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Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine/Hulk and the Agents of SMASH

The She Hulk has snuck back onto video screens in a couple new-ish installments.

Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine will always bring up conflicting emotions for many in this community. On one hand it contains, hands down, the best fmg sequence for She Hulk ever published in a Marvel book. And what a character! Although Jen Walters plays a prominent role in this story it's Betty Ross who transforms into the Jade giantess. Its a retconning that works in the best Ultimate universe tradition of streamlining characters to their essence. After all, in the "Ultimate-verse", Ross is an assertive, intelligent, and successful woman, similar to Jen Walters in the regular continuity. If your definition of the She Hulk is such a woman given the brawn to match her strong character, you can forgive if her name isn't Jen Walters.

Unfortunately, the very series tasked with bringing the She Hulk into the Ultimate universe probably killed any prospects of seeing the character again. There was a three year delay between the first three issues and the last three. In that time the Ross-as-She-Hulk reveal was placed on hold. Continuity rolled on. The Ross character made multiple appearances that made no allusion to the She Hulk.

When Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine recommenced, fans were left scratching their heads. When Betty Ross had been placed in harms way over the past few years, why couldn't she just "hulk out"? Outside of continuity however, the Ultimate universe ran out of steam. Many of the creators of the first wave moved on, and fan interest waned.

Not until Ultimate Comics The Ultimates was the character even spoken of again, and then in hushed tones meant to build her up for a new appearance. Right before the second reveal however, the writer was abruptly transitioned off the book and his replacement showed no desire to revisit the character.

Now this whole spectacle is available as a motion comic. The overall animations are pretty simple and 95% derived from Lenil Yu's fantastic artwork. The first Marvel cartoons were crude animations of Jack Kirby's comic panels, so there's a long tradition of this technique.

The best part of this movie comes from the acting. The voices are well suited to their characters and everyone does their part to enliven Linendorf's script. As with the comic source the plot is a mess. Flashbacks on top of flashbacks, dream sequences, lack of any action, ugh. If Linendorf wanted to make a deep, metaphysical character study, the result comes off as directionless and meandering. It all works best as an exploration of the Bruce and Betty's destructive tendencies. The strongest section of this story is Betty's standalone issue. Told in a straightforward, linear, narrative with its share of red herrings, it makes me wish both the original comic and this movie were a stand alone one shot.

The infamous She Hulk transformation has been toned down considerably, but the voice acting retains the full orgiastic glory of the source. All in all, fans with low expectations will be rewarded by the segment.

Now to the other new cartoon: Hulk and the Agents of SMASH. She Hulk has typically done pretty well on television for a "minor" character having shared the billing on the 90's Incredible Hulk and made appearances in other animated series over the years. You'd excuse me for holding out hope that this streak would continue.

Hulk and the Agents of SMASH shows the signs of a project that started life as something else and was rebranded with Marvel characters in a last ditch salvage attempt. There's no other explanation for how little this series seems to know its characters. They're all "Hulks" each with super strength, but always placed in conflicts that negate any advantages that strength would lend. In one episode, the Hulks are shrunk, in another the action occurs in spaceship dogfights. There are plenty of comic book properties I'd associate with ariel derring-do, but the Hulk books are not among them. Agents of SMASH makes a pretty compelling argument that being a Hulk sucks all around. She Hulk was downgraded from ace lawyer to stunt pilot, and Red Hulk from General to gun nut. Everyone seemingly gets a power downgrade and uses personalized weapons to make up the difference in battle. Being strongest there is never meant so little.

In order to further differentiate the cast the writers have attached various personal character flaws. The Hulk yearns for acceptance, She Hulk for confidence, Red Hulk for respect, etc... However this bypasses the most interesting dynamic for all these characters, the conflict between their Hulked-out, idealized selves and their regular human forms. The Hulk is as much the personification of Banner's self loathing as rage to the world, just as the She Hulk is Jen Walter's idealized self, the Red Hulk the seething resentment of the Green Hulk specifically and youth more broadly, or Barbarian-esque Skaar the steeling of a young boy against his abandonment. That's the meat of these characters, it's why they work. Agents of SMASH may very well be the first Hulk television show without Bruce Banner, and the series is definitely weaker for it.

The lack of a Bruce Banner doesn't bode well for an appearance from Jen Walters. Agents of SMASH may be a rare total waste, it may harm these characters going forward. The She Hulk presented here is under utilized and under developed, with the writers filling out her dialog with tomboy tropes, "anything you can do I can do better except I can't".