Make Me Angry: Hulk #1-2 Review
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
“JENNIFER WALTERS has survived the Civil War…barely…and having risen from the rubble, she re-enters the world a different kind of hero. Fueled by a quiet rage, she is determined to move forward, to go on with her life, but the pain of the past and all she’s lost is always there – an undercurrent, a pulse, waiting to quicken and trigger Jen’s transformation into the one thing she doesn’t have control over…”
–From the Marvel Comics website
Ah, Hulk. I’ve been waiting for this one. Strange to say since my general attitude toward Marvel and DC comics is mostly derision. Can you blame me? One company protects a serial sexual harasser while firing women who dare speak out. The other is run by a Trump lover, making Hydra something of an all too poignant allegory for the company. I don’t care for the majority of their comics, especially their world events that operate as a way to temporarily spike sales, ultimately crashing and burning while receiving the hissing, clawing displeasure of both fans and critics. With Marvel, the recent blunder is Civil War II, a gimmicky cash grab for an enjoyable movie based on terrible source material that got delayed so many times that the books taking place after the event came out before it even concluded.
Just like the original Civil War, the sequel is guilty of character assassination, unnecessary conflict, unnecessary death, and ruining a whole bunch of comics people were enjoying. NEVER FORGIVE THEM FOR WHAT THEY DID TO CAROL DANVER! I mean, I don’t care about her, but turning her into a fascist ruined her relationship with Ms. Marvel, by far the best, most relatable Marvel character to come out since the Runaways. She was my generation’s Peter Parker, and now she’s lost both her idol and her friends as a result. Marvel ruined her. RUINED HER, I SAY!
Also, why was Tony Stark against Danver’s Minority Report shtick? I mean, this was a man who in the original series OK’d a metahuman registration program that probably made Trump cream his pants. Tony is practically a fascist himself. God, even Captain America is a Nazi now! I mean, so many of the heroes have turned into villains themselves and…
Aw, forget it. I could go all day long about everything wrong with Civil War II, but naw. I avoided that garbage and I don’t want to waste time talking about it either.
So, why in the world would I be reviewing Hulk, a comic that happened as a direct result of this nonsense? I should be angry given Bruce Banner, one of my favorite Marvel characters, died. I should be with the Marvel Zombies grabbing their axes and lead pipes smashing windows and burning cars over it. However, after reading about the series from Mariko Tamaki and Nico Leon, I had to check it out.
Oh, I know. There are those that don’t want Jennifer Walters to be angry, traumatized Hulk. They love her as She-Hulk! Big green lawyer lady that breaks the fourth wall, cracks jokes, and goes on crazed hijinks with Patsy Walker. Now, I haven’t been a lifelong fan of She-Hulk. The first thing I read starring her was the short-lived series by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido. That comic was fun! Like watching your favorite Saturday morning cartoon show while listening to your favorite indie rock band. I can see why people are so attached to happy Jen. She’s a blast.
However, I must defend this new, darker approach to her. As much as I love ladies having fun, I prefer when they’re angry monsters. In fact, it seems recently that a new breed of female lead comics that center on women being some kind of monstrosity has risen: Monstress, Insexts, She Wolf, Cry Havoc, and even the mass murderer Gertrude from I Hate Fairyland. These women are angry, broken by whatever is afflicting them, and they’re ready to let it out in a wave of unprecedented carnage. The best part about this trend is how subversive these monstrous women are. Their monstrosities might at first seem like afflictions, but they slowly develop into a form of empowerment.
Happy is good, but monstrous is better.
So, how does this route go for Jennifer Walters? Well, I’m happy to say that Hulk is a bold new take on the character that will draw readers in not with endless action, but atmospheric art, character-focused drama, and a unique horror tone tackling trauma head on.
The covers of Jeff Dekal take a unique approach in conveying monstrous rage. Instead of showing actual destruction, as was Banner Hulk’s trademark, Cover #1 shows Jen grasping the logo tightly, seemingly on the cusp of crumbling it to pieces. Yes, it’s a violent image, but not in the sense of catastrophic physical violence, but poignant emotional violence. Jen is trying to hold back her rage, resisting the urge to destroy. After all, that’s what Bruce did, a man who couldn’t control the beast within. Jen is supposed to be different, supposed to be healthy and balanced. However, given the trauma she suffered in Civil War II, Jen’s on the breaking point. This is what Dekal masterfully conveys. Also, have to give huge props for coloring Jen gray. I suspect it’s a callback to Gray Hulk, a version of the character that I sometimes prefer over the Emerald Giant.
Cover #2 also takes a unique approach to violence in showing its aftermath. The punch-cracked window, Jen’s hands clawing upward, indicates how she momentarily lost control and there was a negative consequence. She’s trying to hold it back again. Slip-ups happen, right? However, when you’re a gamma-radiant monster, slip-ups tend to end up sucking for everyone around you. The coloring of Jen is quite interesting. I don’t understand why her skin is pink (call back to the Red Hulks, maybe?), but I love how there is a creeping network of gray veins slowly covering her body. To me, this symbolizes the Hulk inside of Jen, the one she’s trying to hold back. It’s also symbolic of the negative emotions she feels: anger, depression, and helplessness.
I think it is important to note how green has more prominence than Cover #1. The glow is notably on the walls. It seems to mean Jen’s control is slipping. Again, so much about the conflict of the comic, the overriding theme of struggling with anger and trauma is masterfully conveyed on the covers. I’ve recently talked about the importance of covers conveying a story’s theme and hooking a reader at the same time. For the covers of Hulk, Jeff Dekal hits a bullseye twice.
So, how does the interior art hold up in comparison? Nico Leon’s style creates a deceptively quiet atmosphere that aches with tension. Matt Milla’s coloring adds to this with a soft color palette. In issue #1’s opening scene, Jen’s apartment has a gray tone to it. It’s a huge space, some objects built to accommodate She-Hulk’s size. However, now that Jen is in human mode, the objects are hilariously oversized. In this empty apartment, with its many objects, Jen seems tiny and isolated. It’s strange because it is both calm and tense at the same time. It has to do with how Jen’s inner monologue, full of polarizing emotion, turns the plainness of the apartment into a mask. Leon’s depiction of Jen’s mute expression further pushes this idea of plainness as a mask for turmoil. Reading the comic is the same as visiting the hospital for an urgent report. You’re sitting in the waiting room, made as nice and homely as possible, but you’re still tapping your foot because once the doctor enters, it could be life or death. This is the atmosphere of the comic. Sometimes, it’s suffocating, but always poignant.
Leon and Milla also shine in their portrayal of New York City. Instead of trying to recreate it as the grim concrete jungle it no longer is, they showcase the city in its present decorum of bright colors, modernized architecture, and streets full of yuppies in designer clothing. These are also the scenes where letterer Cory Petit gets creative. A scene in a subway has big letters crowded with the sea of bodies, demonstrating the overpopulated, noisy experience of living in New York. Just like with the apartment, Jen’s isolation is noticeable and just as emotionally complex, simultaneously calm and tumultuous.
Although the art team certainly excels in environmental atmosphere, they fall a little short with character design. They’re not bad, but not memorable either. It might have to do with the lack of detail. Leon’s faces are simplistic, most of them eerily similar. I noticed this when contrasted with the art of Dalibor Talajic in issue #2, pages 4-6. Talajic adds more details that make faces distinguishable. Also, ages are recognizable. I couldn’t nail Jen’s age with Leon, but Talajic easily places her from late 20s to 30s. Another thing that I don’t like about Leon’s characters are the eyes. When closed, they look like a cutesy style anime character. Leon might be influenced by anime and manga to a certain extent, but this element of the art clashes with the tone of the comic.
However, there are exceptions, most notably the amazing designs of metahumans. They are creative, unique, and diverse. Already, one of these metahumans, Miss Brewn, has become an important side character. In fact, just like Soule and Pulido’s run, I hope Jen ends up representing a number of crazy characters and exploring their back-stories.
The hallmark of Hulk is Mariko Tamaki’s writing. I was interested to see how a writer well known for her indie drama work like This One Summer and Skim would do with a mainstream cape comic. Can she bring the same complex, emotional drama? The answer is almost. There is still the limitation of a 20-21 page-count that prevents extensive development, not to mention some campy elements, such as a sketchy landlord character that acts like a Sopranos extra.
The rest of Tamaki’s writing pulls off an astonishing feat of taking the concept of Hulk and bringing it down to reality. Now, this isn’t impossible and has been done before as evidence by Bruce Jones’ amazing run. Here, however, it is even more so because instead of starting off with a tale of espionage, it’s one of recovery. I will admit to having been trepidatious about trauma as a central theme, not because I doubted in Tamaki’s writing abilities, but worried that funneling it through a cape comic would make depictions over the top or offensive. Thankfully, that’s not the case. There are no gross scenes of Jen crying in a shower naked while chugging bottles of whiskey, and moaning about how she can’t go on without Bruce! Oh Woe is a world so cruel and unfair! HAWTHRONE HEIGHTS RULEZ!!!
That nonsense is absent. Instead, trauma is depicted accurately. Jen gets up each day and tries to live a normal life. She goes to work, eat bagels at a café, and have a coffee while watching children ice-skating in the park. She doesn’t interact much with people. Currently, Jen feels the need to be alone. This will probably be disappointing to folks that love Jen as a snappy joker with lots of friends, but it’s relatable to some people that have experienced trauma. It is important to reach out and let people aid you, but it’s also helps to be alone sometimes. Being alone is a time to be at peace, to clear your mind and experience life instead of over-thinking it.
The few interactions Jen has with people are still supportive. There is Patsy who sends positive text messages, and Bradley, Jen’s gay secretary, who keeps her busy and provides her a packet of nuts after a bad spell of rage. There is also Miss Brewn, Jen’s client, who brings out the best part of the character: her heroism. Even if Jen’s no longer fighting along with super folks, she still dedicates herself as a lawyer, protecting clients from harm and making sure their justice. This is important again in approaching trauma from a mature, complex angle. Tamaki shows that there is room for positivity, to be able to function and be happy, even while in the midst of coping. There is even humor, both laughs and heroism balance out the darker parts of the comic.
As for trauma, the core of the story, Tamaki & Co. explores it in a unique way. Jen’s trauma is triggered when mentions of Bruce and the Hulk are made. It reminds her of the pain she has been through, of the fact her own Hulk form is now uncontrollable, something welling up and ready to burst. In these scenes, green becomes a dominant color. At their worst, Jen’s eyes turn green, the veins around them glow, and she glares and grits her teeth. The Hulk is trying to claw out, but unlike Bruce who always lost control automatically, Jen is able to force it back down. Unfortunately, this resistance clearly causes her pain. This pain symbolizes the agony of trauma itself, how it takes it toll on both the mind and body. Also, how long can Jen’s efforts last? It seems to be only a matter of time before her control slips completely.
The way these scenes are depicted is best described as atmospheric horror. The darkness, the intensity of glowing green, Jen’s contorting face of anger, are images that make the reader feel uneasy, ready to jump out of their seat as they prepare for the worst. This is how the best horror scares its audience, not through jump scares or extreme violence, but the dread of anticipation. It’s the feeling of walking alone in a street at night and there are either footsteps or strange noises trailing behind. You keep walking. You don’t dare turn around out of fear that it will be the moment the stalker strikes, yet at the same time its agonizing not knowing who or what it is. The creative team nails this type of horror down, with the added emotional resonance of knowing these scenes symbolize Jen’s trauma. It agonizes the reader into caring for Jen, if that makes sense. They know how much pain she is, and now want to see her persevere and survive. It’s similar to the final girl trope from slasher films.
The comic manages to balance out both the light and dark parts of Jen’s story. Seeing her both in pain and triumphant when the time comes is a satisfying emotional wheel for those that like protagonists to go through a personal trial before getting a happy ending. Sometimes, it can feel a little over the top, but never exploitative. Best of all, the story is told without the overuse of action that’s prevalent in modern superhero comics. Each issue unfolds like the chapter of a book, focusing on character development and dialogue. This approach reminds me of the masterful Vision series by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Both series read more like literary horror than superhero adventure. This style is not for everyone, and there will still be people that don’t enjoy this type of story, especially those who don’t want it happening to Jen. However, I have to take a stand and say it is executed expertly. Tamaki, Leon, and everyone else involved obviously understand people’s concerns for the character, and from what I have seen so far are giving her the respect she deserves.
One last thing I want to comment on is both the title of the series and that of the current story arc. It’s called “Deconstruction.” Why? My theory based on the content is that this arc, and the series as a whole, is attempting to deconstruct the character. Hulk, in relation to Bruce Banner, has always been associated with pain, destruction, and mental illness. His death can be seen as the finality of those negative attributes. It is something seen in stories time and time again. The monster, symbolic of the things that bother humanity, must die. Jen was different. Yes, she started off just as savage, but eventually attained control of her other self, even going so far as live daily as She-Hulk. That gift was taken away from her with the death of Bruce, and now her Hulk form afflicts her just as much as it did him.
Perhaps this is necessary. Now that Hulk is dead, and Jen claims the name, it’s almost saying that she has to be stuck with the original meaning of the name, not empowerment but destruction. It should be noted how the events that caused the scenario were mandated by a mostly male creative team. So, while it is easy to give praise for titling the series Hulk instead of She-Hulk to erase gender labels, it could also be said that the old male meaning behind Hulk is now inflicted upon a woman. As I mentioned before, monsters are often symbolic of everything that is wrong with the world, and anyone or anything labeled as such tends to be set up for elimination. After all, society can’t have an ugly manifestation of its dark side stalking about.
However, there is an opportunity for the monstrosity to become a form of empowerment. In the female monster titles I mentioned, monstrous women are immediately put in the box of wrong and afflicted by (mostly male) society’s perceptions of monsters. Jen is similarly afflicted, dealing with her cousin’s legacy, one of contempt from the world at large. But she’s not letting this legacy hold her down. Jen is still being Jen. Furthermore, the series would be smart in showing a transition of Jen reclaiming control of her hulk form and, on a larger scale, breaking down the old concept of Hulk and reconstructing it as something positive. Being a monster can become empowering rather than afflicting.
Only two issues in, Hulk is full of potential. If it lasts long enough and the creative team grows Jen in the right path, it may become an engaging tale of trauma, monstrosity, and reclaiming one’s identity. With atmospheric art, an emotionally complex story, and unique horror tone, I would recommend this title to anyone that loves the character. She might not be the She-Hulk of old, but she is no less fun to read.
Story: Mariko Tamaki Art: Nico Leon, Matt Milla, Cory Petit, Dalibor Talajic
Story: 9.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy