Saturday, April 20, 2024

Hulk is a Great Exploration of Trauma and PTSD

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Like many of us, Jennifer Walters had an awful 2016: critically wounded in a fight against Thanos, she fell into a coma, and upon waking up discovered that her cousin Bruce Banner died at the hands of fellow superhero Hawkeye. The new Hulk series deals with the aftermath of such events, as She-Hulk copes with trauma and fights the monster within.

In Hulk #1, Jen resumed her work as a lawyer for the first time after the aforementioned events. Her new client, the inhuman Ms. Brewn, is fighting eviction and traumas of her own. After a meeting that triggers her memories of her trauma, Jen struggles with an almost Hulk transformation and ends the issue curled up in fetal position on the floor of her condo.

Now she’s feeling better. Jennifer Walters starts Hulk #2 having a good day. She notes, however, that when you have to tell yourself things are getting back to normal, something is not quite right:

Jen goes personally after Ms. Brewn’s landlord, Mr. Tick. He’s a jerk and admits he doesn’t really have a case against Ms. Brewn other than thinking she’s a “nut bag”. Jen’s having none of it.

Jennifer’s good day comes to an end when she’s peacefully drinking her coffee at the Central Park and hears a few children playing Hulk and Hawkeye. Oh no. Her PTSD returns full force, or rather, as she says herself, it was there all along. It’s always there.

Stupid kids, you’re ruining everything!

This prompts a crisis and Jen returns to her office, locking herself in. She breaks a few objects and tries to contain her inner monster with cooking videos. In the meantime, Ms. Brewn calls her and she’s unable to answer. But Ms. Brewn has to cope with her own traumas, and with her landlord threatening her and Jen not answering the phone, she asks the help of whatever lurks in the shadows of her apartment. Which I’m sure is not dangerous at all.

They sound like a gentle heart.

Later in Jen’s office, Bradley, her new assistant, pushes a snack under her door because she didn’t have lunch. This encourages Jen to open the door. Bradley is nice to her, saying he lost someone too and he’s there for whatever she needs. Jen leaves the office feeling better… until she senses something following her. She’s not the target, though: whatever it was, the thing goes after Mr. Tick and turns him into meat pudding.

I guess he won’t be coming back.

Hulk #2, as the issue before it, delves into Jennifer Walters’s trauma and PTSD. Those of you familiar with her stories may miss the lighter tone or the fun and confident Jen, as well as her green form She-Hulk—it’s the second issue without a Hulk transformation. Being new to comics and to this character in particular, I must confess I’m loving it. I have a penchant for stories that don’t shy away from exploring the consequences of trauma and the least pleasant aspects of the characters’ inner lives. Unlike the usual larger-than-life superhero stories, here Jennifer Walters is (quite literally) more human.

Dropping the “She” from the title seems appropriate, because Jennifer’s conflict with the Hulk inside her feels like something I would find in a Bruce Banner story. Speaking of him, Bruce’s death is at the core of Jen’s PTSD. Not only he was her beloved cousin and died under shady circumstances, he’s also tied with how she became the She-Hulk in first place. He’s deeply connected to her identity as a superhero, so it makes sense to me that she would struggle with transforming after he’s gone.

Despite the overall gloomy tone of the comic, we still see a little of Jennifer’s sense of humor, especially in her inner monologue. Yes, it’s mostly sarcastic and bitter, but she must have been delightful on her better days.

And she’s so relatable!

The story advances slowly, mirroring Jennifer’s slow recovery. I like the choice of starting the issue with Jen having a good day, because it shows that people with PTSD can have good days too and it doesn’t mean their trauma magically vanished or is somehow less valid. As Jen says herself, the trauma is still there.

Nico Leon’s clean, manga-influenced style is great to show the range of emotions Jennifer is going through, and Matt Milla’s colors do an amazing work reflecting her state of mind. So when Jen is having a good day we have clear skies and bright colors…

But her PTSD makes the palette greener. Not a cozy forest green, but an artificial, radioactive green… Hulk green.

It’s an interesting choice, because being She-Hulk used to be empowering for Jennifer, but now it brings her pain. The Hulk becomes associated with her trauma and it’s a side of her she can’t connect to anymore. Yet her inner monologue is always green; the Hulk is there too, also waiting to be dealt with.

I’m happy I picked this title and you should pick it too. PTSD and mental health are sensitive topics in our society and media doesn’t always handle them well. I can’t speak for the upcoming books, but I’m pleased with what we got so far. It’s a personal and relatable journey and it shows me what I was missing from not reading superhero stories.


Review for Hulk (2016) #2

Writer: Mariko Tamaki

Artists: Nico Leon and Dalibor Talajić

Colors: Matt Milla

Letters: VC’s Cory Petit

All images courtesy of Marvel Comics.

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