Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artist: Roge Antonio
Colors: Rico Renzi
Cover Artist: Jen Bartel
Published Date: Jan 19th, 2022
The first issue of a new mainline comic book for an established character necessarily has a lot to do. It has to both be a jumping-on point for new readers while not pushing old readers away. It has to push continuity to the side while also paying homage to that continuity. It has to set the tone for what this version of the character will be about and include enough plot so that people keep buying the book every month. This task can only be complicated by the imminent release of a TV show or movie that will expose this character to a whole new audience of people who have maybe never heard of them before, or maybe they have but don’t know what the character is all about (guess I’m really just describing myself here).
All of this is a long way of saying that the first issue of the new She-Hulk Comic has quite a bit of work to do, which is acknowledged in the first line of the first issue, “I hate starting over.” Writer Rainbow Rowell is giving the audience permission to get on board right here, to start with Jen Walters as she starts over. The first page serves two purposes. First, it gives the reader all the pertinent background info that we are going to need to get into the comic. There’s Avengers stuff, Keys to a Fantasti-Car, and her career as a lawyer. It’s enough scene setting that we are not overwhelmed as our attention switches to the second function of this page, telling the reader that Jen is on the edge of something. The foreground of the page is all shadow, Jen herself is not covered in it but she’s on the edge. One more step and it will consume her, and inside of that shadow, something is waiting. In this case, the thing that is waiting is recurring opponent Titania.
Titania looks like a wrestling diva that just won a belt, stepped out of the ring, and put jeans on without taking the belt off while Jen is still in her non-hulk form dressed for a day at the office. The juxtaposition looks for a second like Titania is about to take a stop sign to the face of a much smaller woman. Things shift though after Jen avoids Titania’s first few attempts to ruin her only suit, slips out of her formal attire, and then faces her as She-Hulk. Action ensues but that really isn’t the primary development of this scene. Titania’s first verbal shot to Jen is about her frustration that life is always trying to force her back into the super-villainy she has tried to turn away from. She has a partner and a house but feels like she’s forced back into doing this.
Contrast this with Jen who started the issue thinking about what she’s failed to accomplish in her life which has forced her into something she isn’t comfortable with. She can’t even fight Titania properly because she had to avoid ruining the one suit she has. As they trade kicks and punches Jen helps them both realize that they don’t have to give into what they think the world is forcing them to be. Jen is stuck in her constricting human form and Titania isn’t sure of the way forward from a supervillain past. A little cooperation can make something better for each of them, and they decide to create an informal fight club that won’t make Jen ruin her suit or get Titania thrown in jail. It’s a moment of creative compromise that gives new (and old) readers an idea of who She-Hulk is.
The remaining pages of issue one are less action-packed, instead focusing on some of the more tertiary details of how She-Hulk is going to survive back in New York City. She shows up to her new job working with Mallory Book who doesn’t seem thrilled that it isn’t She-Hulk walking through the door and instead Jen back into the suit she managed to not destroy earlier. Later Janet Van Dyne lets her stay at the apartment she previously occupied and which is stuffed with clothes that fit her greener form perfectly. In one wordless page, Jen breaks the restrictions that were weighing her down at the beginning of the issue.
Surrounded by her new/old clothes she, transforms into She-Hulk and rips through the suit she was so worried about preserving earlier. The same motif we saw on page one pops up here in a more subtle fashion. There is a break between the two panels at the top of the page showing the change from Jen to She-Hulk with the whole bottom showing the future that She-Hulk has transitioned into. This image reinforces the comment on the next page about how she wants to, “take up more space in (her) own life.” The personal reflections on how Jen will manifest this desire physically or metaphorically there is a crash in the other room as Jack Of Hearts bursts into the apartment.
Jack Of Hearts’ appearance dominates most of the second issue after the terms of She-Hulk’s present situation were established in the first. Jack is a lower-level Marvel hero whose powers include absorbing and radiating off tremendous amounts of energy. On a previous mission while trying to save She-Hulk Jack nearly killed her when he inadvertently absorbed all the gamma radiation that sustains her hulk form. This happened despite Jack’s work with Tony Stark to develop a suit and chamber that would absorb the energy constantly radiating from his body and make him less of a threat to fellow heroes. But Stark’s chamber ended up separating Jack from everyone because of how much time he spent inside and its inability to reduce Jack’s energy output (imagine Tony Stark building a mechanical solution that isolates someone more??). Unable to find a solution and unable to exist on Earth near others without feeling that he was putting them in danger, Jack flew out into space where he floated until he had built up so much solar radiation that he exploded like an atomic bomb. The next thing Jack knew he woke up in another containment chamber that was siphoning off his energy. He doesn’t know who captured him, but he managed to escape and find his way to She-Hulk.
After he exploded in space Jack isn’t sure who or what happened to him, but he seems to have undergone a significant change. While he’s telling Jen his story he is slowing drink a glass of water. Something he doesn’t realize until the glass is empty and Jen is offering him another one. Thirst, hunger, and exhaustion, needs he hasn’t had in decades, suddenly wash over him, but the deep fear that he will have to isolate himself, so as not to be an active threat to others, also returns. Soon Jack succumbs to his exhaustion which also gives Jen the opportunity to slip out to work the next day. These are the most visually exciting pages in the second issue as we see Jen navigating her commute to work and taking up space as She-Hulk on the subway, on the street, and in the office. I don’t think it will ever get old to see She-Hulk in a mundane situation and the contrast of people on the subway with her great outfits, hair, and flawless green skin. She is a striking figure in all settings. Whether she’s fighting baddies or going into the office she stands out and commands attention. As Jen makes her way into the office the issue draws to a close with one final page showing the chamber that Jack broke out of when he was able to regain consciousness and strength. In the foreground of the scene is a corkboard covered in pictures of Jen Walters/She-Hulk as two unseen persons mutter to each other about Jack. These are presumably the villains of the piece who are potentially using Jack to get to She-Hulk.
These first two issues are an awesome example of how art and narrative can have a cumulative effect and communicate with the reader how the creators imagine this character. Jen’s struggle in these issues is figuring out, after her perceived failures, how to live in a way that feels honest and full to all that she is and the art needs to support this characterization. As a human, Jen Walter isn’t the center of attention in the scene or panel. She is alongside, behind someone, or in the background deferring to what is happening on the rest of the page. But as She-Hulk she is the most interesting character. She is almost always the center of attention on the panel or page which lets us see the detail when she bursts into dynamic action or strikes a pose in a fabulous outfit. The choice of colors in these moments highlights She-Hulk’s presence. Bright blues and oranges and many shades of purple and pink are used as a contrast to make her a prominent part of each scene. The art is not hyperrealistic but is full of small drawn details on faces, clothes, or in the background that evoke the artist’s pencil. They are thin, sketchy, and not always complete lines that efficiently communicate emotion and movement. During the action scenes, the more realistic style gives way to textured backgrounds that draw attention to the point of action or accentuate the movement that is taking place. All this adds up to a book that looks really good but is at its best when She-Hulk is on the page taking up space and looking fantastic. I can’t fail to mention that one of the reasons I started picking this book up is the absolutely amazing covers by Jen Bartel. She draws She-Hulk in a variety of poses and outfits with solid bright-colored backgrounds that make this one of the best-looking books on the shelf.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8