As I mentioned in my recent review of Rogue Touch, I think that Marvel branching into young adult books aimed at female readers is a great idea. It’s a huge market, and a smart way to introduce the characters to a new market. Plus, there are a lot of great young adult books out there now; young adult no longer just means Twilight. People are writing some really interesting stuff. I didn’t much care for Rogue Touch, but the good news is that The She-Hulk Diaries fixed several of the issues I had with that book. The bad news is that The She-Hulk Diaries added a new set of issues into the mix, ending up as another unpleasant read, albeit it in new ways.
Now, part of the problem is probably that I am a grown man, and these books aren’t meant for me in the slightest. I quite enjoy young adult books generally (Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is one of the best books of any sort that I’ve read all year), but obviously these Marvel titles are aiming at a specific demographic, in particular romance fans. For both books, romance is the main factor of the story.
For example, The She-Hulk Diaries actually doesn’t have much of a story. Jessica Walters is a lawyer who can turn into She-Hulk and fight bad guys, and she gets a job at a new law firm representing a doctor whose cloning technology was supposedly misused by his employer. That seems like a recipe for a John Grisham-like thriller, with lots of exciting courtroom action and legal intrigue, but not so much. Instead, most of the book is about Jessica and her New Year’s resolutions, with a very strong emphasis on her finding a boyfriend. The majority of her inner dialogue revolved around which man she should decide to date, and her various issues with the options she had. Would it be her rock star turned science teacher ex-fling, the brilliant biologist, the separated-from-his-wife legal ace? So many choices, with so many pros and cons!
The actual plot stuff, the case and the superheroing and whatnot, took a backseat to the perpetual water treading of the romance narrative, and the resolution at the end is laughable on several levels (the bad guy turns out to be the only bad guy actually ever mentioned in the book, but with an anagrammed name). Actually, that’s only the first part of the ending. After the trial stuff gets sorted, Jessica and her new beau are free to sex one another for several pages of romantic shenanigans to close the book.
There are good things about The She-Hulk Diaries, though more in theory than in practice. The book is very sex-positive, which is nice to see. Jessica clearly wants to have sex with someone, and also has a rather lively history of past sexual escapades, and neither are presented with any hint of shame or condemnation. They may have gone to the sexual well more than might be considered appropriate for younger teens, but it was always in a way that was positive and affirming about Jessica’s sexuality and her desires. The She-Hulk Diaries is no abstinence propaganda masquerading as a vampire story. The only problem is that the book is so focused on Jessica and her desire for a boyfriend that it trumps everything else about the character. Jessica Walters is much more than just a lady who’d like a man, but that’s the vast majority of what we end up reading about. So hooray for being sex positive, but boo for not presenting a more well-rounded depiction of the character.
This book, unlike Rogue Touch, is clearly set in the Marvel universe, which I was glad to see. Bruce Banner pops in occasionally, the Avengers are regularly referenced, her past relationship with Tony Stark comes up often (too often…), and her time with the Fantastic Four and her battles with Dr. Doom are mentioned occasionally. However, Jessica is so firmly entrenched in some sort of Marvel continuity that the book is constantly playing catch-up to fill us in on details of her past. It almost read like the second novel in a series, and we all just missed the first one where she was She-Hulk more often and fought alongside the Avengers and Fantastic Four, and had various relationships therein. I’m all for situating the book within the wider Marvel universe, but The She-Hulk Diaries was too continuity dependent, which ultimately led to a weak ending on the trial front.
Overall, it’s not a bad book, but it’s definitely not for me. I just didn’t enjoy it, which is fine because I’m not who it’s written for. I expected some legal thriller fun, or at least some exciting She-Hulk action, and I got very little of either. It’s a romance novel, basically, and while I’m not particularly interested in that, I’m sure there are many people who are. To those people, I recommend The She-Hulk Diaries; to everyone else, it might feel like a bit of a slog.