So a while back I wrote this post complaining about the way
folks men disrespect Lawyer-Hulk (my biggest regret about it is that I immortalized a misogynist murderer in the title; since then I’ve adopted the policy of not giving name recognition to perpetrators of mass shootings when I discuss these kinds of events). Even earlier than that, I wrote this post extolling the positive traits I thought Lawyer-Hulk exemplified as a superhero. I like and respect Lawyer-Hulk as a character, even though she’s not historically one that I follow closely. I’ve read a couple trades of her solo series penned by Dan Slott and thoroughly enjoyed them, but that’s mostly the extent of my exposure to the character beyond major event crossovers that I have happened to read in the course of keeping up with X-Men.
This is all to say that I’m not super qualified to have an opinion on Lawyer-Hulk, but there was news today that she’s getting a new solo series, and she’s going to be the new adjectiveless Hulk, and that’s kind of cool.
It’s kind of cool because it lines up with Marvel’s recent push to redefine the mantles of their flagship heroes as belonging to a larger diversity of characters. Captain America is Black, Thor is a woman, the headliner for Invincible Iron Man will soon be a Black girl (though she’s not getting the Iron Man moniker), and now the Hulk is Jennifer Walters. This is generally good stuff (though it’s important to always point out that Marvel’s track record with hiring a diversity of talent for its books is far less stellar; we can at least be grateful that the new Hulk series will be written by a woman) since it pushes the envelope for what kind of faces can be seen in various types of superheroes. Also, as I noted way back when, I don’t particular care for Lawyer-Hulk’s normal branding. Her gender shouldn’t be the defining trait of her superhero identity.
On the other hand, there are some legitimate concerns about the tone of this new series. Part of Marvel’s Civil War II event involved the death of Bruce Banner, the original Hulk, at the hands of Hawkeye. This new series is said to focus on Jen’s reaction to that event (she was comatose from severe injuries suffered in a fight with Thanos at the beginning of Civil War II) and her struggle to cope with a new, post-trauma equilibrium. This is heavy stuff, and it marks a significant departure from previous series in which Jen has starred. One of the defining traits of Lawyer-Hulk in her solo outings has always been the lighthearted tone stemming from Jen being very well adjusted to a life of superheroics in comparison with her cousin’s more fraught relationship with his powers and identity. It’s very possible that Hulk could end up coming off as a cheap undermining of Jen’s character to get an angsty Hulk book in Bruce Banner’s absence. It’s like dropping the prefix from her superhero name automatically implies she has to adopt the persona of the previous Hulk, and that’s not necessarily in line with her character.
At the same time, there’s something to be said about presenting a female hero who has a messy approach to managing her negative emotions. One of the unfortunate side effects of under representation is that you get a limited scope of characterizations within a given demographic. In the case of female characters, this is typically expressed through the depiction of emotional hyper competence if the character’s meant to be sympathetic or specifically gendered forms of emotional distress if not. Women facing trauma are allowed to cry or remain stoic; they don’t get to access coping emotions like anger in the same way that male characters do (the big example I’ve seen floating around since the news about Hulk broke is that of Frank Castle, the Punisher; he has a traumatic past and is permitted as a character to express his sense of loss over his family’s death in aggressive, violent ways that are excused by readers because he is male). In light of this trend, it might be productive on a metanarrative level for Jen to be written as someone who deals with her trauma in ugly, messy, counterproductive ways.
However Hulk turns out, I’m looking forward to watching it unfold in the coming months.