It was announced recently that issue 12 of She-Hulk will be the final issue of Marvel’s s latest attempt to make Jennifer Walters a LCS fixture, this time under Charles Soule and Javier Pulido. Similar to her relationships, does this latest breakup between readers and She-Hulk come as a surprise? Since 1980 and her first series, The Savage She-Hulk, into The Sensational She-Hulk to The She-Hulk and now She-Hulk, we readers have fallen quickly in love with each incarnation. So why it is that She-Hulk is eventually relegated back into a supporting role?
She-Hulk isn’t the only book to have an on and off again relationship with readers. Why do certain characters ride the series carousel? How can we find answers? We’re going to have some fun with speed dating but before that, Comics Bulletin was fortunate to have Charles Soule answer some questions about working on She-Hulk, his legal knowledge and experiences in the Marvel U sandbox.
David Vieira for Comics Bulletin: You write some women who are physically strong as having equally strong identities as women. Is that a conscious decision or does it happen naturally the longer you write the character?
Soule: I think it happens naturally from the start – I know a lot of women with strong, powerful personalities and qualities, and as they say, you write what you know. Just to take She-Hulk as an example – she was pretty fully-formed right from the start. She’s a brilliant professional woman, and she was that before superpowers came anywhere near her. She’s fantastic because she’s Jennifer Walters, not because she’s got gamma-irradiated blood. In fact, I think that’s true of just about any good character – if you need the powers to make them “heroic” (in any fashion), then it’s possible that you have a weak character. There are always exceptions, of course, but it seems like a pretty good rule to live by if you’re writing these types of stories.
CB: Speaking of characters, you write another title consisting of characters, The Inhumans, that aren’t in the forefront of Marvel canon but continue to endure. Do you consider that a special position to be in, writing these sorts of characters?
Soule: I consider it a special position to be writing any characters in the Marvel canon. I’m very fortunate. It’s just a fantastic lineup, and getting to play in any part of the sandbox is a wonderful thing.
However, I will say that it’s nice to work with characters that are a little underused – there’s a lot of room to play and say new things. The Inhumans in particular work that way, but She-Hulk as well. Honestly, the reason these characters endure is in part because of their flexibility. The underlying ideas are strong enough that they can be updated for new groups of readers and change with the times – and that’s why they’re icons.
One of the interesting aspects of writing She-Hulk is that she is also Jennifer Walters: Attorney at Law. Charles Soule is no stranger to the legal profession, having been a very happy working attorney for a long time, running his own little practice for most of that.
CB: You write in a fictional world where the Law could be said to be a “little different” -a little more hero friendly. Is it exciting or hand-cuffing to be writing a comic in which you can use your legal experience?
Soule: It’s wonderful, honestly. Finally my law degree comes in handy! The only tricky bit comes when I know I’m going to have to make a story choice that depicts the law in a way that’s not strictly accurate for the sake of drama. There are a bunch of attorneys who write comics & law blogs, and they tend to take me to the cleaners for those – and rightly so! I think there’s a higher expectation of accuracy for me than there would be for a layman. On the other hand, the story always has to come first. The trial currently taking place in She-Hulk Issue 8-10 (depicting the first-ever court battle between Daredevil and She-Hulk, with Captain America as defendant), would probably stretch for twenty issues if I included all of the correct procedural stuff. So, I cut a ton of corners to try to get the most back for my buck.
Still, as you point out, whenever I make those changes (or even mistakes – I’ll freely admit I’ll make the occasional error, especially in practice areas or jurisdictions outside my specialties), I can always rely on the idea that the law is just a little different in the Marvel Universe. It covers a multitude of sins.
CB: In the accompanying article I have some fun with relationships, which is something She-Hulk is no stranger to. While you haven’t covered that characteristic yet, is that aspect of her character appealing to play with?
Soule: It is, although I haven’t played around much with romantic relationships for Jennifer Walters as of yet. It’s on my list for any future stories involving the She-Hulk, but for this run I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t defined by a relationship (except her friendships, which are arguably the most important thing about this run of issues.)
CB: When the chance comes do you draw on relationships you know of: friends, family…your own?
Soule: Of course – I think everyone does when writing something like this… or anything, really. Life experience is the grist for the mill. In particular, I’ve drawn on my own experience working as a lawyer with his own small practice. Jen’s office is in the same building as mine, in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn. Mine doesn’t have as many cool super-powered people around, but it’s still a neat spot.
So while Charles Soule continues to entertain us the best way he possibly can, we still have to wonder why certain books fail as a series. So we got together three suitors, put them into a room and asked them some difficult questions. Here is the first bell…
First up: Us the readers. Are we not supporting them enough? Well maybe. September sales of She-Hulk #8 broke the 21,000 mark in sales and several issues before that had similar 20k numbers. (I am excluding digital) A lot of books would love those numbers, but I’m guessing in the Marvel stable that those numbers are on the disappointing side.
In defence of the reader, as a consumer it’s hard to support everything we like. With all the choices out there and our finite spending money, we have to make our choices wisely. I try very hard to support certain creators and even certain characters (Hey, I’m a Ghost Rider fan, so I know about dying and resurrecting titles) but I will pass on a “good” series simply because it’s not enough for me to invest in no matter how much I like the character or creative people.
Ding Ding…times up, so long reader. Next up: The creative team. As they sit down we tell ourselves, “looks don’t matter.” But the reality is…Yes, sometimes first appearances count and and work that doesn’t “float your boat” or “spin your wheels” is going to be hard to get past. I have heard some people mention they passed on this book because they didn’t like the art. It happens or maybe the writer isn’t writing the character to your liking, they say toMAto, you say TOmato.
So with no chemistry between the reader and the creative team, the book has a harder time selling. But to blame them is wrong. This is their job and it provides for them. They are doing the best they can and to think they want it to fail isn’t fair.
Ding, ding, ding. Moving on, it’s the third suitor: Marvel (or any publisher) dressed in their power suits you know they mean business…dollars and cents. Sales are the bottom line. Is the product sustainable? What are the forecasted numbers? Is it consistent? Does it spike and slide?
I credit Marvel. They throw a lot of darts at the board with particular audience focused darts. Every so often it seems they take a chance on the precariously stuck dart…just hanging there. (In my opinion, the upcoming Squirrel-Girl book) With so many darts thrown, one or two is going to hit the bulls-eye. A happy accident? I’m sure that’s not how Marvel conducts its business, but to the outsider it can appear that way. So when a series starts and stops then starts up again (never mind the revenue gained by launching a #1 issue every 8-14 months) it gets you wondering what were they thinking. So Marvel is what Marvel is…
So why do books like She-Hulk fall short?
Maybe they don’t. Like any relationship we start, each of us has an expectation of the other. We can’t really expect every new series to be as iconic and long-lasting as the heavy hitters (you know who they are, they have the best table in every restaurant) If we honestly love the character and or creative team and not just spend because they are the tie-in or treat of the week, the series will live and die on its own merits and not walk through the peaks and valleys of consumer sales.
Perhaps publishers need to look at different ways of publishing, maybe more mini-series and specials for fringe characters rather than a full series. I believe that is a large factor in the success of Deadpool. His one-shots stand well enough on their own without the expectation of investing in his series. Of course a nice by-product of a successful one-shot is new readers to the series. I could commit to buying a 48 page issue of She-Hulk every three or four months over buying a monthly. I “like” She-Hulk but I don’t “love” She-Hulk but this would satisfy me without disrupting my wallet.
In conclusion, go on and feel bad for She-Hulk and the many like her but remember in the end, buying comics is like dating. We meet someone that interests and excites us. We start going out, doing things. Eventually we introduce them to our friends and we all start going out as couples or a group. Then one of two things happen: The luster begins fading and come Wednesdays our eyes start to wander the new arrival shelves and eventually we go our separate ways. OR The relationship deepens and each month as you learn more about them, your twitter activity includes them often and you introduce them to more people and they become a part of your life and together you ride into the long box sunset.