Joss Whedon on "Astonishing X-Men." Ed Brubaker on "Captain America." Warren Ellis on "Iron Man." Marquee writers on some of the largest superhero icons- sounds like the recipe for unbeatable reviews, right?
When it comes to critical acclaim, there's one Marvel Comics series that is "smashing" the competition with universal acclaim and a big re-launch planned in 2005 to draw even more attention- "She Hulk." With his star rising every week, writer Dan Slott spoke with CBR News about working on "She-Hulk" and provided a primer for new fans.
"She-Hulk' is a book about the personal and professional life of lawyer-slash-superhero, Jennifer 'She-Hulk' Walters," explains Slott. "By day she works at the Superhuman Law Offices of a major Manhattan law firm. It's a serious place that deals with the absurdities of practicing the law in a comic book universe. For example, we've already seen cases where a ghost testified at their own murder trial, a lab-accident-origin was tried as a class action suit and Spider-Man went after the Daily Bugle for libel. In our second year we'll see what happens when you throw the complexities of time-travel into a court case, as well as a superhuman sexual harassment suit. In her personal life, Jen is coming to terms with her alter-ego, the She-Hulk. Here's an S.A.T. question for you: If the Incredible Hulk is to 'rage' as Bruce Banner is to 'milksop,' then She-Hulk is to 'fun-loving party girl' as Jen Walters is to _____? And that, in a nutshell, is Jen's inner-struggle. Seriously, if you were Billy Batson and you could change into Captain Marvel, why would you ever change back? The answer is that there's something special in all of us. And Jen is on that path to discovery - learning how, in some ways, her inner-strength-and-beauty are more important than She-Hulk's obvious outer-strength-and-beauty. Now take all a' that, coat it in old school Marvel, and (hopefully) add some funny - and that's pretty much it."
There's also a diverse supporting cast in the series- the majority of them brand new characters- and fans often cite the eccentric bunch as a huge appeal of the series. Slott went down the list for us.
"Senior partner, Holden Holliway, the fatherly and venerable boss -a guy who seems to have more than a few secrets hidden away…
Page 3Interior Pencils by Paul Pelletier
"Southpaw, Holliway's bratty teenage granddaughter-a supervillain who's in She-Hulk's custody until her case comes to trial.
"Mallory Book, the barracuda lawyer with supermodel looks- she sees Jen as her chief rival at the firm.
"Augustus 'Pug' Pugliese, an ex-bouncer turned lawyer-a loveable lug who's crushing on Jen (though she hasn't picked up on it).
"And a whole slew of offbeat characters: Ditto, the shape- changing process server. Awesome Andy, reformed evil automaton -now an office gofer. Colonel John Jameson, Jen's current boyfriend-astronaut son of J. Jonah Jameson and ex-Man-Wolf. And many, many, others."
Though he may have only briefly mentioned him, Awesome Andy has become the break out star of "She-Hulk" and Slott admits that was a surprise. "I had no idea Andy was going to be so big! I think a lot of the credit for that goes to both Juan Bobillo and Paul Pelletier. Juan's intro the character in #2 was so perfect that everyone on the message boards demanded to see him again A.S.A.P.! So we stuck him in the background in #4. And, again, Juan knocked it out of the park. So I gave him a bigger part to play in #6-and this time out, Paul did such a great job illustrating the scene where Andy faced off against his old master, the Mad Thinker, that… well… there's just no stopping the big guy now!Page 4
"I've seriously been toying with the idea of pitching a four issue 'Awesome Andy' mini to the guys at 'Marvel Age.' Four done-in-one stories for all ages about what Awesome Andy does on his weekends and days off. Kind of like Curious George stories. Like, 'Awesome Andy Goes to the Zoo' or 'Awesome Andy and the Treasure Map.' What do you guys think?"
There have been a lot of variations on the She Hulk character in recent years, but Slott cites some classic work as the inspiration for his take on the Jade Giantress. "Mainly my love of John Byrne's take on the character from when he was writing her in the 'Fantastic Four.' That and my love of law shows, especially 'L.A. Law,' 'Ally McBeal,' and 'The Practice.' Right now, I'm really digging 'Boston Legal' with Spade and Shatner."
"She Hulk" has bucked the trend with a lot of single issue stories and it seems to some like there may not be a master plan behind Slott's madness, though the writer says that is anything but the case. "Well, by now I'm sure you've heard that the book is wrapping up at #12, going away for a two month hiatus, and then re-launching with a brand new #1! Now when #1 hits, we've got a really huge surprise in there-something that die-hard Marvel fans are going to freak out about… But I can't really give anything away right now. Until then, we've got a big three-issue arc (well, for us that's big! We usually only do one and two-part stories!) featuring She-Hulk's arch-amazon, Titania! And major She-Hulk related things are going to happen in it! So don't touch that dial!"
A new re-launch won't prevent Slott from doing any more humorous one issue tales, such as the now classic Spider-Man trial issue that received much acclaim on CBR's own Avengers Forum. "I hear you! A lot of people really like 'em-so you can bet they'll be back."
The decision to launch the series with so many one-part stories wasn't out of some anger against the current "decompression" trend, but one of necessity, as Slott explained. "Most of that came out of fear. I mean, here I get to write a mainstream Marvel book-a book with one of my favorite characters-and originally it was only guaranteed for six issues. If I only told one story, well, there was a chance that could've been it! So, wham, I crammed as many stories in there as I could! There are some writers out there who can tell a really good six-issue arc. For example: the second 'Ultimate Spider-Man' TPB 'Learning Curves'-Man, that is great! Everybody should pick that up! So I don't have anything against the six-issue format per se. Though I can't stand it when a writer pads something out! Grrr! Much anger on that front. And, no, I won't give an example of that, because hey, who knows when I'll bump into these people [laughs]."Page 5
This "She-Hulk" series has been very light in tone, especially when contrasted with the darker superhero comics such as "Avengers" or DC Comics' "Identity Crisis." Though this hasn't impeded character development and introspection, Slott says an upcoming issue will be a change of pace. "Hopefully. Though I don't think #10 is a 'funny' issue. And it wasn't designed to be. It's an issue that's primarily a character piece. Every now and then, you have to mix things up and have a change of pace. Here's hoping that doesn't put people off. As for where the humor comes from, well, all over the place. Awesome Andy scenes function on site gags and the sentimental comedy you might see in a silent movie. Issue #1 had some jokes at Jen Walters' expense-in a Ben Stiller/'Something About Mary' kind of way. But most of the comedy in 'She-Hulk' comes from treating the absurdity of a comic book universe with a very straight face."
One of the early issues of the series ended with She-Hulk drinking beers with then super-villain Blizzard and though the scene may seem absurd, Slott managed to surprise readers by making it a poignant end to a story. There's a simple process to including scenes like this and not undercutting the serious nature of the moment, says Slott. "It's a three step process. Step One: taking the comics-must-be-dark-and-gritty-stick out of my ass. Step Two: not caring if some readers roll their eyes. And Step Three: not caring that there's no Step Three. In the end, I guess it all comes down to your gut. It's not really something you can explain or hope to quantify."
Given She-Hulk's history with both the Avengers (especially in the recent "Disassembled Story") and the Fantastic Four in times past, it would seem that the series might have an issue meshing with up to date continuity. "Editorial has given me tons of freedom on this title," says Slott, when asked if he has freedom to take his own route. "[Editor] Tom Brevoort has let me use every guest star I've ever asked for. And as for 'Disassembled?' They left that completely up to me. Very painless. Continuity nut that I am, I want people to know where, how, and when Disassembled affects this title-so we'll be covering that in #11.
"Really, I couldn't ask for more editorial support. Tom, Nicole, Andy, and Molly are great! And Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, and the rest of the powers that be have been very supportive of the book!
"It's all good."Page 6
Despite acclaim from all corners of the market, from other creators to fans to critics, the sales on "She-Hulk" have been, to say the least, disappointing. "First, let me say this-I would never have the courage to be a comic book retailer!" says Slott. "What a risky, risky, risky job! Every month you have to place your orders for hundreds of comics-and, hey, nobody's given you a crystal ball. You have no idea what's going to be the next big thing, or the cult hit, or worse-the big flop! You're investing your own capital, and most of the time you're left holding 40 copies of some big comic book turkey! Who needs that grief?
"That said, they need to order more 'She-Hulk.' This book does not suffer from low sales. It suffers from low orders. That's an important distinction. When you put 'She-Hulk' in people's hands, most of them come back next month for more. Stores that promote 'She-Hulk' are selling through on 'She-Hulk.' I can't put it any simpler than that. So? What can Marvel do to make it easier for retailers to get behind this book? A lot! They've released a trade of the first six issues ('She-Hulk: Single Green Female,' on sale now!) including the hard to find 'She-Hulk' #1. And, as said before, they're relaunching the book in May with a new #1 and a big push!
"And from there things get even better! The first two issues have a huge surprise in them, something that's going to make Marvel U. fans freak-can't tell you what it is, but when retailers see the news in the May solicits, they'll know! Then for our third issue-'She-Hulk' celebrates her 100th issue (if you add up issues from 'Savage She-Hulk' #1-#25, 'Sensational She-Hulk' #1-#60, 'She-Hulk' Vol.1 #1-#12, and 'She-Hulk' Vol.2 #1-#3 you get #100)! And in that issue one of my favorite Marvel U. characters joins the cast and, yes, something big happens. And then for #4, 'She-Hulk' is taking part in 'The House of M!' Whew!
"So? What can I, the 'She-Hulk' scribe, do to help you retailers? Well, I can go down there and physically help you sell this book! I am totally committed to this title, and to helping you-the retailer-move it!
"During this relaunch, all the way through to She-Hulk's 'House of M' issue (May through August), I will go anywhere in North America that you're willing to send me! Whether it's for a signing or heck-to run the register! Just give me a call! Book a time! Get me on a plane, train, bus, or heck… ship me by freight! I'm there! Pool together with other retailers and pass me off like a baton! Crisscross me from coast to coast as many times as you want-as long as I end up fairly close to home (NYC) when it's over, I'm cool! (And 'She-Hulk' readers, if you want me to come to your store for a signing-just give your local comic shop owner a link to this article and see if he's game!)"