Jen Walters, Just Hulk

Bruce Banner is dead. There’s reason to debate how relevant or necessary his death is, as well as how it will impact the landscape of the Marvel universe. One noteworthy ripple, though? The Hulk mantle now belongs solely to Bruce’s cousin, Jen Walters.

Jen is no longer She-Hulk. She’s just…Hulk. And the first issue of her standalone, no prefix title, brought to us by Mariko Tamaki and Nico Leon, is striking.

First and foremost, the elimination of She- from She-Hulk is the elimination of a qualifier. Emphasis is no longer being placed on how she’s slightly different like Red Hulk or Grey Hulk. Rather, she’s the next piece of a legacy.

That legacy does not compromise her individuality, though. It actually enhances how she’s distinct. The bulk of Hulk #1 centers on and sets up the arc to be about her post-Civil War PTSD. Bruce’s death and her own thrashing have severely shaken how she regards normal. The resulting anxiety is crystallized so perfectly for readers to witness.

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Through the whole issue Jen says things to herself like “Chill out, Jen” when trying to rationalize a fresh start at a new law firm and “Like this is anything I can run from” when she’s back home and about to break. But in between we see her as functionally sound, casually moving through a legal conversation with procedural questions – “And nothing before this? And you’ve paid your rent every month on time?” This is what anxiety does. It creates an animated shell that knows how to smile; how to laugh; how to tap into muscle memory to purport normalcy, all while reducing a person’s insides to jelly through a slow, fiery simmer.

I know because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’m coming up on three years attack-free but I’ve had and probably will continue to have my moments where I feel the anxiety turning up the heat, as if to make itself known. It’s ugly and terrifying to feel from the pit of my stomach a bubbling that seems primed to boil over the edge.

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Jen’s experiences are different from mine in that her trigger is a specific event, but the results are the same. Reading her first issue as Hulk was eery. Utterly eery. However, in spite of that, I was so happy to have it and to have this story put in front of people in such a prominent way. The thing about anxiety is this: the same fire that causes a breakdown is the one that incites a person to make progress. That’s why it’s so confounding for a person to experience, why it can be so crippling, and why it’s so amazing that this new Hulk run is putting the weight of the topic so squarely on the audience.

Hulk #2 drops today. I can’t wait to see where it goes. I also hope it doesn’t get Sam Wilson’d, which is to say I hope Jen occupies the Hulk title alone for longer than a pee break. Regardless, the connection I feel to this first issue is more in my bones than my heart, and that’s disparate idea I welcome.

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