Monday, April 28, 2014

Review # 110: "She-Hulk by Dan Slott - The Complete Collection Vol. 1"

Dan Slott isn't afraid to take risks at Marvel. He's taken Peter Parker out of Spider-Man's driver's seat for 30-plus issues, written more than one "Avengers" series anchored by Hank Pym (or a reasonable facsimile) and mocked his own audience. He definitely enjoys exploring the quirky corners of the Marvel U, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that his work on She-Hulk is very good. Very good, indeed.

Slott takes Shulkie in a direction she hadn't gone before. While other writers were very quick to dismiss her alter-ego of Jennifer Walters (John Byrne practically erased that persona,) Slott puts it front and centre. She-Hulk has destroyed a town while not in control of her own abilities. The series begins by examining her coping mechanisms, which cross over into the realm of being inappropriate. Her fellow Avengers call her out, and it's clear She-Hulk needs to be taken down to size. That's exactly what happens when she's hired by a prestigious law firm: they demand she work as tiny lawyer Jennifer, and not as the big, green and slightly out-of-control superhero.

This adds a new level to the character in both forms. In the past, Jennifer Walters had been timid in general. In this situation, she's treated more like the same person at all times. However, She-Hulk is timid about being Jennifer. It's clearly the same person making life decisions, but she can't take out snooty rival lawyer Mallory Book with a right cross the same way she can her arch-nemesis Titania. (Well, her only nemesis as Slott points out. He does an excellent job expanding on the history of the Secret Wars character who never had a fully fleshed-out origin.)

This approach allows Slott to grow a strong crop of supporting characters. Along with Book, there's Jennifer's friendzoned partner and eventual roommate Augustus "Pug" Pugliese, would-be young villain Southpaw, and - the best of them all - the Mad Thinker's Amazing Android. "Andy" as an office gofer is a hoot, and his confrontation with his insane inventor is a personal highlight.

Perhaps the wackiest aspect of this comic is how it uses comic books as a legal resource. In the Marvel U, comics are sold as "mostly accurate" depictions of actual world events. And thanks to the government-mandated "Comics Code," they can be presented in court as federal documents. Slott uses the comics to poke fun at She-Hulk's past (including a clever nod to John Byrne using Shulkie to break the fourth wall,) however his other outlet is a wee bit grating. Slott attacks trade collectors and continuity buffs, the latter as a clear attempt to deflect criticism. Early on, Jennifer uses the events of the Infinity Gauntlet as a defense - an event that was wiped from earth's memory. A few issues later, it's used as the catalyst for a rant about how - in olden times - comic fans would try to find ways to make errors fit into continuity. It's a funny sequence, but a wee bit off-putting for material that is otherwise meant to tickle instead of slap.

That's really my only gripe here. She-Hulk has been underrated throughout her existence, often threatened by her greatest enemy: cancellation. While I continue to find new, enjoyable material throughout her history I can't help but worry that if her Marvel NOW series with Charles Soule doesn't fly off the shelves that the company may stop trying.

Until then, I still have a second volume of Slott's run to look forward to.

(Sorry, Dan: I'm waiting for the trade.)

Rating: 9/10

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