10.2.11

The Ever-Changing Lyra, Daughter of Hulk! (Among Other Things, a SHE-HULKS Review)

Hulk & Thundra in the shadow of their daughter, from All-New Savage She-Hulk. Art by Alex Garner.
I daresay the Hulk-related portion of the Marvel Universe has exploded over the last few years. We've had She-Hulk get her own book again, then it got canceled. Then in the wake of World War Hulk came an arguable spinoff, Incredible Hercules, followed quickly by the introduction of Red Hulk, then the return of the Incredible Hulk, and some other series here and there centered around events like "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks."

Unfortunately, with the market being what it is ("unhealthy" is a bit of an understatement--sort of like all of print media) the line is due for contraction. The first casualty in these matters appears to be Lyra, the Hulk's daughter from a future timeline. Since her introduction in Hulk: Raging Thunder, where the Hulk first met Thundra and she scraped his cheek for DNA, she's been featured prominently in no less than three limited series of no more than four issues apiece. She's had some jarring status quo changes, and now it appears, barring a real outpouring of fan support, she'll be relegated to Greg Pak's Incredible Hulks series (not that it's a bad place, necessarily), if not altogether forgotten. But is it a real shame to see Lyra's star falling, or is it more a mercy killing? Before fandom en masse attacks me for that last comment, let's examine her brief history:

Hulk: Raging Thunder - Hulk, as we know, is Marvel's original man-monster, "the strongest one there is." This fact attracts Thundra, a warrior-woman from a future matriarchal society. In her era, men and women live separately and war with each other. The men are sterile from radiation exposure, and both sexes only survive through human parthenogenesis. Thundra travels to our present with the intent of conceiving an heir. Only one born of superior stock, she rationalizes, can have a hope of succeeding her when she grows too old to ably serve the United Sisterhood Republic. This means a fundamental change from the last several generations, in that her daughter will have both a mother and a father.

In the back of the All-New Savage She-Hulk #1, writer Jeff Parker mentions that it was his original intention to have the Hulk and Thundra actually sleep together to create Lyra, but that this idea got "downgraded to scraping cells from [the Hulk's] cheek." Page twenty, without the dialogue in later panels, can even be interpreted with the former explanation. True, the change could have come because editors thought Thundra wouldn't "sully herself" by direct contact (even though, in main continuity, Thundra had been involved with Arkon, if indeed this was not a divergent Thundra). It's more likely the decision had something to do with Jeph Loeb's Ultimate Hulk Annual, in which the Ultimate universe's Hulk slept with the Squadron Supreme's Zarda.

The first appearance of the then-unnamed Lyra, from Hulk: Raging Thunder #1.
Regardless of the decisions behind the as-yet unnamed daughter of Hulk's creation, it's revealed at the end of the story that she was the narrator of the entire story, with her "present" being established as twenty years after Thundra's return from meeting the Hulk. She is a conqueror, taking back the male-inhabited lands of this divergent future while her mother serves elsewhere. In her mind, males won't stop fighting until they all die off, a fact she doesn't fret over. She thinks once all men are gone and their atrocities forgotten by generations of women, that "maybe those women will decide that the Y chromosome can return to the world." She seems dignified and mature as well as battle-hardened.

"Daughter of Hulk" (from Hulk Family) - This brief vignette by Paul Tobin and Benton Jew showcases the again-unnamed Lyra in battle alongside her friend Nella, and explores the world of the men of the 23rd Century via Lyra's infiltration of one of their parthenogenesis facilities. The story also reinforces the dynamic that Lyra is different from her sisters in that she is the only one with a father. Just as she can be seen then as the inverse of a messianic figure, she can also then be seen as a devil of sorts, corrupted by the male species by virtue of her lineage. This story paves the way for what follows...

All-New Savage She-Hulk - After two stories, it's finally in the third story that writer Fred Van Lente gives our heroine a name. In the back pages of the first issue, Van Lente attributes the name to the protagonist in the 1971 story "The Femizons" from Savage Tales #1 by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. He dramatically shifts the narrative of the Daughter of Hulk for the first time (but not the last) by having her follow her mother's path, time-traveling to "our" present during Marvel's "Dark Reign" umbrella event, wherein Norman Osborn rose to power and oversaw many security initatives like H.A.M.M.E.R. and A.R.M.O.R. The latter agency, the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency, tracks Lyra's arrival on Earth-616 from Earth-9008. She abducts A.R.M.O.R. agent Alex Erde to use as a field guide on her mission to look for the time period's greatest hero, but soon encounters resistance in Jennifer Walters, the first She-Hulk, as well as Norman Osborn's officially sanctioned team, the Dark Avengers.

Van Lente makes some interesting alterations to Lyra beyond giving her a name, and the art, primarily by Peter Vale and Robert Atkins, provides the best vision of Lyra to date. She is charged with a mission by the Gynosure, ruler of Milago, to bring back technology that will allow them to again use the Cradle, the device that enables the parthenogenic processes that enable them to birth more women. To this end she is armed with Boudicca, an artificial intelligence she wears on her wrist like a watch. (Boudicca's commentary very often steals the show. It's a shame she's not still around...but I'm getting ahead of myself.) He also gives Lyra a weakness in, ironically enough, her anger, as the angrier Lyra becomes, the weaker she gets. Conversely, he also gives her "gamma vision," where she goes into a Zen-like trance and harnesses the gamma energy around her to perform superhuman feats.

Too much tongue? Lyra kisses Osborn, from All-New Savage She-Hulk #3.
In the final issue of the series, we finally discover the reason Lyra is tasked with meeting the era's greatest hero, who's stated to be Osborn himself: she is to collect his seed for the Gynosure, presumably to father another generation of women in the future. Interestingly, Lyra seems ready to collect the old-fashioned way, as A.R.M.O.R. notes that she's ovulating! Of course, she rejects those impulses, and rightly so, in the end teaming with Jennifer Walters to battle the Dark Avengers before teleporting away to A.R.M.O.R., where she becomes one of their field agents. Along the way, she discovers Boudicca has fulfilled their mission and left the processor the Gynosure needed in a location where it could be reached in the future. Hence, she is free to remain in the present. (Marvel now no longer seems to adhere to the principles of time travel set by Mark Gruenwald in the 1970s, else everything Lyra did since arriving would merely cause another divergence.)

A few more Van Lente-penned adventures of Lyra appear in back-up stories in Greg Pak's Incredible Hulk series from #600 through 605. In them, Lyra encounters the fruits of her meeting with Osborn, as he used her information about the future to set up the Origins Corporation, chaired by the Hulk's foe General Ryker and specializing in commoditizing superhuman powers. While trying to find the missing Jennifer Walters, she and Alex Erde are attacked by women with the powers of Zzzax, the Abomination, and the Glob. (This marks the fourth such woman imbued with the Abomination's powers--but that's a tale for another article!) Erde's unrequited love is cut short as Axon (the Zzzax analogue) causes the crash that leads to his death. Lyra swears revenge and kills two of the three women, while after her failure, Ryker gives the kill order for the third. She appears to be coming into her own as a She-Hulk, but that's before she's brought into the...
Lyra, from Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks #1 by Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic.
Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks - The next writer to handle Lyra is Jeph Loeb, in both Fall of the Hulks: Gamma (with artist John Romita Jr.) and Hulk #19 (with Ed McGuinness). As framed later in the three-issue tie-in to the main event by Lyra's co-creator Jeff Parker and Salva Espin, Lyra allies herself with the Intelligencia in order to attempt a rescue of Jennifer Walters, who has been their captive for several weeks. She mixes it up a few times with the Red She-Hulk, and even meets her mother, Thundra, who still hasn't returned to the future to allow the scientists to artificially inseminate her (or however their process worked). She becomes the fourth member of the Frightful Four, and while naked (!) defeats the Human Torch in battle, taking one of his 1970s-era red outfits to wear.
The Human Torch gets a fiery green eyeful. From Hulk #19, art by Ed McGuinness & Mark Farmer.

Lyra loses her companion Boudicca, destroying it (her?) to prove her loyalty to the Intelligencia, but its central processing unit is restarted remotely by Bruce Banner, who for the first time makes contact with his daughter (after learning about her in Fall of the Hulks: Red Hulk #1-2, also by Parker). During the siege of the Intelligencia's Hellcarrier, she makes a three-panel cameo in Incredible Hulk #608, meeting her half-brother Skaar (to whom she refers as "little brother") before Banner blasts her up "at least four levels" to rescue Jennifer. Jen accosts her over her opinion that Thundra "ran away" from her and hid in the 21st Century, confronting her with the truth that she nearly jeopardized her chances of being born. She also tells Lyra that, once the battles are finished, she will show her "what a normal life is supposed to be...and how wonderful it is," the earliest allusion to the upcoming She-Hulks series. After uniting with the Red She-Hulk, the three of them fight the legions of AIMarines-turned-Hulks as well as the Hulked-out heroes. Lyra records a message on the barely-functioning Boudicca and leaves it for Thundra to find in the future, telling her mother she is the greatest woman she has known.

The four-issue She-Hulks limited series, with covers by Ed McGuinness.
 She-Hulks - And that brings us to the post-"World War Hulks" portion of this entry, where writer Harrison Wilcox and artist Ryan Stegman (late of the ill-received Red She-Hulk back-ups from Incredible Hulk) contribute the most jarring changes to the young Lyra. That's the right describer, too: "young," as under Wilcox's pen, she becomes a teenager, molded to the role of a companion and "little sister" to Jennifer Walters, the original She-Hulk. Perhaps the shift is due to a stigma that's existed since Lyra's introduction; namely, the idea that she was introduced to eventually replace the original She-Hulk. It's a preposterous idea, certainly, as Jennifer has such deep roots in the Marvel Universe, as a solo hero as well as member of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, as well as being a peripheral Hulk cast member. Perhaps Marvel believed the safe middleground was to team the two titanesses together and establish them as a generation apart.

I'm going to loosely state, although I have no independent confirmation, that Lyra's supposed to be roughly sixteen years old during this series. The de-aging of Lyra to high school age creates some interesting problems in her treatment under previous writers, certainly--chief among them that whole "search for the greatest hero of the 21st Century so we can procure his seed, and oh, wait, I'm totally ovulating" storyline, which in revision nearly reaches a "Gwen Stacy in 'Sins Past'" level of yuck. That goes double for Johnny Storm, who burned Lyra's clothes off and then made juvenile comments while she was in the buff. These are the two most irritating examples, although there's certainly also the Stockholm Syndrome-esque developments between Alex Erde and Lyra in Incredible Hulk #601, all of which add up to the conclusion that Lyra wasn't originally intended to be, for want of a better term, Teen She-Hulk.

Mourning that perfect prom dress? Art by Ryan Stegman & Michael Babinski.

Lyra has been stripped of much of the accoutrement she had since her first appearance, as well as much of the rest of what defined her in those earlier stories, right up to Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks. Her military bearing, which should be obvious as having grown up around Thundra and her soldiers, is almost wholly absent, as is her complex attitude toward the opposite sex from being raised in a society where men and women are literally at war. Furthermore, thanks to S.P.I.N. Tech (Super-Power Inhibiting Nanobots), Lyra no longer grows weaker when she gets angry, and she now has a smaller, pink-skinned form invented just for this narrative. The onslaught of changes made to Lyra in such a short time really makes it apparent that the powers-that-be don't really know what to do with her character. Here, it's like Wilcox took that aforementioned idea of "Teen She-Hulk," partnered her up with Jen Walters, and then sparsely fit bits of Lyra's prior history in the narrative where they could fit. The Lyra of She-Hulks bears little, if any, resemblance to all of her earlier appearances.

The dynamic of She-Hulks again really reads like, well, exactly what you'd think a series about a Teen She-Hulk would. Lyra is largely the center of the narrative, as we follow her time in school, her being coached by Jen, and the talks between Bruce Banner and Jen about her. Jen acts as an aunt of sorts to young Lyra, having her attend high school at Bruce Banner's urgings. (See? That pink-skinned form comes in handy!) The two of them live in a sweet Manhattan apartment, and Bruce has charged them with capturing the remaining free members of the Intelligencia, solving some very important loose ends from the "World War Hulks" story. In fact, Bruce Banner and the Hulk have a substantial supporting role in the series, headquartered at Gamma Base and using funds from the Olympus Group to finance the women's missions. The base also houses a detention facility where the villains are held once the She-Hulks capture them.

The book's lighter tone aids in Lyra's likability, and she certainly needed some lightening up in the wake of, let's face it, some rather dark showings in her first dozen appearances. (Often the Boudicca unit served as comic relief in the earlier series, as counterpoint to Lyra's "straight woman.") You might be thinking, "Having been transported to this new time period where she isn't surrounded by all the war and gender politics, why wouldn't Lyra lighten up?" It's a fair point, and one I'm sure the creators had in mind when developing this series. The original point of creating a second She-Hulk seemed to be making her different from the original, who had become something of a punchline in the Marvel Universe, with no one able to remove her from John Byrne's intimidating shadow. It becomes obvious why Lyra began as a warrior-woman. Apparently that paradigm didn't quite mesh, because now Lyra has lightened up and become absorbed into the first She-Hulk's world--humor, girl talk, boys and all. Again, quite literally, she's Teen She-Hulk, "Jen's li'l sis."

You're not the only one, Lyra. Art by Stegman & Babinski.

And I hate it. And I love it.

I didn't mean to suggest that the Wilcox/Stegman series isn't any good. It's actually an intensely pleasurable read if taken out of context of Lyra's earlier appearances. Yes, I know I spent six paragraphs disparaging the changes made to Lyra in this four-issue limited series, but it works and I can't explain why. She-Hulks is just a fun ride. Harrison Wilcox writes a fun interplay between Jennifer and Lyra, and his Bruce Banner and Hulk are on point. In addition, he's nailed the voices for all the villains. True, the final issue features an abrupt, forced message about tolerance and fearing that which people don't understand that seems more at home in an X-Men book than a Hulk one. Overall, Wilcox hits more than he misses.

Furthermore, if one creator had a real "breakout moment" in this series, it must be Ryan Stegman. The man needs a high-profile gig, as his work here with inker Michael Babinski is just tremendous. He's grown by Hulk-sized leaps and bounds since working on the aforementioned Red She-Hulk backup stories. I mean, take a look at this:

Yes, I want to buy this page and frame it. Alas, a blogger's salary...! Stegman & Babinski FTW!

This was only page two of the first issue, and the piece shows that Stegman just gets it. His pages are clear and action-packed. If he wasn't having fun drawing all four issues, he certainly fooled me. The fun factor comes through on nearly every page. Wilcox's script is filled with "big" moments and every time he's asked, Stegman delivers, whether it's the Hulk catching the She-Hulks' Gamma Jet, or the She-Hulks fleeing an avalanche, or fighting the Wizard in an awesome double-page spread filled with bikini-clad women. His facial expressions are a delight, as well. In short, Stegman's fun, energetic, and expressive style fits the She-Hulks to a T, and I'd really love to see him on another project--whether it be more She-Hulks or something else--in the not-too-distant future.

What are the chances of seeing a second volume of She-Hulks? I can see Marvel's cautiousness in this volatile market, in wondering if this series would truly find an audience. Initially solicited as an ongoing series, evidently orders weren't as high as Marvel had hoped, and news broke on Diamond's weekly shipping list that the book had been changed to four issues. (It wasn't until the last issue was solicited in Marvel Previews that the company publicly acknowledged the series was scaled back.) It didn't help that the first issue was priced at $3.99 (although subsequent issues were all $2.99). The backdoor cancellation announcement probably doomed the series in retailers' eyes, although luckily for fans, only the last issue showed any hint that the book was in fact a limited series. (Why luckily? Fans who don't read solicitations likely thought the series was ongoing, and somewhere in my messed-up mind, I like to think fans wanted to settle in for a long haul.) Sadly, the book received anemic pre-orders, with only 18,616 copies of the first issue distributed according to Diamond. Subsequent sales figures confirm that the series only fell from there, with a 21% drop in December, and another 12% in January, where orders were at an abysmal 12,926 copies. We can only hope that the book sells out at the retailer level, and the inevitable trade paperback collection is heavily ordered, otherwise we may never see another Hulk-based series that's this fun. Or, more likely, we'll see yet another revision of Lyra, and probably Jen Walters as well...again, not as fun.

After my initial resistance to the core concept of She-Hulks, I have to say I greatly enjoyed the finished product and hope more adventures of Lyra and Jen are on the horizon. It's a case of so-so ideas with incredible execution. However, it's going to take more than Jen's magic cure-all, a cup of hot cocoa, to get this duo to see another day...

Hot cocoa can cure a lot, but can it get us She-Hulks volume 2? More Stegman & Babinski.

'Nuff said,

~G.

4 comments:

  1. Great article! I loved the She-Hulks book, but I was also troubled by the sudden de-aging of Lyra. I think I prefer her a bit older.

    Still it was a fun read and I am sad to see it end.

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  2. I have to agree with Daniel C on this one.

    This mini series was a very exciting ride (albeit a short one). I would love to see more adventures with Jen & Lyra in the future.

    For the record Lyra will be appearing in Jeff Parker's Hulk title in the future. So all is not lost.

    To me it wasn't that much of a problem that Lyra is older then she appears to be in her Hulk form. As we all know, a person's personality and looks changes greatly when one become a Hulk anyway.

    With this mini-series, I found it very similar to the stuff that Marvel had done with May'Day' Parker (Spider-man's daughter from MC2).

    In fact they are doing more of the same stories with the new Spider-girl (formerly El Arana' (I hope I got that right)).

    I just wish that it was an ongoing series as initially planned.

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  3. I love the Hulk family, but Lyra is the one character who doesn't work for me at all. The whole deadly teen girl thing, and all the comedy relief that her blunt threats always leads to as she tries to fit into this crazy high school scene, is done to death over at DC.

    She's got too much going against her. She is a test tube baby from an alternate future (a ridiculous one, by the way) who travelled back in time for some reason... None of that is relatable.

    Also, her visual is terrible. The green with this weird shade of red hair, and she's also recycling one of of Marvel's worst costumes from one of their lamer characters.

    She just seems randomly developed and thrown into the mix, but there's no real place for her.

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  4. >she now has a smaller, pink-skinned form invented just for this narrative

    To be fair, that probably has to do with the S.P.I.N. technology. The reason why she was shown to be so buff in human form is because of her mother's super genetics.

    ReplyDelete

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