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So long, She-Hulk, see you next volume

by  in Comic News Comment
So long, She-Hulk, see you next volume

This week Marvel released the final issue of Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk, which fell into the publisher’s post-Hawkeye rubric for solo titles starring second-tier characters. That is, it’s one of those series that, while still a superhero book, leaned hard in the opposite direction, eschewing genre formula for a more singular vision, while having a sense of humor, a distinct style and, of course, a focus on what the character does when not in costume.

She-Hulk, like all the other characters in similar comics, still saved people and fought crime, but as for saving the world? That’s the stuff for team books and big, line-wide crossovers (which the publisher is producing at a faster rate, one benefit being that the Marvel Universe had more room for Hawkeyes, She-Hulks, Black Widows and Iron Fists). For She-Hulk, this was easily accomplished, as she just so happened to be one the Marvel superheroes whose day job is exciting; as omnipresent as superhero TV shows and movies may seem these days, they’re still dwarfed by the gigantic body of work starring lawyers.

Soule, a lawyer himself, launched the series with Jen Walters quitting her old firm in order to start her own practice. She has as clients pretty much everyone who isn’t represented by Matt Murdock, and so naturally her caseload is pretty specific to the Marvel Universe; there are lots of guest stars in in very specific roles: Tony Stark, Doctor Doom, Daredevil, Nightwatch (whom I had to Google), Hank Pym, Captain America and Daredevil again. Throughout the run, she investigates in her free time a mysterious “Blue File,” an overarching plot that holds the series together, giving it the structure of a graphic novel published serially, rather than an open-ended serial narrative, and that case brings in a motley assortment of other Marvel characters, from Dr. Druid and The Shocker to Tigra and Wyatt Wingfoot.

A reader could hardly have asked for a more friendly comic series. Its premise was a lot like Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, which was essentially an Ally McBeal-style legal comedy set in the Marvel Universe, only much more tightly focused, as if it were never intended to run longer than 12 issues. (My suspicion is that Soule conceived the beginning and the ending from the get-go, and left the middle a bit more fluid so that, if the series were a hit, it could have been extended, or, if it were a flop right out of the gate, it could have been canceled within two issues and still have a satisfying ending.) The few issues that weren’t done-in-ones were done-in-twos; it was therefore like a really well-done television series, in which every episode or two was a complete story, but there was a season-long story arc running through all of the episodes.

I do hate to use a television metaphor, although it’s been a common one at Marvel. Editor Jeanine Schaefer even refers to the issue as “The end of our first new season of SHE-HULK” in a brief editorial on the letters page. For lack of a better word, this volume of She-Hulk has been very comic book-y, thanks in large part to the spectacular artwork of Javier Pulido, colorist Munsta Vicente and the really quite lovely, illustrator-like covers by Kevin Wada. Throughout the series, Pulido and Vincente used the sorts of techniques that couldn’t be achieved in television or film.

So if She-Hulk was so good, why did it get canceled? Let’s examine some possibilities.

There are certainly external factors. Its editor is leaving Marvel, as she also explains in her editorial, and its writer is maybe the busiest in comics. As he says in his farewell editorial in this issue, this is “the twelfth part of a twelve-part story”; he pitched what we read, and what we read was the exact story he wanted to tell.

Maybe Marvel shouldn’t have resorted to a fill-in artist so early in a new book’s run, especially a fill-in artist with such an extremely different style from that of regular artist Pulido. Ron Wimberly and Rico Renzi handled the artwork for issues 5 and 6, and while I rather liked the work of both, it was certainly a style clash from that of Pulido and Vicente, with Wimberly’s designs as full of lines as Pulido’s is absent of them, and his art featuring exciting, strange angles. The color, meanwhile, looked washed-out compared to the brilliantly popping, barely shaded tones provided by Vicente. It was great art, but great in such a different way that it seemed wrong for the book, and it’s quite likely that anyone who loved the art on the first few issues would have been turned off by what followed.

And, of course, Marvel is always competing with itself (and its $3.99 comics, which sometimes double-ship, don’t leave its most loyal readers with much change to try out new, more idiosyncratic books after they’ve bought the “important” ones featuring the event stories, big teams and A-list characters). Hell, even Marvel readers potentially attracted to a book like She-Hulk — a visually and tonally distinct book taking place in its own little corner of the Marvel Universe — also had comics like Daredevil, Hawkeye, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, All-New Ghost Rider, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, Moon Knight, Magneto, Silver Surfer, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ant-Man and so on from which to choose. And that’s just the competition from Marvel itself! It turns out there are actually a bunch of other publishers also selling comic books!

But in the end, who cares why it was canceled? Soule got to tell his story, so I imagine he’s happy. As I said, he’s got a lot on his plate to keep busy, and certainly all of the other creators involved are talented folks who have worked at Marvel for a while now and shouldn’t have any trouble finding more work. Readers got a pretty great 12-issue series, and even those who haven’t read it yet will still be able to for a while now, thanks to the trade collections (which I’d totally recommend, by the way).

And I suspect Marvel got what it wanted: a pair of evergreen trade paperbacks featuring a pretty specific take on the character, one that just so happens to be perfect for passing out to TV writers, producers and actors, should anyone decide to do a She-Hulk TV series any time soon (unlike many of her superhero peers, Shulkie seems better suited to the small screen than the big, where even her more popular cousin has had a hard time achieving an Iron Man level of success).

And for hardcore Shulkie fans, well, she’s still appearing in Captain America and The Mighty Avengers, right? And as one of Marvel’s highest-profile, non-X-Men female characters, I can’t imagine it will be too long before the publisher tries another series starring the Jade Giantess.

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