Here’s the latest Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented.
Storytelling Engines: She-Hulk
(or “Bring On The Bad Guys…Please?”)
She-Hulk started her life as one of many female “spin-off” versions of an established male character; in general, these are almost inevitable developments from any popular figure in comics. Once you’ve got a Superman, why not a Supergirl? As much as anything else, these comics serve notice to other companies that the only person to be cashing in on the fame of the character with a cheap rip-off will be the owners, thanks all the same. (We’ve already examined the hasty origins of Spider-Woman in a previous column.)
She-Hulk fared better than most in her initial series, with Stan Lee writing her origin issue. She got a career that served her storytelling engine well–as a lawyer, she’d be working intimately with police and criminals alike, which would serve her well. She got a family and friends–other crusading lawyers, her father the chief of police (which had nice potential for conflict there, another good story generator), a family friend who carried a torch for her…and, of course, her cousin Bruce Banner, who’d always be good for a guest appearance now and again. Her personality was a little inconsistent at the start, but hey, so was the Hulk’s. And at least she didn’t just act like a female dumb, green monster. She even got her own city, Los Angeles, to call her home turf. So with all that, why is it that She-Hulk’s publication history has been spotty, at best? (Apart, of course, from the usual problem comics have with female characters not selling as well as male characters.)
Let’s look for a moment at the She-Hulk Rogues Gallery. Her first enemy was a…mob boss named Trask. Ordinary guy vs. female Hulk. Not much of a challenge there, despite the writers’ attempts to spin it out a bit. Then an Iron Man guest appearance, a Man-Thing guest appearance, a cult, Spidey’s old bad guy Morbius–but he didn’t have his super-powers at the time, and was called in more as a specialist in blood diseases than an actual super-villain (the blood transfusion that gave Jen her powers was causing her health problems), a Man-Wolf guest appearance, a couple of ordinary people…really, her first original super-villain wasn’t until issue #17, and it was the Man-Elephant. No, seriously.
She-Hulk is a living example of the need for a strong group of enemies to complement a good hero. Her bad guys are conspicuous by their absence–she has no Doctor Doom, no Joker, no Luthor; heck, she doesn’t even have a Vulture or a Captain Cold. Without an enemy to fight, she’s destined to have adventures that, you’ll pardon the expression, lack punch (and Byrne’s subsequent series in the late 80s, for all its entertainment value, didn’t remedy that. He focused his energies on “rehabilitating” old and obscure super-villains by bringing them into the book, instead of creating new opponents for Jen. The new series did better than the old, but still didn’t make it to the 100-issue mark.)
So, a lesson for Dan Slott’s new She-Hulk series…start thinking up some villains. Legal drama might be interesting for a while, but sooner or later, She-Hulk needs someone to, um…smash.
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