Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Lady Liberators vs. Red Hulk

I got a little behind on my comics reading, so I've just now caught up with what's going on in Jeph Loeb's Hulk. I have reservations about it, but I'm enjoying it in general. I'd much rather read something by Jeff Parker, Greg Pak, or Fred Van Lente, but between the silly, trying-too-hard wackiness of Loeb and all the talking and off-panel fighting that Bendis and Millar crank out, I'll take Loeb without even having to think about it. It's obvious that he's having a blast writing this stuff and it's infectious enough that I'm enjoying it too.

What I just read was Hulk #s 7-9. I think it's very cool that they're splitting up each issue between the Green Hulk and the Red Hulk (I refuse to refer to him by the stupid codename they give him in the comic; one of those reservations I was talking about). It took some getting used to, but if that's what it takes to get a monthly (or so) dose of Art Adams and Frank Cho interior art, I've got zero complaints. These guys are fantastic artists, but notoriously slow. Letting each of them draw half a comic a month was a genius move. Someone deserves a raise for that.

I'm going to focus mostly on the Red Hulk story here because that's the one that features She-Hulk and she's the reason I'm writing this post. But the Green Hulk story deserves mentioning if for no other reason than Art Adams is drawing it and holy crap it's good to see that. Again, Loeb wants so badly to be awesome that he throws all kinds of things into the story (like Joe Fixit, mutated Wendigos, Moon Knight, etc.), but he does so mostly without any credible reason. That's where he falls short of the Parkers, Paks, and Van Lentes. Those guys bring the awesome, but their stories still make sense at the same time.

But, back to the Red Hulk. In issues 1-6 of the series, S.H.I.E.L.D. was trying to bring down the Red Hulk and threw everyone they could think of against him, including Thor and She-Hulk. The Red Hulk's tough though and was able to beat them all. Difference between Thor and She-Hulk is that Thor was able to shrug off the defeat and go about his day as long as Red Hulk was ultimately defeated (which he was, temporarily, by Green Hulk). She-Hulk, on the other hand, let her smack-down eat at her, so when Red Hulk went missing again, she volunteered to go after him and deliver some payback.

Thing is, she knew from experience that she couldn't deliver it by herself, so she pulled out her Rolodex and started calling every other female superhero she knew. This is where it starts to get good. Or at least interesting. No, that's not fair; it's good. Wait and see.

A lot of the girls were busy with other things, so She-Hulk ends up with just Thundra and Valkyrie. Not too shabby, but not exactly an army either. Calling themselves the Lady Liberators (after an old Marvel team that Valkyrie sort-of-but-not-really used to belong to), they catch up to Red Hulk at Mount Rushmore and fight him.

There's some silly stuff like our supposing to think that She-Hulk's in danger because Red Hulk wraps a chain around her neck and dangles her over a cliff. Please. If She-Hulk's neck-muscles can't deal with hanging... Fortunately, Valkyrie and Thundra put a stop to it before we have to think about it too hard.

Then Valkyrie has her winged horse rescue She-Hulk from the drop and She-Hulk calls it the wrong name.

(I know, nice gratuitous crotch shot. Sigh.)

Anyway, I'm not up on current Valkyrie continuity, so maybe she's got a new horse, but her mount used to be named Aragorn. Maybe that's not as cool as it once was now that everyone knows where Marvel stole the name from (possibly why Sauron doesn't menace the X-Men much anymore either?). I choose to believe that She-Hulk either didn't know the horse's real name or forgot it in her panic over falling. Where's my No-Prize? Or am I just behind and the horse really is called Pegasus now?

There's some more fighting and Red Hulk looks like he's about to win, but at the end of issue #8 the cavalry arrives in the form of most of the women She-Hulk initially called to help her out. They've cleared their schedules and are here to - as She-Hulk says - "spank some red ass."

I'll try not to spoil anything more except to say that we're reminded that a) Red Hulk is actually a pretty smart guy and b) one of the Lady Liberators has a background as a villain. I'll probably say more about that second one when I talk later about what's going on in She-Hulk. But for now I just want to point out a couple of things about She-Hulk and what this story says about women super-heroes (and women) in general.

First, She-Hulk does a lot of whining in this story. She complains way past the point of annoyance about how infuriating it was to get beat up by Red Hulk. Seriously, I just wanted her to stop. Getting Valkyrie and Thundra to join her was all so she could pay Red Hulk back for defeating her. Except, how much payback is it when you have to call in help to deliver it? How is that satisfying on a personal level? Stay with me here, because there's an answer and - I'm pleased to say - Loeb is the one who supplies it.

She-Hulk has a voiceover at the beginning of issue #9's installment that lets us know that this isn't a matter of personal pride for her. It's a gender issue.

As someone who likes reading about women heroes, I hadn't really questioned why all the people She-Hulk called were female. I figured it was just about Loeb's having a cool idea and running with it as usual. But this time there's a real reason. Red Hulk isn't just an evil strongman; he's a misogynistic pig. Loeb goes out of his way to show that over and over again. Of course he's infuriating to She-Hulk. Of course she's pissed off that she can't physically make him stop. Of course she's going to call in her badass girlfriends to teach this scumbag a lesson.

I'm starting to like Red Hulk now. I didn't at first. I thought he was another of Loeb's crazy, half-formed ideas and I was ready to move past his story. But the longer he stays around, and the more infuriating he gets, and the more it becomes clear that he's really not going to go down easily; the more I absolutely hate him. And I've realized that I love hating him.

I'm not going to insult women by saying that a male writer has taught me to finally see the world through women's eyes, but I will say that I get now - in a tiny, tiny way, but in a way I never thought much about before nonetheless - why a lot of women I know are so frustrated by the imbalance of power between the genders. These characters (fictional and scantily clad as they are) are strong characters, physically and - for most of them anyway - in other ways as well. It's maddening that they can't seem to get the upper hand on this guy who hates them because they're women (or at best, only sees worth in them as objects for his sexual gratification).

I feel like I need to apologize for giving this much credit to a super-hero story, but screw it. It made me see something in a way I hadn't before and - for all its flaws - that's pretty cool. I'm not going to take that away from it.

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