She-Hulk: Still “No.”

She-Hulk: Still “No.”

Mike Madrid is a lifetime comic book and pop culture fan, and the author of “The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines,” and “Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics.” I was honored to hear him speak at GeekGirlCon about his latest book* “Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics.” The next day I bought his book and attended the 1:00 signing.

We had a very short discussion about female heroes in modern comic books — he asked me if I was reading She-Hulk.

She-Hulk-Wada-cover-003

I said, “No. I got the first issue and didn’t like it. I’m reading Captain Marvel.”

“Hmm,” was his response.

!?!?

He explained that he was thrilled with She-Hulk because, unlike Carol Danvers who is supported by Tony Stark, Jennifer Walters supports herself.

After this and other positive comments regarding She-Hulk, I went back to my comic store and bought issues #002 and #003 and reread from #001.

I still don’t like it. And I take issue with Madrid’s self-supporting-female qualifier.

She-Hulk-Pulido-002

First of all, it’s an aesthetics thing. I do not like Javier Pulido’s interior art. The cover art by Kevin Wada is wonderful. There’s so much character and strength in Wada’s She-Hulk. In contrast, Pulido’s features are so geometric and flat they’re inhuman to the point of distraction. Very subjective, so let’s look at Madrid’s reasoning.

I interpret Madrid’s comment to mean that Jennifer Walters is a better female protagonist because Carol Danvers is supported by a rich man.

There are several possible arguments here, so let’s be fair and cover the bases. Does working for anyone, for a rich person, or for a man make a female character a lesser representation?

Working for Anyone

Most people work for someone and Walters is no different. In She-Hulk #001, “Motion,” Jennifer Walters quits a demeaning job and opens her own law firm. Technically, she works for her clients. Without clients she has no business. She also hires Angie Huang as a paralegal and Hellcat as an investigator (#002). If working for someone makes you a lesser character, then Walters character would be inflicting this on other women, subordinating them.

Yes, this is a ludicrous argument. Utterly self-contained female heroes are not what make women strong, accomplished, and equal. The configuration of working for someone, when done correctly, creates a team where you share your talents and make a stronger force. You can see that happening with the principled Walters, the mysterious and astute Huang, and the energetic Hellcat.

Working for the Rich

As a lawyer, Walters needs clients. At the end of issue #002 Walters is hired to work for someone as rich, powerful, and arrogant as Tony Stark: Kristoff Vernard, the son of Victor Von Doom, ruler of Latveria. She takes the job. He needed help and she helped him.

If being rich is an issue it’s an argument of fiscal equality. Being rich, I have no problem with. If I had the choice to be rich, I’d take it. If fiscal equality is Madrid’s issue, we will simply disagree politically but that’s all I’ll say about that.

Working for a Man

My guess is this is what Madrid believes makes Captain Marvel a lesser female character than She-Hulk. It’s the only one of the three arguments that really has meat.

It is historically true that women in the work place have been seen as subordinate to men and are depicted answering to men instead of being the ones in charge. Jobs have been given to men because they aren’t women. Women have been disrespected, discriminated, and depreciated. This does not mean that every representation of a female character in patronage to a man is inequality. It would mean that, to represent equality, a woman should never be shown working for a man.

Equality doesn’t mean elimination. A working relationship of mutual respect, elevation, and appreciation represents equality, no matter the sexes.

Besides, She-Hulk does work for a man by choice — Vernard (#003).

Conclusion

Even though She-Hulk plays out quite nicely as a female protagonist I will not be reading the title. I’m not attached to the world because the art work pushes me away. When choosing titles to purchase, I’m about 70% artwork and 30% story.

For the story, a least, I understand the fans of She-Hulk. I mean, what’s up with Angie and that monkey?

I’ll Give You a Topic

  • Is there another interpretation of Madrid’s comment I missed?
  • Can someone tell me why Jennifer Walters is green all the time where Bruce Banner is only green when he’s the Hulk? I’m new to comics so I’m sure there’s an explanation for this.

*Doing research for this article I discovered that “Vixens, Vamps & Vipers” has a forward written by my current Coursera teacher, William Kushkin, Ph.D.

Rhonda has a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science and is a self-taught graphic designer. She considers herself a geek*wildcard because she has a little bit of experience in everything.

4 Comments

  1. As a longtime comic book reader who read (sigh, it's been cancelled) she-hulk & not captain marvel I'm going to give my two cents. First of all, I'm right there with you on the interior art. I'm 80% story, 20% art but this art was so off-putting (different) it delayed me even starting to read my copy. I'm glad I did read it and now I even like the art.

    I love the story but a lot of that love may come from the fact that this is one of the few comics that acknowledges the main character's past. Jen's been around a long time. I've been reading her comics a long time. This story uses that to its advantage. But as a new reader I could see how that might not do anything for you.

    As for the difference with Captain Marvel, I think it may have to do with the idea of a kept woman: a mistress or wife who is supported by a man basically for his pleasure. I'm not saying this applies to Captain Marvel, but it's been a long-time trope and instantly came into my mind. Yes, it matters that he's a man and yes it matters that he has the power (money). Does that automatically mean this is a sexist story? Nope, but be careful when telling it.

    And the story told in She-Hulk hasn't been told enough: a woman choosing her own destiny. Maybe that's the biggest difference. Or maybe I'm biased because I left a big company to free-lance partly because I wanted to choose what work I did.

  2. Hmmm, I find this an interesting way to frame the old "She-Hulk as a female icon" issue. The character has had a remarkably checkered history with feminism. On the one hand there's no avoiding her very commercial origins as a flagrant example of Superhero gender-flipping for the sake of character rights. On the other, there have certainly been enough legitimate efforts to give her her own stories to support her and develop her characterisation that ignorant criticisms like David Goyer's recent infamous dismissal of the character as a mere potential sexual object for Hulk [and horny teenage boys] seem more worthy of ridicule than legitimate consideration.

    Anyway, Rhonda, I have a similar instinctive distate for Pulido's art style. It feels like it better suits indie graphic novel aesthetics than a Superhero comic, not to mention I find his frames a bit too repetitive and, more damagingly, his faces rather expressionless and inflexible. For me, 'She-Hulk' is a series that is at its best when it most effectively showcases a heroine that isn't afraid to speak her mind, kick ass and, most importantly, have a little fun and a sense of humour while doing so. If I recall correctly the reason Walters is always green is that she, unlike her cousin Bruce Banner, retains full control of herself when 'Hulked out' and has since personally chosen to remain green even though there have been times when she could apparently 'revert' back to her regular appearance if so she wished. This is actually one of the prominent ways that She-Hulk distinguishes herself from Hulk- there's always been a very clear distinction and subsequent struggle between the Hulk and Bruce Banner identities while Walters has tended to be depicted as far more accepting and in control of her Hulk-like qualities.

    To be honest, I feel that the discussion you had with Mike might have been one of those rather frustratingly brief conversations where there wasn't quite enough time to discuss the merits of two different feminist paradigms and then, rather vitally, for both parties to make it clear that there is more than enough 'room' in pop culture for both these positive female representations in the world of comics. Objectively speaking, She-Hulk is perhaps the more 'obvious' feminist icon in that she better equipped to 'compete' with other superheroes on the meta-level – it's accepted that she can go toe-to-toe with the 'top-tier' in the Marvel Universe if needed. Intriguingly though, her own titles have more often than not side-stepped the typical comicbook "This week X fights Y!!!" scenarios instead choosing to focus more time on her personal and work life. As such her stories generally come across as more separate and self-contained than Carol Danver's who has comparatively more often been engaged in ensemble narratives like the Avengers or X-Men.

    Even if it might be so much easier for the feminist movement to rally around one single, definitive ideal of the self-made, absolutely independent, confident woman, it should never be more than just a basic, primary exemplar that others can happily break off from rather than be forced to compete with. Captain Marvel might well be a more subsidiary, middle-tier character on the meta-level but that doesn't mean that her arguably more co-operative narratives aren't as equallly vital to the future of feminism.

    After all, have we not come to the stage where we can argue that encouraging everyone to rally behind the banner of the 80's simplistic idea of a fiercely independent, indomitable career woman who can compete with men on their level might be counterproductive in some ways? It shouldn't be presumed that people who proffer alternative representations of more collaborative and, indeed, less characteristically assertive feminine icons are undercutting or 'distracting' from the value of our She-Hulks. In fact, now that there are no overt legal obstacles to female equality in the workplace, it might well be more productive to show greater support towards the kind of characters who can collectively institute less destructively competitive testosterone-fuelled environments.

    In the end, however, as you yourself concluded, it's perhaps blinkered to imply that people shouldn't feel justified in enjoying the art that they personally relate to most, even if we can argue intellectually that certain representations are more edifying than others. All types of personalities should be recognised, embraced and not vilified by any social movement and when it comes to art we really shouldn't be overly dismissive [unless, of course, we see a character being horribly misused…]. That said, it certainly doesn't stop us all from passionately trying to get others to identify with the things we love, right?

    P.S. I'm curious- would you say that Mike might perhaps be a bit Marxist in his views, or at least follow Marxist critical theory in his essays? The idea of criticising Captain Marvel for "working for a rich man" rather stands out as such.

  3. Karen: glad to have a long-time comic reader visiting the site. I am definitely new to comics (about 2 years now). Being a reader of Captain Marvel I would never identify her as a kept woman. That was sort of my offense at Madrid's comment. I think we're actually saying the same thing–it's great to see stories of independent women.

  4. Adam: Thank you for explaining why Walters is green all the time! Makes total sense.

    It is true that the conversation I had with Madrid was less than brief but a singular point was being made and that was clear–Captain Marvel is 'kept' by Tony Stark and not her own woman.

    I've only been reading comics for a couple of years and Madrid and I were specifically addressing the Deconnick Captain Marvel. Although an Avenger will show up here and there, this is not an ensemble story. It's very much a story of the Carol Danvers coming into her own as Captain Marvel.

    I never thought I'd argue who could beat up whom but I don't know how you can say that Captain Marvel could not "go toe-to-toe with the 'top-tier' in the Marvel Universe." She takes out a giant alien space ship in #4, a 20,000 foot robot in #8 (with Monica Rambeau), and a couple of T-rex dinosaurs in #9 (with Spider Woman)–just to name a few.

    But, I in no way am arguing for one female model over the other. As I discussed in ❤ Positive Feminism, we must have multiple models.

    My opinion about Pulido's art is just that and in no way determines the validity or value of She-Hulk as a female role model. I'm certainly not dismissing Walters as a model because I don't like the art. That's ludicrous. I, personally, don't like the comic because I don't like the art. I can dismiss the art if I don't like it and am by no means suggesting that anyone else should. Karen have grown to like the art.

    I have no idea what Madrid's political views are. I typically do not want to know someone's political or religious standing. I might find out more about Madrid when I finishing reading his book.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I love hearing what you guys get out of what I've written.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *