Welcome to the first of what I sincerely hope will be twelve essays, each discussing a different issue of my about-to-be-completed run on She-Hulk for Marvel Comics. Assuming all goes as planned, one writeup will be posted each day leading up to February 18, 2015, the day the final issue of the run (#12) will hit shelves. I'm doing these in conjunction with a live-tweet on Twitter using the tag #12daysofshehulk, also one per day leading up to the release of 12 - so you can play along at home! Feel free to @ me (I'm @charlessoule) - I'd love to hear what you think of this issue and all the others, whether it's a re-read or you're checking them out for the first time. It should go without saying that these will be spoiler-filled posts. I’ll be talking about story points and all of that. I won’t assume that people have read the full run published to date (1-11), but I will figure that if you’re going to read a post on a given issue, then you’ve read at least that one.
I got a call from Jeanine Schaefer on September 10, 2013 about doing a new She-Hulk book for Marvel. Jeanine is the amazing editor who worked on most of the series (alongside Tom Brennan). We were lucky to have both of them, as well as the many other editorial/production/PR people who worked on the series. I suspect that editing this book was an interesting challenge. I had a very specific sense of what I wanted to do, as did Javier Pulido (the artist who created the majority of the artwork for the series alongside colorist Muntsa Vicente.) I knew from the start that I wanted this to be a talky legal book as opposed to a traditional superhero punch-em-up. That concept could have gone terribly wrong (by which I mean it could have been hideously boring) – and I think editorial guidance is significant part of why it went right.
Anyway, let’s talk a bit about the issue itself.
SHE-HULK #1: "Motion"
The idea here was to introduce both Jennifer Walters and the setup I was planning to use for the series – She-Hulk starting her own private practice out in Brooklyn, dealing with all sorts of weird/cool clients from the Marvel Universe. I figured that Jen knows pretty much everyone in the MU by this point (she’s been on a billion teams), and I know from experience that if you’re the only person your friends know who works in the law, then they call you for every legal problem they experience, even if it has nothing to do with your specialty. Lawyers are generally hyper-focused on one practice area or another, just like a person with a medical degree might specialize in brain surgery or podiatry or whatever. For whatever reason, though, many folks don’t seem to make the same distinction with attorneys. Applying that logic to She-Hulk, it just made sense to me that if she hung out a shingle, she’d be getting calls from all over the place. Seemed like a nice engine for a series.
I should mention at this point that I’m an attorney myself, for anyone reading this who doesn’t already know. I used to never mention my legal work when I was breaking in – call it paranoia, maybe, but I felt then that lawyering was seen as a fundamentally uncreative profession. Or even more, I thought that people’s reaction to my being an attorney who was also trying to write comics was unpredictable. Breaking in is hard, and I wanted to control as many variables as I could. If was going to be judged about anything, I wanted it to be the work, nothing else.
But by the time I got the call for She-Hulk, I had already broken in. I was well into a run on Swamp Thing for DC that still continues today (barely – I think I have two issues left to hit shelves as I write this), I was writing Red Lanterns for them, and I was just about to start my run on Superman/Wonder Woman. I had also been writing Thunderbolts for Marvel for a while. So, I was no longer an unknown quantity, and my editors knew about my “day job.” It’s a good thing, too, because I know for a fact that I got the call to write She-Hulk in part because I have a law degree.
That’s also why I took the gig. I did exactly what we see She-Hulk doing in Issue 1. I left a job at what’s called a “white-shoe” (fancy office, big clients, somewhat to extremely soulless) firm in midtown Manhattan to start my own practice. That happened a little over ten years ago. Starting a practice is not easy, no matter how many Tony Starks and Reed Richards you happen to know. It’s a huge leap of faith. You’re turning away from (relative) short-term certainty as far as income, benefits and security in favor of (hoped-for) increases in long-term income and freedom. It’s really that last one that’s important both for me and Jen Walters. I am fairly sure that if I hadn’t left that big firm so long ago, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today. It was a big deal, and I wanted to write a series that captured some of the constant tug of war between unexpected setbacks and little triumphs that characterized my first few years as a solo practitioner.
That's also why this issue is called "Motion" - it's a lot of change happening in a short period of time for the Jade Giantess (and of course, since you file motions with the court to try to get them to do things for you... it works on that level too.)
The discussion Jen has with the partners when she’s having her bonus meeting – I had that conversation (more or less - definitely less table smashing.)
Jen’s office in Brooklyn is in the building where I still have my office today (I’m sitting in it right now, in fact.) The beats in subsequent issues about rent and insurance and finding clients – all drawn directly from my own experiences.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, though, because we’re still just supposed to be talking about Issue 1. The story was designed to emphasize the idea that Jen has a million contacts in the MU (that’s why Tony Stark appears), to establish the dramedic tone (jokes!) and present a semi-realistic legal problem that she resolves in a more-or-less lawyerly fashion. I did three drafts of this one, with revisions mostly focused around getting Tony Stark’s tone right. A lot of time was spent massaging the way he would react to learning about the idea that one of his many shell companies was responsible for, er, borrowing technology from a now-deceased supervillain inventor. In my first draft, he was a bit more callous – his attitude was more like “ideas belong to no one, it’s implementation that conveys ownership.” While I thought that was a pretty legit attitude for a tech CEO to have (see also Edison, Jobs, etc. etc.), it wasn’t the right attitude for Tony Stark to have. One of the real tricks in this series (and we’ll talk about this more when we get to issues 8-10) was writing the heroes as definitively heroic despite morally grey situations they might get into. Also, that's just a thing about writing in general - you don't always get there on your first try, but you almost have to get it wrong first before you can see your way to the right answer.
I also originally included this page, which I love, but had to cut for space:
Anyway, we got there eventually. I re-read this issue whenever I’m writing an Issue 1 for a series, and yes I know how that sounds. But first issues are tough, and I figure that if I could get it close to right once, then maybe it's worth using it as a model from time to time. The tone locks right in from the start, and you can feel it ramping up towards future adventures. You know what you’re going to get, and what you’re going to get will be fun.
For each of these posts, I'll talk a bit about my favorite panel and favorite character from the issue - always tough to choose, especially when you're talking about the art in this series - but I'll do my best.
Stark's holographic twin receptionists! The script called for these ladies to glitch out a bit as they realized that Jen Walters was there for a law-related purpose, as if another level of programming was kicking in. I think Javier and Muntsa nailed this so well. We ended up doing a number of little beats related to Tony Stark's various AI assistants - you'll see another one in Issue 8.
Favorite character (Legal).
I really wanted to go back to Legal – I think he is a character with endless possibilities – but I couldn’t find time in these twelve issues. If I write more She-Hulk in the future, though, Legal will definitely return. Law can be a very surreal field at times, and Javier Pulido did an excellent job capturing that. (Fun fact – Javier’s first take on Legal was as more of an impish figure, like a little pixie – it was interesting, but it didn’t totally work with what I was trying to suggest. Legal’s dour nature was designed to be a counterpoint to Jen’s upbeat attitude. Too much sugar would have ruined the cake – stories are recipes, and you need a bunch of flavors to make it all work.)
So that’s Issue 1. I could write much more, but if I’m going to have a hope of getting through these in time, I need to pace myself. If you have questions about this issue, or anything at all, you can reach me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/charlessoule) or via the email form at www.charlessoule.com.
See you tomorrow, for some chit-chat about Patsy Walker and the enigmatic Angie Huang!