Fighting the Good Fight: 2014 Comic Book Highlights

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STACKEDD magazine debuts today! I sneak in a last look at some great things in comics in 2014.

http://stackeddmagazine.com/2015/01/04/fighting-good-fight2014-comic-book-highlights/

In Case You Missed It: She-Hulk #5 (WHOA RON WIMBERLY!!)

This review appeared June 16, 2014 in the Best Shots column over at Newsarama

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She-Hulk #5
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Wimberly, Rico Renzi
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood

In She-Hulk #5, fill-in artist Ron Wimberly presents an alternate vision for what this character and story could be. The dramatic change in art comes just as Charles Soule’s writing is hitting its stride. This issue is wonderful as its own entity, but will strain some readers’ connection to the heroine they thought they were getting to know.

In its first four issues, She-Hulk took us on a campy little jaunt with Jennifer Walters, city girl and hulk-lawyer. The story was cleverly put together and always had a feeling of style over substance. Javier Pulido’s panels fit neatly together and the objects within them didn’t seem so much composed as merchandized, like product in a high-end boutique. He was selling us the bold shapes he designed, including Jennifer Walters’s big green head. He made her eyes exactly the right size and shape to balance her deadpan with sweetness. He gave her just enough affable clumsiness to make her lovable despite her glossy exterior. We couldn’t quite gain purchase on her rounded, unblemished surfaces but we didn’t mind because the story was always about bright colors and fun.

Wimberly’s She-Hulk still has bright colors and fun, but his art is much more angular and kinetic. His fisheye angles and busted-up facial planes bring shadow and depth into his panels. Wimberly drains the quirky-cute out of She-Hulk, and tempers her prettiness with don’t-give-a-damn rock ugliness. It suits her disaffection, and it suits Charles Soule’s writing.

In earlier issues, Soule wrote Jennifer as discriminated against and down on her luck, but the art was too full of fun rom-com coding to make that stick. Even her hard times were spiffy and aspirational. The way Wimberly draws Jennifer, it’s easier to believe that her feelings are real. For this one issue, she can slouch on Shocker’s couch drinking a beer with him, her knees splayed just as wide as his. Pulido’s She-Hulk would have crossed her legs.

Soule’s writing feels different in this issue even without the influence of Wimberly’s art. For the first time, he is telling a smaller piece of a bigger story. We’re finally down to the hinted-at blue file – a strange lawsuit against She-Hulk and several other supers. Angie Huang and Patsy Walker/Hellcat are deputized as She-Hulk’s agents and Soule does well cutting back and forth between these three threads. He fits them together to advance a single story with mystery, action, secrets and danger. The longer story arc gives him more room to fit conversations into his pacing. With help from Wimberly’s expressiveness, interactions are funnier and themes of what it is to be hero begin to emerge more clearly.

I don’t think it will be easy for Pulido to step back into his gig and seamlessly take back art duties. This aesthetic change amounts to a protagonist swap and it will be jarring again when the two Jennifers are switched back. It doesn’t help that Soule chose Wimberly’s issue to get serious about his main storyline. The episodic stories of the first four issues seemed all right at the time, but now feel aimless and loose in light of the fifth issue. I don’t think four of those issues amount to a set-up for this fifth one. With very little adjustment, this could have been the first or second issue of the series.

Readers loyal to Pulido might be put off by Wimberly’s fill-in issue, but it is simply too exciting to look at and too important to the story’s over-all development to miss. Enjoy it as an island unto itself and join me in regarding this series as an on-going experiment.

She-Hulk #7: Quit Dragging My Heart Around

This first appeared last week on my tumblr, The Naive Review:  She-Hulk #7: Quit Dragging My Heart Around

 

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After reading She-Hulk #7, I’m just sitting here having all these feelings. Javier Pulido is back. Am I just supposed to pretend that that whole Ron Wimberly thing never happened? Am I just supposed to be able to snap back to looking at She-Hulk the way I did before?

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Top: Javier Pulido, Bottom: Ron Wimberly

I loved She-Hulk from the beginning, for the silliness and the intensity of the bright Magic Marker colors. I liked how everything was smooth and pulled taut, and imbued with secret meanings. It was all like a code, like the real message was in royal blue against fire engine red, or in a circle placed next to a square. I liked how it was shallow nonsense a lot of the time but had some nice little day-to-day lawyering stuff, and some nods to the importance of friendship, and of course—flashy superhero cameos!

So that’s how it started with Soule/Pulido/Vincente.

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Then with She-Hulk #5, Ron Wimberly and Rico Renzi just blew the top off the whole thing. They kept the color scheme and just crammed this book full of so much energy it couldn’t be contained inside shapes and lines anymore. Crazy angles, jagged lines, everything popping and crackling, and the panels coming unmoored from each other and starting to drift apart, not lined up like little soldiers the way Pulido had them. And Wimberly gave Jennifer Walters more depth and personhood than she before. It made me expect more from the whole story, especially since Charles Soule seemed like he was really getting going with a meaty storyline!!

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I kvelled about Wimberly.

I borrowed a copy of Prince of Cats and pored over it.

I eagerly awaited his second guest-artist issue, #6.

Then She-Hulk #6 came and it felt like everyone half-assed it — or maybe they tried as hard as they could but circumstances were against them. I don’t want to diss their creative efforts. There were still great moments in both dialogue and picture. But Renzi the colorist was gone, Soule was off his writing game, and Wimberly seemed to wrap himself protectively around an awesome central fight scene like some kind of sea creature preserving its vital organs by letting its extremities get eaten by predators.

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(this is how She-Hulk has made me feel)

My love for Wimberly did not waver despite the disappointment. I eagerly await whatever else of his I can get my hands on in the future.

But She-Hulk is different for me now. It’s like Wimberly hulked her up and tattered her clothing to ribbons and now Javier Pulido and Charles Soule have to wear those shreds. And you know they don’t do messy. Javier Pulido’s Jennifer Walters doesn’t get much hulkier than a beach volleyball player, and her kickaround clothes are all synthetic, stretchy loungewear. She can’t be going around in tatters. With her stretch marks showing. With her embarrassing underpants and weak storyline showing.

So I flip through the glossy, bright issue that is She-Hulk #7 and I think “Hellcat sure is funny.” And “Oh hey, Hank Pym!” and “This is not as thrilling as Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but it’s still cool that they’re tiny” and then also thoughts crop up like “Orange! Pink! Green! Such bright green! Oh my god! The bluest blue! YELLOOOOWWWW…!!!”

And I pretend it’s enough. 

But it’s not enough.

For one thing, where the HELL is Angie Huang????