The She-Hulk

The She-Hulk

(pop culture)

Conceived during the run of the highly successful Incredible Hulk CBS television series (1978–1982), the She-Hulk sprang from the brain of Stan Lee (the co-creator of the original Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and most of Marvel’s seminal, early 1960s heroes) and artist John Buscema (who was associated closely with the first Silver Surfer series and Conan the Barbarian). Created in 1979, principally to prevent competitors from trademarking their own female version of the Hulk—and in the hopes of spawning a television series that never came to fruition—the She-Hulk was Lee’s last major creation for Marvel before he relinquished his editorial duties in favor of developing the company’s many properties in Hollywood.

The Savage She-Hulk, a monthly series that began its twenty-five-issue run in early 1980, introduced female lawyer Jennifer Walters, a cousin of Robert Bruce Banner (the Hulk’s alter-ego). As chil dren, Walters and Banner (who is five years her senior) are very close, though they choose very dif ferent life paths later on; while the bookish Banne pursues a career in high-energy physics that culmi nates in his invention of the gamma bomb that transforms him into the Hulk, the mousy Walters enters UCLA’s law school and ultimately becomes a criminal defense attorney. Years later, Banner visits his cousin, to whom he confides the torments he suffers as a consequence of being the Hulk. During this period, Walters is defending a client named Lou Monkton, who has been framed for murder by a mobster named Nicholas Trask. After one of Trask’s hit men shoots and wounds Walters, Banner saves her life by giving her an emergency transfusion of his own (gamma-irradiated) blood. Walters soon finds herself transformed into a 650-pound, 6’ 7” tower of exquisitely-muscled, emerald female outrage.

Although the She-Hulk initially possesses a real streak of savagery (hence the title of her comic), she quickly becomes quite different from the character that inspired her. Unlike Banner, who becomes a ravening beast when his suppressed anger transforms him into the Hulk, Walters retains her intellect as She-Hulk and can change back to her ordinary human guise at will. She also contrasts sharply with Banner in that she has little desire to return to her human form; the same gamma rays that release Banner’s repressed rage also allow Walters to free herself ol the prim “lady lawyer” personality that had shack led her throughout her professional life. While Banner is perpetually tortured by his transformations into the Hulk, Walters exults in her newfound power, enjoying her crime-fighting adventures and imbuing them with verve and pas sion. If the Hulk is a study in emotional repression and mania, his female counterpart embodies instead the liberated, upwardly-mobile professional woman of the early 1980s—attractive, quick of wit, and unintimidated by anyone’s glass ceiling. When exposure to radiation traps her permanently in her She-Hulk form (during the 1984-1985 twelve-issue Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars miniseries), Walters hardly gives her buttoned-down human persona a second thought.

Like many a refugee from a canceled Marvel series (her first one ran twenty-five issues), the She-Hulk becomes a member of a supergroup, joining the Avengers (Avengers vol. 1 #221, July 1982) before temporarily replacing the Fantastic Four’s Thing during his extended off-planet leave of absence (Fantastic Four vol. 1 #265, April 1984). Even after the Thing’s return more than two years later, the She-Hulk (or “Shulkie” as her friends often call her) remains a close friend of (and sometime babysitter for) the FF family.

In 1989, the She-Hulk once again became a monthly series headliner with the debut of The Sensational She-Hulk. Written and illustrated by John Byrne (famed for his work on The Uncanny X-Men and The Man of Steel, the 1986 “reboot” of DC Comics’ Superman), this series made much better use of the character’s obvious comedic potential than did the previous one. Not only does Jennifer Walters still enjoy being a superpowered jade giantess, she is also keenly aware of the absurdities inherent in the superheroic life. Moreover, she is wryly cognizant of the fact that she is a comic book character, often driving the point home by grabbing panel borders, chasing bad guys by tunneling through the pages of her comics, and speaking directly to the audience (and sometimes even to writer/artist Byrne), in a manner reminiscent of television’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (1986–1990) or The Burns and Allen Show (1950–1958). She-Hulk isn’t the only “self-aware” character in the series; Marvel’s golden-age Blonde Phantom joins the supporting cast (issue #4), in a deliberate effort to take advantage of the slow aging process that all comic book heroes seem to enjoy (but only as long as they are featured in a monthly comics magazine).

Following a squabble with Marvel, Byrne left the series with issue #50 in April 1993 (having left and returned after another squabble from issue #10 to issue #31, an interim in which, among other writers and artists, Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber stepped in for a well-regarded run), and the book limped to its finish exactly ten issues later. Since that time, the She-Hulk has been ubiquitous on Marvel’s “guest-star circuit,” racking up appearances from the mid-1990s forward, in such titles as Nova (vol. 2), Fantastic Force, Thunderstrike, The Avengers (vols. 1 and 3), The Fantastic Four (vols. 1 and 3), Iron Man (vol. 2), Heroes for Hire, and Captain America (vols. 1-3). She finally regained a fixed address with a new ongoing series in 2004, and another one that ran from 2005 to 2009.

Marvel introduced a second She-Hulk in Hulk: Raging Thunder #1 (August 2008), who subsequently starred in the 2009 miniseries All-New Savage She-Hulk. She is Lyla, the daughter of an alternate future timeline’s versions of the Hulk and the superstrong Thundra. The original and new She-Hulks have become friends and allies.

Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, remains one of Marvel’s most consistently merchandised characters, her image appearing on items from drinking cups to apparel. —MAM

References in periodicals archive ?
The title may be too coy and cutesy for some, but young teen girls who want to see more superheroes than Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Batman, and to read about girls who do stuff, might enjoy this new take on the She-Hulk, the Wasp, and Namora.