(Obligatory intro text paragraph – feel free to skip down to the non-italic text one if you’ve already been reading these posts.)
This is the eighth of twelve essays I’m writing, one per day as we lead up to the release of She-Hulk #12, the final issue in the current run of the title, on February 18. The idea is to look at each issue a bit more in-depth before we get to that last one. I’m doing these in conjunction with a live-tweet using the tag #12daysofshehulk on Twitter, also one per day leading up to the release of 12 starting at 7 PM EST – so you can play along at home! Feel free to @ me (I’m @charlessoule) – I’d love to hear what you think of this issue and all the others, whether it’s a re-read or you’re checking them out for the first time.
Issue 8: “The Good Old Days, Part 1”
Here we are with the start of a three-part story involving something that had never happened before in comics up to this point – She-Hulk vs. Daredevil in a court of law.
Once I started working on the story, I realized why. It was all but impossible to pull off, at least in regular continuity. You could do it in something like an Elseworlds / alternate reality setting, but in the real-deal Marvel Universe? Oof.
Let me explain. I’d been talking with my editor Jeanine Schaefer about doing this story for a while, and so it had been in the back of my mind for ages. When we started to get into specifics, it became clear that I’d be dealing with a few very significant bullet points. To wit:
- She-Hulk must be heroic.
- Daredevil must be heroic.
Tricky enough, because if you’re writing a court case that feels even a little bit realistic, one side probably comes off a bit looking a bit negative, if not both. Actual litigation can get extremely intense. Just to bring up one example, discrediting the other side’s witnesses by impugning their character happens quite often, and it can get vicious. As a lawyer, you’re obligated to do everything you can to serve your client, even if it means (sometimes especially if it means) screwing over the other side in some dastardly but perfectly legal and legitimate way (within the confines of our legal system, of course.)
In this story, all of those strategies were immediately off the table for both sides, even though Daredevil in particular has done some very morally questionable things in the past. There’s a reason he keeps getting disbarred.
So, tough enough to do this at all. The reason why no writer had tried this before started to become very apparent to me. At which point, I made my life ten times as hard by choosing the defendant – Steve Rogers, aka, at times, as Captain America. At the point in Marvel continuity where this happens, Steve has lost his super-serum-ness, which means he’s ninety-some years old. A hale, hearty ninety, for sure – he’d kick you off his lawn if he had one, which he doesn’t, because he lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn and almost no one down there has lawns – but still, old.
I chose Cap because I wanted to do something momentous for the story, something worthy of the idea that Marvel’s two legal titans were doing battle for the first time. Generally speaking, Steve Rogers is morally unimpeachable, so putting him in a position where he was defending himself against a heinous accusation seemed like it would have some real juice. Of course, it brought up another problem:
- Steve Rogers must be heroic.
Steve is the Marvel U’s moral arbiter, more or less. Putting him in a position where that was called into question was very sticky, and resulted in many emails back and forth with my wonderful editor Jeanine Schaefer, as well as Tom Brevoort. Both were very supportive of me doing the story, but they wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to tarnish Steve’s carefully developed legacy.
This was particularly true because the case revolved around events in Steve’s past prior to becoming Captain America at the end of 1941. The story of Steve becoming Cap is serious canon in the Marvel U, and you screw around with it at your peril.
When all was said and done, here’s what this story needed to do, just from a mechanical standpoint:
- She-Hulk must be heroic.
- Daredevil must be heroic, with the corollary that we need a legitimate reason why he would take a case against Steve Rogers, an aged hero whom he has fought alongside many times.
- Steve Rogers must be heroic, with the corollary that we need to believe that he could actually have done what he’s being accused of.
- The legal case in the story must feel and read as a legitimate case, with serious potential consequences for Steve if it goes wrong.
- Everything that happens needs to work with the continuity of all three characters.
- All of the flashbacks need to work with real-world World War II history, or get damn close.
- It has to resolve well, with neither She-Hulk or Daredevil looking like a bad lawyer, or using the rough and tumble tactics actual lawyers would probably use.
That list developed over the course of breaking and working on the story, and I’ll be honest – if I’d seen it laid out for me right from the start, I probably would have bailed on the whole idea and done something light and fun about Batroc the Leaper or whatever.
But now that it’s done, I’m so glad I didn’t.
I’ll talk more about the specifics of the story in future parts, but for now, let me hit a few things quickly. First, I have gotten questions from eagle-eyed readers about two things.
First, “why did She-Hulk need to temporarily associate herself with a California firm in order to defend Steve Rogers in an LA court, when she used to practice law in California years ago?”
There are two answers to this. First, Jen was admitted, a long time ago, but bar registrations expire. In New York, for example, you have to renew them every two years, and you also have to show that you’re taking Continuing Legal Education (or CLE) courses to stay up on your field. Jen didn’t do that for California, because she’s been working out of NY for so long, and so she’s no longer admitted to practice there. I could have explained that in this story, but it would have opened up a much longer set of things to explain. Space was tight here, and there were a ton of little things like this I opted not to include, because I wanted to focus on the bits that would build drama or actually serve the story I was telling.
The second answer is more writerly – it gave Jen a challenge to solve. I saw Matt Groening (creator of the Simpsons, Futurama, etc.) speak last night, and he said something that really struck me: “Struggle is funny.” That’s true for drama, too. You can get more out of a character who hasn’t made it yet than someone whose life is comfortable. So, you throw as many obstacles as you can in your character’s path, and see what you get from it. In this case, we got the incredible Matt Rocks (because he does), and I think that was one hell of an exchange.
The second question I’ve seen about this case was how the hell Jen could not know that Matt Murdock was the lawyer on the other side before she walked into that courtroom. In most cases, the attorneys on both sides know a ton about the other side’s case long before they ever step before the judge. It’s called the “discovery” process, and the idea that Jen wouldn’t know that Matt was the lawyer she was up against would ordinarily be ludicrous. Unless… Matt subbed in that very morning, via a motion to the judge, which is exactly what he did.
Murdock knew that there would be some serious shock value from surprising Jen, and (spoiler), he also knew that Cap had ordered him to do his absolute best to win the case, so he engineered things to spring himself on She-Hulk at the last minute. I consulted with a California litigator on this point, and he confirmed that it would be possible, albeit the sort of thing that most would consider sketchy. I decided that it was worth the beat, and did it.
I loved the stuff with the robot lady flight attendants on Stark’s plane. This was a callback to Issue 1 and those holographic receptionists in his building. The fact that Stark lent his plane to Jen at all is also a little nod to the idea that I thought he would probably feel guilty about the events of that issue.
Favorite character: Matt Rocks. I considered a bunch of possible lawyers for Jen to partner up with in LA, including some of the characters from Dan Slott’s run, but ultimately I decided to make someone new. I’ve always loved Jamie Madrox, too – so much potential, as we saw in Peter David’s incredible X-Factor run. Javier did such a wonderful job with this guy, too – he’s got that perfect “charming ass” vibe I was looking for.
Tomorrow: The case kicks into high gear, as we learn more about the terrible crime Steve is accused of!