Marvel has teamed with Hyperion books to release novels showcasing two of the company’s heroines. One, The She-Hulk Diaries, has Jennifer Walters managing her personal, professional and super life. Does this foray into a new format work for the character? Major Spoilers cracked open the cover and had a read.
Mystery and courtroom drama plot
Hilarious at points
Jennifer and She-Hulk characterizations off
Doesn’t know who its audience is
Previously in The She-Hulk Diaries: Jennifer Walters’s life isn’t going well at the moment. She has no job, boyfriend, money or permanent place to live. To make things worse, She-Hulk’s antics have gotten her kicked out of the Avengers Mansion.
OMG! YOUR HONOR, MY CLIENT IS CLEARLY INNOCENT
When the Robot Overlord presented the opportunity to review The She-Hulk Diaries I jumped at the chance. I thought the concept was great. Release novels starring female heroines in an effort to introduce new female readers to the world of comics. The comic book industry needs more women, not just readers but creators as well and I’ve always enjoyed stories that give female heroes a chance to shine. My knowledge of She-Hulk was limited to the few books I’ve read with her appearance, the new FF being the most recent. I started reading and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Why am I reading a novel starring a character I know nothing about? I realized this was in fact perfect since these books are attempting to attract new readers. Even though I had to do some research on the character (more on that later), it’s a decent introduction. Unfortunately, The She-Hulk Diaries stumbles most of the way.
Jennifer Walters starts the story needing changes in her life. Feeling New Year’s Resolutions are faulty due to the lack of time to mentally prepare for them, she makes Valentine’s Day ones instead. These consist of becoming more social and stretch outside her comfort zone, obtain a job, find a permanent place to live and, most importantly, find a boyfriend. I say most importantly because this is the one she obsesses over throughout the novel. She had an encounter in college with Ellis, a man who connected with her on an emotional and sexual level but never returned her call. He of course shows up later in life, engaged to a horrible woman working at her new job, realizes he misunderstood her name and the songs he wrote as a musician were about her. All this resulting in her fixation with him and what his true feelings may be throughout the story. This part of the plot plays like many romantic stories before it and, by the end, was extremely irritating. I found myself wanting to scream “Just get on with it! We know you’ll be together in the end!” Other parts of the story work, mainly the courtroom drama and case that Jen works on involving a company’s artificial organs that may or may not be faulty. Juxtapositions like this constantly occur throughout the book.
About forty percent of my way in, something wasn’t sitting right with Jennifer and She-Hulk’s characterization. It was at this point that I stopped reading and did some research. By research, I mean going to the always-reliable Wikipedia, buying a few back issues and consulting the Universal Comic Book Encyclopedia, i.e., Matthew. In the She-Hulk Diaries, Jennifer Walters is presented as a competent, smart, confident and professional woman at her job and in the courtroom. Outside though, she comes across as an immature ditz, obsessed with finding a boyfriend and speaking like a teenager. I lost count how many times she and her friends said “OMG”. I don’t know any woman her age, presumably mid to late twenties, who talk like that. While She-Hulk, Jen writes in third person as if she is on the inside looking out with little to no control of She-Hulk’s actions. She-Hulk is presented as a sassy party girl, hobnobbing with celebrities, appearing on TMZ and completely different from Jen. This portrayal is quite different from the comics, as Jennifer generally has control in her She-Hulk form and I’ve never seen Ms. Walters use the phrase “OMG! Amazing!” The She-Hulk Diaries is clearly aimed at a female audience but the age range of the intended reader is questionable. Like all men, I have no idea what women are thinking, but find it hard to believe that adult females talk like this or consume their time with thoughts of finding a boyfriend. Yet, a younger reader might not relate to the mature and sexual relationships that Jen forms. And if any reader who enjoys this book wants to read She-Hulk comics, they will be getting a very different character from the one depicted in the novel.
I enjoyed many things though. As I said, the trial and mystery revolving around ReplaceMax’s artificial organs was interesting and I wished that were the focus of the book. It would have made for a more mature read and Jen’s character would come across more realistic. There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and, while completely unjustifiable, was nice to see from a predictable story. The majority of the humor is great as well. Things like Jen’s friend hearing that Ellis’s band’s drummer spontaneously combusted and Jen replying “A lot of drummers do, but not him” got laughs and helped some of the painful dialogue easier to digest. Jennifer revealing that Tony Stark invented microscopic nanobots to retrieve wayward sperm had me rolling (I wish I had that in my younger years).
Acosta writes her story well but there’s an inconsistence in tone. One minute a teen melodrama, the next a mature story with an intelligent, competent woman. The moments of superhero action are fun but read like an outsider’s interpretation and not the reality of what a comic book is. If more time were spent telling a high-quality story rather than pandering to every possible reader, the book would have been more successful.
*Misspellings and format problems abound throughout and though this was a review copy should be noted as it made for a frustrating read.
BOTTOM LINE: NOT FOR ME, BUT FOR WHOM?
I’m clearly not the intended audience for this book but, on the other hand, I don’t know who is. Adult women will find some of the dialogue and scenes immature (possibly offensive) and teens might not like any part of the story that doesn’t involve romance. This is undoubtedly an attempt to gain female readership in comic books, which I think will unfortunately fail. Those who enjoy the story and seek out She-Hulk comics will find an entirely different She-Hulk than the one presented here. It saddens me to give The She-Hulk Diaries 2 out of 5 stars.