“But the benefit of being a Hulk is that if you’re having a bad day…it’s usually pretty easy to find someone deserving a punch in the face.” – Jennifer Walters (Earth-616)
Now, I’m not gonna pretend to be an expert on comic book superheroes – I have to thank my diehard comic book friends for my minimal knowledge. But given the little I know about She-Hulk, I gotta admit my not-so-inner feminist is smitten. Jennifer Walters, a “meek and mousy lawyer,” is the cousin of Bruce Banner, more commonly known as The Hulk, a gigantic green superhero who only appears when Bruce is angry. The two were very close growing up, so of course when Jennifer needed a blood transfusion after she was shot, Bruce was there to help her. Of course, this was not ideal because of Bruce’s hulkish tendencies, but he was her only match. Thus, Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk. Overtime, Jennifer gained control of her emotions as well as her ability to transform. In fact, she came to prefer her She-Hulk identity, but used both of her selves to help those in need. She-Hulk is therefore smart, rational, and strong. What more could you ask for in a superheroine?
Recently, She-Hulk has received some press. As the era of live action superhero movies continues, it has become more apparent that we are sorely lacking in the super heroine area. While there have been talks about films for Black Widow and Wonder Woman, they are still in pre-production. Last week, the podcast Scriptnotes aired a panel discussion of superhero screenwriters. One of the show’s co-hosts, Craig Mazin, engaged in a dialogue specifically about She-Hulk with David Goyer, the screenwriter of the Dark Knight trilogy. Despite Mazin calling the heroine “Slut-Hulk” (according to The Mary Sue transcript), Goyer’s comment is the one circulating around the internet: “She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s, like, if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk, then let’s create a giant, green porn star who, as a character, serves to service the Hulk.”
Needless to say, the internet went wild. In a recent Washington Post article, Stan Lee (the co-creator of She-Hulk) explained his original inspiration for the character: “I know I was looking for a new female superhero, and the idea of an intelligent Hulk-type grabbed me.” Alyssa Rosenberg, also from The Washington Post, came to She-Hulk’s defense by describing her feminist roots. Rosenberg explains: “[She-Hulk] is an expression of how terrific it would be not to have to censor yourself, to be allowed to be angry without some man declaring you unladylike.” In Rosenberg’s eyes, She-Hulk is a feminist icon. While She-Hulk is more rational than her cousin, she is allowed to express her anger and stand up for herself. She embodies a multi-faceted woman with a wide range of emotions.
But does Goyer have a point? A lot of these female superheroes are simply extensions of their male counterparts, as suggested even by their names. The name “She-Hulk” suggests that the character is nothing more than a female version of an already existing identity. But as Stan Lee described earlier, he had a very specific image in mind for a new Hulk character that was not based simply on gender. In The Washington Post article, Lee makes another profound point: “As for her looking beautiful and curvy, show me the superheroine who isn’t.” That, right there, is the core issue that all of these people are discussing. Even Goyer and Mazin were attempting to critique the sexualization of She-Hulk’s body, but they ended up blaming her for the way someone else chose to draw her. Yes, comic book superheroines are extremely sexualized – Stan Lee admits himself. But focusing so much on She-Hulk’s apparent sexuality (something that is only one aspect of her) we risk missing the many other nuances of her character. Yes, superheroines are often drawn as male fantasies. The trick is looking deeper to see the entire individual.