Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Do You Like About She-Hulk?

My wife asked me that recently. I was (am) going through some kind of comic book collecting mid-life crisis. It involves reading hundreds of issues of Incredible Hulk, and buying every comic I owned or saw out of the corner of my eye between 1974 and 1981. This obsessive path lead me to purchasing every issue of She-Hulk. 

When I say every issue, I don’t mean just the 25 issue series that ran from 1980-1982. I mean her key appearances in the Fantastic Four, her first Avengers issue, the Ceremony limited series, the Marvel Graphic Novel, the 60 issue Sensational She-Hulk run, that random one-shot Brian Hitch did between Authority and Ultimates, the Dan Slott runs, the Peter David issues, the Charles Soule series, and the current Hulk series where Jennifer Walters takes over the Hulk name, but doesn’t turn into Hulk for the first 5 issues. Even the romance novel :”The She-Hulk Diaries”. The grand total? About 160 issues. 

It was a sickness that wouldn’t let go. I had to have all of them. I compulsively upgraded some trashed issues from the first series. I had to outbid what I can only assume was one sad individual trying to win the “naked jump rope” issue. WHO’S THE SAD ONE NOW LOSER???

When my wife asked me “what do I like about She-Hulk” it was not an invalid inquiry. 

She-Hulk was the first series I collected every issue of as a kid. It was also the first comic book I heard about through the media. The Incredible Hulk TV show was at its peak, and when Marvel decided to ensure no network could rip off the Hulk with a green super-heroine. As insurance against that unlikely event, Stan Lee and John Buscema created the first issue of the Savage She-Hulk. The series warranted a blurb on the news wires which I saw in the local paper. This article was very much in my area of interest, and made finding the series a mission for my 9 year old self. However, newsstand distribution of comics was tricky, and I was just starting to become aware of comic book shops. 

The first issue I found was #3. From there, I bought the series whenever I could find it. Sometimes Convenient Food Mart would have it, other times Taylor Drugs, or Wobbe’s Pharmacy, Drug World, or Kwik Stop. 

The real shift in my ability to become a She-hulk completist happened when I was able to access my first comic shop- The Great Escape. They had 10 and 25 cent boxes of back issues, which supplied me with missed issues of Micronauts, and Star Wars, as well as the now-infamous Giant Size Man-Thing #1, issues of Flash, DC Comics Presents, and Vault of Evil. She-Hulk was also well-represented among these unloved cast offs. 

I filled in the gaps, and even sprang for the first issue. It was probably $1, big money for the era. In it, I discovered that She-Hulk's powers came from a blood transfusion given to her by her cousin Bruce Banner. She inherited the Hulk powers, and Banner vanished, the connection rarely to be addressed again. By the time issue 16 came out, I found a Convenient Food Mart that regularly carried the series each month. When it was cancelled with issue 25 I had them all. It was my first complete run of anything. That made it a little magical. 

This first run of She-Hulk had several elements that kept my attention. One, and I wasn’t aware of this factor at the time, was that the lead character was a brash jade giantess running around in an indestructible yet tattered slip. Reviewing the comics, there is definitely an undercurrent of fetishization in the art. As Jennifer Walters, she was an accomplished attorney juggling a couple of goofy slacker boyfriends. The lucky fellows were a surfer named Zapper and a community radio host who occasionally hung out with Man-Thing, Richard Rory. Neither were real prizes. 

My Mom wanted to be a lawyer, so I felt a connection to the Jennifer Walters half of the equation. My connection to She-Hulk probably stemmed from the part of me that knew puberty was coming and was responding to the Amazonian alter ego. 

Her conflicts month to month were not the typical super villain lineup. Over the 25 issue series she had boy troubles, fought a swamp monster, several robots, a black woman whose only crime was being a shitty jazz singer with diabetes and a case of narcissism, battled a guy going blind from corporate misuse of microwaves, grappled with a huckster preacher’s daughter, went to war with a werewolf/astronaut on a miniature world captured on a necklace, argued with her sheriff father a lot, and beat up a dude in a hydraulic elephant suit. 

Laying it all out like that, why did I love the series? The art was well done. Mike Vosburg drew 24 of the issues, and he had a passion for the subject matter. In fact, I would spot his art 15 years later in some fetish magazines. Also, I enjoyed the stories, as weird as they can be made to sound. David Anthony Kraft was a solid author, and at age 9 and 10 I was really hit by the pathos of the failed singer going into a diabetic coma. Her only crime was being an insufferable diva with no talent. The microwave dude was just trying to go Earth First on the company that had made him blind through corporate negligence. The villains were either sympathetic individuals fighting back at the man, or they were corporations and other authority figures, like the preacher, misusing their power. The stories had an undercurrent of liberal social activism running through them. Well, except the hydraulic elephant guy. That was just bizarre. 

After the series came to an end I continued to follow the character. This was neither expensive, or challenging. She was not popular. There was an issue of Dazzler, a Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man, a Marvel Two-In-One with the Thing, and that was about it. She was brought into the Avengers after a couple of years, and I got a few off those. In general though, I didn’t care about the Avengers, just She-Hulk. She was just part of a group of costumes at that point, lacking the weird charm of her solo series. 

In 1985 the character replaced the Thing in Fantastic Four for 3 years. I was in luck, as I was already buying Fantastic Four. Only a couple of issues really focused on her, most notably an issue where. A”celebrity skin” photographer caught her nude sun bathing. Due to a printing mix up, the photos were published color corrected. In other words, she was portrayed as white, not a green gamma irradiated goddess. It was a nutty story, kind of racy, and pretty entertaining to me as a 15 year old. Despite the questionable themes, She-Hulk was generally used well during this run. The creator, John Byrne, was starting to sow the seeds of how she would be handled in the character’s next solo series. 

The second series, The Sensational She-Hulk, debuted in 1989. John Byrne approached the run as a comedy. She-Hulk was aware she was in a comic book, and would make asides to the reader and the creator. It was good, but my interests were focused on more esoteric and edgier comics at the time. I was 19 after all, and comics just weren’t for kids anymore. Reading it from the perspective of a 46 year old, it’s a pretty good time overall, but occasionally tires to hard to be clever. The above-mentioned "naked jump rope" issue was a Byrne issue. It both mocked the concept of She-Hulk as a fetish figure, and embraced it at the same time. It's hard to tell if a blow for or against feminism was being struck here. 

I didn’t pick up another She-hulk comic until 2005. Dan Slott was writing the character, and I had heard good things about the run. I knew Slott from the Ren and Stimpy comics in the 90s. Those were very well done, and often laugh out loud funny. I hoped Slott’s light touch would be a good fit. It was. I fell in love with his take immediately. This series may be where I can finally answer my wife’s question. She-Hulk is portrayed as a crutch for Jennifer Walters to use to be her true self. She’s embarrassed by her plainness, and spends almost all of her time in the She-Hulk form to do what she can’t as Jen. However, She-Hulk often goes too far, and doesn’t worry about consequences. She can be shallow, sleeping with sexy models and super heroes cohorts, but not forming any meaningful connections. Jen needs connections, and tends to date men that love her but not She-Hulk. However, Jen then resents them for not loving what she thinks of as her best self, and accuses them of being scared of her strength. The thing is, it’s not her best self. It's like an alcoholic being mad that you don't like that aspect of them best. She’s both people. Each one has strengths and flaws, and they are not the same. She’s neglects her Jennifer Walters self to feed her She-Hulk self. 

The best super heroes are metaphors, and Slott found the metaphor for She-Hulk. Bruce Banner/Hulk faces the man/monster schism. It’s tragic, heartbreaking, and dark. Jen Walters/She-Hulk is a duality of self esteem. She-Hulk’s impulsiveness and confidence versus Jen’s introversion and caution. 

Slott's simplest example of the balance between Jen and She-Hulk involves She-Hulk being forced into a boxing match with the universe's toughest entity. She-Hulk just isn't strong enough. It's when she realizes that making Jen physically stronger improves her strength as She-Hulk that a bridge is made between the two halves of herself. Ultimately, she wins the match by applying her legal mind to the situation. It's a challenge so difficult that it requires that all aspects of her be at their best. 

Slott's stories made explicit a depth to the character that in retrospect can be seen as lurking just under the surface throughout the character's history. It's a crucial part of the character that is missed by focusing on comedy or action above the needs of the character. 

Looking at the covers of 160 issues of She-Hulk involves not judging a book by its cover. The early days display an angry green woman running around in her underwear. The late 90s are comedic covers mixed with a winking and juvenile sexuality. More modern takes display cheesecake, pin-up style art as a wrapper for quirky inventive art and clever stories with emotional depth. It's all nice art, but does a disservice to the stories inside. 

They look like comics you have to justify a love for. They look like comics that lead to your wife asking the question “what do you like about She-Hulk?”

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dial Nein

Does anyone remember when all of the existing ambassadors were directed to be gone from their posts by Noon January 20? It was big news right at Christmas, but faded into the background behind the other 1,000 things to happen since.

In retrospect this wasn't a show of gross incompetence and inexperience. It was step one towards the new paradigm. They aren't just consolidating power, they are consolidating communication.

If you want to talk to Trump, you're going to get Trump unfiltered. Not some weak willed negotiating College girl with a Masters, fluency in 11 languages, and 20 years diplomatic experience. No, you're going to get The Man or one of his surrogates.

"Dial 9 for the Alt-Right Neo-Nazi's office, or please hold so you can go fuck yourself."

DT is used to being the face of his brand. He lives and works in the same building. Trump tower as a business and as a residence were indistinguishable. I don't expect him to do a lot of traveling to meet with leaders. Leaders will be expected to come to him. You don't like it? Tough shit.

Imagine DT relaxed, mindlessly eating Doritos while watching the No Spin Zone. Ruling the world from his recliner. The only information he receives comes from Steve Bannon, the TV, and his limited imagination where 1984,120 Days of Sodom, and Garden of Earthly Delights are depictions of paradise.

A dusting of Dorito spice powder is smeared over The Button, as he fiddles with it mindlessly. He is enjoying the anticipation of waiting for O'Reilly to report something alarming about China.

His thumb lifts, then relaxes. "Not tonight, Jina," he murmurs as he drifts off to an insurance ad. "Only tweets for you tonight. Next time."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

DT Week One

America First
Alternative Facts
The Wall
Illegal Detention
Extreme vetting
Hiring freeze
Enemies List
Unqualified cabinet choices and cronyism
Journalists as Adversaries
Extreme Vetting
Gag orders
Conflicts of Interest
Standing Rock
Arresting Journalists
Narcissistic obsession about election and inauguration crowds
Election fraud lies
Martial Law threats
Gutting ACA/Medicaid/Medicare
Defunding PBS, NPR, NEA etc.
Punishing sanctuary cities
Tweet storms
Russia intervention
Suppressing scientific data
Cutting global women's health funding
Empowering unconstitutional efforts in Republican states

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Spicy Black Eyed Peas

2 cups dry black eyed peas
6 cups beef broth or water/broth mix
1 med onion, diced
2 jalapeƱos (or pepper of choice) minced
12 oz salt pork
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp sage
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves

Optional: 1 tsp pepper, garlic cloves to taste.
Vegetarians: 4 tbsp olive oil instead of pork

Rinse dry beans. Cube salt pork. Put all ingredients in pressure cooker, stirring to mix. Cook on high heat for 55 minutes. Let sit, sealed, for 1 hour. Serve with cornbread and hot sauce.  Remove salt pork before serving or storing if it grosses you out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange came out at exactly the right time. A magnificently gifted surgeon and extreme narcissist obsessed with pop trivia pays too much attention to his cell phone and destroys his greatest gift in a devastating car crash that he should have seen coming. With the help of a multi-cultural coalition he learns a whole new perspective on the world, breaks the spell of his own ego and privileged life only to save the world from a group of anarchists set on bringing the world permanent profound fascism while dressed as one bad ass mofo.

Five days later America experienced the first part of that summary. Our car is still bouncing down the wet ravine, the final impact still to come. CGI blood is in the air, shattered glass making beautiful patterns in the night air.

The landing is going to fucking hurt, and the recovery is going to be unconventional beyond what we can imagine right now.

I've read a ton of Dr. Strange comics, and he always pulls it together in the end even when he has had to recreate the whole Universe from scratch. Get some candles, write some spells, have a team-up, do some magic.

Monday, November 14, 2016

New Day

This has been an intense week, and it's just the beginning. 
We are stocking the tool box and building the infrastructure for what we need to fight. Not everything is going to work, but it is way too soon to throw an idea out before it has had time to be tested. What I think we may want to keep in mind is that everyone has a different fighting style. We need to give people the autonomy to go to where their strengths are. 
Marching, donating money, donating time, posting, wearing symbols, petitioning, singing, writing, making pictures and videos, telling jokes, going to meetings, reading, vetting sources and communicating our actions to the world are all crucial parts of a holistic approach to the New Culture War. 
The President Elect is on 60 Minutes tonight outlining how to deport 1% of the US population on day 1. He brought a known anti-Semite and conspiracy "journalist" on as chief strategist. They are getting their army together, and their strength is also their weakness. They organize around authority and dogma. 
I would like to think our opposition is made of people that value ideological freedom, freedom from authority, kindness, acceptance, free expression, and that realize their personal dogma may not fit everyone. 
We can be lighter, move faster, and are open to trying a thousand different approaches while they are limited to what their figurehead demands. What they may miss is that they are a part of the same whole as we are. A society like ours doesn't function as top down, but as all together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Luke Cage Part 2: Militant Jive Mouth

As covered in the introduction, Luke Cage’s first issue was cover-dated June 1972 and was created by Archie Goodwin with art by George Tuska and Billy Graham. 

Cage was not Marvel’s first crack at a Black hero. Created in1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Black Panther debuted in Fantastic Four #52. He was the mysterious leader of the African nation of Wakanda, and was an immediate hit.  By extraordinary coincidence, the social rights group of the same name took to the streets later the same year. Black Panther made appearances in Fantastic Four and the Avengers over the next several years, and was Marvel’s first regular Black hero. 

In July, 1969 Captain America met Sam Wilson, an African American man who took on the mantle of The Falcon. Debuting in Captain America 117, Falcon was a regular fixture in Cap’s book, eventually sharing the cover logo when the book became rebranded as Captain America and the Falcon for issue 134 in February 1971’s issue. That title lasted through June of 1978, and was the first time a Black character was featured so prominently on a regular basis. 

This brings us to 3 years after the Falcon’s debut, and 6 years after Black Panther's. Luke Cage: Hero for Hire came roaring out of the gate with a few qualities the earlier Black characters didn’t have. 

First, Cage premiered in his own series. No guest star or sidekick tryout required. He was fully realized in the mode of Shaft and, dare I say, Muhammed Ali. Master of his own destiny, every challenge a brief sidetrack until he overcomes it with street smarts, indestructible skin, wit, and raw determination. 

Secondly, the first 16 issues were titled “Hero For Hire”, which set him apart from any existing super-hero concept. He didn’t need to keep a gig as a reporter or photographer. His family wasn’t impossibly rich from crazy inter dimensional experiments, and he wasn’t a billionaire industrialist selling arms to the military. He was a super-private detective holed up above a revival movie theater, right in the heart of 70s NYC.

The cover to the premiere issue laid it all out: Neon signs advertising BARS and GIRLS, a mysterious Black woman smoking a cigarette, a clearly corrupt White cop, a winning poker hand, and dice rolling a Natural 7. 

Over the course of the issue, Cage both expresses the shorthand of the Black street experience, and mixes in elements of the emergent Black cinema as embodied by Shaft, Cotton Comes To Harlem, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. 

The man who becomes Luke Cage grew up as a tough street-wise hustler, running with a small gang and just trying to make it. We never hear his birth name, the one he had before the end of his sentence and transformation to hero. 

Things went bad when his low-level hustle resulted in his girl Reva getting killed, which lead to a frame-up. He goes into prison, defiant yet resigned to his fate. A singular individual, Cage still gravitates to the Black prisoners, which gets him lumped in with the “Militants”. A corrupt White guard gives him a good beating for standing up to injustice in the prison. 

Fate leads to Cage being used as the guinea pig for a chemical bath that is intended to bring out the super from the man. As with Captain America's origin, death follows the scientist playing God, and chaos wreaks havoc in the prison. 

Cage escapes the experiment and the prison in a hail of bullets, which reveals his indestructible skin. Once on the outside, he changes his name to Luke Cage, makes peace with his dead girlfriend, and goes shopping for his super-hero outfit. It’s here that Cage dons a silver headband, yellow silk shirt, black leather pants and swashbuckler boots, and a thick chain around his waist as a belt. His dialog reflects what the reader must have been thinking:

“Yeah! Outfit’s kinda hokey… but so what? All part of the super-hero scene. An’ this way when I use my powers it’s gonna seem natural. A little promotion work an’ I’m in business!”

He begins to circulate business cards reading “Luke Cage HERO FOR HIRE” and that pretty much wraps up the first appearance. The final panel concludes with a caption promising “A man called Cage… walks and waits, and thinks of a girl named Reva. And knows soon the time approaches when: VENGEANCE IS MINE!”

Overall Luke Cage’s adventures are a strong addition to the emergent mass media intended to tap into Black audiences. It matched the tone and intent of the new black cinema. Blaxploitation was about to explode beginning in late 1972/early 1973, and this comic was poised to fulfill the need of urban audiences interested in an ongoing superhero. 

Being a comic book distributed on newsstands in 1972, however, resulted in some limitations. Starting in the mid-1950’s, color comic book publications generally had to adhere to The Comics Code Authority. This independent self-regulating body ensured young readers (the presumed audience for comics) were protected from sexuality, language, graphic violence, a celebration of criminal activity, zombies, horror, the word “weird” on a comic cover, and a whole arcane system of rules that makes the MPAA seem utterly transparent. 

This resulted in broad references to drugs, sexless relationships, and a need to develop euphemisms for nearly every adult exclamation imaginable. Luke Cage’s best know of dialog was one such euphemism. 

“Sweet Christmas!”

A joke among comics readers for years, there is something charming about it in retrospect. It doesn’t match up to any typical piece of crass language, it vaguely hints at Jesus, and it is incredibly distinctive. In the recent television incarnation of Cage in Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, the character says it twice and it is both convincing and it suggests a self-aware humor to the character. 

Armed with a bizarre catchphrase, a fully original costume, a bad attitude, and a badder Afro, Cage somehow caught enough of the pop-culture imagination to still be relevant after 45 years. 

What happened next, following his first adventure? He carried the series under the title of Heroes for Hire 15 more months. Next time, we’ll take a look at what kind of challenges the character met following his origin story.