She-Hulk: Humble Origins, Awesome Character (opinion)

If you’ve been paying attention to certain corners of the internet, you’ve no doubt heard the rage directed at writer David Goyer while on the podcast Scriptnotes for certain comments he made about the comic book character She-Hulk.  The remarks were simple-minded, ill-conceived, and, for a guy who is famous for mostly writing superhero movies, surprisingly ignorant about She-Hulk.  In a mild defense of Goyer, comic book superheroes are such an expansive universe that it’s easy to see why he might not know much about the character.  There are thousands of superheroes, and while She-Hulk has a prominent place in the Marvel Comics Universe, she hasn’t ever been a mainstream character.

I’m not interested in debating Goyer’s non-observations.  You can go to plenty of places on the internet to hear those debates, and there’s no need for me to pile on.  Is it disappointing that a writer who, for better or worse, has come to define so much of superhero cinema reduced her to a sexual stereotype?  Yes, but given the rather bland version of maturity offered by The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel, it’s hardly surprising.

Buried among the chatter, some people have taken this opportunity to talk about She-Hulk herself.  An unlikely creation, She-Hulk was created by Marvel Comics in 1980.  The basic reasons were a pragmatic effort to secure the copyright to a female version of the Hulk.  It’s a completely commercial motivation, and on paper, it’s not much different than why we ended up with a hasty Spider-Man film reboot.  But the end result is very different indeed.  She-Hulk did start out as a relatively uninteresting “girl version” of the Hulk.  She changed she got mad.  Her costume was a torn dress.  There wasn’t a lot to distinguish her from her bigger green cousin aside from intelligence and anatomy.  But somewhere along the way, that changed.

And it changed big-time.

If you’ve read Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest (and I’m going to go ahead and say you should read it because it’s awesome), you know that Helen is a big fan of She-Hulk.  In real life, part of the reason I wanted to create Helen was because of my love of the She-Hulk, so it’s a mobius strip of a character who loves a character who reminds her of herself because she was, in fact, inspired by that character.  Both are physically powerful female characters with smarts and confidence.  Helen isn’t quite as confident as She-Hulk, but she’s younger.  She hasn’t grown into herself yet.

The difference between Helen and She-Hulk is that Helen is entirely my creation, controlled solely by me.  She-Hulk is part of a shared universe.  Such universes can be treacherous terrain for any characters.  The best characters in a shared universe have such a strong, distinct personality that even lousy writers have a hard time screwing them up.  The same rule applies toward superhero costumes, where the costumes that have endured are so distinct even a child can draw them.  For a superhero to have any chance of lasting popularity, they need to be cool enough that great creators can tell great stories with them and strong enough that terrible creators (who will inevitably come along) don’t make them stupid.  And if they are made stupid, course correction should be relatively easy and painless.

She-Hulk is one of those characters.

My love of the character started with John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk, a title with a deliberately more absurd bent.  Byrne’s policy was to use only “lame” villains and to have She-Hulk herself be aware of being a comic book character.  The result was a fourth wall breaking adventure comic featuring a badass Amazon lawyer superhero that didn’t take itself too seriously but still took time to care about its characters.  Fun, thoughtful, and distinctive.

Since then, She-hulk has appeared in countless titles, including several of her own series and as a regular in more successful titles.  She’s been an Avenger and a member of the Fantastic Four, and in every appearance, she usually has something interesting to contribute.  She-Hulk is often cited as a feminist character, but she isn’t saddled with the baggage that comes with that (ala Wonder Woman).  She’s definitely an empowered female character, but she also comes with the toolkit to create cool stories.  Like the best superheroes, she’s capable of participating in a vast array of sub genres.  And because she’s well-established as a liberated, fun-loving lady with a smile for her friends and an uppercut for her enemies, she’s the perfect antidote to the grimdark world many superheroes live in at this point.

Even with thousands upon thousands of comic book characters out there, there really is still only one She-Hulk.  That’s not to dismiss the many interesting characters (male and female) out there, but being unique is a pretty damn incredible thing for any comic book character, where knock-offs are a dime a dozen.  (Yes, there’s Red She-Hulk now, I suppose, although she’s the exaggerated, accidentally silly version of the original.)  Jennifer Walters might have had humble origins, but she’s become something more important than a character designed to secure a trademark.  Just like Batman became more than a ripoff of The Shadow.

It’s not unreasonable to call She-Hulk an icon (albeit an obscure one paradoxically) , and still, there’s no character waiting in the wings to take her place yet.  Given her singular status, it’s hardly surprising that a great many fans would take offense to labeling her as merely a giant, green pornstar.  But the thing that’s great about She-Hulk herself is that she really wouldn’t have time for any of this nonsense.  She’d be too busy being an superhero lawyer who saves the world and has a good time doing it.  She has no time for chumps.

And that’s just one of the things that make her awesome.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

LEE

 

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3 Comments

  1. Posted May 28, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always been a big fan of the She-Hulk (though I’m usually not crazy about characters breaking the fourth wall). I think it’s her irreverence, mostly. I like dark superhero comics, but if they’re not well written they’re just silly: She-hulk is always fun, and usually has some good fights, which is fine with me.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted May 28, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Breaking the fourth wall is tricky. Too often, it’s used as a gimmick to plant obvious jokes. She-Hulk doesn’t regularly break the fourth wall, but when she did it in Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk, it was very deliberately done. In one issue, she escapes a problem by ripping through the pages of a comic book, and so, the fourth wall breaking isn’t just a gag, but an important element of the story.

  2. Posted May 29, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    i love helen!

One Trackback

  1. […] Of course, this is a horribly inaccurate view of She-Hulk and so the rebuttals came fast. At the Washington Post site, Alyssa Rosenberg declares that She-Hulk is a feminist superheroine and not a male power fantasy. Also at the Washington Post, She-Hulk creator Stan Lee points out what every comic fan as well as everybody who knows to use Google already knows, namely that Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk was never intended as a love interest for Bruce Banner a.k.a. the Hulk*, because they are cousins. At the Daily Dot finally, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw notes that the true problem here is that Stan Lee still manages to have more progressive views on female characters at age 91 than David S. Goyer. Meanwhile, A. Lee Martinez offers his appreciation of She-Hulk. […]

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