Best Shots Review: AVENGERS #20 (9/10)

Avengers #20
Credit: Ed McGuinness/Mark Morales/Jason Keith/Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Ed McGuinness/Mark Morales/Jason Keith/Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)

Avengers #20
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales and Jason Keith
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Ed McGuinness/Mark Morales/Jason Keith/Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)

Who would have thought the War of the Realms would be the perfect time for an introspective (cross-)examination of Jennifer Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk? Yet Avengers #20 delivers this tie-in with intelligence and style, as writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness shrewdly cut to the heart of the everyday injustices that have led Jennifer down her newer, angrier path.

“I was an Omega-level threat in the charm department. I was the Hulk you’d want to have a glass of pinot with.” But as Jennifer points out, it wasn’t always easy being green, and Aaron pitting She-Hulk against an actual Asgardian troll is a sharp bit of irony as we learn what’s really eating at Jennifer Walters. And to be honest, women in general — even as the “smart” Hulk, even as the witty lawyer, the member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, Jen’s not immune to crass jokes or bad guys trying to cop a feel. When even the “acceptable” Hulk is treated like an object for consumption — and if you think that’s just in-universe, I’ve got a couple of John Byrne covers I’d like to sell you — why wouldn’t she get a little angry about this?

Credit: Ed McGuinness/Mark Morales/Jason Keith/Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)

It’s a great bit of metacommentary that comes from an imminently knowledgeable source. While the level of online vitriol towards female creators is markedly higher than men — again, check your friendly neighborhood Twitter if you don’t believe me — Aaron’s assuredly seen his fair share of toxicity thanks to his reintroduction of Jane Foster as the all-new Thor. So seeing She-Hulk pound Ulik into the dirt after he asks semantics about Thor being “his name, not a legacy” must be a special kind of satisfying, but not as satisfying as what comes next: Deadpool, king of the meta-narrative, asking She-Hulk why she’s not funny anymore. “Rather be free,” she responds. “Free to be ugly.” And honestly, in a society that commodifies women based on their beauty (and often minimizes their effectiveness at every turn), isn’t that the most daring turn of all?

Having this Hulk-centric storyline also plays nicely to artist Ed McGuinness’ strengths. Aaron is already being a hell of a team player by keeping his panel counts low, to fit McGuinness’ massive characters — indeed, 17 out of 20 pages are four panels or less — but when you’re dealing with the unstoppable muscles of a Hulk, that kind of real estate really resonates. Like Aaron, McGuinness really leans into the acting with this issue, particularly the way he jumps between Jennifer and her unjolly green alter ego — watching her transform is just impressive and energetic, but even a scene of her standing on a helicarrier with Captain Marvel just feels iconic. McGuinness also deserves a lot of credit for his versatility across character designs — in particular, a cameo by Daredevil really stands out nicely, with the character looking otherworldly and spooky as he portends future Avengers storylines to come.

Credit: Ed McGuinness/Mark Morales/Jason Keith/Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)

Working as both an insightful character piece, an event tie-in, as well as a great teaser for the Avengers as a book moving forward, Avengers #20 winds up being one of the best single issues the series has delivered in quite some time. The challenge with team books — especially in the midst of a sweeping event cycle like War of the Realms — is that it’s easy to lose sight of individual characters, to just be moving from one crowd scene to the other. But Aaron and McGuinness really get to flex their muscles with characterization and emotion amid all the hammers, Asgardians and trolls, not just reminding readers why they love She-Hulk in the first place, but for showing that these days, she has a damn good reason to get angry.

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