Wih four ongoing series in her past — the longest running for 60 issues starting in 1989 — She-Hulk's a character that's certainly a fan favorite, but not necessarily one that can anchor an ongoing title for long.
Marvel Comics hopes to have found the missing ingredient — another She-Hulk. With She-Hulks, a new ongoing series starting in November, gamma irradiated attorney/cousin to Bruce Banner/former Avenger and Fantastic Four member Jennifer Walters teams up with Lyra, the alternate reality daughter of Thundra and the Hulk.
They're a duo with a mission — rounding up the fleeing members of the Intelligencia, a now-dissolved team of classic Marvel villains that have generally been huge jerks to the "Hulk" characters since "Fall of the Hulks."
Like Lyra, who just debuted two years ago, the She-Hulks creative team is relatively new to Marvel. Writer Harrison Wilcox and artist Ryan Stegman have teamed up before, on the (Red) She-Hulk backups in Incredible Hulk during "World War Hulks." Newsarama talked with Wilcox and Stegman over e-mail about launching a new ongoing series, writing a comic with two female leads, and if readers might see even more She-Hulks in She-Hulks.
Newsarama: For both of you, what’s appealing to you about the series — what are the qualities you like about both characters?
Harrison Wilcox: Jen's very familiar with the rest of the Marvel U and she's comfortable with her place in it. Lyra is the complete opposite. She hasn't been here very long and everything is new and different for her. As a writer, having Jen try to shepherd Lyra in the ways of a superhero and as a "normal" teenage girl is a lot of fun.
Ryan Stegman: Well, I like that they're both attractive females. Heh. But I like how strong-willed they both are too. The thing that I've enjoyed most about the series so far is really making these characters act. The way that Harrison has written them gives me a very strong vision of who they are and it's made it remarkably easy to really give them personality in all of the drawings. I'm also really drawn to how intelligent and strong Jen is. She is a really great character in the sense that she has way more to offer than a lot of the more one-dimensional female characters in comics.
Nrama: At the point things pick up in the first issue, what's the dynamic like between Jen and Lyra? What makes the pair’s relationship interesting enough to be paired together in their own book?
Wilcox: Jen's the reluctant guardian who tries to help Lyra find her way in the world. Lyra's from a distant, savage future and there's a certain harsh naive quality about her because of that. It's sort of a give and take between the ladies. Jen trying to help Lyra fit into society, and Lyra fumbling and rebelling, not really understanding why she has to do what Jen tells her. It becomes a sort of big sister/little sister dynamic. If they don't end up killing each other, they might actually grow as people from the experience.
Nrama: How important is it to you both to work with two female leads in a superhero comic? One female lead is rare enough, but multiple ones are essentially unhead of outside of Birds of Prey.
Wilcox: There's been a few other team books that have had female leads. Birds of Prey comes to mind, and of course I'd love to see more Lady Liberators, but I know what you mean. There are not as many books about female superheroes as there are male ones. I'm not going to get into it, but one of the few, maybe the only pro to all the cons of that, is that it immediately makes She-Hulks stand out. And anything that makes a book stand out in this market is a good thing.
Because comics are sometimes so male focused, there is a lot of fertile ground to cover with female centric books. There's a lot of story out there that hasn't been told, a lot of unheard perspective, and that's really something I'm looking forward to getting into. Other than Jessica Jones we haven't really seen the female version of Peter Parker yet.
Stegman: I echo a lot of Harrison's thoughts. It is very strange to me that more books with female leads don't make it. I believe that this book will stand up to any other superhero book, no matter who the lead is. Because it's a superhero book first and foremost. Sure, it's neat that they're females, but they kick just as much ass as any character.
Nrama: There's no doubt that Jen Walters has a huge fanbase, much of which will probably check her out in this new title. Is the challenge, then, to make them care about Lyra, a far newer character, just as much?
Wilcox: Honestly I think She-Hulk is more of a challenge. Jen is probably one of the most beloved characters in comics and by writing her I feel like I'm sort of stealing someone else's girlfriend. With a character like that, you need to keep her fresh while still living up to the expectations of the fans.
At the same time, I think Jen's fanbase makes it easier to invest in Lyra. Everything that happens to Lyra in this book affects Jen. So if you're a fan, and you care about Jen, you're probably going to care more about Lyra than if she was off doing her own thing.
Nrama: For the most part, Jen's solo titles — Dan Slott's recent, much lauded run, especially — have had a pretty humorous tone. The preview pages released thus far look to be pretty lighthearted, but would you say the same for the series in general?
Wilcox: Like I said, feel like I'm stealing a girlfriend. I love Slott's run and there definitely will be humor in this book. It's an action-packed adventure story and it's going to be a fun ride.
Nrama: Ryan, visually, how do you characterize the difference between the two She-Hulks other than, say, hair color?
Stegman: Savage She-Hulk (Lyra) is younger and so I tend to make her features more soft. So in general her face and body are more rounded. She-Hulk (Jen) has more angular features and stronger cheek bones. Their bodies are a bit different as well. I try to make Lyra's body a little younger looking as well … More athletic and not quite as powerful looking as Jen. In my mind, Lyra is sort of immature mentally and physically, and I try to have her body reflect that. I also use cartooning tricks like making Lyra's eyes more round while Jen's have a more square look.
It is really hard to keep them different but I am trying things so hopefully it works!
Nrama: Between this and Sif, it seems like you’re carving a niche at Marvel for illustrating strong female lead characters. Is that something you naturally gravitate towards, artistically?
Stegman: Honestly, that's never really been my decision! just do the projects that I'm asked to do. For whatever reason I seem to be able to draw females pretty well and so my projects have gravitated in that direction. And I ain't complaining! I love drawing them! She-Hulks has been the perfect project for me. My two favorite things to draw are females and humor, and this book has both.
Nrama: Harrison, you've written a She-Hulk before — the red one — and participated in the Hulk universe before in “World War Hulks.” How much does this comic pick up from threads from those stories?
Wilcox: There are a few things I'd like to revisit from those stories but really this first arc is about building the relationship between the She-Hulks, and moving forward from there. I will say that Jen's time in captivity definitely helps fuel her desire to hunt down these supervillains.
Nrama: Speaking of the Red She-Hulk, Betty Ross, does she play a part in this comic at all?
Wilcox: Not in the first arc. But with a book called "She-Hulks" you know she'll end up playing a role down the road.
Nrama: Another character looming in the book — on the cover image released, quite literally — is Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk. We know he’s guest starring in the first issue, but will he be a regular character in the book?
Wilcox: The first issue of She-Hulks will make it very clear what Hulk's role will be in this book.
Nrama: So how important will this title be to the Hulk corner of the Marvel Universe as a whole?
Wilcox: If you read the Hulk series or are a fan of She-Hulk, you're not going to want to miss out.
Nrama: Having the Klaw, Mad Thinker, Red Ghost, Trapster, and Wizard — all classic Marvel bad guys — as villains must be fun, but is it also a challenge to sort of balance that many characters, even if they’re functioning as a team, in one story?
Wilcox: After World War Hulks, the remaining members have split up and gone to ground. They're not acting as a team anymore, since that obviously didn't work out very well for them. But I do love writing these guys. They've got big personalities and over the top powers but still have very real motivations.
Nrama: Ryan, how fun is it to be able to draw the classic bad guys that comprise the Intelligencia?
Stegman: Drawing the Intelligencia has been a huge thrill for me. I went back and looked at their history a bit on the Internet and saw a bunch of old Kirby drawings of the characters and he just made them look so fun. They all have a cartoony quality to them and they were all ugly, which adds an element of evil to them. A lot of the more recent artists have sort of made them heroic looking and handsome. But I hope the readers are sufficiently repulsed by the way I make these creeps look.
Nrama: And with the Intelligencia members on the run, it sounds like She-Hulks won’t be staying put. The preview art we've seen takes place in a casino — Ryan, what can you share about some of the locales you've illustrated in the comic thus far?
Stegman: Well, I'm completely finished with issue one. And in that issue we see the casino, Midtown High, and Monte Carlo. That's not all of the settings, but I don't wanna give too much away! Harrison's definitely got me on my toes though, moving our location around quite a bit.
Nrama: It looks like the first story arc is pretty booked with the She-Hulks hunting down the members of the now-former Intelligencia, but will we maybe eventually see some elements — characters, feuds, settings — from past She-Hulk comics touched on?
Wilcox: This first arc deals with the She-Hulks hunting down The Intelligencia. It gives us a good chance to establish this new relationship between Jen and Lyra and get comfortable with the new status quo post World War Hulks. But it's too soon to give away what happens next because it all depends on how things go on their mission. Hopefully you're inner fanboy won't get too upset while he waits to see what happens.
Nrama: Will do my best, but no guarantees. Both of you guys have worked on high-profile Marvel books before, but are also still relatively new in the industry. How big of an opportunity is this — a high-profile ongoing series — for you both at this stage in your careers?
Stegman: This is by far my biggest opportunity to date. She-Hulk has a pretty massive following and I just want to make that following happy. Judging by message boards that picked up on the She-Hulks story, the She-Hulk fans have a lot of strong opinions about what this book should be. I'm pretty excited because a lot of the things that fans mentioned in these threads are, in fact, things we plan on doing with this series. As a comic book artist, I couldn't ask for anything more than this chance.
Wilcox: It's obviously a huge opportunity. And I have to thank Mark Paniccia, Jordan White and Jeph Loeb, for believing in this project. But more than anything, I don't want to do a disservice to the characters or the fans. I'm a big fan myself of She-Hulk and want to see her continue to have her own adventures.
Nrama: You guys have worked together before — how helpful is it to have that experience when embarking on this new project?
Stegman: Extremely helpful! Harrison and I talked quite a bit when working on the She-Hulk backups and just being able to communicate with everyone on the creative team for a book can make the book so much more exciting to work on. The fact that neither Harrison nor I have a "household" name in comics yet just means that we both have a LOT to prove. It's pretty awesome to get to go through this experience with someone that is at the same level in comics. We are both equally interested in making this the best project we can, and that reveals itself in just how often we communicate about both the writing and the art.
Wilcox: I couldn't really have asked for a better artist than Ryan. We both believe in the collaborative process and I think that makes for a tighter book. It's always nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of, especially someone who actually cares about the product as must as you do. I think sometimes in this industry a lot of first time writers get paired up with an artist who maybe isn't at the top of their game. But I got lucky. Ryan's the next big thing. His work speaks for itself. He's gonna be someone to watch. The only problem is that I have to follow him around at conventions with a pitchfork to keep other writers at bay. "Get back! I saw him first!"
Nrama: And how cool is it to have former Hulk artist Ed McGuinness on covers?
Stegman: As a huge Ed McGuinness fan I'd have to say it's pretty amazing! I didn't get into comics as a fan until I was about 16-17 years old and Ed's star was rising right as I got into 'em. And I was aboard that train for sure. When I was drawing the Red She-Hulk backups, I actually got to talk to Ed on the phone a few times as he is the co-creator of the character. And I was so nervous! It's just so bizarre sometimes being treated as a peer by some of my heroes.
Wilcox: It's pretty much the greatest thing ever. 'Nuff said.