Since her first appearance in 1980, Jennifer Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk, has largely been overshadowed by her more famous cousin. Despite an origin story by Stan Lee and appearing in fantastic stories by star creators such as John Byrne, Dan Slott and Peter David, She-Hulk has never managed to establish herself as an A-list character in the Marvel universe. This could be about to change in 2017.
After the death of Bruce Banner in Marvel’s "Civil War II" event, Jen Walters will headline her own series debuting in December 2016, titled simply "Hulk." Marvel has promised that this will be a departure from the more lighthearted stories traditionally associated with the character, with an angrier She-Hulk struggling to deal with her recent trauma and loss. To whet your appetites for this launch, we’ve looked back through She-Hulk’s comic appearances to date, choosing (in chronological order) 15 of her very best moments.
15 Her Origin ("Savage She-Hulk" #1)
The first appearance of Jennifer Walters is notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that legendary Marvel creators Stan Lee and John Buscema were the creative team that introduced her. The rationale behind Jen’s transformation into She-Hulk (courtesy of a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner) might have been crude, but there were enough signs, even at this early stage, to suggest that she was more than just a female counterpart of the Hulk.
Although, like the Hulk, anger was originally the trigger for Jen’s transformations, she was able to exert more control over both her transformations and actions. The contrast between the studious lawyer of Jen Walters and the Amazonian ferocity of She-Hulk echoed the Banner/Hulk dynamic, but the supporting cast of everyday people and places was a refreshing change, the Hulk having spent years on the run from Hulkbusters and army forces in his own title. As the name of the series implies, the She Hulk in these early issues was more savage than sensational, but the evolution of her character began here.
14 Joining The Avengers ("Avengers" #221-222)
She-Hulk’s first title was not a high seller and only lasted 25 issues. Despite her ties to the Hulk many of her initial adventures were on the fringes of the Marvel universe, fighting unmemorable foes such as the Man Elephant. Although a number of guest appearances in other titles followed her book’s cancellation, as well as a role in the high-profile "Marvel Superhero Contest of Champions" event, it wasn’t until she joined the Avengers in 1982 that the character reached a new level of popularity.
Being part of a team environment helped showcase how She-Hulk differed from her cousin. Increasingly portrayed as an extrovert who loved action and the limelight, Jen quickly bonded with her teammates, forming a close friendship with the Wasp and a playful antagonism with Hawkeye. Her first adventure featured the Wasp attempting to dress She Hulk in a typically garish costume, and culminated in She-Hulk battling the Masters of Evil in her underwear. It was immediately apparent, for both the Avengers and readers, that this Hulk was unlike any the team had seen before.
13 Her Friendship With Hawkeye
Almost from the moment he joined the Avengers, Hawkeye had been portrayed as the team’s hothead. He was invariably the one to clash with leaders, be annoyed by demands from the government, or just generally start a fight in an empty room. Most of his teammates had learned long ago to tolerate his behavior, which was what made his relationship with She-Hulk so effective. When Hawkeye complained about her joining the team and questioned her effectiveness, Jen didn’t get mad or start smashing things; instead, she gave Clint a big kiss and left him on the floor, probably wondering what the heck had just happened.
This set the tone for the relationship between the two. More than teammates, the two are almost like siblings, with their bickering and banter concealing a deep affection for each other. Dan Slott made good use of this during his run on "She-Hulk" when Jennifer met a time-displaced Clint and attempted to warn him of his future death, regardless of the consequences for the time stream. With Clint having recently killed Bruce Banner, it remains to be seen whether this strong bond will endure or whether their next meeting will be a lot less friendly.
12 Battling An Army Of Bad Guys ("Secret Wars" #7)
With She-Hulk traditionally being a more down-to-earth, lighthearted character than the Hulk, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how strong she actually is. Jen rarely loses control to an excessive degree, making these times where she does cut loose even more impressive. One such instance was in the pages of Marvel’s "Secret Wars" limited series in 1984. Grief stricken and angry due to the apparent death of The Wasp, Jen set out on a solo mission to gain revenge on the villains responsible, coming very close to success.
She defeated the entire Wrecking Crew without breaking a sweat, the tide of battle only being turned when Titania entered the fray. In the end, it took the combined forces of numerous villains, including Doctor Octopus, Titania and The Wrecking Crew, to eventually put She-Hulk down for the count. This was an effective reminder to readers that, when provoked, She-Hulk could smash just as effectively as her cousin. It also, in the form of Titania, introduced a character who would become one of She-Hulk’s most persistent opponents, returning to fight her on numerous occasions.
11 Meeting The Press ("Fantastic Four" #275)
John Byrne’s run on "Fantastic Four" is rightfully praised, with Byrne taking the title in a number of interesting directions during his run. One of these was the replacement of the Thing with She-Hulk, after Ben Grimm opted to stay on Battleworld following the events of "Secret Wars." Jen filled the strongman position vacated by the Thing, while the introduction of a new character into the family dynamic provided a number of interesting interactions.
One of the most successful FF stories to spotlight She-Hulk was in #275, where tabloid photographers took pictures of She-Hulk sunbathing topless. In both her Jen Walters and She-Hulk personas, she made every effort to prevent the photographs being published in a magazine. Her efforts failed, but the twist denouement was that the printers, assuming the Jade Giant’s green skin was an error, had colored her skin pink, making the photos almost unrecognizable. Sheesh, the ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing never had to face problems like this – what a revoltin’ development!
10 The She-Hulk Form Becoming Permanent ("Sensational She-Hulk" Graphic Novel)
Throughout her time as She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters had usually been able to control her transformations, giving her the option of facing situations as She-Hulk or Jen. In her first graphic novel, this all changed. After fighting super-intelligent cockroaches on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and foiling their plans, it was revealed that the radiation She Hulk absorbed in the conflict had an unexpected effect. She could no longer turn into her human form.
For most other superheroes, such a revelation might have led to a bout of soul searching or an identity crisis. Not for She Hulk. “What’s the bad news?” she asked Mr Fantastic upon hearing her prognosis. This illustrated a key feature of She-Hulk’s character, one that would be expanded upon by numerous writers in later years, most notably Dan Slott. Being She-Hulk wasn’t a curse or something that Jen struggled with; it was a release, allowing her to be the strong, confident, outgoing woman that she had always dreamed of being.
9 When She Met Santa, Master Detective! ("Sensational She-Hulk" #8)
If there was one thing that readers of John Byrne’s "Sensational She-Hulk" could rely on, it was that their expectations would regularly be confounded. A-list villains would be teased, but would be revealed to be C or even D-list foes; guest stars would not be hot ‘90s characters such as Wolverine or Ghost Rider, but rather obscure characters such as the Blonde Phantom or Razorback. With this track record, having Santa as a cover star for the Christmas 1989 issue (described as “the world’s greatest Detective,” no less) seemed oddly fitting.
It sounds ridiculous, but in the context of the world Byrne had created for She-Hulk – complete with breaking the fourth wall and pithy caption boxes – it was a perfect fit. Santa was the ideal choice to help solve a murder case because he always knows who’s been naughty or nice. This issue was Byrne’s last on the title (at least until his unexpected return with #31) but it ensured that he departed the title in some style.
8 She-Hulk Returns Home ("Sensational She-Hulk" #36)
During her time as She-Hulk, Jen Walters had achieved great things. She’d been a member of the Marvel Universe’s two premiere super teams, had helped save the world on multiple occasions, and had achieved success as both a superhero and a lawyer. Her time as plain old Jennifer Walters, an ordinary girl from L.A., seemed a long time ago, but the beauty of this issue is that it allowed She-Hulk to revisit old haunts and old companions, illustrating how they had changed over the years.
There’s an element of housekeeping to the story, with Byrne taking the chance to reintroduce Wyatt Wingfoot, a character that had been seldom seen since Byrne’s "Fantastic Four" run. But although Jen is obviously delighted to see him again, that’s not where the emotional heart of the issue lies. Morris Walters, Jen’s father, is pleased to see his daughter again, but there’s an obvious melancholy behind his actions. He still loves the She-Hulk, but there’s a sense of loss for “his Jen” who no longer seems visible. It could be debated whether this is a selfish viewpoint, but it’s undeniable that the story’s end – featuring She-Hulk temporarily restored to Jen’s form – is heart-warming.
7 Challenging Sexism ("Sensational She-Hulk" #40)
It’s true that sex appeal is one aspect of She-Hulk’s character: in this form, Jen Walters is a confident, outgoing character, who knows that she looks good. However, She-Hulk is so much more than just her looks. This is a concept that John Byrne skewered with some success during his run at the helm of Jen’s solo title. This was particularly prominent upon his return to the title with #31, with Jen portrayed in an increasing number of provocative positions. Across various covers she mirrored Demi Moore’s famous pose from "Vanity Fair," and posed in lingerie or a bikini. Such images were typically delivered with a knowing wink and She-Hulk’s proclamation that she had to do something to sell the book.
This was taken to its extreme in #40, where She-Hulk spent several pages jumping rope while naked, her modesty protected by the blurred lines of the rope circling her body. Of course, it was eventually revealed that Jen was wearing underwear, with her then going on to mock readers that thought otherwise. It’s not clear whether this was Byrne teasing fans or a case of him having his cake and eating it, but it was an entertaining running gag.
6 John Byrne’s Goodbye ("Sensational She-Hulk" #50)
When John Byrne decided to leave "Sensational She-Hulk" with issue #50, Marvel was faced with a dilemma: how to replace a creator that was so strongly linked with Jen Walters. Brilliantly, this search for new talent was worked into the plot of the anniversary issue. The concept was that She-Hulk needed to find a new creator to replace Byrne and was meeting with editor Renee Witterstaetter to look through samples from other creators. And what a weird and wonderful mix they were!
With contributions from Dave Gibbons, Frank Miller, Wendy Pini, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, Howard Chaykin and Adam Hughes, the issue certainly had its fair share of star power. Even better is that each creator had their creative tongue wedged firmly in cheek, satirizing the traits they were known for. Most bizarrely, Howard Mackie popped up as an artist, gleefully swiping from established Marvel creators. The book even featured the traditional anniversary death, in this case, John Byrne himself. A forgotten gem, well worth seeking out.
5 Helping Spider-Man Sue J. Jonah Jameson ("She-Hulk" vol 3. #4)
Dan Slott’s run on "She-Hulk" was one of the smartest, most entertaining Marvel books of its time. With Juan Bobillo bringing to life She-Hulk and her co-workers at GLKH (the law firm she works at), the series mixed smart super heroics with quirky legal cases. Whether it was ghosts making accusations from beyond the grave, or supervillains attempting to sue Hercules for damages, Slott took full advantage of the Marvel universe’s particular slant on the law. This focus led to one of the greatest issues of the series: where Spider-Man sued J. Jonah Jameson for libel. Further complicating matters, Peter Parker was also included in the suit, due to his creating fake photographs to accompany the articles.
It’s always a delight to see stories that focus on Jonah, giving an insight into the man that looks beyond his cigar and bad attitude. When mixed with a classic Spidey/She-Hulk team-up against the Scorpion and a hilarious denouement, the issues stands out as one of She-Hulk’s finest moments.
4 Defeating Champion In The Boxing Ring ("She-Hulk" vol. 3 #8)
Champion had become King of Skardon after defeating the most powerful warriors the planet had to offer. A variety of heroes tried to challenge his rule but, in the end, all of them – including Gladiator, Drax, Beta Ray Bill and the Silver Surfer – were soundly beaten. With such great fighters defeated, who could possibly remain to challenge Champion? Here’s a hint, she’s about seven feet tall and green. Yes, when the efforts of the toughest men in the universe met with resounding failure, Jen Walters stepped in to save the day.
What made Jen’s eventual victory so satisfying was not only her triumph over such odds, but the fact that her victory owed as much to her intelligence as it did to her strength. She realized that as She-Hulk she was exponentially stronger, so by bulking up as Jen Walters, her strength as She-Hulk was much increased. It’s interesting to ponder whether this also applies to her cousin. If the Hulk is “the strongest one there is” when Banner is a 97-pound weakling, how much stronger would he be if Banner also worked out?
3 Meeting The In-laws ("She-Hulk" vol. 4 #9)
J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t show his softer side very often, but one constant in his portrayals is his pride in his son, John. Jonah views John as a real American hero, unlike the superheroes and vigilantes that he devotes so much time to tormenting. So, what happens when the two worlds collide: when John marries a superhero? The reader gets to enjoy the sight of Jonah having an on-panel breakdown, that’s what.
When She-Hulk and John Jameson wed after exposure to Starfox’s pheromone powers, the happy couple enjoyed a dinner with Jonah and Marla Jameson. Home truths were shared, Jonah had a rage-inducing vision of his (potentially green-skinned) grandchildren, and dessert was replaced by a raging battle between a spider slayer (renamed by Jonah as a She-Hulk slayer) and a fighting mad She-Hulk. In the end, She Hulk discovered the perfect way to find favor with her new father-in-law: she promised to help him sue Spider-Man, instantly transforming her into the best daughter-in-law in the world.
2 Fighting Iron Man After He Exiled The Hulk ("She-Hulk" vol. 4 #18)
When Iron Man, Dr Strange, Black Bolt and Mister Fantastic conspired to exile the Hulk in space, the rest of Earth’s superheroes remained blissfully unaware of their drastic decision. In the aftermath of the superhero registration act, She-Hulk became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in the Hulkbuster unit, fighting Hulk’s old foes until such time as her cousin could be found. Seeing Jen fight foes such as the Abomination, Wendigo, U-foes and Zzzax was a nice change of pace from the law firm setting, placing her in the unfamiliar environment of a military organisation.
The culmination of this plot was when Jen found out that Tony had been lying to her face for weeks, allowing her to maintain the belief that she would eventually locate the Hulk. Filled with rage, She-Hulk delivered an impressive beat down, before a sneaky move from Tony removed her powers, turning her back into Jen Walters. This battle and the aftermath showed how Jen was not a woman that should be crossed, in either of her forms. That’s something that Tony really should have anticipated. Some futurist he turned out to be.
1 The Ultimate Team Player ("Fantastic Four" #2)
Even though it’s been several years since She-Hulk served on the main Fantastic Four team, she remains part of the wider family, maintaining her friendship with all the group’s members. This was well displayed in Matt Fraction’s recent run on the FF titles, where Jen was one of the heroes chosen to make up a substitute Fantastic Four while the original team explored deep space. Jen was handpicked by The Thing to take his place, highlighting their close relationship. It’s a relationship of equals, albeit with a bit of friendly competition thrown in, as demonstrated in this issue.
This highlights one recurring aspect of Jen's character. She has the self-confidence to make it on her own, but really excels as part of a team. This was apparent from her introduction as an Avenger, while more recent stints in the Fearless Defenders, Heroes for Hire and A-Force have continued this theme. These close links have led to many of Jen's closest friendships, including Carol Danvers, which will hopefully sustain her as she adjusts to a life without her cousin. If not -- if an angry Jen cuts herself off from her support network -- then perhaps the sensational She-Hulk will be returning to her savage roots...
Have we captured your favorite moments? Do you favor a more serious take on She-Hulk, or do you enjoy her traditional tongue-in-cheek adventures? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook!