The Good Hulk: Lawyering And Superheroism in ‘She-Hulk’ #1
Lawyers are not heroes. I don’t say that to be unkind; I’m sure there are valiant and principled people in the law as in most walks of life. Jennifer Walters, the eponymous star of the new She-Hulk ongoing series from writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido, is one of those good people.
Yet as a profession, lawyers do not represent “good” the way that superheroes do. Soule, a practicing lawyer himself, clearly recognizes this; he even has one character state, “I am neither bad nor good. I am simply Legal.” The muddy ethics of lawyering provide a very different set of challenges to a superhero used to punching out their problems.
The central premise of Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk — superhero/lawyer — is not unprecedented. It was central to the last She-Hulk ongoing series from Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo in 2004, and it’s ever-present in every incarnation of Daredevil, including the past and future runs by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.
What’s evident from the first issue of Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk, and what sets it apart, is that this is a book written by someone who knows a lawyer’s life inside and out. This book that looks at legal process with appreciably sincere frustration; it looks at career expectation with familiar anxiety; and it looks at ethical compromise with pragmatic determination.
The first issue has Walters represent the widow of super-villain Jonas Harrow in a case against Tony Stark. The opponents she faces include robots, but that’s secondary to the opposition she faces in and out of the courtroom from the character actually called Legal, Stark’s chilly, efficient, and implacable lawyer.
It’s Legal that states he’s neither bad nor good, but the story also places Jen in the interesting position of representing a villain’s estate against a superhero, and there’s never any suggestion that she won’t take the case on those grounds; the law is the law, neither bad nor good, and everyone deserves representation. This is lawyering the way a real lawyer understands it.
Or as close to that as a superhero comic can get. She-Hulk #1 reminds me of the acclaimed and under-watched CBS show The Good Wife, another legal drama with a female lead. The Good Wife is an incredibly sharply written show that squeezes every ounce of drama available out of legal process and precedent, yet it’s still a TV show. It isn’t a true representation of the law — and certainly not of the pace the law moves at — but it aims to feel true.
The danger in all this is that She-Hulk could be a very dry book. The law is a verbose creature — another point articulately made by Legal.
This is where the book’s superstar comes into play. Artist Javier Pulido puts character and motion on every page, ensuring that even a scene at a boardroom table keeps the eye moving. His layouts are inventive, and the way he frames his panels is dynamic. In a scene at the bar, for example, he presents two wordless stories in parallel.
Pulido’s storytelling is tremendous, and colourist Muntsa Vicente provides a perfect partner. Vicente’s bright, open colors set a light and joyful tone that pushes the book’s humor to the fore.
My only hesitation about the art is that Pulido’s She-Hulk isn’t as physically imposing as I expect the character to be. That’s also true for Kevin Wada’s gorgeous cover. Pulido and Wada are both artists I admire enormously, and I appreciate that they’ve chosen particular aspects of the character to push to the fore. Pulido’s She-Hulk is wry, determined, and appreciably intelligent, and Wada amps up the glamor to wonderful effect — but I would hate to see She-Hulk lose her toughness.
She-Hulk #1 opens with a full page Pulido spread of She-Hulk’s fightin’, drinkin’, helpin’, hero life, and this page is surely here to alleviate any fears about the book’s direction. Without it, the first thing we’d see is Jen in a suit with her feet up on a desk. The splash tells us, don’t worry, there will be punching. And you know what? That’s good to know.
But this creative team has put together a “pilot” that ably makes a case for this series. If you had any doubts about how much fun you can have with a book about a lawyer written by a lawyer, She-Hulk #1 should put those doubts to rest. Soule, Pulido and Muntsa know exactly what they’re doing.