 'She-Hulk' #159. Art by Jahnoy Lindsay, Federico Blee, Chris Sotomayor, and Travis Lanham

Interior panels from ‘She-Hulk’ #159. Art by Jahnoy Lindsay, Federico Blee, Chris Sotomayor, and Travis Lanham

Soft on punching, heavy on character. As a Marvel Legacy re-introduction to the character and her new status quo, She-Hulk #159 does a decent job. Granted, it doesn’t have a lot of action, per se, as there are no actual fights and the only chase scene is when Jen runs after a hoodlum who has nabbed her phone – although he turns out to be not quite what he seems. In fact, the first several pages show Jen meeting a somewhat ditzy professor (who, again, later turns out to be not quite what she seems) at a diner called Burgercakes – which, true to its name, serves mind-boggling dining mash-ups. (Surely the stuff of culinary nightmares.) Only later is she kidnapped by longtime Hulk foe The Leader – not a spoiler, as they plastered his giant looming face on the cover – who has predictably nefarious plans in store for her.

But where the comic really shines is at portraying someone dealing with hurt and loss, and the real struggle that arises as she goes throughout her day. She wants to hope for the best, but at this stage in her life simply doesn’t have it in her – and when she expects the worst, she’s not so much surprised when it comes to pass, as simply resigned and a little annoyed. The fact that the comic doesn’t come across as a grim, joyless slog is surely a testament to the creators, and the complexity of character they’ve effected.

Interior panels from 'She-Hulk' #159. Art by Jahnoy Lindsay, Federico Blee, Chris Sotomayor, and Travis Lanham

Interior panels from ‘She-Hulk’ #159. Art by Jahnoy Lindsay, Federico Blee, Chris Sotomayor, and Travis Lanham

Switcheroo letters and numbers. This is perhaps as appropriate a time as any to talk about two things that have been bugging Marvel fans for several years now: The way a book will change titles (even when it’s keeping the same creators and ongoing story), and Marvel’s penchant for radically changing the issue numbers (usually with a brand-new #1).

Most of the books that are being relaunched with Marvel Legacy have seen their numbers shoot up to extraordinary levels. (So The Amazing Spider-Man went from issue #32 to #789 – representing, supposedly, the number that ASM would have been on had it not been restarted with a new #1 multiple times in the past.) We can guess Marvel’s hope: That by giving the comic its triple-digit number back, they might possibly lure back any old-time fans who collected the first few hundred issues and then jumped off.

It’s an absurd idea, frankly; if old-timers dropped the books in the last ten or twenty years, it probably wasn’t due to something as meaningless as an issue number. On the other hand, if there is one ray of hope in this move, it’s the idea that this might be a commitment to declining to restart comics with a new #1 every year or two; doing so might have attracted new readers once upon a time, but increasingly it simply served to confuse the modern reader into dropping the books out of frustration.

The changing of titles for seemingly no rhyme or reason is another gimmicky ploy Marvel has been using for a while now – and is continuing with still, as Deadpool has changed to The Despicable Deadpool, Totally Awesome Hulk has become The Incredible Hulk, etc. For the past year, Tamaki’s story was told in a comic entitled simply Hulk (numbers #1-11). After all, the original Hulk was now off the table, so why not give the name to someone else? No reason has been given as to why this book has then changed back to She-Hulk, but we can probably assume it means the Banner Hulk is set to make his return at some point in the near future. (And they couldn’t just call Bruce’s new comic He-Hulk?)

If you’ve heard about the trials that Jen Walters has gone through over the past year, you might be forgiven for expecting She-Hulk to be a grim, humorless comic about a character grappling with bitterness and depression. And the character is that – but under Tamaki’s pen, she’s also so much more, and so are the situations and supporting cast she interacts with. Jen’s got a hard road ahead of her, to be sure – but even here, in the depths of her struggles, you can see glimmers of hope for the future.

7.5 out of 10

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