Book Review: The She-Hulk Diaries

CURRENT STATUS: No job, no boyfriend, no permanent place to live, no car, and most of my clothes are held together with staples and duct tape. Bank account almost wiped out. Many of my former associates have expressed a desire that I never darken their doorways again for legal and financial reasons.

She-Hulk got us kicked out of the Avengers Mansion. People keep posting videos online of her New Years Eve shenanigans: twirling flaming telephone poles in Times Square, climbing the Empire State Building while dangling Anderson Cooper, dancing wildly at parties, and commandeering a motorcycle cop’s ride to do wheelies across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The-She-Hulk-Diaries_SCWhen I first heard about this book, and the companion Rogue Touch, I admit I was pretty skeptical. Presenting awesome comics characters in a different format = good. Encouraging more women to read comics = good. Turning kickass super heroes into typical romance novel heroines = NOT GOOD.

Then I read this interview with Marta Acosta, the author of The She-Hulk Diaries, and I got much more optimistic. She seems bright and funny, and thoughtful about gender issues. And I find myself much more on board with these books as partly satire.

So because I wanted to share my opinion with you, I picked up a copy of The She-Hulk Diaries a few days after it was released, and tore through it over the weekend. The bottom line: I really enjoyed it. What I’m not totally sure about is how much other people will enjoy it. I think that I might be the perfect target for this book. I love comics and I actually enjoy “chick lit” (a term that I know many hate). I think Bridget Jones’ Diary is a great book, and I adore Ally McBeal – so combining the tone of those two things with She-Hulk was probably going to work for me. Whereas originally I thought that the book might be intended as a gateway for chick lit readers into comics, but after reading the book I wonder if those unfamiliar with the Marvel universe would be frustrated with the lack of explanation. For example, She-Hulk’s backstory isn’t explained at all. If you didn’t know about gamma radiation, or who “Bruce” is, or how the Avengers operate, you might be kind of lost.

First, the good: I thought the book was really funny, and downright hilarious at points with some nice random details. (Did you know that Tony Stark engineered nanobots that can retrieve wayward sperm?) It’s also a nice mix of the different parts of Jennifer Walters’ life – we get the single girl looking for romance thing, but also a lot about her job and a pretty cool court case, as well as a good amount of action for when She-Hulk comes out to save the day. It’s also nice to see a lot of the mundane details of the Marvel universe that you won’t get in comic books, something that I think is an affordance of this format, and makes me think I might like to see more comicverse novels. There are also some super geeky things about this book besides just the universe. There’s a science-themed rock band featured prominently, with lots of song lyrics about things like zero-sum equations and astrophysics and flesh-eating bacteria. There is also LARPing.

And the bad: Some of the dialogue, especially from the seriously smart Jennifer, comes off as really juvenile. I think the book used up what should have been an allotted quota of “OMG!” very early on. Some might argue that Jennifer spends too much time worrying about her love life, though that doesn’t bother me too much, since she also has a lot of other things that are important to her: like being an awesome lawyer and an awesome super hero. Also, for the serious She-Hulk fans, there are some fairly significant differences between this character and established comics canon. The biggest, I think, is that Jennifer sees She-Hulk as a separate person, kind of like a cool roommate sharing her body. Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Shulky. Though there are some things about comics Jennifer that I miss, I found that this version of the character was interesting as well.

In short: I found this to be a fun, entertaining book. If She-Hulk as Ally McBeal sounds appealing to you, then you should absolutely give it a try. Or if you don’t know much about She-Hulk and after reading the book want to try her out int he comics, I recommend starting with Single Green Female or Sensational She-Hulk.

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