She-Hulk 1

she-hulk 1Today, Patrick and Greg are discussing She-Hulk 1, originally released February 12th, 2014. 

slim-bannerThere’s figures on this. 70% of what people react to is the look; 20% is how you sound; and only 10% is what you say.

Eddie Izzard, Dressed to Kill

Patrick: Drew recently brought a Mutilversity article on comic book criticism to my attention. Interestingly, they posted another article that same day on the diminishing role of artists in comics — effectively arguing that we know series by their writers and not by their artists, and isn’t that fucked up? I think there’s room to argue that serialized storytelling in any format is going to be a writer’s medium (just look at how much more writer-driven TV is than the movies, which are much more director-driven). Regardless, the fact remains that there’s a problem in comics — and comic criticism — with focusing too heavily on the words that are written on the page. At one point in this issue, Jennifer Walters — a Hulk that spends very little of her time smashing — asserts that “90% of lawyering is conversation.” That’s an interesting inversion of the pearl of wisdom Eddie Izzard drops in the bit above, but that also might explain why we don’t have the most exciting piece of fiction in our hands.

We’re on kind of a kick of “this is what so-and-so does when they’re not being an Avenger” style series, and She-Hulk falls right into that mold. With over 2600 billable hours this year, Jennifer Walters spends an awful lot of her non-FF time working at the associate level at a law firm in New York City. It’s annual review day, and the partners reveal that they didn’t hire Jenn on to write briefs or whatever, but to to bring in superhero clients. Evidently not seeing that skillset as one she wants to market, Jenn quits in a mini-tantrum and drinks her sorrows away at a Lawyer Bar. At the bar, she meets Holly Harrow, widow of light-weight criminal scientist Jonah Harrow. The Widow Harrow believes that Tony Stark stole the repulsor technology from her late husband, and while Jenn doesn’t really want to go full-on-lawyer, she does take the case on an informal basis. But the Stark attorneys are legion, and they are dicks.

That’s when it seems like the story is going to kick up into high gear: faced with legal roadblocks and with a personal relationship on the line, Jennifer Walters risks everything to help her client! Only, that’s not what happens. Instead, Jennifer happens upon a cassette that proves her client’s claim while cleaning out Jonah’s old storage unit. So what is it? 70% how you look? 90% conversation? 100% luck? Jenn just stumbles on the tape, and while she has to wrestle with a robot first, there’s nothing about her lawyering abilities that help her get some royalties out of Stark. All credit here should go to the cleverness of Jonah Harrow, who had the foresight to build a robot, but not the foresight to put the recording on the internet.

That feels like a cop-out solution. What qualifies Jenn to open her own practice by issue’s end? She has the money to do it. Period. I guess you can count her close personal relationships with superheroes as an asset, but it’s an asset that she explicitly stated she doesn’t want to exploit.

Ultimately, I’m disappointed by the central conceit of the issue: 90% is conversation. There is an alarming amount of text in this issue. While much of it is played for laughs — such as Legal’s increasingly small-typeset description of what death, resurrection and corporate warfare have done to the name of Tony Stark’s company throughout the years — it doesn’t change the fact that there are too many pages with no action in them at all. I’m not asking for explosion everywhere, and honestly, there didn’t need to be so much robot-punching in this issue, but the old adage of “show, don’t tell” is being willfully subverted throughout. At first, I read this as a symptom of everything that’s wrong with all non-Walters attorneys. The partners that assess her performance at the beginning, Legal – they all just prattle on and on, not actually doing anything to make their point. It’s such a relief to see Jenn smash that Madripor teak table: at least she’s doing something (even if that is an over reaction to being fired)But then she’s guilty of the same word-vomit by the time she’s done dealing with Tony.

Jennifer Walters She Hulk Tony Stark Iron ManAs you can see, Javier Pulido doesn’t always have the most room on the page to work with. Unfortunately, he resorts to his favorite silhouette shortcut far too frequently, especially toward to the of the issue. There’s never any narrative reason for the characters to be depicted in silhouette — and it is always characters, Pulido will take a shortcut not to have to draw Jenn again, but he will draw objects further in the foreground (defying all lighting conventions).

Holly Harrow and Jennifer Walers She Hulk in the barAlso, man, is it just me or does it seem like Pulido doesn’t have a very good handle on what Jenn’s face look like? Those two images I posted are on opposite pages, and it’s striking how little the character looks like herself.

I just don’t understand Pulido’s visual priorities. (Take, as a dumb example, why he’s so intent on showing us Jenn’s bra and underpants through her ripped-up clothing, but isn’t so detail-minded as to damage her vest at all… or to remember that she was wearing tennis shoes…) Sometimes he pulls off an excellent layout that enhances the storytelling — such as the scene where Jenn arrives on the 18th floor as Stark Tower. Legal’s plan is to throw people off their game and force them into deal with Tony’s legal issues in the way that’s least comfortable to them — Jenn’s strong enough to stomp that out. At least, that’s what’s reflected in this gorgeous spread.

She-Hulk vs. LegalThe rest of the issue (and even the rest of the page, once he’s done expressing this idea of Jennifer gaining control) too frequently turns into talking heads. Maybe not that bad of a crime if Pulido was able to imbue any of the faces he draws with emotion of any kind, but there are an awful lot of non-emotive mouths and thousand-yard stares in this issue.

I dunno, Greg, am I being too hard on this book? Do you find yourself excited to read the future legal adventures of She-Hulk, Esq. Attorney at Law? Oh, and why does no one bat an eye at the sight of a She-Hulk? Holly Harrow’s first question to her is “you’re an attorney, right?” when I’m pretty sure it would be “you’re huge and green, right?”slim-bannerGreg: Patrick, may I approach the bench for a quick sidebar? I am in love with legal procedurals, from lowbrow comfort food like Law And Order and, uh, Law And Order: SVU, to Criterion Collection approved classics like Anatomy Of A Murder and 12 Angry Men. Thus, I was primed and pumped to object to your sarcastic final question. “You’re leading the writer!” I would shout, the sheer indignation my words causing the justice system of comics criticism to buckle at the knees and find no choice but to let my unjustly accused client walk!

Yet, just like all rectangles are not squares, not all legal procedurals are fun legal procedurals. You can lead a genre fan to the genre, but you still gotta make him enjoy it. In words that aren’t dumb analogies: you still have to have basically effective storytelling to be entertaining and engrossing, no matter the genre.

 You mention that comic criticism might get too bogged down in analyzing words, that artists are just as much the auteurs of comics as writers. Yet when a work like this is so densely stuffed with just words, words, words — in a feeling-nauseous-after-binging-on-stuffed-crust-pizza kind of way, not in a feeling-enlightened-after-binging-on-The-West-Wing kind of way — it’s as if Charles Soule is purposefully anti-Izzard (which, if this total invention is somehow true, blasphemy! Dude’s a pro, killing folks figuratively with his stand up and literally on Hannibal).

On paper, legal procedurals shouldn’t necessarily work as pieces of riveting fiction. As anyone who has been on jury duty, dealt with traffic violation bureaucracy, or asked a friend who works in law “How was your day?” would know, it’s a lot of frustratingly mind-numbing manipulation of logic. Technicalities and precisely accurate arguments tend to be more constructive than raw emotion and drama. Basically, to borrow an idea from Jennifer, it’s a lot of conversations. But if we extrapolate and combine this idea with the rudimentary idea of “show, don’t tell” you brought up, we can start to understand why other legal dramas work where this doesn’t, even when they get into the technical nitty-gritty (seriously, Anatomy Of A Murder features a scene where a judge debates the semantics of using the word “panties”. I cannot recommend this movie enough).

“Show, don’t tell” is nifty in its brevity and malleability. Generally, I like to think it means that good storytelling should provide raw materials experienced objectively — adjusted for the creator, character, and reader’s points of view which will shape how these materials are created and consumed — with any subsequent meaning defined by the reader based on her observations. The undesirable inverse, “tell, don’t show,” could mean that a creator smashes, not unlike a certain She-Hulk, meaning and intent over the reader’s head, robbing any sense of discovery or fun, turning characters into false mouthpieces, and making it seem like the creator thinks the reader is a dumb dumb.

I’d like to take this idea further, specifically as it relates to the legal genre. You mentioned that Jennifer has a lack of facial emotions and word vomits as laboriously and unfeelingly as Stark’s legal drones. This is, I think, the issue’s fatal flaw, and if Soule doesn’t do some serious course-correction, the entire comic’s premise. Talking, talking, talking means nothing if characters don’t care about what they’re saying, saying, saying. I know exactly what happened, from a pure reading comprehension standpoint, in this issue, the way I might after a real-life legal procedure, but I don’t particularly care that I know exactly what happened, because neither did the characters. Lawyers may treat their newest case as just a job, but it just has to mean more for characters. James Stewart cares deeply as a human being about the fairness of the term “panties”, in the same way that Henry Fonda cares deeply about the speed of the witness’ walk, in the same way that Sam Waterston cares deeply about every damn case he gets. In these works, this sense of caring, of stakes, of desire is self-evident in the way the character behaves, not explicitly spelled out to us. Jennifer Walters, however, seems to take Holly’s case just because, but that doesn’t stop her from insisting persistently there’s meaning.

To try and phrase it more simply: characters need to make their meaning clear, not necessarily creators.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 10.05.39 AMAlso, if I ever met a huge green musclebound woman in real life, I definitely would not say “You’re huge and green, right?” because I would be too paralyzed with fear to speak. The defense rests.

slim-bannerFor a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?


14 comments on “She-Hulk 1

    • Just a change in creative team, though I don’t think there’s been a She-Hulk title since 2009. Issues with a #1 on the cover seem to be in style at the moment (though, lets be honest, they’ve always sold pretty well), and Marvel has been moving towards a model of short volumes that reflect their creative teams, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a She-Hulk #1 again within the next five years. Not that I don’t expect this series to last — I actually liked it a bit more than either Patrick or Greg — but with so many projects available Soule, I imagine he’s motivated to move off of any series as soon as he’s laid down his best ideas. On the outside, I’d give a year or two on this run (if sales support it for even that long), then a few years of down time before Marvel tries to give Jen her own series again.

  1. Boy, I actually liked this issue quite a bit. Patrick warned me about the Pulido art before I picked it up, and I was honestly expecting way worse. It’s not the highest endorsement, but this looks MUCH better than that Hawkeye Annual.

    Honestly, I didn’t mind all the talkiness — frankly, I’m not sure how you would “show” lawyering when we’re expressly told that it’s mostly talking, anyway. I think Patrick’s point about luck are well taken, but I think it’s important to note that Jen was cleaning out that storage unit specifically for the purpose of finding something that corroborated Jonah’s claims. In real life, that might have been an email exchange with the sleazy exec that stole the designs, or phone records, or even just a planner with that meeting scheduled, but Jen acknowledged the need for a “smoking gun” from the get-go. She didn’t have to resort to digging through paperwork (which would have been boring), but I’m willing to accept “digging through mad scientist inventions” as a reasonable comic book stand-in.

    Part of the talkiness of this issue may stem from the fact that Soule is cramming so much into this issue. The story has a beginning, middle, and end (and even some prologue), all dealing with a patent claim. I’m actually surprised that this isn’t 20 pages of straight text. Again, that may seem like faint praise, but I think this is the most I could have asked from an issue that single-handedly opens and closes an IP case.

    I also have to wonder if the opening annual review scene wasn’t a bit of autobiography on Soule’s part. I can totally see Soule, dynamo that he is, valuing his billable hours above all else, while his bosses may just be in it for that sweet, sweet superhero money. I don’t know enough about his lawyer life to know if any of that is even close, but it was enough of a thought to make me smile reading it.

    • I didn’t get into it in the write-up, but the annual review sequence actually bothers me quite a bit. First of all, it’s also overly talky (there’s a panel in the middle of the page that’s just heads of the partners with ENORMOUS SPEECH BALLOONS between them). But I also have a hard time sympathizing with Jennifer’s priorities as she expresses them – she’s like “I won’t use my relationships to get us superhero business; I’m all about billable hours.” a) Why not get superhero business? Does she not trust her own law firm? Why would she work for them if she didn’t trust them to do good work? and b) I hate that she’s more excited about billable hours than something heroic she accomplished while lawyering. It’s like Greg points out – there’s no way to know why she cares about the case (or abstractly, about being a lawyer). If all she’s doing is scoring as many billable hour points, that’s no fun.

      • Yeah, I think Soule hits that “billable hours” note a little too hard, as if it was the only thing that matters, but I think the point is that she’s worked her ass off in spite of being a superhero. Like, it would be easy for us to assume that she is frequently absent from the office, but Soule makes it crystal clear that she’s actually been working over 50 hours a week. Additionally (and you have more law firm experience than I do on this, Patrick), an associate may not have much to brag about than billable hours. “I sat through this many depositions” or “I filed that much paperwork” isn’t exactly impressive, right?

        • Which makes it all the more mind boggling that she wouldn’t want to be like “oh and I landed Hank Pym as a client.”

          But as far as what Associates have to brag about, the sky is really the limit. Law firms are like Project Mayhem – you decide your own level of involvement. I knew a bunch of Associates at the law firm that I worked at that were working on projects that mattered to them personally; whether or not they did the “meaningful” part of that work is irrelevant. I’d always feel better pushing paper around for the Environmental attorneys than I would for the Litigation guys (who are mostly rat bastards).

        • But I can see being uncomfortable even bringing that up with her friends. Not that they seem to need the services of an independent lawfirm, anyway. Her boss specifically mentions Tony Stark, but the dude has his own in-house legal team — not exactly a realistic “get.”

          I’m not so sure the “meaningfulness” of the work is irrelevant. Like, if they weren’t impressed with her hours, pointing out that she worked on such and such case doesn’t mean shit if she has to go on to admit that all she did was highlight relevant passages from transcripts or whatever. She might care about the cases she’s working on, but I don’t see that being particularly meaningful to the Partners.

        • I really wanted to answer this earlier and I just haven’t had time this week.

          The question of “Why not use your superhero resources to bring in business to the law firm?” I believe has a pretty easy answer. It’s stated on the intro page and during her annual review. Jennifer Walters was a lawyer before she was a superhero. She defines herself as a superhero. She seems to know and understand she doesn’t REALLY need to be a lawyer at all, she’s a freakin’ Avenger and sometime Fantastic Fourian. However, she also defines herself as a lawyer, so when she busts her butt to be one, she wants her success to be based on her lawyer abilities, same as everyone else. She wants to make sure her success as a lawyer is earned as a lawyer, not because she hulks out and fights Loki (and wins).

          So during her review when in response to her, “I did all this,” (clumsily written because it seemed like the only thing that mattered was billable hours, but to some people that is the only thing that matters) was refuted by a, “We have LAWYERS for that,” all of what she was working at was discounted. It was a huge insult and had to be crushing. And frustrating. And maddening. And you wouldn’t like her when she’s mad.

          It seems so obvious to me. Maybe it’s because I’m a famous model that has made my fortune outside of teaching so I want to make sure that the rewards I get from teaching are because of ability and not my relative fame. I want to be known in Indianapolis Public Schools as a great teacher because of great teaching and student results, not because of my name and face. It seems that’s what Ms. Walters wanted as well.

          She didn’t get that result. Now, when she got her first case on her own, because it was a comic book, who was she suing? Well, Tony Stark, of course.

          Anyway, I got the characters motivation right away and I thought this held up to a reread quite well. Thought it was great.

      • I took this whole scene to mean that Jen is just proud of what she’s accomplished. She’s an exceptional lawyer, winning cases and–as Drew mentioned–putting in more than the required amount of time even while traipsing around with the FF. But the truth of the matter is that her bosses don’t care about her or her work at all, they only hired her for her connections. Jen’s a damn good lawyer and she knows it and her bosses not only don’t know, but explicitly don’t care. I know I’d be pretty pissed if people only cared about me because of who I know instead of what I was capable of, especially if I was capable of so much.

        Not to mention, wouldn’t there be issues if Jen started bringing her friends in? Who would she bring in anyway? Most of the Marvel heroes either have no need of representation (Thor and the like), explicitly couldn’t go up in court anyway due to secret identities (Spider-Man), or already have their own well-stocked lawyer team (Stark, the FF, etc.).

        Anyway, Jen’s friends obviously know that she’s available for lawyer work and would approach her if they needed her–what more do her bosses expect? For her to go shill herself out to her friends and beg them for their business, which is annoying when done to strangers but would especially start stretching boundaries and patience when done to friends? I don’t know if Soule overplayed the situation or not, but Jen was very right to to be upset and to leave.

        Anyway, while I can’t argue with some of the points Patrick and Greg bring up (and while I’m happy it only happened two or three times this issue instead of every other panel like in the Hawkeye annual, I’m still so frigging sick of Puildo’s shadow fetish), I actually enjoyed the hell out of this book. Maybe I just have a soft spot for these downtime books, I dunno.

    • I was a big fan of this also. I also thought that it was really impressive that Soule told an entire story in just 1 issue, and that none of it felt cramped at all. Sure, it was wordy, but damn it, I liked those words. I really enjoyed Legal a lot, he was hilarious, and I’d actually like to see him “spar” with She Hulk more in the future. This whole thing just worked for me, and it was really satisfying to see She Hulk hang up a shingle at the end of the issue. It was a lovely set up to the new series, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

  2. I’m always surprised when I disagree so strongly with you guys. It happens with enough regularity that I shouldn’t be, but I kept waiting for the part that said anything about liking it and it just wasn’t there.

    Maybe I have a thing for She-Hulks. Maybe I have a thing for wordy, whimsical comics. Maybe I liked the overly cartoonish art to counteract the comic book reality that nobody could even be in the same room with She-Hulk without weeping if she even looked moderately angry.

    This made me laugh. There were a few pages that the art wasn’t great (I’m not a big Pulido fan and I also don’t understand his shadow fixation), but a big goofy romp about a giant green lady lawyer. I think there will be action aplenty. Honestly, my favorite comic of the week.

    • I didn’t mention this, but I do think there is one very nice page of Pulido art in here: that scene where Jenn’s drinking at the bar and Holly is in the background looking for someone to take her case. It’s some great storytelling in the background, successfully portraying Hollying increasing desperation (you know, so desperate that she would approach a giant green woman). Every single panel as a fully realized background (including bookcases and other lawyers), so it just makes me wonder why so many panels are reduced to abstractions.

  3. Jen looked so freakin ugly in this book. she looks great on the cover, but her face looks like she has Down’s or something.

    I’ll take a DareDevil trial over a She-Hulk talking about one any day.

    • I agree that there are parts of this book that are rendered uglily, but you might have just out-uglied Pulido with that comment. Saying that the faces are wonky and inconsistent it all well and good, but let’s try to stay civil, okay?

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