by Cindy Cooper
Last week I was having a fit over the lack of well-developed female comic book characters. Since then I have done some assigned reading in honor of Hulk Week. Ladies, I offer you She-Hulk, a comic book character you can relate to. She’s a lot like you, just bigger and greener.
Originally, She-Hulk was merely Jennifer Walters, a meek and bookish, but brilliant lawyer, until one day she was shot by mobsters and needed a blood transfusion. It just so happened the only person around with her blood type was her cousin, Bruce Banner aka The Hulk. The radioactive blood transformed her into a Hulk of a different gender. However, when Jennifer becomes She-Hulk, she remains intelligent and somewhat in control, unlike her brutish cousin.
Jennifer attended both UCLA Law School and Harvard. She’s an accomplished and intelligent woman. However, she finds new freedom when she becomes She-Hulk. She is no longer timid and uncomfortable in her own skin. Instead she is bold and confident with a sassy sense of humor to rival that of Spider-Man. Gone are her inhibitions, and by the time we see her in Single Green Female, the beginning of Dan Slott’s run, she’s bedding male models and partying like Amy Whinehouse minus the drugs, alcohol and embarrassing tattoos. The limitations that most women allow society to place on them in regards to their sexuality and their professional lives don’t exist for her. Her law career is going well. She’s a powerhouse both intellectually and physically.
However, as it often is with powerful women, not everyone is happy with the She-Hulk side of Jennifer Walters. She goes to work for a law firm that will only let her try cases as Jennifer. Her boyfriend, John Jameson, prefers her as Jennifer and complains when he has to spend time with her as She-Hulk. Of course, Dan Slott writes her one man who appreciates her for who she is, no matter her skin color. However, as is so often the case, she has no idea how he feels about her. Jennifer/She-Hulk finds herself conflicted between being who she is expected to be and who she needs to be. Does she suppress her confidence and sexuality to fit societal norms, like so many of us do? We learn during Dan Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk that her father prefers her as Jennifer as well. He misses his “little” girl. Dads are like that, I guess, and don’t we all struggle with keeping a balance between pleasing those we love while being true to ourselves?
It’s not all good news. Comic characters are only as good as their creative team. There are a few Greg Horn covers that show She-Hulk as more of a green Maxim model than a powerful superhero, but hey, it’s the inside of the comic that’s really important. Just ignore those silly covers. And, for some reason, Juan Bobillo draws her as more chunky than muscular. Some of the artists get her, but others don’t seem to like drawing muscular women. But hey, she’s She-Hulk and shouldn’t look as if she’s been living on a runway model’s diet of champagne and cigarettes.
Then, there are the Sensational She-Hulk covers from Byrne’s run. I love these. During this run, She-Hulk “breaks the fourth wall” and begins speaking to the writer and the editor Renee Witterstaetter. For my research, I bought issues 30, 39 and 41-44. There are a few covers where She-Hulk looks out to the reader while in a suggestive pose wearing say her undies, and she’ll say, “Okay, I’ll admit this has nothing to do with the story this week but I’ve got to do something to sell this book!” By issue 44, she is bundled in a heavy coat with scarves saying, “Sorry guys. The powers that be say I’ve been pushing it on my past few covers, so this is all you get this month.” In issue 42, her sidekick, Weezi, formerly the Blonde Phantom, walks out of the comic. She’s upset at Byrne for making her fat. According to Weezi, Byrne has a thing for making female characters fat, specifically, and she walks out in protest. He’s making fun of feminism, misogyny, his readers and often, himself. The stories aren’t as complex as in Dan Slott’s run. There is a lot of goofy action and not a lot of meat in the issues I read, but there are some interesting ideas here and some fun to be had.
But, even in Byrne’s run, She-Hulk is in control. She’s a woman who, for the most part, knows who she is, while still struggling with many issues all women face. Women will be able to relate to her identity issues and her effort to balance relationships and career. There’s a little She-Hulk in all of us. So, do something this week to embrace your inner She-Hulk. Party till dawn! Tackle your significant other at the door! Go assert yourself and kick butt at work! There’s a Green Goddess inside of all us, and she needs to get out and stretch every now and again!
For fangirls or fangirls to be who are interested in dipping your toe into the superhero pool, I highly recommend beginning with Single Green Female by Dan Slott.
by Cindy Cooper