She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel: Legacies and Names

If nothing else, Gender Through Comic Books is giving me a lot more to think about when I read comics and look at comic culture. One of the more recent discussions has been about the number of female characters with Girl in their name despite not being young girls. Look at Hawkgirl (who has had to change to Hawkwoman several times), Invisible Girl (who is now Invisible Woman), Batgirl (who became Oracle and then is back to Batgirl), Marvel Girl (who became Phoenix and stayed that way despite losing the Phoenix Force) and a few that don’t even come to mind. Girl is in no way equatable or respectable to “guy” or “man” and while in some cases there are ___ Women already but most of the time despite the female characters being in their 20s, there is no reason for the ___ girl name to stay and they didn’t change until decades later.

But another issue is the one of legacies coming into play. Batgirl, Batwoman, Hawkgirl, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk are all named for preexisting characters who their legacies come off from, but why keep the name? Should they keep the name? This isn’t an issue that is easy to bring up.

I think on one side there is a positive side to being called the She-Hulk. She is being compared to the Hulk. She is being defined in terms of one of the strongest singular forces in the universe at the time. It isn’t as if she is being called a lady doctor or a female golf, she is being compared to the only thing that accurately defines her powers and the source of her powers. Is the name problematic, yes, but it is necessarily demeaning? Possibly?

At the same time Ms. Marvel now Captain Marvel defined herself in terms of how she received her powers as well and as a somewhat comparison of her abilities. She struggled with the idea of taking the mantle in the most recent series and it literally required the original Captain Marvel to die for her to consider that. But let’s not forget Monica Rambeau, who was the first woman to take the title Captain Marvel decades earlier, and Phyla-Vell who took her brother’s name – though that brings up a few similar concerns.

I think there are issues at looking at names solely from a non-canonical view. It is similar to judging people by the names they are given at the time, almost like looking down on women who allowed themselves to be called lady-doctors at the time. Is it wrong to do that today? Yes, because their gender proceeds importance over the fact that they save lives. Same with male nurses or male flight attendants, though those is more derogatory in context. Still they were making major movements back then by being doctors and joining the workforce as they did.

from She-Hulk by Dan Slott and Juan Bobilio
Jenn Walters, Queen singing lawyer is totally different from Hulk. from She-Hulk by Dan Slott and Juan Bobilio

Ultimately it comes down to the writers to make the characters good or bad, sexist or not, feminist or not and separate from their namesakes or not. I think for the most part, the writers on these books, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk, have done a better job balancing the characters and making them their own people. She-Hulk might have adventures with the Hulk once in a while (at least one of them does) but they all stand alone. Jennifer Walter, Betty Ross and Lyra are all very different characters from the Hulk and even each other, even though the often share the same moniker.

Would it do better to change their names to something else, it totally could be, but then to a degree it denies a positive legacy – the characters often exist because they can connect to the readers, because there is a truth, because the names mean something. They can transcend the names and whatever aged connotations there are. If they end up changing the names – is it worth abandoning a name and possibly launching into a series of other names?

Or what about taking the Green Lantern route? Why can’t all of the Hulks be called Hulks like all of the Green Lanterns are called Green Lanterns and are referred to by their names? There are already multiple Captain Marvels and multiple Hulks, why not gender neutralize them all to Hulks and Captain Marvels? It equates them all while putting their identites as the focus on the character. We refer to Green Lanterns as Hal or Kyle or Guy, why not call the Hulks (Hulk) Bruce, (Hulk) Ross, (Hulk) Jennifer, (Hulk) Betty and (Hulk) Lyra?

Luke Herr

Luke is a writer and an aspiring professional comic writer who is also the editor in chief of Nerdcenaries. He currently is working on a graphic novel called Prison Spaceship.