The last few months haven’t been easy for Jennifer Walters, the superhero formerly known as She-Hulk.
The events of Civil War II saw the powerful hero suffer near-fatal injuries and fall into a coma. And when she woke, she learned that her beloved cousin, Bruce Banner, was killed at the hands of one of his friends.
In her new solo series Hulk — which sees her drop the gendered pronoun in her superhero moniker — Jennifer returns to her law practice and begins to pick up the pieces of her life. “When we see her at the beginning of the story, she’s about to go back into the world because she’s been recovering,” explains writer Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer). “She’s doing her best to put her best foot forward and go back to the workplace.”
EW spoke to Tamaki and editor Mark Paniccia about what readers can expect from the series, which debuts Wednesday, and readers can get an exclusive first look at one of the covers from the first issue.
How is Jen dealing with everything that’s happened to her post-Civil War II?
MARIKO TAMAKI: She’s not doing so good. Jen is a very capable person. She’s a lawyer and a superhero, and up until this point in her story, she’s been Hulk in both things. So since she’s become She-Hulk, she (at least more recently) has been in Hulk form when she was in the regular human world doing lawyer work. Now she’s not. She’s in human form. On the one hand, she’s someone who’s very capably going back to work. On the other, she’s someone who’s falling apart and having a really hard time dealing with the loss of her cousin, and is doing her best to put a band aid over that and just go about her day, but it’s proving really difficult.
MARK PANICCIA: She lives in this world of super beings, so for Jen to be trying to hold this monster back is unnatural for her, because she embraced her Hulk alter-ego. There’s some really clever stuff in the opening scene of the first issue. Mariko and [artist] Nico Leo talked about her apartment and some of the things like the mirror being higher, and everything set up for this larger-than-life character. It’s all just a reminder to Jen of this superhuman creature that’s inside of her that she now is afraid to let out. So there’s this constant struggle throughout the whole series about this other side of her that she’s not ready to let out just yet.
What made you decide to take her out of her Hulk form and show her human side?
TAMAKI: When I was originally contacted by Marvel with this project, that was the way that they saw this starting. I really liked the idea of having somebody who has been comfortable in their skin, suddenly not [be]. Especially someone who’s been through a traumatic thing. All these things you take for granted about yourself mentally and physically that are no longer true. So I thought it was a really great starting point for a story about trauma, to put her in this position of literally holding this really big thing which is this thing that she is.
PANICCIA: The other thing, too, is this is one of the results of Civil War II. These are all really heavy things that we wanted to explore in this character who’s been this fan-favorite superhero who’s going through this terrible trauma and tragedy. Part of Marvel’s stories are that world outside your window. There’s a lot of people that deal with this on a daily basis, and that’s all part of the human condition and in Marvel, the human condition is part of the superhuman condition.
What does Jen consider her relationship with her Hulk side? What does turning into the Hulk mean for her now?
TAMAKI: In the past when she is the Hulk, there’s no part of her that goes away. She’s fully conscious when she’s in her Hulk form, and she’s worked as a lawyer in her Hulk form, and she’s gone about her life. So for now, it’s become this thing that used to make her feel powerful that has now become this more alien thing and become connected to trauma. So now, thinking about the things that have happened to her is connected to changing into the Hulk. Like Mark said, it’s a scary, terrible thing, because Hulk is who she is. In a way, it’s a metaphor for trying to suppress your feelings. You can try to ignore the feelings that you have, but ultimately, there’s no way around it. If you have had a traumatic event, that thing is just going to keep surfacing inside you until you face it. Right now, at the beginning of the story, Jen is in a place where as much as it feels horrible and unnatural, she’s trying to be just in her human form. But it is a part of her, and to ignore all this Hulk stuff is to ignore the past, and you can’t really do that.
PANICCIA: In many ways, this is a classic Hulk story. Woman versus monster.
TAMAKI: All stories are woman versus monster.
PANICCIA: We do deal with a lot of the internal, but you’re gonna see some smashing.
TAMAKI: Yeah. Hulk will smash. It’s absolutely happening… One thing that a lot of people have commented to me is that this is a character that they feel really personally connected to. That was definitely something that I wanted to honor. A lot of people like the fact that she is this very human person and she’s very relatable. People really love Jennifer Walters for her personality, and that’s definitely something I loved too. I wanted to take time to really embrace that.
Jen was on Patsy Walker’s book up until recently. Will we see her or any other Marvel characters stop by and help her?
TAMAKI: Well, it’s the Marvel world, so they’re all there. I really hope that people pay attention and find the things that are there. It’s definitely something worth paying attention as you read through the issues in terms of the presence of other characters. [But] I would say Patsy is her best friend, or one of her best friends, and the Hulk’s relationships haven’t changed in terms of where she is now. … It’s interesting because she lives in New York City, so she lives in a place where she’s constantly surrounded by people. The great thing, and maybe the scary thing about New York, is that you can be in a very busy place and be very isolated at the same time, so I liked having that, but also having a chance to show her having connections with other people, and other people who are around her who will see what’s going on with her and reach out.
Who will she be facing in terms of villains?
TAMAKI: [There’s] a new foe. The thing that I got really interested in, in writing this story, was the idea of how people deal with feeling traumatized, or with trauma, and definitely one of the things that came up was this idea of people who can’t leave their house or don’t leave their house. And so I spent a lot of time thinking what kind of villain would be associated with that situation.
What about professionally? What is returning to work as a lawyer like for her?
TAMAKI: When I first realized that she was a lawyer, I thought of what kind of things would be meaningful to you after experiencing what she’s experienced. So she’s not really doing grand courtroom events. It’s more about helping the people who come to her for help. This series focuses on a specific case where she’s helping somebody with their legal trouble.
Mark mentioned some of the artistic considerations Nico Leon made in terms of Jen’s current situation. How has it been collaborating with him and colorist Matt Milla?
TAMAKI: [Nico] and I have had a lot of really interesting conversations because he really can see how to tell the story about the character visually and what details add up. He’s incredibly creative when it comes to things like that. One of the first things we talked about was Jen’s apartment and what it would mean for Jen to have been in Hulk form, and now being in human form. What an apartment would look like for a superhero and how that would look if a person is human. There are all those details in there, and he has a really great sense of physical comedy. Some of these questions he’s come up with have definitely impacted the storyline, things that would be part of her physical world that we’ve incorporated into her storyline. It’s a give and take, and I really appreciate that part of the process.
PANICCIA: Nico really thinks about the script. He reads through it and looks at all the environments and spends a lot of time building those. He’s thinking about that on a storytelling level. [Like] the whole thing with Jen’s apartment, and subtle stuff in the cityscapes, and the backgrounds. It’s not just in the figures and the expressions and the body language. It’s about how they’re set up in relationship to the environment that they’re in as well.
TAMAKI: Matt and Nico have been working very closely, and the impact of that part of the collaboration is such a huge part of setting the tone. All the details are part of the atmosphere, but one of the things that I’ve really noticed about this comic is how much coloring makes it atmospheric. It really just makes it cold. And that’s coming from me, in California! This is about winter obviously, so it’s been really amazing to see how Nico and Matt have really worked together to really give you a sense of a cold New York night. It’s an emotional story that’s so much about mood and tone.
Marvel’s Hulk is currently available for purchase online and in comic book stores. Read more preview pages below.