CHRONICLES OF COMICS – THE SAVAGE SHE-HULK #12 – RAGE AND REASON

The Man Wit No Voice and The Pure Mood dig out and review a comic from their expansive back issue collection. It could be a pivotal story, a forgotten classic, or even a giant mistake not worth the staples binding it together. From the ’40′s to the ’00′s, come by every week as we take an in-depth look at comics history in CHRONICLES OF COMICS!

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THE SAVAGE SHE-HULK #12 is a perfect argument for the merits of telling a story in a shared universe. The Jen Walters in David Anthony Kraft and Mike Vosburg’s original run on the Jade Giantess doesn’t bare much resemblance to the character we know and love today, and her supporting cast often led little to be desired. However, things could really get livened up with a few impromptu guest stars from other Marvel properties. Kraft was able to use The living vampire Michael Morbius and a relatively obscure villain from The Defenders to illustrate some of the concepts of the Hulk transformation more eloquently than many more remembered issues.

She-Hulk has found herself on the brink of death, her life in the hands of Doctor Morbius’ serum. The only way for the cure to properly enter her bloodstream is to revert back to the form of Jennifer Walters, and to do that, she has to calm down. “At the moment it’s hard for me to believe in anything but PAIN and FRUSTRATION, because that’s all I see in my life lately.” It’s a very incredible and tense scene, and one that hits me on a personal level. Shulkie’s life will finitely end if she doesn’t find peace of mind, and yet, she can’t find it in herself to do it. That’s the weirdest thing about the self-destructive impulse to me – why, if every biological impulse in us screaming at us to continue, to keep our genetic heritage going, why would we wish to quit? “I have suffered the struggle of a dual identity. I won my war. So can you!” Morbius screams at the struggling She-Hulk.

To me, this is the way a guest star should be used. Sure, Superhero comics are a business, and a guest spot from Spider-man or Batman can be relied upon for a bump in sales, but using one characters unique history and personality to say something about the lead is something we see too little of. When, in her civilian life as a lawyer, Jen is named as defense lawyer for Michael Morbius, we see some of the hypocrisies and prejudices present in her during this early phase of her career. She can’t look past his bloodthirsty persona, failing to see the parallels between her transformation and his. Eventually, Jen is convinced to act as Michael’s attorney, and her argument lays in the blurry world of intent. “These acts of violence were not premeditated. They were symptoms of a situation beyond his control.”

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I found Jen’s argument pretty fascinating, especially seeing as how she’s clearly talking about herself as much as she’s talking about her defendant. If the Hulk represents the inability to repress rage, can we really say that transformation is ‘out of our control’, as different as that person may be from who we consider our true selves? Jen has yet to ‘win her war’, as Morbius put it earlier, and I think she honestly views the She-Hulk as a situation that has nothing to do with her, a cruel twist of fate that’s completely against her will. Morbius is still prosecuted, albeit for the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, but another guest star appears on the horizon who will make her face her responsibility head on.

The title of the issue is RAGE AND REASON, and even though the Morbius elements fit under this banner, it’s the arrival of Gemini that really brings the issues themes upfront. The supervillian Scorpio created and programmed several androids to despise humanity as much as he did, but the human capacity for empathy proved his downfall. Gemini turned on Scorpio, teaming with the Defenders to take him down. Though Gemini was able to see the hate in Scorpio’s beliefs, he isn’t quite a force
for good. “I am yin and yang! I am both black and white…yes and no! We are a paradox in personality!” Gemini is, in an even more literal way than Morbius or She-Hulk or many of the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe, a dual persona. One of his ‘selves’ can see with reason, can take a moment to balance many different sides of an issue, while the other ‘self’ acts only on instinct. It’s only when he can allow these two personalities to balance, when his opinions become ‘equal and opposite’, that he can truly be whole.

And that’s the lesson She-Hulk needs to learn. Gemini is essentially contracted by grieving parents of one of Morbius’ victims. They desire revenge on Jennifer Walters for getting the man who killed their daughter a levied sentence, and Gemini is intrigued by both the rage and reason in their hearts. Gemini tracks down Walters, but due to the effect of the serum, she is now able to control her transformation by will. It’s hard not to overstate how important this was for the history of the
character – for the first eleven issues, She-Hulk wasn’t much more than a female Hulk, with the lawyer angle mined for stories about social justice. With this superficial change, we’re on the road to seeing Jen become the character we know today. In a deeper sense, it’s also important – the entire issue is about different people’s struggles with identities, and it’s important that the climactic fight scene include Jen’s first conscious change into her alter ego. Kraft manages to sneak in some pretty cool visual metaphor in the ensuing fight scene, as well – the compassionate, thinking ‘side’ of Gemini has the ability to absorb energy, while the action orientated pure id form can only expel it.

“So raw emotion is all you truly understand, is it? Then feel my ANGER — feel my RAGE!” She-Hulk screams in desperation, shortly before being defeated by Gemini and transforming back to Jen Walters, her and Morbius left to the hands of the parents who  feel so wronged. However, in the moment that matters most, they find they can’t lie to themselves any longer. A gun trembling in his hands, the father of one of Morbius’ insatiable feasts accepts that an act of vengeance can’t bring his daughter back. And we’re left with three super powered people, each who has at least one other living inside of them, and one couple able to find strength in a great tragedy. THE SAVAGE SHE-HULK #12 not only puts Jen Walters on the road to becoming her own character, it’s a fascinating dissection of dual-identity, our thirst for vengeance and our inclination towards anger, and above all, the monumental human strength required to just let go.

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