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Things are not going well for Jennifer Walters, the erstwhile She-Hulk. Formerly a bastion of wit and enthusiastic superheroing, Jen isn’t the same since the events of Civil War II. In a coma for some time after, upon awaking she now transforms into a gray, scarred version of her Hulk-form. In addition, this new Hulk persona (she’s just Hulk now, no need to differentiate since Bruce Banner is dead) doesn’t maintain Jen’s intelligence.
As a result, she’s flying under the radar to recover from the trauma visited on her by Thanos (he put her in that coma). It’s a new direction for a hero many have come to rely on for humor and fun story-lines. Yet even with such a pivot there are still interesting aspects to explore, both for the new Hulk persona and Jen’s own struggles with recovery. Writer Mariko Tamaki walks this tightrope, with art from Georges Duarte and colors by Matt Milla.
Let’s Hulk out and see how they did with pulling Jen back into the hero game.
Fans of the John Byrne era of She-Hulk may recall zippy dialogue and occasional fourth-wall breaks as a hallmark of the character. That same snark is present here, but with more of an edge. The book opens with Jen at a meeting for trauma survivors. Since most have dealt with the loss of a loved one, getting pulverized by a space Titan isn’t something Jen is too keen on discussing.
Her inner dialogue works to great affect to convey this difficult emotional strain. People who ask about her feelings or suggest a ‘good cry’ just piss her off. Instead Jen does what feels right – Hulks out at an abandoned construction site. This leads into a guest spot from none other than Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! The one on one between the two of them is a good character moment for each, and I applaud Tamaki for writing the longtime friends so well.
Not all characters get so well defined though. The action of the plot unfolds on the set of a cake baking show Jen’s friend Oliver hosts. Two of the camera crew obtain a mysterious mutation drug, spike the hosts food for some reason, and he turns into a monster while Jen watches online.
The plot device itself is acceptable enough, but the hapless oafs who perpetrate it are written like caricatures of bad 80’s villains. Their vague goal of ‘breaking the internet’ with the stunt seems a weak excuse to draw Jen’s attention, but if it works, so be it.
In a story that relies on a lot of emotional weight, the art team of Duarte and Milla do great work with facial expressions. Jen’s pained smile in group therapy, dejection while alone, and rage while Hulking, are all done with great detail that conveys her turmoil. Hellcat! gets a good portrayal as well, even if it’s just as the concerned best friend making Hulk jokes with Jen. I hope she gets a regular guest-spot, maybe as a reliable means for calming down Jen’s new angrier Hulk.
The rest, not unlike the writing, exists mainly to move the plot forward. Coloring is safe but still vibrant, almost as if we really are watching a mediocre baking show. As poor Oliver transforms, his helpless boyfriend looking on, the art gives no further clarity as to the mystery-drug’s properties or intent.
He looks like a Hulk meets Swamp Thing rip off, and that very well may be what this substance does to people. But it’s frustrating for it to remain so nebulous.
At least till next issue! I really hope things turn around for Jen. She’s too fun to get lost in the same dual identity misery her cousin endured, so let’s hope Hulk can smash forward to new heights.