Shane: So, look. I’m not saying that writing is easy. This is a craft. It requires a certain set of skills, a patience, a level of general competency. And as someone who fancies himself a writer, it’s a little painful to see something that reads at such a high level above what I could possibly do. Extrapolating even further past that, She-Hulk is devastating. Excruciating. I want to take sharp objects and whittle away my skin, exposing my tender flesh to the harsh elements so that I may embrace the harsh, tortuous reality of my own limitations.
Did I mention that I rather enjoyed She-Hulk 9 by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and the rest? Because it was something special.
In the Marvel comics universe, superheroes are rather common. A dime a dozen, even, and since all but a few of them are headquartered in my home town of New York City, you can pretty much toss a stone there and hit someone invulnerable without even trying. It takes little effort to read a comic about a character with super-strength, but, I must say, it’s not quite as simple to read about a character in a law firm. In fact, I can really think of only two major comic book characters who are lawyers, and, well, what do you know? In this issue, both feature prominently. It’s almost like it was planned that way, who’dka thunkit? Marvel legend Matthew “Daredevil” Murdock goes up against Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters in court for, near as I can tell, the first time in comics history. This alone is monumental, and having them war over the fate of Captain America can only add to the significance. And as the middle issue of the saga, having the exact details of Captain America’s culpability revealed, with his arrogance leading to the death of an innocent, presents something of a moral quandary. How can one defend someone that blatantly pushes an unstable man, to the point of someone else paying the price? And at the same time, how do we condemn arguably the greatest hero in Marvel’s history, the leader of the Avengers, somebody who has saved the country, the world, even the universe, countless times?
Daredevil sidesteps these issues quite comfortably, presenting the struggle in clear legal terms. Is Captain America in any way responsible for this man’s death? Setting aside his famed heroism, the good Captain is human, and can he suffer grave errors in judgement? And in the same vein, She-Hulk attacks Murdock’s approach in technical terms, so that the judge may throw out the case before it grows further, but that strategy is hamstrung by Steve Rogers’ own sense of…responsibility? Justice? Guilt?
The issue showcases a clear representation of a court of law, with a level of accuracy rarely seen in casual fiction. In fact, few writers in the comics industry could show such a devoted insight to the details of the legal system, discussing case dismissals and mistrials and everything that I don’t understand, but Charles Soule clearly does. It’s not a surprise, really. Soule has quickly risen to the top of the comics industry for many reasons — his immense skill, the top-quality books he writes, and the sheer quantity of his workload. And yet, in addition to all of this, he has a day job. A law practice, even. Something that most other people would consider a full-time job, Charles Soule takes on as…more than a hobby, certainly, with the level of devotion he provides. It’s admirable, and in his work, it shows.
With as much devotion as Soule puts in, though, artist Javier Pulido matches, especially in his layouts. I’m happy to attribute many strengths to Pulido, including a recognition of facial expression matched by few modern artists not named Jamie McKelvie, but there are even fewer artists on top-tier titles who have such an innate mastery of the craft that Pulido expresses. His layouts of She-Hulk chasing Daredevil across the rooftops of San Francisco capture the superheroics so seamlessly, and that’s merely a fraction of the issue. The final two panels of the issue, which I won’t spoil here, are so casually intertwined, and yet flawlessly challenge any other artist to present two opposing viewpoints with anything resembling the same level of poignance. Even the notable admissions of Steve Rogers in this very issue can’t match the message in Pulido’s work. He’s just that good.
The fate of the ongoing She-Hulk title has been somewhat the forefront of comics news as of late, with a not-unexpected but equally not-accepted cancellation that apparently fits with the creative team’s plans but not hopes. The quality of this issue presses the unpleasantness of this news, but I’m anxious to see how Charles Soule wraps the many plotlines built in this series and exacerbated by this issue. With the last-page reveal, Drew, how do you suspect Soule may write around what could be a dramatic change to Marvel comics (one that, let’s face it, will likely not be allowed in a tertiary title)? Has this historic challenge between Marvel’s two most notable lawyers met with your expectations? And, most importantly, what do you think of Kevin Wada’s cover for this issue? Because for me, Wada’s covers have been probably the best part of a series that has basically zero flaws, and yet I sort of feel like this is his weakest cover on the book yet. It’s almost traditional. Come on, Wada. You can do better.
Drew: I don’t know, I’m so enamored of Wada’s style that I’d probably forgive even the dreaded split-face cover (which Pulido cleverly subverts at the issue’s end). Actually, I remember being a bit disappointed when this series started that Wada wasn’t on interior art — the cover to issue 1 was so evocative and stylized, I desperately wanted to see more of it — but Pulido has slowly won me over. You’re absolutely right to highlight Pulido’s layouts during that chase scene, Shane, but I actually found myself a bit distracted by the saturation of Munsta Vicente’s colors.
I’m normally a big fan Vicente’s bright colors (which are particularly appropriate for this title), but the color scheme here feels a little over-saturated to me — the magenta sky, the cyan pajamas, and Jen’s green skin compete for my attention, overwhelming my eye a bit. Moreover, the values are all pretty similar, which actually blends Jen into the background in spite of the contrast of hues. Let’s look at a greyscale scan of that same image to see what I mean.
There’s almost no variation in value at all — everything looks uniformly medium-grey (aside from the black silhouettes) — which makes for a somewhat less-clear image. I single this out not because it’s exemplary of Vicente’s work — indeed, he varies the values in just about ever other scene in this issue — but to point out how unusual this scene was. Heck, aside from that little sequence, the art team here was on fire. Soule tasks Pulido with a LOT of dialogue in the court scenes, but Pulido ably rises to the occasion, turning in some pages with as many as 13 panels (but always changing up the rhythm to avoid monotony).
But, for all of that talk, it’s obvious there are some bombshells that Soule (and Cap) are keeping from us. There’s that odd reference to Patsy’s “mission,” which finds her sneaking around somewhere, but it’s also clear that Cap has an objective that he hasn’t shared with Jen. That he would put her through this while insisting on “fair and square” practices seems a little hypocritical to me — seriously, why can’t Jen just be in on what he’s thinking here? — but it’s also built an intriguing mystery, so who am I to argue?
Actually, Cap’s insistence on “no technicalities” seems like it might be restraining some of the fun of having a practicing lawyer write a courtroom scene between Matt and Jen. Wouldn’t you love to see all the devious end-runs and motions and whatever else these two could throw at each other? Maybe that would get overly technical, but as a bizarro version of DC’s various fastest man alive races, I feel like we’re not getting a good sense of who should be crowned Marvel’s Greatest Superhero Lawyer. Not that that was ever the story Soule set out to tell (and I’m sure the audience for a totally accurate legal battle between two superheroes is pretty limited), but it’s a bummer to see Jen pulling her punches like this.
Ultimately, I think it’s hard to speak to the narrative value of this issue without that conclusion. This issue mostly just watches Jen’s case go from bad to worse, though the reveal that Cap wanted a fair fight of sorts is certainly intriguing. I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m excited for the next issue, but after this one, it’s almost a necessity.
For 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?