Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: My She-Hulk Year Begins With She-Hulk: Single Green Female!

The Good: Interesting character, Some decent artwork, Nice cover gallery
The Bad: A lot of very simple panels with indistinct artwork, Episodic nature of most of the book is bland, Derivative, Incorporation of Marvel Comics into the Marvel Comics universe seems less clever than ridiculous.
The Basics: As I kick off my study of She-Hulk with She-Hulk: Single Green Female, I find the character of Jennifer Walters interesting, but in no way extraordinary.

As my Flash Year came to its end (The Flash Archives Volume 1 is reviewed here!), I put out feelers to the readers of my many graphic novel reviews for thoughts on who I should study for 2013 (that article is here!). After some research and debate, my choices came down to Vampirella and She-Hulk. As my local library system would have it, my choice came down to She-Hulk (whatwith the Vampirella books I was looking into being delayed). The first volume I managed to get in was She-Hulk: Single Green Female.

She-Hulk: Single Green Female is, in many ways, a good entry point for a new-to-She-Hulk-reader, like I was. It seems to contain all of the critical information one needs in order to get into She-Hulk without being overly repetitive. So, from this volume, one learns the essential origin information – Jennifer Walters had a blood transfusion that was infected with Gamma radiation – and that she has spent time with the Fantastic Four and concurrent with She-Hulk: Single Green Female, she is a member of the Avengers. Not knowing where the character has been – emotionally – before this, I found it interesting that her characterization seems to be the opposite of the Hulk, at least as portrayed in the film The Avengers (reviewed here!). Jennifer Walters enjoys being the She-Hulk. As well, I was quite happy to discover that She-Hulk is not some base emotional character with a limited vocabulary (my biggest fear with committing to She-Hulk for a year was that it would be a year of “She-Hulk smash!” and me rolling my eyes . . . a lot). Instead, She-Hulk as characterized in She-Hulk: Single Green Female is just a taller, stronger, less-vulnerable version of Jennifer Walters. In fact, outside being big, green, and powerful, I’m not exactly sure what the appeal is of She-Hulk yet; this is a super-heroine without a hook and after reading my first volume featuring her, I am not certain if I should be excited (that there is so much to discover about She-Hulk) or pre-emptively disappointed that I chose to study a banal character for a year. I’d like to lean toward the former, but the very average nature of She-Hulk: Single Green Female makes it harder to do that right off the bat.

Recalling how Jennifer Walters was a mousy, determined college student who graduated in the top ten percent of her class at UCLA’s School Of Law, while making no impression on her classmates, the present finds She-Hulk dominating the life of Walters. She-Hulk takes underwear model Mika to bed, parties hearty, and awakens transformed back into Jennifer Walters. While going up against the supposedly unbeatable law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, & Holliway, and its formidable Mallory Book, She-Hulk is called away from the trial to save the world from a lame attempt by A.I.M. to freeze the planet and its inhabitants. Book uses that distraction to get a mistrial declared (for jury bias) and She-Hulk loses her job with her firm. Concurrent with that, the Avengers want She-Hulk out of the Avengers Mansion, as her partying lifestyle is a security risk and her active nature is damaging the structural integrity of the place.

She-Hulk is rescued from her low point by Holden Holliway himself, who offers Jennifer Walters a job at the law firm. Holliway is very clear that he wants Walters, not She-Hulk, as his employee and Jen arrives at Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway to discover that she is being added to the Superhuman Law division of the firm. In that capacity, Jennifer Walters represents a man who was irradiated into becoming a superhero (and his insurance will not pay any of the associated bills), takes the case where she needs the ghost of the victim to take the stand, and Spider-Man in a libel case against J. Jonah Jamison. The book takes a turn for the standard superhero story when She-Hulk has to help liberate the young supervillain, Southpaw, from a prison for supervillains as she is Holliway’s granddaughter and a minor. Unfortunately, many of the villains use this as an opportunity to stage a prison break and She-Hulk must protect her new firm and get the prisoners back where they belong.

Given that She-Hulk: Single Green Female is my first experience with She-Hulk, I beg the forgiveness of the entirety of geek culture that arrived there first, but I feel I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t say, “Come on! Are you kidding me?!” in reference to Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, & Holliway. This law firm is instantly recognizable as a pale facsimile of Wolfram & Hart from Angel (reviewed here!). Sure, “Superhuman Law” is practiced there instead of “Supernatural Law,” but it’s a pretty easy and obvious substitution. I want to say I admire the creativity of the concept, but the concept was done well before She-Hulk: Single Green Female was published.

The other concept that stands out in She-Hulk: Single Green Female as being either ill-conceived or ridiculous is the incorporation of Marvel Comics into the storyline. At the law firm, Jennifer Walters uses Marvel Comics comic books as research tools, even referencing her own origin story. This is an amusing concept initially because it allows Walters to snarkily remark about how the book was originally written. However, the idea that Marvel Comics exist in the Marvel Comics universe (in this case as legal documents, because they bore the mark of the Comics Code Of America, a Federal agency) is preposterous. After all, Spider-Man has a secret identity (in one of the stories in this very volume!), yet Spider-Man comic books that would be in the long boxes at the law firm constantly illustrate that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Moreover, Marvel Comics comic books often contain thought bubbles or narration . . . how could that be admissible as “facts.” Don’t even get me started on the conundrum that must arise when one considers, Dan Slott, the writer of She-Hulk: Single Green Female in the context of appearing in the pages of the book he is writing!

As for the story and the character elements, She-Hulk: Single Green Female is homogenously bland. There is no real spark here; Jennifer Walters blithely represents one client for a case, then another, then another, before the book descends into a very standard superhero vs. supervillain story. Jennifer Walters is largely on her own (though she dates multiple guys and is pursued obliviously by another potential love interest in the book) without forming larger connections and certainly without making any larger statements on the human condition. In this book, She-Hulk is a pretty bland superheroine.

In fact, the artwork is part of what helps make She-Hulk so unremarkable in She-Hulk: Single Green Female. So many of the panels are underdetailed (looking more like comic strips than modern comic books) that when a panel pops up with a well-drawn panel, it stands out. Problematically, there were several panels where Jennifer Walters and Mallory Book are in the same panel and the only way I could differentiate them was by their outfits.

She-Hulk: Single Green Female is not a bad book, but it does not pop and it seems to be the beginning of a larger story, a story I do not know yet whether or not it is worth investing in.

For reviews of works from my former superhero of the year subjects, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Flash: Rogue War
Daredevil: Gang War
Wonder Woman: Odyssey, Volume 2


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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