A couple years ago I mentioned that I was pleased that part of Marvel’s trend towards letting legacy heroes pass their mantles on to women and characters of color involved giving Jen Walters, the long-time She-Hulk, the adjectiveless Hulk moniker. The Hulk books have never drawn much of my interest, but I’ve always liked Jen as a character, and it bugged me that her superhero name was forever marked as being a distaff version of her cousin’s. In this post I said that if we had to differentiate between Bruce Banner and Jen Walters’s version of the Hulk, we could do a lot worse than just identifying them by profession.
That series ended up back in the news recently as it was placed on Marvel’s list of to-be-cancelled series in the immediate future. It would be an understatement to say I’m less than pleased with the whole “Legacy” event and branding serving as an excuse for Marvel to essentially shove all but its most popular diverse characters back into obscurity. I know that Jen has been a character who’s never been that successful at maintaining an ongoing solo series (I think Hulk might be the fifth series she’s headlined in her history, and all told by the series’s end she’ll have only had one hundred sixty-three issues to her name), but I’m still disappointed that she was first stripped of the Hulk title and now she’s getting canned again.
Anyway, after I heard that the series was being cancelled, I decided I might as well check it out. Fortunately, the first eleven issues are available on Comixology Unlimited (I am enjoying that subscription more and more) which cover the first two story arcs plus a standalone issue, so I downloaded them and got to reading.
My initial skepticism about a Jen Walters series that wasn’t lighthearted only lasted until about the end of the first page. There’s a panel where Jen, in the midst of getting ready for her first day back to work after waking from the coma she fell into after her injuries in Civil War II, goes to check how she looks in her mirror by the door and remembers that she has it hung to accommodate Lawyer-Hulk’s extra stature. It’s a laugh-worthy moment, but it also communicates immediately that things are off for Jen. Readers familiar with her history will recognize that it’s odd Jen isn’t making use of her green persona; she typically prefers her Hulked out form because in addition to the super strength she gains a boost in confidence. By issue’s end we see that something has changed Jen since her injury and the news that her cousin Bruce was executed; her transformation is triggered by negative emotions and reminders of what happened to her cousin, and it’s ugly. The confident Lawyer-Hulk isn’t what Jen’s holding in.
The first issue was enough to convince me that this series is worth reading in full.
Broadly speaking, Hulk‘s first arc revolves around Jen’s attempts to cope with the way her trauma has impacted her life (there’s a quite touching parallel story involving a client of Jen’s who is dealing with the fallout from her own trauma) while the second explores Jen’s attempts to incorporate this new aspect of herself into her regular identity while she works to help a man who has been dosed with a mutagenic drug that turns him into a monster similar to a Hulk. That arc ends on a bittersweet note as the victim falls into a coma after being subdued with no indication that a cure will be found for his condition. Overall it’s heavy stuff, but none of it is treated with the heavy-handedness that I originally feared might be applied to this series.
Then there’s the eleventh issue.
That one is… not so good, mostly because there’s a sharp shift back towards the silliness that has pervaded Jen’s previous series. We get a return of Jen’s narrative ability to break the fourth wall in the form of her constantly fighting with an obnoxious caption box that’s trying to narrate events as though she were in the middle of a sappy romance story (the actual subject of the issue is Jen’s tentative steps back into dating life). It’s a hard tonal shift from the first ten issues, and I think the zaniness clashes too much with the serious nature of the majority of the series. Still, one bad issue doesn’t spoil the whole thing; those first ten are absolutely worth your time.
Following the eleventh issue, the series was renamed She-Hulk (stupid “Legacy”) with the same writer. I can’t speak to the quality of those issues since they’re not included in the Unlimited library, but I am curious enough about the series that in the event of them going on sale or getting collected I’d be willing to check them out.