I was struck while reading the most recent issue of Twomorrow’s marvellous Back Issue magazine that there was an omission from my latest “Mystery Men” post: Jennifer Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk.
Jen was arguably the last significant creation by Stan the Man (Ravage 2099 excepted) . I read her origin in a UK reprint in the spring of 1980:
I was about a year away from leaving school and quite, er , jaded by Marvel (x-cept for X-Men). In her tattered shirt, the chartreuse hellion seemed like a refugee from the previous decade: a distaff addition to the Ploog/Wrightson gallery of grotesques. After her Buscema/Lee mobster story debut, the She-Hulk descended into two years of dreary adventures written by quirky FOOM and Defenders alumnus David Anthony Kraft.
After her series folded, she became an Avenger in the summer of 1982, basically as a comic foil to Hawkeye. It wasn’t until the first Secret War however, two years later, that I finally succumbed to the charms of the jade giantess.
Perhaps it’s only Stan’s characters who ever really work well within Marvel’s First Family but John Byrne’s She-Hulk seemed to click effortlessly into place.
The graphic novel in 1985 saw Jen locked into her gamma-powered form and although she was still being portrayed in rather titillating situations, She-Hulk had finally “arrived” as a legitimate Marvel heroine. Three years later, Byrne tapped into the current fashion for “dramedy”, exploiting her comic potential far more than Shooter, Stern or Michelinie had dared.
Jen was breaking the fourth wall, commenting wittily and amusingly on comics tropes as Byrne satirised Marvel’s more bizarre characters. Ironically, some of those characters and situations were created by Steve Gerber, who succeeded Byrne on Sensational.
After a hiatus of a couple of years, Byrne returned seamlessly to the She-Hulk once again with the same brand of post-modern humour. But as the speculator-driven Nineties went into polybagged overdrive, Sensational was cancelled. Overtly humorous characters didn’t seem popular in the Image Era (unless they were called Bloodlaugh or Killhappy, maybe). A decade later, Dan Slott won accolades for a smart and modern take on She-Hulk, focusing on superhuman legal work. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of her Noughties stories.
Lyra, the All-New Savage She-Hulk, is a Jeff Parker riff on the Femizons created by Stan and John Romita and later expanded upon by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. Jen has acted as Lyra’s mentor and she’s also battled her doppelgänger, Betty Ross, the Red She-Hulk. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, after all.
It’s ironic that a rather ludicrous character, created to protect copyright in the years when Bixby’s David Banner was on tv, turned out to be one of the longest-running super-heroine titles Marvel ever produced.
Next: The Super-Stalag of Space
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