Tuesday, January 11, 2005

You Go, Girl!

I spent Saturday night with a hot babe. Okay, so she's seven feet tall, green, and fictional, but it's a step forward.

Using a Borders gift card I got for Christmas, I bought the She-Hulk TPB, SIngle Green Femal. The series, by Dan Slott, Juan Bobillo, and Paul Pelletier, has gotten a great reception from both fans and critics, but sales have been lukewarm. (Sound familiar?) March's #12 will be this volume's last, but Marvel plans to relaunch the series with a major publicity push, similar to the stay of execution they gave Runaways. (Issue one of that book's second volume goes on sale February 16; buy a copy or I'll bite you).

To sum up, this book is fuckin' *good.* The "hook" is simple but brilliant: She-Hulk, superhero, lawyer, and Avenger, experiences some rough times when she loses her job at the DA's office and gets kicked out of the mansion for her constant parties. Both of these problems stem from a root cause, which Shulkie herself is in denial about: She spends so much time as She-Hulk (and who wouldn't?) that she's forgotten how to be plain old Jennifer Walters. Enter Holden Holliway, who offers her the chance to work at his firm's new "Superhuman Law" division (and a new apartment), with one stipulation: He wants Jenn Walters, not the She-Hulk. On the clock, she's got to slim down and pink up. With no alternative, she accepts, and there the story begins.

The superhuman law aspect is handled with an obvious love of the genre; there's some poking of fun, but it's good-natured, obviously coming from a fan. This book goes beyond being self-conscious of its concept to accepting, a transition few modern, "mature" comics make. And some of the plots are just plain brilliant: a man who gains superpowers in an industrial accident sues his employer; a ghost wants to testify at the trial of his murderer; a prominent Marvel hero sues a public figure for defamation of character. The tone can go from humorous to tragic to upbeat with whiplike speed, but the book and the characters are strong enough to carry it, and the result is some fun storytelling.

Also, I have to give Dan Slott some major praise for being one of the best parallel plotters I've seen in quite a while. For outsiders, let me explain: Parallel plotting is a technique used in monthly comics (and other forms of serial fiction, like episodic TV) by which a writer juggles multiple stories. Each issue has its main story, its "A-plot," whether as a stand-alone story or part of an arc, and a majority of the action supports that plot. But, in addition, there's a little bit groundwork laid, no more than a few pages, for forthcoming plots and subplots, which, are called the "B-plot," "C-plot," etc., according to their immediacy. A seemingly unrelated page of a guy stealing some jewelry in issue 3 provides the jump-off point for issue 5, when that guy gives his girlfriend a necklace that turns out to house soul of an ancient evil wizard. (With minor alterations, this was an actual plot/subplot Chris Claremont used in Uncanny X-Men.) It's a common practice, but doing it right is harder than it sounds, as you have to present the elements enough for them to stick out in the reader's mind, while being careful not to reveal the entire gist of the upcoming story.

Well, Slott does it right. Example: In issue two, we learn that the Mad Thinker's Awesome Android has gained sentience, rebelled against his master, and now works at the firm as an errand boy. At first, this seems like just one of the many quirks Slott throws into the book, but it becomes a full-fledged plot in issue six, when the Thinker and a bunch of other villains escape from prison on the back of She-Hulk's hand (long story short: Pym Particles). Thinker reveals that the Android's "sudden" burst of self-awareness, rebellion, and subsequent placement at the firm were all part of the Thinker's plan, that "andy" has been following his programming all along, and that Thinker now expects him to join the villains and crush She-Hulk. Thus, "Andy" faces a personal crisis of identity which reinforces the overall issue's theme of self-determination: Is he really just a product of his programming, or can he become something more. When presented in conjunction with She-Hulk and another character struggling with similar manipulation issues, the Android's situation rises from sub-plot to plot. I can count on my hands the number of writers who have been able to make such a story be surprising and completely natural at the same time; Slott's one of them.

So, She-Hulk. Good book, and a refreshing bit of girl-power in the genre. Pick it up if you get the chance.

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