After too long of a long time out of the spotlight, She-Hulk is finally getting another ongoing series. Charles Soule and Javier Pulido are bringing Jennifer Walters back in a big way, in a series that plays up She-Hulk’s lawyer side. That makes sense once you realize that Soule himself is a lawyer — dude’s bringing firsthand experience to the title. From every interview I’ve read with Soule, it really seems like he’s expanding upon the fantastic set-up Dan Slott used during his legendary (in my opinion) run on “She-Hulk” back in the early 2000s. All of this is good news, because She-Hulk is one of Marvel’s most important characters and her continued existence is vitally important to comic books as a whole.
Yeah, I said it. She-Hulk is one of Marvel’s most important characters. Don’t think so? Let’s do this.
She-Hulk was created way back in the early ’80s, when Stan Lee heard whispers of another company developing a She-Hulk. In order to establish a copyright, “Savage She-Hulk” #1 was rushed into production and turned around incredibly fast. In it, Bruce Banner’s lawyer cousin ends up receiving a blood transfusion from him, thus granting her Hulk-style abilities thanks to her exposure to gamma-irradiated blood. Whoops!
Those early issues weren’t much to get excited about. Writer David Anthony Kraft and artist Mike Vosburg turned in some enjoyable stories, back issues that I am slowly making my way through now, but the character was lacking the complex analysis of gender roles that would go on to make She-Hulk one of the most fascinating and complex heroes in the Marvel Universe.
Yeah, you bet I just called She-Hulk one of the most complex characters in the Marvel Universe. You wanna make something of it? Keep reading.
She-Hulk is not unique in that she’s a female analogue of a male hero. Marvel and DC are full of them. That’s why it’s so important that Carol Danvers has become Captain Marvel rather than Ms. Marvel. She’s broken out of the “female version” trope to become the version. She is Captain Marvel, period, without need for comparison to a male hero. But when you compare all of the female versions to their male originators, She-Hulk is the one that really stands out.
The thing I love about She-Hulk, and the thing that makes her different from her peers, is that she is unashamedly female. While I’m not sure if Stan Lee or David Anthony Kraft had any inkling of this when they wrote her early adventures, She-Hulk empowers female norms the way that the Hulk embodies the male ones. But here’s the twist: She-Hulk’s feminine traits are her strength and not her burden. The Hulk is all about repression and rage, two things that our culture ties to masculinity to a dangerous degree. Yeah, the Hulk plays with male stereotypes (you just know the Hulk would never ask for directions), but She-Hulk embraces them.
She-Hulk parties. She likes getting dressed up. She likes going to the beach. She likes hooking up with guys. The thing is, in any bad form of fiction, She-Hulk would be a gross caricature of a woman, one that we would consider flighty and disposable thanks to her inherently female nature. We live in a culture that subconsciously devalues female traits while lifting up male ones. It was pointed out to me, definitely on Tumblr, that grown men are allowed to freak out about sports like it’s nobody’s business, while we culturally roll our eyes at literally everything teenage girls freak out about. Girls screaming about One Direction is a waste of time, but men screaming about the Super Bowl is something our country comes together and celebrates.
This mindset has even found its way into our hero fiction. After becoming aware of our country’s gender bias (if you don’t think there is one, look at the gender of the lead characters in the trailers before any movie you see — you won’t be able to unsee the bias), I’ve started viewing female characters with higher levels of scrutiny. I want to see more of them, I want them to be treated well, I want them to be as important and as well rounded as the men. But I noticed that I was judging them all wrong. I noticed I was valuing every single male trait found in female characters while I would roll my eyes any time they showed a female one. I realized that this was just me devaluing female traits and acting as if they were less desirable than male ones.
Never is this more evident than in She-Hulk’s love life. She is one of the few superheroines who has been shown to get around, and that is great. The sex politics tied up in gender are just way too long to get into here, but the short of it is that men can pretty much sleep with however many people they want, whereas women get shamed if their number has to be counted on more than one hand. That’s not the case with She-Hulk. She-Hulk sleeps with as many people as Tony Stark does, and she does not let everybody’s hang-ups about female promiscuity drag her down. She has just as much fun as Thor did back in the Viking times, you guys, and that’s great.
She-Hulk is an important character because she is everything that is feminine in a way that Hulk is everything that is masculine, and she’s a character that owns it. She’s a character that shows that, yes, you can be invested in your looks while also being a take-no-prisoners lawyer. You can enjoy shopping, and you can also be an A-list Avenger. She’s a role model for young girls that says, “You can be as girly as you want to be — and that is awesome.”
This is important to me, because as a gay man, I had to live in a closet alongside every other stereotypical gay thing. Growing up in the South, I was taught that anything remotely gay was wrong, and the no-dimensional representations of gay men I saw in the media only made me hate the fabulous stereotypes even more. It did a number on my head, which went on to make me a pretty homophobic gay man during my first step into the dating pool. It wasn’t until DC Comics introduced Bunker, the out gay teen character who had a faux hawk and wore purple vests, that I saw how wrong I had been. I initially criticized the character for being drenched in gayness, until I read a lot of responses from other gay men who were happy to see a character that represented who they were. Those homos that I was so phobic about? They’re real people who aren’t giving into our culture’s idea of who gay men are; they’re being themselves.
She-Hulk, as a character, should give everyone the strength to be who they are, despite what our culture’s gender norms dictate. She-Hulk is unashamed of her femininity just like we should all be unashamed of who we are. She just has fun and finds joy in her life, which she lives on her own terms. Masculine, cisgender males get this type of affirmation in nearly every sitcom that exists; Sam Malone is the default macho protagonist while Diane Chambers has her intellect turned into a punchline (I guess I’m making “Cheers” references every week, now). She-Hulk is important in the Marvel Universe because she proves that everything we’ve deemed feminine is not laughable; it’s viable, powerful, and worthy of celebration.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).