Spencer: She-Hulk is a superhero lawyer. What does that mean? Well, she’s a superhero who is also a lawyer, but that’s obvious. Does it mean she takes on cases involving superpowered individuals? No doubt they’re a huge part of her clientele, but I think there’s more to it. Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk 3 finally gives us a chance to see Jennifer Walters, attorney-at-law, in action, and she’s every bit as great at the job as we’ve been told. What stood out to me the most, though — and what truly makes her a “superhero lawyer” in my eyes — is that she tackles the case with the same kind of enthusiasm and dedication that she devotes to fighting crime.
Kristoff Vernard, son of Victor Von Doom, has come to She-Hulk looking for political asylum in America; Kristoff wants freedom, and knows he’ll never be able to live his own life while living under the tyrannical metal fist of his father. Time is running out, though; Jennifer only has until the end of the day to file for asylum, and Doctor Doom is throwing everything he can in her way to slow her down. Just as the judge grants Kristoff his asylum, though, Doom bursts through the ceiling and steals away his son, swearing vengeance against She-Hulk. She certainly doesn’t look like she’ll let this stand.
I’ll admit, Jennifer didn’t start this issue out at her most heroic; by the second page she’s already reached the limits of her patience with Kristoff, and she appears to take the case almost exclusively because of the (literal) bag full of cash he offers her. Still, I can’t exactly blame Jen. By taking the case she’s purposely putting herself on Doctor Doom’s hit list, and even a gamma-irradiated superbeing should take pause before doing that. Moreover, Kristoff doesn’t exactly give Jen many reasons to like him or feel for him at first.
The thing is, though, Kristoff isn’t intentionally being mean or condescending. While he’s still somewhat arrogant, he seems to be uncannily aware about how much privilege he has and surprisingly quick to apologize when he has insulted someone. As the issue proceeds, it becomes increasingly obvious that Kristoff’s attitude has less to do with his own shortcomings and more to do with his issues with his father. It all leads to this heartbreaking scene. Kristoff handles his disappointment with the same blasé detachment that characterizes the rest of his actions, showing that much of his swagger is obviously a defense mechanism. I feel for this kid, and I’m glad to see that not only Jen, but the other characters do as well. Actually, these may be my favorite panels in the issue. In legal dramas there’s always the temptation to vilify the other side of the case or to have the law work against the protagonist at every turn, but Soule knows that’s not necessary in this situation; in fact, the rest of the court empathizing with Kristoff helps the readers to empathize with him as well. Instead, Soule helps us see that this story is truly about a fight for Kristoff’s freedom, and that’s where She-Hulk’s skills as a superhero lawyer really shine.
See, we tend to think of superheroes fighting to save the world, but Jen’s struggling to simply allow one person to live the life he wants to. It’s a scale we’re not often used to from superhero comics, but Jen doesn’t allow the “smaller” stakes to temper her enthusiasm — instead, she tackles this case just as she would any mission with the Fantastic Four. I greatly enjoyed the look at Jen’s flaws and tribulations over this title’s first two issues, but I think I liked seeing her competence and her heroic traits in this issue even more. Jen looks pretty determined to get Kristoff back from Doom, and I can’t wait to see how she goes about it.
Meanwhile, the art has been growing on me more with each passing issue. Muntsa Vicente’s colors practically pop off the page, and her use of bright primary colors in the background of action scenes is especially striking. Pulido’s pencils imbue the characters with enough energy and personality that I can forgive some of his more unusual tendencies, such as the odd use of silhouette — or, weirder still, silhouetting a character’s skin but not their hair or clothing.
What I appreciate most about Pulido’s work this issue, though, is his layouts. Fourteen out of twenty pages are a part of two-page spreads, but these aren’t all flashy splash pages. Instead, Pulido uses this extended canvas to experiment with a variety of different ideas. Most often Pulido uses the extra space to give us wide views of an entire landscape — be it Jen’s office or the inside of a Starbucks Coffee Bean — which not only better orients us with the characters’ surroundings, but provides extra room for speech balloons and background gags, such as the antics of Hei Hei the monkey or the shop full of people staring at their phones. I found the above panel particularly effective, as the motion of Jen dragging Kristoff off being crammed into the same panel as their discussion shows us the suddenness of her actions.
This style also gives Pulido room to open up the action scenes significantly, and the moments he chooses to highlight are always interesting. For example, I love how the panel revealing Hellcat takes up 2/3rds of the spread, while seven panels of her obliterating Doombots barely gets a fourth of the spread — it just goes to show how routine this fight is for her. There is a moment or two where this freedom leads to a progression of panels that’s a little hard to follow, but for the most part, I’m impressed by what Pulido pulls off here.
Drew, I remember last month you were suspicious of Angie the Paralegal. This issue definitely gives me the impression that she may have a mild form of mind-control or persuasion abilities — that’s even more suspicious, right? Drew: Seriously. She Jedi-mind-tricks that bailiff pretty hard there, but I kind of wonder if we’re supposed to see that as supernatural, or just impressive. Like, she used similar powers of persuasion in her interview with Jen last issue, but I mostly read that as confidence. Then Shelby suggested that Angie may have scared away all of the other candidates for her position, which again, could have been caused by superhuman powers, or just unusual (but theoretically human) levels of intensity. Either way, I think she’s an intimidating character, who Soule clearly intends to explore more thoroughly somewhere down the line.
Spencer, I might quibble a bit with your assessment that the stakes here are “smaller” than she might face with the Fantastic Four. The context and setting may have changed, but the “defeat Doom” thrust of the story is ripped right out of any number of Fantastic Four stories (including the most recent volume of FF, which just so happened to feature one Jennifer Walters). That is, her uniform may be a skirt suit and her tactics may feature more motions than punches, but the stakes haven’t changed at all. Seeing Jen rescue people from injustice one case at a time is exactly what I signed up for, and I can’t wait to see how she handles Doom’s abduction with the professionalism and tact I’ve come to expect of her actions.
Of course, she could always just hulk-out and punch her problems away — something that happens twice this issue. Pulido comes up with inventive ways to show her transformation, from focusing in on her giant hulk hands to holding on her sleeve as it rapidly splits into tatters.
Pulido has always been deft at picking his subjects, but his choice of angle and composition has improved leaps and bounds in this issue. He eschews his predilection for frontal, three-quarters, and profile shots to deliver subtler character studies from both higher and lower angles. This increased range gives the art here a big leg up, allowing Pulido to convey some of the subtler power struggles that Spencer alluded to. Still, there’s an inherent flatness to his art that even Vicente’s stellar coloring can’t hide — especially when characters are drawn in silhouette.
I still think the most striking thing about this series — and the thing that really defines “superhero lawyer” to me — is the sheer amount of dialogue. The canon is full of talky superheroes (Spider-Man, Nightwing, Deadpool), but their repartee is usually reserved for clever one-liners. Here, Jen relies on her ability to argue (along with her knowledge of asylum laws) to solve her problems. Sure, there’s still plenty of smashing (this is a Hulk-family comic, after all), but her hurdles are otherwise legal in nature. This series has a kinship with some of the more court-oriented issues of Daredevil in that way, which I couldn’t be more pleased with. Here’s hoping they start to take on that series’ emotional connection to the cases, too.
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