There are several ways to get to know your audience, some more literal than others. Isaac Asimov had his Dear Readers, The Man himself has his True Believers; both are ways to draw you personally into what they’re talking about and soften the edges of what might be a sales pitch or a book introduction. She-Hulk, on the other hand, would threaten your X-Men comics.
The Jade Giantess celebrates her “excuse for publishing anniversary issues” this month and I’ve been waiting for this one since I realized the date. A fantastic fixture of the Marvel Universe, her pedigree is is kind of surprising when you stop to remember it. Not only is she a snap to draw in for a Marvel Heroes group shot, a recognizable face and figure, but she’s had the distinct honor of being a member of the Fantastic Four, a roster a fraction of the size of the Avengers (and she’s been one of them too!). She’s had an ongoing title in every decade since her inception, but it’s a heck of a thing to get her to stay around. I’d almost say that she’s the Marvel version of Charo, this great vivacious character that guest stars on multiple shows and everybody knows but doesn’t have her own regular gig on TV.
So what’s so sensational about her? Why do people continue to use a character who’s basic being (a female analog of a male hero) isn’t very Marvel at all? Venture forth! Continue and read more!
For one, she’s the last of the Lee Era. She-Hulk was the final character Stan Lee would create for Marvel until several years later with the 2099 series. There’s a lot of what we love about those ’60s-’70s era Marvel heroes that we still treasure to this day about her: she’s got a dual personality issue, she’s got family problems, she’s an escapist outlet for the disenfranchised and her powers are a matter of fate and timing. A blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner who just so happened to be visiting when she just so happened to be involved in a dangerous case that just so happened to turn violent and you can see where this is going. Marvel Heroes often happened to have these destiny driven backgrounds and Jennifer Walters is no exception. That and I think Stan Lee liked lawyers long before your Law & Order TV show boom, which is also cool. She’s always on the cutting edge but never loses that Stan Lee streak of familiarity and destiny.
From all the dimensions in personality and pathos Lee gave her, John Byrne gave her a fourth. In the ’90s, comics were going towards a bad time for the female heroine. The likes of Lady Death, Image pin-ups and ‘dark storylines’ would leave a lot of characters well-endowed and suddenly ninjas and here’s where She-Hulk made a difference. She talked to you. She knew just how cheesy the medium was and let you in backstage to roll your eyes with the best of them and simply enjoy the ride. Again, ahead of her time, Shulkie called out a lot of writing and comic tropes for what they were, but never got cynical or self-defeating. She’ll grouse, but come out a winner every time. I used to have a lot of comics from the Sensational She-Hulk era and while I can’t quote you issue numbers, chapter or verse, I can reminisce about moments, gags and stories that stayed with me from my ill-spent comic nerd youth to my ill-spent comic nerd adulthood: her clothing being protected by the Comic Code Authority as to not tear in fights and get too revealing, Shulkie’s complaints at the title of her own story on the cover of ‘Jenny to the Center of the Earth’, the Xemnu story ‘I Have No Mouth and I am Mean’.
The only number I can remember with crystal clarity is issue #50, its foil cover often looking out at me from long boxes. In the issue, John Byrne cannot be found so they try out several popular artists and styles to help She-Hulk boost sales and keep her series. This was the first I had seen of the likes of Frank Miller, Wendy Pini, Adam Hughes, Dave Gibbons, to name a few. She-Hulk wore their art styles like a funny Halloween costume: recognizable as something else but always with that indomitable wit and charm shining through. She’s perennial, ever-lasting.
She-Hulk is confidence and who doesn’t like to see a hero with her shoulders squared, a little lift to her hip and ready to take it all on? Geoff Johns named that irrepressible persona as confidence in his ‘The Search of She-Hulk’ story in his all too short Avengers run. It’s why any of us would choose to be this great green bodacious amazon rather than our humbler, meek and fearful selves; if we looked like she looked, some gal pals of mine have noted in a conversation or two, I could go anywhere.
And she does! She’s never really left our landscape because She-Hulk is a character full of confidence and humor, something I think comics could use a little more of (thanks, Incredible Hercules). You can change the tone and the season and the art and the direction, but She-Hulk will always be herself. Byrne said it in his #50 issue special, Peter David said it in his 30th anniversary special, and who knows who’ll be saying it at the 50th anniversary special?
While an lasting ongoing title run ma continue to elude her, her character has been everlasting. The idea of She-Hulk is always going to be floating around the milieu of the Marvel U. It’s like being 16 time World Wrestling Champion; sure you lost it 15 times but each of those losses and wins must have been a fight to the finish.
She-Hulk is a sensational champion.