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The Insect Queen's Web

Published in Comics International 

Martin Gray & Terence Stewart

She-Hulk holds up traffic wherever she goes.


What's She-Hulk got that Wonder Woman hasn't? Dan Slott for a start.

Slott is the writer on She-Hulk's latest attempt at a successful ongoing (not that her previous, Sensational She-Hulk series - at least under John Byrne - wasnt creatively successful), and four issues into the run this comic has surprised fandom with it's witty infusion of old school Marvel continuity and courtroom dramatics. But fear not, you dont need a bound copy of the Marvel Universe Encyclopaedia to grasp the subtle allusions to established Marvel history. Slott uses characters, such as The Mad Thinker's Awesome Android (now called Andy), to ground She-Hulk's world with a sense of permanence that many of Marvel's current titles lack. But he's not backward-looking, the characters are used in surprising new ways. Andy, for example, is the gofer at She-Hulk's law firm, which specialises in superhero law, addressing such questions as "Can the ghost of a murder victim give evidence against his supposed killer? and "What happens if Spidey sues J Jonah Jameson for slander?".

Slott is aided and abetted in this enterprise by Juan Bobillo, an Argentinean artist with credits on Marvel's X Titles (X-treme X-Men and Mekanix) among others, who perfectly matches Slotts light-hearted tone with an illustrative style that is playful and fresh in its depiction of some Marvel mainstays. His Thing (issue 3) may have looked a little odd, but it was also a refreshing take on a visually stale character.

For a visual simile, think Stephen DiStefano, who worked on DC's 'Mazing Man and Hero Hotline in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the former of which is vastly underrated and deserving of reprinting in the trade paperback format (alas, that is another Comment I fear).

But what has all this got to do with that modern evil decompression (and more importantly, Wonder Woman) you ask?

Well, Slott utilises the self-contained, and tightly plotted, format for his stories, eschewing the recent trend for narrative arcs that have barely enough meat on the bone to fill three issues, let alone six. Which is where Wonder Woman and her writer, Greg Rucka, comes in.

Rucka is undoubtedly a talented fellow. He's just won a Harvey award for his work on DC's Gotham Central. He's a successful novelist. But he's currently using the fashionable "decompressed" approach on Wonder Woman, and boring many of us to tears. He's been on the book almost a year and failed to conclude a single story element introduced in his first issue. A typical month's comic will feature arch enemy Circe wittering on in ancient Greek as she raises a gorgon from whatever passes for dead when your'e a mythological being; a couple of pages of Wonder Woman wandering up and down corridors and politely asking for the office of new character Veronica Cale, who's just sooooo blooming jealous of Diana she could just kill her, actually, no, she's so jealous of Diana she could discredit her. Oh, the drama. A recent issue was devoted entirely to Cale's backstory, which amounted to: "Wonder Woman has super powers and is pretty, but I had to sleep to the top and still cant twirl a magic lasso."

It's slow stuff, the story of a Paradise Island ambassador who never goes looking for trouble and worse, rarely finds it, though she rarely takes off her superhero outfit. The series is obviously intended for trade paperback collection, with stories divided into rambling arcs whose limits you'd never know without the old "one of three" or whatever tag.

What's more, Rucka has stated that he's not that interested in focusing on Diana's personality; he'd rather we get to know her via the reactions of others. So far we know that most people are awestruck by Diana, and one person is envious.

The comic is the antithesis of She-Hulk, whose heroine comes across as a party girl, but is shown to have reasons for acting the way she does. She's a top superhero who cares for her co-workers. She's a great lawyer but doesnt always make the right decision. In short, where Diana is presented as perfection personified, Jen Walters is pretty rounded as a character.

Slott provides a meaty read, but one that is light-hearted at the same time. Any single issue has so far provided more entertainment than the entire run of Wonder Woman under Rucka (whose run does, admittedly, have it's fans). The sad thing is, though, that while sales of She-Hulk and Wonder Woman aren't that far apart, both are pretty low, the latter's title will survive regardless. She's the world's most recognisable female comics character, is worth a fortune in marketing, likely has a movie on the way and Warner Brothers/DC aren't going to let her comic disappear from the shops. She-Hulk, though, seems pretty much under the radar. Marvel has no reason to support her book unless someone Up There likes her (as seems to be the case with Tom DeFalco's Spider-Girl). As best-kept secrets go, Shulkie is the Holy Grail of comics, Anastasia with a green tint. She-Hulk smashing, I tell you, try an issue today.