Over the last week, the biggest story in comics has been female readers and the increasing attention that the Big Two companies have been giving them. With Gotham Academy and the new direction on Batgirl from DC and yesterday’s announcement that Marvel is chasing “an audience that long was not the target for Super Hero comic books in America: women and girls” with a new female Thor, it seems that, apparently all at once, the industry has come around to the bizarre notion that it’s worth appealing to 51% of their potential readership.

Great as it is to see such marked change in editorial policy, these announcements have had me thinking about what needs to change in the comics industry before it can rid itself of the boys club mentality that’s stifled it for so long. With that in mind, I’m introducing a new feature to the site each making a case for an (extant) female character who could easily fill the need for A-List female heroes and who the industry should be marketing to women.

 

She-Hulk

She-Hulk is probably the most obvious of the characters I considered for this inaugural article and, as such, it should come as no surprise that she’s the only one with her own monthly solo comic. However, while I tried to avoid some of the more obvious choices, She-Hulk holds a special place in my mind.

One issue, of many, that female heroes face is the perception that they are merely knock-offs of male heroes. Batgirl and Batwoman, for example, have fought valiantly to be heroes in their own right, but for many they’ll always be girl Batman. In many cases these characters are the result of marketing gone mad or short-lived attempts to reinvigorate the brand, which only reinforce notions of their inferiority. But among these countless distaff counterparts, I would argue that She-Hulk is one of the only ones to outshine her opposite number, especially if you limit the competition to household names. The Hulk is a potent symbol of rage and abuse, but despite his shining moments of absolute relevancy, he’s a bit of a hard sell, as evidenced by the constant ups and downs of his intelligence, power, and status quo.

Who is she: While She-Hulk probably has one of the most cynically motivated origins of any comic hero (Marvel was trying to get a cut of royalties from a rumored spin-off of the Hulk live-action series), she quickly became a unique and beloved character. Jennifer Walters was a young lawyer when a bullet left her in need of a blood transfusion. The only available donor was her cousin, Bruce Banner, whose radioactive blood transformed the meek girl into the outgoing and assertive She-Hulk.

Why comic companies would think she’ll appeal to women: SHE-HULK STRONGEST FEMALE CHARACTER THERE IS!

Why I think she’ll actually appeal to women: Where the Hulk is a representation of abuse and conflicting notions of masculinity, She-Hulk speaks to issues of self-esteem and social justice. A hard partying, ass-kicking, razor-sharp, snarky, deeply empathetic heroine, She-Hulk combines the best attributes of the four core Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Thor) into a single character. Admittedly that description will probably draw at least one cry of Mary-Sueism, but, particularly over the past fifteen years, Jen’s writers have crafted these attributes into a balanced, human character who straddles multiple notions of femininity without patronizing her female readers.Whats The Bad News

Not only that, but She-Hulk is funny. I mean this is a character who once killed a man with continuity. The precedent was set by John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk, which set Jen up as a kind of proto-Deadpool, completely aware of the fourth wall and eager to smash it. Ever since Jen has had a particular brand of sardonic humor waiting for anyone who dares tangle with She-Hulk and her career as a lawyer has only provided more opportunities for comedy. Oh, did I not mention that she’s still a lawyer, because she is.

Whether she’s extraditing Dr. Doom’s son, suing J. Jonah Jameson for libel, or introducing comics into evidence Jen’s courtroom adventures are just as entertaining as her various super-powered brawls. Her occupation not only allows for some very different stories in the superhero genre, but allows Jen’s stories to really demonstrate her heroism. Jenifer Walters is one of the most thoughtful, practical, and socially conscious characters in the Marvel Universe and she shows it not only through her hero work, but through her law practice, volunteer work, and her own disaster relief organization. It’s always reductionist to generalize about an entire group but, if Superman expresses the male power fantasy, She-Hulk represents the ideal for women of the internet era; pragmatic, funny, hopeful, engaged, and near infinitely able to punch injustice in the face.

In spite of all the obstacles history threw in her way, She-Hulk has emerged as a uniquely complete character. Strong as the Hulk, successful as Daredevil, kick ass as Thor, confident as Iron Man, and compassionate as Captain America without succumbing to the perils of the “Strong Female Character”, She-Hulk would be a fine role-model for girls and a great representation of women of all ages.

Charles Soule, a practicing lawyer apparently in possession of a time-turner, has been writing another great She-Hulk series for the past five months, but while it’s great that the series is doing well with the general readership, I think Marvel should be making the case for She-Hulk to their fastest growing demographic.

Do you agree? Is there some element of She-Hulk you love or hate that I neglected? Let me know. I’m especially interested to hear reactions from women about the character and this new segment.

 

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