This article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on February 13, 2014.
She-Hulk #1 was published Wednesday and instantly stood out as the week’s top release. It featured the very best elements that Marvel has to offer: dynamic artwork, a concise story, lots of humor, and a little criticism tucked underneath it all. It’s an issue that is fun, without being outright silly and slick, without being superficial.
Charles Soule is already receiving lots of acclaim for his prodigious output on titles like Letter 44 and Swamp Thing, but this may be his best comic to date. That is in no small part due to the art team of Javier Pulido on pencils and inks and Muntsa Vicente on colors.
Pulido’s compositions are the backbone of She-Hulk #1. All of the jokes, action, and dialogue-heavy scenes rely on his engaging pages to function correctly. The comic is very reliant on text, although it’s not obvious on first read. Many readers may be surprised about how little physicality there is upon a second read. The issue breaks down the same way She-Hulk describes being a lawyer: 90% conversation and 10% beating up robots.
Comics are a visual medium, which means 90% conversation could lead to a very boring comic. That is not the case here. Pulido structures the pages so that every one is visually engaging.
There is a two-page spread in which She-Hulk walks down a hallway and speaks to Legal (not the Legal Department, just Legal). What could have been a quick scene of exposition is turned into the highlight of the issue. The panel structure stretches across the page, emphasizing the gratuitous amount of effort being put into having a simple conversation. As the panels weave back into the center of the page, the circular nature of corporate law and the conversation are revealed. Not only does the page succeed in emphasizing the present themes, but in placing the audience in She-Hulk’s high heels. The reader’s eyes are forced to work across two pages in order to reach the conversation where they are overwhelmed with Legal’s dense dialogue.
It’s possible to pick out examples of composition like this throughout the entire comic. There is never an example of wasted space or accidental placement. The humor and concepts of the book could not function half as well as they do, if it were not for their dynamic visual presentation.
Muntsa Vicente has already established herself as one of the most talented colorists in comics on The Private Eye, but She-Hulk #1 will bring that talent to a much wider audience. Her bright hues bring an inherent sense of play to the page. They embrace the silliness of concepts like a killer robot safe, which allows the story to play these concepts with a straight face. She has a knack for bringing wild urban landscapes to life, like Los Angeles in The Private Eye, and Manhattan appears just as wonderful here.
All of the lively colors, illustrations, and layouts from the art team are what allows Soule’s sense of humor to really come alive. If She-Hulk #1 had to be defined by a genre, it would be as much a comedy, as a superhero adventure. Every page of the book contains something laugh worthy, ranging from witty dialogue to visual gags. On page seven, She-Hulk tries her best to get drunk, while a woman behind her is laughed off by various groups of lawyers.
So when that woman appears at her side, nothing more than “hello” needs to be said. The dynamic between these two characters is clear and the outcome of this introduction is bound to be amusing. Pulido’s facial expressions play off this implied dynamic beautifully, contrasting an optimistic smile with a dour stare.
The humor is not limited to character interactions. Soule crafts a variety of interesting and entertaining concepts in this debut issue. Legal stands out as the funniest new creation (the holographic secretaries at Stark Tower run a close second). Written and drawn to deliver every line in a deadpan tone, Legal outlines the often ridiculous nature of the American legal system. He rattles on about the flux in which Stark Industries exists, confounding any attempt to sue, and introduces hundreds of motions while claiming that he did not have much time to prepare. These statements are made all the funnier, because they reflect some truth about what Legal represents. He responds to She-Hulk when accused of being the worst saying, “I am neither good nor bad. I am simply legal.”
That sort of dark humor is also where She-Hulk #1 acquires its bite. Soule is a practicing attorney with a ten year old practice in New York City. He understands how the legal system functions and is capable of satirizing it very effectively. Although there is a lot of humor in She-Hulk #1, it is not without victims. Holly Harrow begins the book as a victim of intellectual property theft. She has been left destitute with two children. Legal and the system to which he belongs foil any attempts she makes to claim compensation. This is not a battle between good and evil though (remember that he is simply Legal), but the result of a convoluted system.
When She-Hulk finally wins the case by talking to Tony Stark, all of the flaws become clear. Tony is a human being who can show compassion. He is more than happy to pay up for the mistakes of his company and pay Holly her due. He is human though, whereas the system is not. He and She-Hulk discuss how Legal was simply doing his job and how the artifices which were hurting Holly were all automated. The human element was removed from the system and it resulted in an act of injustice.
It’s hard not to read into this issue as a commentary about the legal system from a practicing attorney.
That’s not to say that the title is grim. Despite losing her job, getting attacked by robots, and dealing with a serious miscarriage of justice, She-Hulk remains optimistic. Despite all of the fights (both literal and metaphorical) thrown her way, she was able to use her knowledge of the system to help someone. The situation is not hopeless. It just requires the right people to help.
So with a smile on her face, she opens her own practice to bring a (super) human element back to the legal system of New York City. I hope there are many cases to come.