Monday, October 31, 2005

Appreciating the She-Hulk

There are some things that I see, read, or listen to that make me marvel at their formal structures, or how things fit together in a way that seems organic, rather than contrived. (Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, for example.) Other works move me through their rendering of extraordinarily complex situations and characterizations in deceptively simple packages. (I'd place Mozart's Magic Flute and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go in this category.)

Conversely, great enjoyment can come through accepting certain things on their own terms, and appreciating how well they work within, or even transcend, the conventions of their formats. Along these lines, I've come to value pop film, music, and printed ephemera like comic books and cartoons that are produced with skill, wit, and some measure of conviction.

In a documentary about movies that I caught a while ago on cable TV, John Waters was asked about the kind of films he appreciates. In response, Waters said something very interesting: even in a bad film, he commented, there are always interesting things to be seen. For example, if the plot doesn't make the grade, you might enjoy yourself nonetheless by concentrating on the lampshades that were chosen in the interior shots, or the clothes that the people were given to wear. When I first heard this, I thought it was pure glibness, but in the intervening years I've come around to Waters' point of view.

Sometimes great satisfaction can be derived from the full appreciation of a small component of a larger work. In short, the thing doesn't have to be entirely good to be thoroughly enjoyed.

Case in point: in anticipation of the re-launch of the She-Hulk series, I considered myself lucky to find issue 2 (June 1989) of John Byrne's The Sensational She-Hulk in the comic slush-bin at my neighborhood's secondhand bookstore. Byrne's run on the She-Hulk was infused with an unabashed warts-and-all love for the medium that is infectious, and which has carried over into the more recent incarnations of the series (authored by Dan Slott and collected in Superhuman Law and Single Green Female). What's refreshing about the series is that the She-Hulk is an avid reader of Marvel comic books, and is basically aware that she exists in a corner of the Marvel universe created by John Byrne. When she confronts several of the issue's villains on page 13, she turns to face the reader/writer and says scornfully: "What...? TOAD MEN? TOAD MEN, Byrne?? I thought the cover was just a gag!"

Like Waters' finding (and appreciating) the interesting lampshades on display in an otherwise indifferent film, for me this panel alone justified the purchase of this old comic book, despite its poor condition.

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