Will People Still Like Me When I'm Not Green? Appreciating She-HulkA column article by: Dylan Garsee
Dylan Garsee is the co-host of Paranoid Video and a regular contributor to the film and tv section of Comics Bulletin. But he has been vocal about his lack of experience with comics since he started with the site, which is why he allowed himself to be submitted to an experiment at the hands of Comics Bulletin's Co-Managing Editor Nick Hanover. Nick has created a list of graphic novels for Dylan to read and report back on, offering his unique perspective as a newcomer to the medium eager to receive a Panel Education.
She-Hulk: Vol. 1- Single Green Female
Writer: Dan Slott Artist: Juan Bobillo
I was given my first comic-book when I was 8, I think-- was there a Sabrina The Teenage Witch the tv show comic? [Yes, and it actually started as a comic, through Archie -ed.] I may be making this up, like that one episode of ER that's totally real. But the fact that I can't remember it is evidence enough that I don't read comic books. Video games wasted my afternoons, Weird Al scored my life, and A Series of Unfortunate Events fueled my childhood escapist fantasies. The only reason I went to the local comic shop in Beaumont-- Texas Book Stan' (not Book Stand, but Stan'; we're fucking retarded in Beaumont if reality TV didn't provide enough evidence for you)-- was to buy card protectors for my Yu-Gi-Oh cards, which I still use today. I walked right past Superman, skimmed over Spider-Man, and thought the Green Lantern was black because of Superfriends.
Now, I'm not completely ignorant when it comes to comics. Movies, television and basic pop culture have taught me that Batman is actually Bruce Wayne from Gotham City. The Hulk turns green when he gets angry, whether you like it or not. And Superman is hot in any iteration of his story. But everyone knows these things. I still don't know the difference between trades and omnibi. I still don't know what race the Green Lantern is, or even Spider-Man now, apparently.
I view the comics medium the same way I used to view metal music: every band logo looked the same and black metal sounds the same as death metal sounds the same as grindcore. But then I discovered (and I know that the metalheads reading this will laugh at me and leave angry comments, but whatever) Liturgy. "This is black metal? This isn't so bad. Wait, no one in this band wears-- what is it called-- corpse paint? Well, they all look like hipsters, but hipsters are much more tolerable than all the metalheads I know. You know, this isn't so bad" My discovery of Liturgy led me down the road to Deafheaven, then Wolves in the Throne Room, then Kyuss and Baroness. Now I like a total of five metal bands, which is an accomplishment for me, goddamnit.
Comics Bulletin has done this Panel Education project before with Stacey Pavlick, and now I'm the next subject. I basically signed myself up for this task after latching on to She-Hulk in Marvel vs Capcom 3. Her entire character was hilarious to me: a giant green wrestling lawyer? Awesome. I would constantly jokingly ask why She-Hulk wasn't in the Avengers movie, or the new Spider-Man movie, or Amour. It got so bad that CB staff writer Dylan Tano bought me a She-Hulk action figure to keep me safe at night, because I'm 8 years old, not 22. Nick Hanover, CB co-managing editor, had been bringing up the idea of me writing for the Panel Education series, but we could never find a jumping off point that I wanted to read. That was, until She-Hulk.
I was given Volume 1 of She-Hulk about a month ago, with the explanation that "if you like 30 Rock, you'll like She-Hulk." I know that was meant to assure me that She-Hulk would be amazing. But I don't simply like 30 Rock; I love it with every fiber of my being. I cried at the finale, and wrote a very depressing essay about the final episode. It almost set too high of expectations for me to love She-Hulk. So it sat in my bag for a few days, unread.
Then one morning, between masturbation session #1 and shower #2 (if you didn't read that 30 Rock piece, I'm very depressed), I decided “Damnit, I'll start She-Hulk.” From the cover, I half expected the book to be a creepy fedora wearing mega atheist's wet dream. I was later reassured that most covers have different artwork from the actual inside art. Which make sense, movies don't look like the posters. Why would a comic book have the same art? They're designed to attract people to the book, and it seems the target demographic of She-Hulk is people whose sexuality never left the eighties/giantess fetishists.
Maybe it's my own prejudices, maybe it's my ignorance, maybe it's Maybeline, but I have always assumed that every comic fell into one of three categories: origin story (which, according to the superhero films I've seen, are all the same), confusing super-villain fights, and whatever you classify Persepolis as. The medium seemed stuck, but that was to my blind eyes. It seemed stuck because I was stuck in this mindset that only weird neckbeards read comics. The comic industry is not this impenetrable wall. It's like that scene in Labyrinth when Jennifer Connelly can't find an entrance, only to find out from the talking glowworm that she needs to look at the wall from a different angle, thus revealing the entry so that she can murder David Bowie or something (I haven't seen that movie in a while). I just needed my own personal glowworm.
The origin story of She-Hulk took two minutes to tell, which is perfect. Lawyer Jennifer Walters was given a blood transfusion by her cousin David Banner. Wait, that's a hip-hop producer. I mean Bruce Banner. He's the Hulk from that movie by Ang Lee. Anyway, she contracted a less severe version of his transformative powers and all of his green skin. Fast forward through law school, and Jennifer is now a powerful public defender/Avenger/8 foot tall green Amazonian wunderkind.
Until she gets kicked out of the Avengers Mansion for bringing too many guys home. When she was asked to leave, that's how I knew that comics could be something that I enjoyed. That's such a hilarious mental picture: Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man are all sitting on beanbags in the rec room, and one of them finally brings up the elephant in the room that She-Hulk gets more tail then the rest of them do. So she has to go.
That's how I imagined it any way.
So, she finds a new place and a new job defending superhuman law and what not, and is joined in the office by probably my favorite character in anything ever, the stonefaced (literally) giant Andy who can only communicate by chalkboard. Andy is the ten foot tall silent stone giant equivalent of a kitten. You know what I mean.
But what's great, and what truly sucked me in to She-Hulk, was how she feels about herself. Jennifer loves being She-Hulk, not because of the attention (which she kind of likes), but because it makes her unique. Even though her human form is totally awesome (she's a karate fighting super-lawyer!), she feels anonymous in the big city. There's like 11 Jennifer Walters in the phonebook for Manhattan alone! But there is only one She-Hulk.
The new job she takes at the best firm in town requires her to be Jennifer Walters at all times. They know she prefers to be She-Hulk, because she defends her clients as She Hulk, but they want her to be comfortable in her own skin. Jennifer is still a great woman, and people still love her when she's people colored and people height. Just like people love her when she's She-Hulk colored and She-Hulk height. She gets humanized both literally and figuratively, something she didn't know she needed.
There's minimal actual fighting in the book, and it's treated as an annoyance. "Ugh, your honor, can I go save the city from utter destruction for like ten minutes?" is what I think she said in one part*. The action lasts maybe two pages, and it's back to the courtroom scenes, which are so much fun. Spider-Man and the Thing pop in for small cameos, the latter of whom screams my new favorite expletive "Jeezaloo!" when scared by a ghost lieutenant (it makes sense in the book).
She-Hulk feels more relatable than any of the other superheroes I've encountered in film and television, 99% of whom seem burdened by their own awesomeness. "I'm so powerful, how will anyone like me! I'm too amazing now, the world must be kept from grotesque superhuman strength!" She-Hulk is proud of her powers, she embraces that she's a super tall, super powerful, super green weirdo that sticks out. What she fears the most is "will people still like me when I'm not green? Can I still be great when I'm small? Will I die unheard?"
And in both forms she is appreciated and heard. It doesn't matter what form she takes, She-Hulk is loved because she is always herself.
*I would check She-Hulk for a reference, but I've loaned it to a friend because I loved it so much.
Next month-- Dylan is treated to Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston's Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, a comic CB has publicly described as superheroes as a “black and white and LSD orgasm.” It's a crazy book and Dylan can't read it on the bus, so tune in to find out what effect it has on his brain.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.