Saturday, June 22, 2013

Marvel Heroines - A Novel Approach

The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta and Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward are novels published by Hyperion. Novels, not graphic novels, regular black-and-white-words-on-a-page novels. This press release from Marvel set the tone: 
The announcement was made by Hyperion’s Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Dyssegaard. Of the deal, Dyssegaard says, “Marvel has had tremendous success with recent hit movies and we think it’s a great time to explore what happens to super heroines when they are dropped into traditional women’s novels.”

“It’s exciting to see Hyperion bring two of our most beloved female super heroes, Rogue and She-Hulk, to life in ways you’ve never seen before,” said Ruwan Jayatilleke, Associate Publishers/SVP, Marvel Entertainment.  “Whether you’re a long time fan of Marvel or new to our super heroes, these novels deliver exciting stories that will capture your imagination.”
Traditional women's novels... When I first heard about this, I was horrified. Chick-lit. Bleh. These are superheroines, not romance heroines. I was prepared to read them, and then shout to the rooftops how much they sucked. I had already made up my mind that they would suck, completely without merit or evidence. Then I read an interview with Acosta at Reel Girl -- and felt like a jerk. Felt bad enough to send an apology to the author, even though I hadn't written anything yet, just for having that unfounded, unfair knee-jerk reaction.

The She-Hulk Diaries

I bought SHD last week, but didn't pick it up to read until this week. You see, as long as I didn't read it, it didn't suck (a Shröedinger's Cat approach to books), and I really didn't want it to suck. I love She-Hulk, and a treatment of her as an angsty, empty-headed heroine would have broken my heart. But you know what? The characterization works; Acosta did a fine job writing Jennifer Walters.

Contains some spoilers:
The book is written, as the title suggests, in a sort of diary format, from Walters' perspective. When we join her, she really is having some issues: she's lost her job, she needs to find a new apartment, her love life stinks, and she has to see a therapist as part of a settlement with the Avengers for anger issues. She treats She-Hulk more like an obnoxious roommate who is the source of most of her problems, than a part of her. Shulkie is the one who gets party invitations (and then is embarrassingly featured all over the internet. Shulkie is the one that guys fall all over. Shulkie is the one who's made her lose jobs and apartments. And her irritation with She-Hulk makes sense. The issues that she's having in her life, things she's trying to fix with a set of Valentine's Day resolutions, make total sense. It never feels weird or contrived. It's believable that Jennifer Walters has these problems, and those reactions to them. These are the things we don't seen in comics, because, well... they're not action-y enough. This is the mundane side of being a metahuman, and it's definitely readable.

I like the twists in the plot, I like the love interest, I like the little side plots that get tied up fairly neatly. I like that she and Shulkie grow as people, and that she moves toward an integrated self. There are still unresolved issues, the book doesn't end with everything all tidily solved, but I don't know that it's necessarily because a sequel is in the offing. Even though there are places that the pacing is a little slow, I recommend SHD unreservedly. This isn't an adventure-filled romp through NYC with the Jade Goddess; it's a wry and thoughtful look at what it's like to be Jen Walters, who is sometimes She-Hulk.

I do have one complaint, but that's not Acosta's fault: I hate the cover. Green lipstick on a purple background... yes, please, let's make sure most men wouldn't be caught dead reading it in public. Thank goodness for e-readers...

For book nerds*: the Library of Congress info lists the book as 1. Women heroes -- Fiction. 2. Superheroes -- Fiction.  


Rogue Touch

I had to order RT because my comic book shop only got in one each of it and SHD. They didn't know if the books would sell, so they were conservative with their order. Since SHD did not suck as I'd feared, I dove right into RT, and was not disappointed with Woodward's take on a 19-year-old Rogue.

Contains some spoilers:
The pace of RT is considerably faster than SHD, but that's part of the plot. This isn't the same sort of ordinary day-in-the-life story; Anne Marie is on the run, and she's on the run with someone else who is also running for his life. We see her really struggling with things that have happened because of her, particularly the fateful kiss with Cody that put him in a coma. In spite of the fact that Rogue's first comic appearance was back in 1981, this telling feels quite fresh and current, complete with a very contemporary distrust/loathing of financial institutions. (OK, that's been a problem throughout banking history, but still...) Frankly, the story is a bit of a crime spree as she and "James" try to stay a step ahead of the people who are after them. She struggles with the things she's doing, but tries to justify it in ways that are age appropriate.

Rogue's vulnerability and naïveté combined with a defiance and brashness make her a fully fleshed-out character. The worst thing that can ever happen to a character in a story is for the reader to look at them with apathy; you won't do that with Rogue. There's plenty of twisty bits, and suggestions of things yet to come, but really, this is a fast-paced and entertaining read. It took me less than a day to finish, where SHD took a bit longer. Different stories, different authors, different paces -- both are well worth reading.

The cover is much better for RT, and she appears to be wearing the leather coat described in the beginning. It's a poignant and yet dynamic portrait of her, and a much more active cover than that stagnant tube of green lipstick. Interesting, when you consider they were designed by the same company.

For book nerds: the Library of Congress info lists the book as 1. Young women -- Fiction. 2. Outcasts -- Fiction. 3. Identity (Psychology) -- Fiction. 


You can read excerpts from both books here. Please consider supporting your local comic shop and having them order you copies (if they don't have them on the shelf) before you get them online.

* I know I am not the only person who reads this stuff at the front of a book, who is not also a librarian. You know who you are... ;)

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