The Hulk has been a metaphor for emotional problems for a long time. It’s inherent in the character: Bruce Banner is so unable to keep his emotions in check he trashes entire city blocks if somebody steps on his foot. Mariko Tamaki and Jahnoy Lindsay turn that around in She-Hulk #161 and make it a story about psychological abuse and regaining control of yourself.
The story is simple. Robin, supposedly She-Hulk’s biggest fan, has gotten under the thrall of the Leader, been pumped full of gamma radiation, and now She-Hulk and Robin must FIGHT TO THE DEATH, as a ’70s cover might say. But the real story, to Tamaki, is in the details. Robin isn’t brainwashed so much as exploited and manipulated by the Leader. He makes her feel weak, preys on her insecurities, and then offers her strength, but only on his terms. Jen, meanwhile, is trying to keep her increasing rage and frustration in check because she’s terrified the Hulk will outright kill Robin. Lindsay’s art underscores Tamaki’s script with stark, barely detailed backgrounds that pop the figures forward and sharp perspectives that make Robin and Jen look small in the face of their problems.
Tamaki has used the Hulk to explore psychology over her entire run, whether it’s a fearful shut-in’s paranoia taking physical form or the casual sociopathy of doing anything for YouTube views. Here, though, might be her best thesis; Jennifer Walters can’t run away from herself.
Sleepless #2, Image Comics
Sarah Vaughn and Leila Del Duca continue a fantasy story that’s all about the palace intrigue and politics. After an attempt on our heroine Pyppenia’s life, she tries to get out of the palace. But planning to leave and actually leaving are two different things. Vaughn’s web of intrigues and courtesies is a fascinating take that makes a book mostly about talking briskly paced. Del Duca, meanwhile continues to weave together a huge number of historical traditions and styles in a book that feels like a history that almost was.
The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #4, DC Comics
This series, which has the old Wildstorm anti-hero Deathblow working his way through an evil version of the Justice League, has been a hoot. But here, Bryan Edward Hill, N. Steven Harris, and Dexter Vines, give it more depth. This universe’s version of Barry Allen is a murderer, but he’s also suffering from mental illness, and Cray knows his problem just a little too well. It gives what could be a gimmick book more heft and Cray more dimension as an anti-hero, and some of the book’s best moments are Cray and Allen talking seriously about their problems.
Judas #2, BOOM! Studies
Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka continue the story of the ultimate traitor, who finds a sympathetic ear in the form of Satan. Cleverly, this issue is written in fine Paradise Lost tradition, wherein Satan has a point. Judas had a role to play in the story of Christ, and he didn’t get a choice. So is that fair? And if it isn’t, what does that mean? It all ends with a twist that, safe to say, will have a few letters sent in about it. But, as a piece of pop theology, especially with Rebelka’s rough-hewn artwork, it’s fascinating.
Mister Miracle #6, DC Comics
Tom King and Mitch Gerads pack a lot of action into this book as Scott and Barda go to confront Orion, the mad Highfather of the New Gods. For most, this would be a tense, dangerous encounter, but Scott and Barda grew up in a place where murder attempts were part of daily life, so they’re free to discuss remodeling their condo while navigating a bleak void on a tightrope of dragon intestine. Gerads packs a lot of action into these pages and makes the choice to largely zoom out, meaning King’s dialogue has to carry all the emotion. And it works beautifully, raising the stakes as Scott goes to face his brother.