Spencer: At first glance, there are hardly any similarities between being a writer and being a lawyer, but ultimately, both professions owe a lot to the power of words. Writers use words to bring life to worlds and characters, while lawyers use them to argue and persuade, and sometimes even to tell stories of their own. The case between Jen Walters and Matt Murdock over the fate of Steve Rogers, as presented in Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk 10, is just one of those situations; everything comes down to the two lawyers each telling their own version of the truth and leaving the jury to decide which story they believe. As a look into the criminal justice system, it’s a bit unnerving, but as a showcase of the kind of power storytellers hold, it’s absolutely fascinating.
So let’s start with the big reveal: Steve’s entire case has been a set-up by Dr. Faustus, who is hoping to discredit Steve’s name — and thus his entire legacy — in his twilight years. This is why Steve couldn’t simply beat Faustus up or even come forward with the legal documents that would prove his innocence — the legacy of Captain America needed to be determined by the people who would carry his memory into the future. Steve simply tells the truth to the best of his ability and leaves it up to Jen to prove his innocence.
This is a wordy spread, but it’s worth it to check out what Jen and Matt are saying. These are the pages that really laid out for me how vital a skill storytelling must be for a lawyer. The facts are on the table, but Matt and Jen both spin those facts to prove their version of the truth. Both lawyers turn out to be exceptional storytellers; Jen and Steve ultimately win the case, but much of that comes down to the legacy Steve himself has built as Captain America, the legacy Jen so heavily leans upon in her closing arguments.
This speaks to the power the public and/or the media has over how we perceive people. The Fade Out 2, for example, features an excellent essay about how actor Fatty Arbuckle’s reputation was ruined and remains ruined even decades later despite the evidence that clears his name, simply because the sordid story was more interesting to the public than the truth. There’s also the example of Chris Brown; he will never live down the beating he gave Rihanna, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to, but my point is that the public is almost eager to forgive and forget similar crimes from celebrities like Michael Fassbender or Sean Penn. Why? Because they’re white? Because acting is more socially acceptable than rapping? I don’t know, but what’s clear is that the legacies of these men won’t be determined by their actions or motives, but by how the media chooses to portray them and how the public chooses to remember them.
Steve’s case, though, speaks specifically to the way comic-book readers choose to interpret characters and the power creators have to shape that. The argument that Steve was responsible for someone’s death in the past and joined the army to escape scrutiny seems like the kind of grim-and-gritty retcon some writers might use to make a morally upright character like Captain America seem more “modern,” but Jen’s rebuttal is just the kind of inspired work a good writer can use to turn sloppy retcons around. I’m specifically reminded of Geoff Johns’ work on Green Lantern: Rebirth here: he was able to “reform” Hal Jordan simply by revealing new information and motives about prior events in Hal’s life, just as Jen is able to do with Steve here.
Readers love to make fun of the “yellow fear bug” aspect of Rebirth, but it cannot be denied that Johns’ gambit worked, turning not only the character, but the entire franchise around. Ultimately, readers accepted this retelling because they wanted to believe in Hal Jordan based on the decades of stories told about him prior to his possession by Parallax, and it’s that same motive that allows Steve to win his case: the citizens of Earth-616 will always believe the best of him just because he’s Captain America. That’s no doubt the same affection readers have for the character, and it’s just the kind of reputations good writers — or good lawyers, of which Charles Soule is both — know how to use to their advantage. If a writer respects the intrinsic core of a character, readers will much more readily accept their take.
Unsurprisingly for a story about the power of words, though, this issue is ultimately light on action. This is where Javier Pulido’s power of art comes in. Pulido uses a variety of tricks, including different angles and close-ups, to keep the more talky scenes interesting; he even manages to make the spread I posted above — which is practically a novella — visually striking by stripping away the background, making Jen and Matt larger than life, and having them address the audience directly. It catches the readers’ attention, gets rid of all distractions, and allows the reader to focus solely on those vital speeches.
This was another stand-out spread. I love the visual journey Pulido’s layout takes us on here; we start out in New York until we eventually reach those train tracks that intersect the page, then we follow those tracks back diagonally as the story takes us to California, much like Steve and Sam followed the tracks to California in the story. It’s thoroughly clever, but it’s also remarkably intuitive, guiding the readers’ eye across that abnormal Z-shaped layout. Stunning stuff, really.
Suzanne, I had a very specific take on this issue, so I’m interested to see what you got out of it. Were you as taken by those closing arguments as I was, or did something else catch your eye? What are your thoughts on the work of Pulido and colorist Muntsa Vicente? What kind of mission would you like to see Hellcat and her stealth suit take on next?
Suzanne: She-Hulk’s closing argument taps into a greater theme of the issue: “Truth is, he was always Cap.” At what point does someone become a hero? Does a larger transformation develop from one defining event, like the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents? That (relatively) simplistic origin story doesn’t fully translate for other heroes like Steve Rogers. Jen falls into this trap herself, asking Cap whether the death of his friend Sam Fogler was that defining moment in his life. But how many people adopt an external change without making smaller, internal changes first?
Cap reminds She-Hulk that decisions are usually more complex; regarding his choice to enlist, “It wasn’t just one thing. It was a lot of things.” That statement echoes Jen’s truism from the first issue, “No one is only one thing.” Both of these points seem intuitive, but act as reminders for characters in the series as well as readers. Steve hides his true motivations throughout the case, further pushing readers to revisit their assumptions about Captain America and his legacy. Cap fully empowers himself in a difficult, potentially threatening situation. He also maintains his legacy and controls any backlash from the court of public opinion. Steve’s success in court is largely because he understands the stakes and gets out in front of a possible scandal. On a different note, how many politicians have been undone by lying about their actions? Quickly, the lie becomes more offensive than the mistake itself.
Is any else up for an Old Cap miniseries? I’d like to see him hit more villains with his cane.
She-Hulk continues to host some exceptional guest appearances. Who could forget Ant-Man’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids cameo a few issues ago? Charles Soule references more of Mark Waid’s Daredevil than Frank Miller’s to match the tone of the series. I love Cap’s reason for choosing Matt Murdock for the prosecution though — that he’s always been “a little bit dark.” Matt also shares a fun chemistry with Jen, proving that they have more in common than lawyering. Yes, I called it lawyering. With two issues left in the short-lived series, I think my hopes of a budding Matt Murdock/Jennifer Walters romance are dashed forever. So what if Matt has a tortured past and a thing for that other lawyer in his series, Kirsten McDuffie? She-Hulk, your charm and slightly offbeat humor will be missed.
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?