Bad Poetry and Better Book Clubs in She-Hulk #12

Now that Jen’s law firm accepts costumed clients, everybody wants a piece of her — including the mysterious handsome thief who tossed her out a window last issue! Plus, Jack of Hearts struggles with poetry (really) and there’s a Book Club without Mallory Book (probably a relief)! Turn the pages of She-Hulk #12, written by Rainbow Rowell, drawn by Andrés Genolet and Joe Quinones, colored by Dee Cunniffe and Bryan Valenza, and lettered by Joe Caramagna.

You Do Not Have to Be Good

If you gave up on She-Hulk, here’s a chance to come back. I haven’t had this much fun with a single issue of Shulkie since, IDK, the Charles Soule run? Rainbow Rowell has shown she knows how Jen ticks, how to write lawyer jokes and how to write a character who’s a beacon of confidence as well as a tower of strength, except when she’s a pile of nerves. She’s let us down badly in the new-villain department, introducing and then disposing of some adagio antagonists in issues past. And she’s let her pacing lag on the romance plot, which finally has Jen together with Jack of Hearts in a stable way, but hasn’t found much else for Jack to do.

And that’s OK. It’s more than OK: It’s good, because the disappearing-reappearing bad guy from last issue (mostly he’s gone) and the anomic, ambitionless boyfriend (that’s Jack) give Rowell and her team more space for one- and two- and three-page bits, and nobody handles her bits like Jennifer Walters. Wow, that came out wrong.

Let’s start again. She-Hulk #12 is good, and it’s fun, and it’s funny, and only some of the jokes are in-jokes! Better yet, only some of the in-jokes are jokes about Marvel B- and C-listers from ages past. My favorite in-joke concerns Jack’s first term back at college, where he’s apparently now a “sophomore poetry major,” and he’s definitely morose about it. In a delightful scene on a New York park bench, Jack meets Jen. Jen describes her uncomfortable meetings with comfortable clients — the chairs aren’t big enough for her! Which is a serious real-world problem. Then Jack describes his uncomfortable meetings with traditional straight-out-of-high-school college students: “They’re all so much younger than me, you know? And it’s all poetry majors. So it’s just, like, Non. Stop. Feelings.”

He’s not wrong. That’s my day job. I can relate. He’d rather play the self-sacrificing hero, skipping required classes to go clean up radioactive waste in New Mexico. Fortunately, Jen has read some poetry, too. It’s a situation that calls for Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” Nonetheless, Jack is “taking a break from poetry.” And poetry will miss him. I love this scene. Your results may vary.

Meanwhile, the World Goes On

In last issue’s intrepid CXF review, Armaan and I asked for more legal nonsense. At least that’s how I remember it. And this issue delivers. The Book Law Firm’s anteroom pulsates, brims and overflows with costumed heroes and villains: Spider-Woman, the Vulture, the Rhino (last seen going legit in a Squirrel Girl comic), Puck from Alpha Flight (whyyy?), a guy in a luchador mask whose code name is Rage … I bet I’d recognize the rest of them if I became a regular reader of Spider-comics, but I’m not sure I should: Rowell, Genolet and company give me all I need to get the jokes. 

For example, Awesome Andy’s a perfect receptionist because he never makes noise and never says more than he needs to say. Mallory’s … well, as Andy says, “You know how she is.” She wants our Jen to represent a guy who’s clearly trying to patent and market Hulkbuster technology that belongs to the federal government, except that he calls it Bulkhustler and claims he owns the rights. 

Yeah, nope. I love Jen’s “yeah, nope” face. (I looked up Christopher Mason to make sure he wasn’t an already extant Hulk villain, and all I found was a Riverdale actor. Maybe it’s an alias?) Genolet’s layouts and faces feel very newspaper comic-strip: drawn in a hurry, but well-proportioned, professional, fun.

Less fun: a call from Reed Richards. Why did he call Jen back? “Sue said I had to.” Sensitive guy, that Reed. Who’s the handsome dude who threw Jen out a window last issue? That’s classified. Why isn’t Jen on the team Reed’s assembled to try to catch said dude? “You’re the one person we know he can trounce. … If you’re looking for a pleasant distraction, I’ve invented a board game.” And we see Jen’s “yeah, nope” face again, this time in a radiantly annoyed green.

What’s our Jen’s idea of a pleasant distraction? It’s Ye Olde Superhero Fight Club! But no sooner does Jen scale that fence and look for a sparring partner than Handsome Invulnerable Man appears; beats her up in a well choreographed, genuinely elegant punch-as-punch-can sequence; explains that he’s literally invulnerable; and watches Reed stretch out an arm and steal back the super-secret MacGuffin that Handsome Man stole. What’s up? I guess we’ll find out next issue, or the issue after that, but I don’t care; I’m here for the lawyer jokes. And the poetry jokes. More like this, please.

Announcing Your Place in the Family of Things

If She-Hulk had a continuous numbering system from the first issue of volume one, this issue would count as #175. Since that’s a number divisible by 25, this issue flexes a backstory, a delightful one with no punches and lovely feelings. Jen’s got a Book Club — no Mallory Book this time, just a book they’re all supposed to read, a thick fantasy novel (think Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas) that’s really an excuse for Jen to invite her best super-gal pals over to her apartment. Those gal pals include Misty Knight and Colleen Wing (who always brings her katana), and Susan Storm, who has to bring Valeria and Franklin along because these teens, or pre-teens, are hella grounded (and Reed is presumably off doing something professional).

But Jen’s not quite happy, because it’s not her apartment: It’s really Janet Van Dyne’s apartment, since the Wasp/heiress/philanthropist designer has been allowing Jen to live there. She’s also taken over the party, bringing high-quality snacks so Jen doesn’t have to worry about the onion dip, and answering the door, and … honestly, I can extremely, extremely relate: When you’re the one with resources (financial, temporal, physical, interpersonal) that some of your best pals don’t have, it’s tempting and sometimes it’s a good idea to just Do Things For Them. But sometimes it’s a terrible idea, because you’re depriving them of the autonomy they need to live their own lives, and to stay your friend. 

After one too many Van Dyne-proferred hors d’oeuvres, Jen breaks: “I just wanted to be the grownup. For once,” she tells Jan, towering over the far more confident fashion designer. “The person throwing the party and getting everybody together.” And Jan — honestly, you know what? Just read the comic. It hit me right in the feels. No one throws a punch. There’s absolutely no heterosexual romance. There’s a lot of meta about book clubs. Captain America-Steve Rogers shows up and supports his Avenger-friend. It’s ridiculous and deep and things work out. If you read just one She-Hulk comic this month, make it this one. And yes, your friendly correspondent would probably say that even if there were other She-Hulk comics released this month, though as far as we know there are not. Rowell, Genolet, Quinones? You got this one right.

Last Minute Legal Notes

  • Janet Van Dyne has gone “veto”: “Almost exclusively meat, but only vegan animals.”
  • Volcana looks great. More positive rep for people with her body type in comics, please. Even if they’re mostly reformed supervillains, which is … where we are at this point.
  • There is exactly one waffle-iron nine-panel grid in this comic book, where Reed and Jen chat on the phone, and I have decided that every Big Two comic from now on should include one and only one nine-panel grid. Because that’s all we need.

Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Her podcast about superhero role playing games is Team-Up Moves, with Fiona Hopkins; her latest book of poems is We Are Mermaids.  Her nose still hurts from that thing with the gate.