In fifteen years, when the comics of superstar DC writer Geoff Johns are studied in liberal arts schools everywhere, it will be hard to remember he ever worked for Marvel. But he did, scripting The Avengers from 2002 to 2004. His signature humanist tales filled the gap between the revered Kurt Busiek (Astro City) and the reviled Chuck Austen (manga pap).
Johns’ short run had three major arcs, The Search for She-Hulk being the last of them. Here, he worked with his longtime Flash artist Scott Kolins for a gamma-irradiated romp through Bone, Idaho. The story begins when Jennifer Walters–She-Hulk’s puny alter ego–wanders into the peaceful town, depressed that she’s lost control of her power (during the the previous Red Zone arc). She can no longer become She-Hulk voluntarily and with her intellect intact. When scared, she transforms forcibly, violently, into a raging green imbecile.
Small town life in Bone should keep Jennifer calm–and essentially does, until she sees the wanted posters of her cousin Bruce Banner, the original Hulk. But Johns knows none of the superhero stuff matters without grounding; before the rest of the Avengers show up, he sends lovably disposable characters into the fray against Jennifer’s depression. After a doofy young cop asks to have coffee with her (and if she’s married), a waitress in the diner replies: “Oh, Lance. You gotta stop thinkin’ that badge is going to get you women. Just ignore ‘im, doll. He’s like a hawk on every new girl that comes into town.”
Soon, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Scarlet Witch arrive to talk Jen into coming home to New York. While the fellas clear civilians from the diner, the sympathetic Scarlet Witch says, “My mutant ability is to create chaos. To make the improbable a certainty. Sometimes all of this negative energy sends my head spinning too. Sometimes I feel as if I can do nothing but perpetuate the unnatural.”
The chaos she creates in the House of M miniseries is another post entirely. Here, she merely sends a wooden beam crashing across the diner’s exit. This is enough for Jen to lose it. Meanwhile, at Avengers Mansion, we’re reminded that Ant-Man exists so he can help save the day later: “Do you, uh…do you like your new step-father?” His daughter (and future Young Avenger) Cassie waits a beat to answer. “Mom does.” As always with Johns, great stuff, effortlessly done.
Kolins’ action panels, however, look like works of Olympian focus. The endless physical detail that made The Flash so engrossing thrives here, enlivened to poppy-brightness by colorist Chris Sotomayor. When battles cause carnage–and launch debris everywhere–Kolins is at his finest. He also draws buildings, towns and cities with a vigor that puts other artists (and their penchant for tracing) to shame.
Hawkeye drops in, too–grinning rakishly in his blue and purple showman’s attire, the idea of a scowling Jeremy Renner buried in the pages of The Ultimates. Speaking of Happy Comics, this is a rare memorable appearance for Jen outside of Dan Slott’s heartfelt She-Hulk run (2004-2007). There, she also prefers life as her confident alter ego, but the whimsy of a Meg Ryan comedy softens the tone.
And who knows–my opening line could prove wrong. Johns could quit his post as DC’s Chief Creative Officer and hop the fence for Marvel. Our fictional living legends surely wouldn’t mind further guidance from a real one.