Charles Soule goes behind the scenes and in-depth on his year with Jen Walters!
Updated with issues #10-12…scroll down for the latest!
Also, check out the #12DaysofSheHulk hash tag on Twitter that inspired these essays for more Shulkie goodness!
This week, Charles Soule and Javier Pulido brought their acclaimed run on SHE-HULK to a climactic conclusion, as Jen Walters faced down the truths she has been pursuing for 12 action-packed issues.
Over at his personal blog, Charles has been running a series of essays looking in detail at each issue of SHE-HULK. Marvel.com proudly presents excerpts from these writings here. Be sure to read the full versions on his blog and pick up SHE-HULK #12, as well as the full series!
SHE-HULK #1: “Motion”
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.
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.
She-Hulk (2014) #1 art by Javier Pulido
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.)
SHE-HULK #2: “…AND?!”
I knew from the start that I wanted two characters to help Jen out with her practice – a paralegal/assistant, and a friend character that she could hang out with after hours. The para became Angie Huang, of course, and the friend ended up being Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat. Let’s talk about Angie first.
She-Hulk was always conceived as a multicultural book. The Marvel Universe is supposed to reflect the “world outside your window.” I live in New York, and I’ve lived a lot of other places as well, all over the world. The world outside my window isn’t just one color.
I’ve worked with a lot of paralegals over the years in my legal practice, and I was one before I went to law school. It’s a really tough job, and an essential one. Paralegals are responsible for organizing the attorneys, shuffling and analyzing the mounds of documents that come into a firm on pretty much any case, and millions of other tasks and details that allow a law office to function smoothly. I don’t think they get as much credit as they deserve, and so… Angie.
She-Hulk (2014) #2 art by Javier Pulido
Patsy Walker! The best! Kind of a trainwreck, but a very fun trainwreck. Fiercely loyal to her friends, maybe with a little chip on her shoulder, maybe even a little jealous that some of them have better powers than she does. The idea with Patsy was to give Jen Walters a character that she could almost take care of a little bit. Jen has often been shown as the wild one who needs someone to take care of her – and so flipping that dynamic somewhat seemed like it could generate some good stories. We see that most directly in Issue 7 – but certainly there’s some of that here, as Patsy gets hammered and, against the advice of her legal counsel (Jen) decides to go wreck an A.I.M. base.
I didn’t want to make them perfect, no-conflict super-pals, though. That’s not how close friends really are, in my experience. The closer you are to someone, the easier it is for them to drive you crazy – sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose – and that’s certainly where Jen and Patsy are, in this issue and beyond it.
SHE-HULK #3: “The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King”
With issue #3, all of the pieces were in place to start Jen’s solo law practice in earnest. She had an office, a paralegal/assistant and an investigator. What she did not have, however, was a client. We addressed that here with her first case – an asylum filing on behalf of Kristoff Vernard, the son of Victor Von Doom, PhD. (Doom must have a doctorate, right? Probably lots of doctorates. I know he went to school with Reed, but did we ever see him graduate? Could you imagine if “Dr.” is just a title he gave himself, like those esteemed practitioners J and Dre? Fabulous.)
The reason I chose this particular type of legal case is because immigration law has been a significant part of my own practice for many years. I knew from the start that I wanted to get the law side of things in She-Hulk as correct as possible – being a lawyer, I suspected I would be raked across the coals a bit by other attorneys if I got things wrong. I was correct about that, but we’ll get to that more with issues #8-10. I thought I was pretty safe with immigration, though, since I’ve been doing it so long. While I certainly took some liberties, most of the points you see here are the way asylum actually works in the US.
She-Hulk (2014) #3 art by Javier Pulido
Not to turn this into a law school class, but in a nutshell, to successfully claim asylum in the States, you have to be able to prove that you’ve been persecuted in your home country because of your membership in a particular race or class (religious group, etc.), that the persecution was connected to the government, and that it would be likely to recur if you were shipped back home. That posed some tricky questions for me, because Kristoff has mostly been shown to be Doom’s hand-picked heir to the throne of Latveria. They’ve had their differences over the years, but it was pretty consistent that he stood to inherit an entire country if and when Doom died. Hardly “persecution.”
Unless… Kristoff wasn’t sure that’s what he actually wanted. Once I came up with that central idea – that Kristoff was a kid who had been groomed for something all his life, but he was realizing he might want to at least see what else was out there… I had a story.
Jen goes to see Daredevil, as opposed to just calling him, in part because I loved the idea of her going to a new location (and I wanted to see Javier draw it), but also because I wanted to actually get Matt into the issue and maybe give them a chance to have a little adventure.
Daredevil has been one of my favorite characters forever. FOREVER. I’ve had this thing ever since I started writing comics – if I have a chance to sneak a character I love into a storyline, even if it’s not “their” book, then I’ll do it. There’s always a chance all of this could vanish tomorrow, and so I want to take opportunities to write Daredevil. Look at the early issues of any of my runs – you’ll see cameos popping in, and it’s all because of this particular theory.
At this point in the run, we were already talking about doing a court case where She-Hulk faced Daredevil, but it was pretty tentative. There were a lot of question marks surrounding that idea that needed to be addressed before we could move forward. I was hopeful, though, and that’s why I put in this little tease…
She-Hulk (2014) #4 art by Javier Pulido
I couldn’t believe that DD and Shulkie had never had a case against each other, and I really wanted to do it, no matter how tricky it would be. So, was this whole sequence possibly a little self-generated audition to show that I could successfully write Daredevil in a future She-Hulk storyline? Maybe, in sort of a backhand way.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun.
As many of you probably noticed (except possibly those who consume their comics as audiobooks, but I suspect that’s a pretty small percentage), the art team changed for issue #5 of SHE-HULK. Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente stepped away for issues #5 and #6, while Ron Wimberly did pencils/inks for #5 alongside colors from Rico Renzi, and Ron did the pencils, inks and colors for issue #6.
Why, you may ask? Well, it’s pretty simple – the demands on artists to produce the level of art that modern comics readers are used to seeing are significant. It’s tough to put out an issue every month and not get behind. So, fill-in teams are used to give the “regular” artists a chance to catch up, maybe even get a little bit ahead. It’s very common these days. If you’re lucky, you also get to work with a consistent rotating team, so the run can build a strong look and feel over time.
She-Hulk (2014) #5 art by Ron Wimberly
So, when Javier and Muntsa took a planned two-issue break for #5-6, the question became about who would take over the reins. Even in just four issues, the aesthetics of SHE-HULK had become very firmly defined, which meant whoever came on had some big shoes to fill. I talked with my great editors at Marvel about some possibilities for #5-6, and Ron Wimberly’s work grabbed me right away. If you’re only familiar with him from SHE-HULK, do yourself a favor and check out his Prince of Cats or really any of his work. I think he’s phenomenal – in particular, I like the way he plays with perspective, and his sense of color is amazing.
I wanted an artist who would be as idiosyncratic and cool as Javier, but who was not Javier. That was Ron, for sure. It’s funny – the art on this series could be strangely divisive. Not everyone loved JP (crazy!) and not everyone loved RW (crazy!), and some people seemed to love one but hate the other. There were clearly people who loved both, too – but people don’t always take the time to tweet about things they love. I mean, where’s the fun in that?
Cliffhangers are fun – I try to do them every issue, not just because it’s a really good idea to set the hook and bring people back for the next one, but because I like thinking them up. There are a number of types – there’s the “whoa, I can’t wait to see that…” bit, when you bring in an awesome new character or reveal a setup for the next issue, and then there’s the “no… he wouldn’t…” type, when you set up something so horrible for your beloved characters that the readers can’t help but come back to see how it all pans out. The trick with those is that sometimes you need to fulfill that promise. Sometimes Wyatt does need to fall off the cliff, because if you never follow through on the cliffhanger, then your readers will think you’re bluffing every time. It’s like a game of chicken with the audience.
She-Hulk (2014) #6 art by Ron Wimberly
In this case… Wyatt does not fall off the cliff. He loses cell reception just as Jen says the magic death words. But perhaps next time, gentle readers… he will. You never know. YOU JUST NEVER KNOW!
Issue #7 was a huge challenge for me. I’m not sure why, exactly. I knew I wanted to do a one-shot, and I had the plan to do the Hank Pym story pretty early, but getting it all to gel took me a number of drafts. I suspect that was related to a few factors – one, I was coming back into writing for Javier Pulido after a few issues writing for Ron Wimberly, which meant a switching of mental gears. Second, I was maybe a little focused on plot as opposed to what the issue would really be about. You can think up all the goofy bits with shrunken superheroes you want, but if the characters’ engines aren’t humming along properly, it’s just a bunch of goofy bits about shrunken superheroes.
I finally cracked it when I realized that this was a perfect issue to bring the Patsy/Jen partnership/friendship to the fore. The surface story has two business partners in a spat because they can’t seem to agree about how to go about their business – and that’s paralleled by what happens with Hellcat and She-Hulk here.
She-Hulk (2014) #7 art by Javier Pulido
It seemed pretty plausible to me that Patsy Walker could have a bit of an inferiority complex about her superheroing gig. She doesn’t have powers, really – she can detect magic use, but in a world where people can blast mountains apart, that’s not really all that much to speak of. Basically, she’s an incredible acrobat and hand-to-hand fighter, and she has one hell of a lot of pizzazz. That’s it.
I knew this was a thread I’d want to play out eventually, so I started hitting it early. We see it in her first beats in Issue #2, when she wants to go (drunkenly) beat up AIM, and the AIM agents straight up say she’s “powerless.” We see it again in Issue #6, when she’s trying to figure out what happened with Tigra.
Powerless is a pretty strong word for a woman like Patsy Walker, though. I don’t see her as powerless – not even a tiny bit. She might not have the most impressive superpowers, but that’s not the only way you can kick some ass.
SHE-HULK #8: “The Good Old Days, Part 1”
Here we are with the start of a three-part story involving something that had never happened before in comics up to this point – She-Hulk vs. Daredevil in a court of law.
Once I started working on the story, I realized why. It was all but impossible to pull off, at least in regular continuity. You could do it in something like an alternate reality setting, but in the real-deal Marvel Universe? Oof.
Let me explain. I’d been talking with my editor Jeanine Schaefer about doing this story for a while, and so it had been in the back of my mind for ages. When we started to get into specifics, it became clear that I’d be dealing with a few very significant bullet points. To wit:
-She-Hulk must be heroic.
-Daredevil must be heroic.
Tricky enough, because if you’re writing a court case that feels even a little bit realistic, one side probably comes off a bit looking a bit negative, if not both. Actual litigation can get extremely intense. Just to bring up one example, discrediting the other side’s witnesses by impugning their character happens quite often, and it can get vicious. As a lawyer, you’re obligated to do everything you can to serve your client, even if it means (sometimes especially if it means) screwing over the other side in some dastardly but perfectly legal and legitimate way (within the confines of our legal system, of course.)
She-Hulk (2014) #8 art by Javier Pulido
In this story, all of those strategies were immediately off the table for both sides, even though Daredevil in particular has done some very morally questionable things in the past. There’s a reason he keeps getting disbarred.
So, tough enough to do this at all. The reason why no writer had tried this before started to become very apparent to me. At which point, I made my life ten times as hard by choosing the defendant – Steve Rogers, aka, at times, as Captain America. At the point in Marvel continuity where this happens, Steve has lost his super-serum-ness, which means he’s ninety-some years old. A hale, hearty ninety, for sure – he’d kick you off his lawn if he had one, which he doesn’t, because he lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn and almost no one down there has lawns – but still, old.
I chose Cap because I wanted to do something momentous for the story, something worthy of the idea that Marvel’s two legal titans were doing battle for the first time. Generally speaking, Steve Rogers is morally unimpeachable, so putting him in a position where he was defending himself against a heinous accusation seemed like it would have some real juice. Of course, it brought up another problem:
-Steve Rogers must be heroic.
The experience of litigation can be very different depending on which level of the judicial system you’re talking about, or area of law, but I chose to make the Steve Rogers case we look at in issues #8-10 a real meatgrinder. In issue #9, we start to see more of what Cap is actually being accused of, through “dying declaration” testimony from a childhood acquaintance of Steve’s. I heard from some attorneys on this one – the way I use dying declaration here maybe isn’t the way it’s always used in California, but I based it on Rule 804(b)(2) in the Federal Rules of Evidence, which states that a witness statement relayed to someone else just prior to death can be admissible in court if it is:
(2) Statement Under the Belief of Imminent Death. In a prosecution for homicide or in a civil case, a statement that the declarant, while believing the declarant’s death to be imminent, made about its cause or circumstances.
She-Hulk (2014) #9 art by Javier Pulido
I always thought that was a fascinating rule – I mean, like people can’t lie when they think they’re about to die? It seems very based in what the framers of that law believed about human nature – or wanted to be true. This rule comes from the “common law,” which is a set of laws or rules that existed before law was formally codified – almost like very binding rules of thumb that society (especially English society, since that’s where much of our legal system comes from) used to handle disputes.
let’s move on to this issue, the third and final part of the She-Hulk/Daredevil trial, with Steve Rogers in the midst of a wrongful death suit related to events back in 1940, before he became Captain America. We’ve already heard the other side’s version of events, and it doesn’t look great for Cap. In fact, it looks like he might have significantly contributed to the death of someone, and then fled to the Army to escape responsibility. In fact, when Matt Murdock puts him on the stand, he actually says that the entire story is true. Uh-oh.
But maybe he’ll be okay after all. Why?
She-Hulk (2014) #10 art by Javier Pulido
Oh, all right then. Phew.
When we get Cap’s version of events, we learn that the bad guys in the story were actually Nazi Fifth Columnists, and Steve was trying to help out a young man to save his brother from them. While Steve absolutely did antagonize them, and one could say that his actions resulted in the death of that young man, the legal question here revolves more about whether he could have reasonably known that would happen, whether there were mitigating factors, and so on. Actually, Jen and Matt lay it out pretty well in their closing arguments, and you can make your own call. You’ve got the issues itself if you want to read about the case.
SHE-HULK #11: “Titanium Blues”
I wanted to check off two boxes with this issue, both of which I suspect were pretty obvious. First, I wanted to write a big fight between Titania and She-Hulk. Second, I wanted to write a big fight. And that’s Issue #11!
Titania is a very cool character – she’s pretty much She-Hulk’s big bad. They’ve had some truly epic battles over the years, and in much the way it’s almost mandatory for a Batman writer to eventually write a Joker story, I think She-Hulk writers tend to find their way to Titania eventually.
She-Hulk (2014) #11 art by Javier Pulido
The lady’s real name is Mary MacPherran, and she has an interesting history. She was powered up by Dr. Doom in the original Secret Wars miniseries back in the 80s, along with her best bud Volcana (who we also see in this issue.) The thing about Titania that most interested me was that she’s always been something of a blue collar character. Some writers have hit that harder than others, but I thought it could make her a good stand-in for general anti-lawyer bias.
I mean, let’s face it – some folks think lawyers are just greedy scum, using the system to their own advantage. And let’s also face it – some lawyers are exactly like that. Many, many more are not, of course, but one bad apple…
Favorite character: Jen Walters.
She is the best.
She-Hulk (2014) #12 art by Javier Pulido
And that, as they say… is that. I will miss working on this series immensely – everything I said in the little note that ends the physical copy of this issue is completely true. Will we do more? I can’t announce anything – there’s nothing to announce – but the door remains open. If my schedule permits and Marvel’s schedule permits, then hopefully we’ll get that season 2. In the meantime… I’d say keep your eyes on WOLVERINES, the weekly series I’m writing. Especially around the beginning of April.