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Monday, May 29, 2006

Challenging Assumptions: The Savage She-Hulk and Me

Okay, so on Ragnell's recommendation I've been reading She-Hulk. And of course, it's fantastic. I expected nothing less. Now I'm a bit compulsive, so after I read as much of the current series as I could get my hands on, I decided to hunt down issues of the earlier series. So far I've been able to read the beginning of Savage She-Hulk.

I wasn't expecting to like it much. I mean, I like Stan Lee, but I've never thought much of his handling of female characters. They come out a bit...wooden, sometimes. So I rather assumed I wouldn't like Savage She-Hulk at all.

And I was wrong. I'm liking it, a lot. Sure the dialogue's clunky and the exposition's very...Silver Age, but I'm getting a lot out of the series. Many elements haven't changed much from series to series: Jennifer is still sweet and fun, and the She Hulk is strong and fierce, but no less a thinking rational being.

So far as I've read, I've been noticing a theme of false assumptions. The mobster Trask assumes that Jennifer Walters has evidence against him and shoots her in the back. Bruce Banner assumes his blood can save her, without thinking of any side effects. The assassins who enter Jen's hospital room assume she's helpless, which they quickly discover is not the case. Jen faces many sexist assumptions from colleagues that believe she can't be as successful as them in a "man's world."

The She-Hulk is believed to be savage and monstrous like the Hulk, and thus a poorly disguised robot is more than enough reason for the town to fear her. Her own father assumes that She-Hulk is guilty and a murderer. When Iron Man, called in to stop this dreaded being in issue 6, fights her, he's actually shocked that she can speak coherent English unlike the Hulk.



I don't know why, but for me this moment pretty much exemplifies the entire series thus far for me. Jen's constantly proving herself to be smarter, stronger and more capable than anyone is ready to give her credit for. As a human or as the She-Hulk.

She's taken her cousin's curse and turned it into an advantage and while she doesn't like the uncontrollability of her transformations, she seems to enjoy being She-Hulk rather than seeing it as the curse her cousin does.

There's a feminist allegory here, I think. As of the time of the comic, professional career women were still finding their feet. They were (and sometimes still are) assumed to be too emotional and not intelligent or rational or educated enough to serve in the same capacity as a man does. A woman has to do twice the work to get the same accolades as a man.

She-Hulk is stronger and tougher than Jennifer, but she's more feared. Where Jennifer looks like a gentle, fragile young thing that would get eaten up by the man's world, the She-Hulk is the amazon of legend, primal and terrifying. However, at the same time, she's a savage. A brute. A barbarian. In both forms, Jennifer is too emotional, and not intelligent or rational.

The idea challenged here is the notion that women are small, fragile things that need protecting AND that strong self-sufficient women are monstrous. The idea being challenged is that a woman is somehow inherently less intelligent and rational than a man.

And the idea challenged here is that Stan Lee can't write fascinating women or a strong feminist allegory.

The Savage She-Hulk proves these ideas wrong. All of them. I'm hoping to be able to find and read more.

11 Comments:

  • At May 29, 2006 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    And...She-Hulk is getting married!?

     
  • At May 29, 2006 1:29 PM, Anonymous ben said…

    I'm not sure why, but I've always felt that Jennifer successfully escapes the constraints of being the female version of a male character; even with the omnipresent "She-", Jen's character is a lot of different from Bruce's and she's managed to maintain several ongoing series, although I'm not sure I have the numbers to confirm they did well; her spirited involvement with both the Avengers and Fantastic Four without having what were commonly considered "feminine powers" (think Wasp or Invisible Girl sans force fields) contributed, I think.

    Actually, she reminds me of Big Barda and Michael Chabon's "Women of Valor" essay for those reasons.

    I avoided the current series at first because I couldn't get into the pin-up cheesecake covers but eventually I picked it up and liked what I saw inside. Bought a couple issues and then eventually went and bought the two trades.

    It manages to balance humour and genuine characterization and I -like- Jen so much. She's smart and her self-perception issues intrigue me; she sees Jen and She-Hulk as two seperate people but one person at the same time, and the storyline with the Champion, where Jen is essentially forced to merge the two (bulking up as Jen to power up She-Hulk) highlighted her own inability to quite connect her selves comletely.

    Hadn't realized the old stuff was good, I might track some of it down.

     
  • At May 29, 2006 2:22 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: Well, we'll see. :-)

    ben: I think she escapes primarily because they've gone in a completely different direction with her than Bruce.

    The Hulk is constantly out of control, Jen's not. Jen's got a more fiery temper in She-Hulk form, but she's still as intelligent and in control as ever. She's more than just Hulk-Smash.

    And I think the Hulk can be a little one-note sometimes. Repress-repress-hulk out-smash. She gets to be more complex than that.

    I like that while she's got the usual transforming hero cliche and is trying to reconcile her two sides, the side she actually favors is her strong, powerful alter ego. Even in Savage She-Hulk, when chased by cops, she has the fleeting thought that she wants to stay that way.

    It's an interesting perspective and who can blame her?

     
  • At May 29, 2006 5:06 PM, Blogger Anthony Palmer said…

    I won't gush about She-Hulk and Dan Slott too much, but I'll just add that she is the only character I can call my "favorite" without reservation.

    I had a thought once about how her transformation from Jennifer Walters to She-Hulk was some sort of allegory for substance dependence/abuse.

    Something foreign enters Jen's blood-stream (gamma radiation from her cousin's blood, in this case) and she becomes almost a totally different person - a person she enjoys being more than her usual self. Her preference starts to cause conflict at work and in her romantic relations.

    The most important part of it, though, is that she doesn't understand why anyone would prefer Jen to She-Hulk. Why would anyone want to be around quiet Jen Walters when they could be partying with She-Hulk? It's a fascinating subject that I think is meant to make the reader, by identifying with her plight, examine themselves in the same way.

     
  • At May 29, 2006 5:18 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    *nod* That part plays up too. I really like it, because most if not all of the difference in She-Hulk and Jen is solely in people's responses to her. She reacts to those, and thus feels like a different person.

    It's also kind of like when the quiet nerdy girl gets a makeover. It's more the confidence gained from the reactions that transform her. At heart she's the same person. Which is interesting to explore.

     
  • At May 29, 2006 6:27 PM, Anonymous jayunderscorezero said…

    The John Byrne take on the character was quite interesting in a way, with her title becoming completely post-modern and Jen becoming totally self-aware. Again, She-Hulk was being used to challenge conventions, but this time, about comic books themselves (either that or Byrne just didn't have a clue what to do with the character, whatever).

    I'm still waiting to get Essential Savage She-Hulk, then maybe I too will be pleasantly surprised by Stan Lee handling She-Hulk better than say, Sue Richards (http://yeoldecomicblogge.blogspot.com/2006/05/invisible-girl-is-worthless.html).

     
  • At May 29, 2006 6:29 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    The Sensational She-Hulk is fun, but a bit too over the top for me.

    But yeah, Jen is handled much better than Sue. :-)

     
  • At June 05, 2006 10:56 AM, Blogger the nut said…

    Have you noticed in comics the positions they put the male/female characters in? I noticed in He-Man and She-ra that He-Man often used his strength and fighting abilities to solve problems while She-Ra often rationalized things and outsmarted her opponents, using her strength/sword as an alternative more than a brute force as first response.

    Was just wondering because my son is VERY much into comics and I'd love for him to have some healthy women role models, too.

    thanks!!!

     
  • At June 05, 2006 3:28 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    *nod* It is a funny sort of dichotomy, isn't it. Though I think some of that might just be related to the shows' structures. Teela of He-Man tends to do as much brute force stuff as he did, not a lot of thinking first, (Even the Sorceress in the few times she got to kick ass was more of a magical version of brute force and power). She-Ra had more female characters in general, but I remember a few issues where Bow or...the captain guy...Sea-Hawk?...did the same thing.

    Heck, even Adam/He-Man tended to do actual thinking in She-Ra crossovers. :-) It's pretty interesting to see the difference.

    With comics there is less of an obvious dichotomy I think. The tone of the story depends on the central character. Superman and Wonder Woman would have a bit more straight forward action...both more like She-Ra than He-Man, and both occasionally in situations that require more thought (usually related to his reporter job or her diplomat one). Batman in contrast is both darker with the action and more cerebral. Green Lantern is another series with largely male leads that tend to require more thinking out of problems.

    In fact aside from the Hulk and maybe the Punisher, I can't think of any comics hero that is so completely brute-force oriented. I don't doubt they exist (and are probably male) but they're not coming to mind.

    It's actually hard to find female leads of more-young-adult centered comics right now. Birds of Prey, Catwoman and Manhunter have awesome female leads but are definitely more written I think for older readers.

    I do think your son might like the current Dan Slott She-Hulk issues though (though I should warn, the 6th and 7th of the new series dealt with a hero character on trial for date rape, I don't know how old your son is, but if he's younger, those might be issues you'd prefer to skip.)

    Savage She-Hulk's old issues are a bit more all-ages. But I'd be careful of Sensational She-Hulk as it's more of an over-the-top, tongue in cheek, satirical story, which might be a bit old for your son.

    Oh, if you can find back issues, I'd recommend Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. The central character is a young girl who discovers her step-father used to be a sidekick for a hero. She then uses the hero's old equipment to become a heroine herself. Her step father then builds a robot suit called S.T.R.I.P.E which helps her on her heroing.

    Courtney's a fun teenage character, a bit frivolous (she becomes a hero to annoy her step-dad primarily) but in the process of growing up. The story centers on her maturation as a hero as well as the growing since of family between the characters. It's a fun, feel-good sort of series I think.

     
  • At June 26, 2010 12:52 AM, Anonymous James said…

    Savage She-Hulk's old issues are a bit more all-ages. But I'd be careful of Sensational She-Hulk as it's more of an over-the-top, tongue in cheek, satirical story, which might be a bit old for your son.

     
  • At July 21, 2010 10:36 AM, Anonymous viagra online said…

    One of the principal issues that I found in The Savage She-Hulk series was that is so repetitive, is difficult, almost impossible, get new emotions. I feel really disillusioned.

     

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