Red She-Hulk recently took over the adjective-less Hulk title formerly written by Jeph Loeb and still captained by Jeff Parker. The book finds Betty Ross, the crimson-skinned title character, acting out an aggressive and unexplained vendetta against the American military and its development of super soldier WMDs known as Echelon. With no reason to be found for her attacks, the Avengers instruct X-51, Machine Man, to track Red She-Hulk down and capture her before her attacks bring about reciprocity. As the series has progressed, Machine Man and Betty have joined forces and much of her motivations have been revealed as she is attempting to stop Echelon from starting a metahuman war with its army of power-mad soldiers.
There are a great many parts of this title that, have so far, worked excellently and a few issues that have yet to repair themselves as the series has progressed. First of all, the art has been spectacular. You would think having each issue splitting art duties between Wellington Alves and Carlo Pagulayan would lead to jarring discrepancies in the illustrations and yet it’s almost a seamless hand off when one artist finishes a page and another picks up to continue it. Much of the credit goes to colorist Val Staples being able to make this appear to be quite natural. It helps that Alves and Pagulayan have both worked with Parker before and are both capable of the visuals he’s used to expressing. Parker himself delivers on many levels by balancing brutal and fast-paced action scenes against subtle and often hilarious character moments. The best of which is when S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Maria Hill and Phil Coulson try to keep Bruce Banner from finding out that they’re in the midst of hunting his ex-wife while he’s on the “video feed” with them. What could have been a one-note reference to the status quo of the Indestructible Hulk title ends up playing like a scene from an episode of Frasier and it works very well.
Since Red She-Hulk has started, though, there have been two observations that I’ve had that have yet to be resolved. The first is that Machine Man has had more of a protagonist position than Betty. That’s all well and good if it’s the creative choice to give exposition on an unusually complicated title character but at this point in the story, with X-51 and Betty having joined forces, you would think that she would come to the forefront and take over. The other issue plaguing the book from being all I feel it can be is that it isn’t able to keep all of its subplots on track. From the onset, Parker has pulled in various threads to try to make a cohesive story by so far referencing his past Red Hulk issues with the inclusion of Red Hulk’s nemesis, General Fortean, Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. series with the arrival of Nikola Tesla as Betty’s mysterious benefactor, and Matt Fraction’s Defenders series that Betty was a part of before its cancelation. Paying a pittance to these multiple storylines works for readers who have kept up with all of the different titles but all it seems to wind up doing in the overall story for Betty is take up valuable space that could be used to help define her as a character. At the moment, she really has no depth unless you’ve read her in previous titles and can justify her actions with preconceived explanations not found in the book. She’s angry, she’s frustrated, she’s determined and she’s motivated… but who is she as a person? This would be easy to write off as a writer not being able to define his character well if Parker hadn’t written Betty so perfectly in his own Red Hulk issues in just two issues when she guest-starred.
None of these flaws keep me from coming back every month to continue to read the title. I’m on board to see what Parker has in store for X-51 and Betty since they’ve both become characters I’m invested in thanks to previous appearances. I know Parker is still capable of truly amazing feats of writing because those still pop up issue after issue… I just hope that he’s able to put a bow on this opening storyline that shows what he’s been able to do in the past effortlessly: Make me care about Red She-Hulk and the all-encompassing adventures she’s on.