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From Savage to Sensational, Part II

Previously, in COMICS 101: Last week, we began our look at the superheroic career of one Jennifer Walters, better known to comics fans as the She-Hulk. After a strong start from creators Stan Lee and John Buscema, Shulkie had a bumpy road in her short-lived solo series, with an annoying supporting cast, horrible romantic interests, and some real loser supervillains. When the series was cancelled in after two years, it looked as if the She-Hulk would fade off into limbo. That is, unless Jim Shooter had something to say about it.

 In 1982, in the pages of THE AVENGERS, membership was dwindling. After returning to a classic lineup that included Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Yellowjacket, the Wasp and new recruit Tigra, Hank Pym’s mental breakdown (and subsequent framing for a crime he didn’t commit) and Tigra’s inferiority complex left Earth’s Mightiest Heroes somewhat short-handed. As of AVENGERS #221 (July 1982), new blood was in order.

While Captain America and Iron Man set off to return Hawkeye to the ranks, new Avengers chairman the Wasp decided she knew exactly what the team needed: “more girls!” Accordingly, she decides to throw a little recruitment tea party, inviting every super-powered female she can think of: the Invisible Girl, The Dazzler, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, you name it. Unfortunately She-Hulk has no return address to speak of, so she puts out full-page ads in all the West Coast papers and buys commercial time on all the networks, inviting She-Hulk to her get-together.

The day arrives, and sure enough, there’s a knock at the door, and it’s She-Hulk. While She-Hulk puts away all of Janet Van Dyne’s groceries, the house is attacked by then-recurring Avengers irritant Fabian Stankowicz, a two-bit inventor looking to make a name for himself by defeating the Avengers. After the other women both politely turn down Wasp’s Avengers invitation and soften up Fabian’s giant robot, She-Hulk puts the robot down for the count:

She-Hulk accepts the Avengers gig, although her first official meeting isn’t the smoothest, when she cuts off Hawkeye’s taxi in traffic on her way to the Mansion, an irked Hawkeye fires a circuit-shifter arrow into the taillight of She-Hulk’s pink Caddy convertible, frying its electrical system. Of course, She-Hulk doesn’t take this lying down…

And Hawkeye is chagrined to discover his fellow new member.

Whether the selection of She-Hulk was made by the book’s writer David Michelinie or by its plotter (and Marvel’s Editor in Chief at the time) Jim Shooter is unclear. Either way, it was a great decision. Not only would placing the character in the AVENGERS book keep She-Hulk in the public eye and legitimize her as a real “heavyweight ” in the Marvel Universe (a strategy known as the “Gerry Conway Firestorm/JLA maneuver” around these parts), but adding a strong, powerful woman not immediately introduced as or relegated to a romantic subplot really gave the series a breath of fresh air.

She-Hulk’s first real action as an Avenger came in the very next issue, #222, “A Gathering of Evil!”, by Shooter, scripter Steven Grant and penciller Greg LaRocque. The story opens with Jen still struggling to repair the damage done to her Cadillac by Hawkeye, and having little luck at it. I just love the new white-trash (or would that be “green-trash”?) dynamic She-Hulk immediately brings to the Avengers, working on her car in the driveway in front of Avengers Mansion in a pair of cutoff jeans. Spectacular.

Speaking of which, the Wasp tries to makeover She-Hulk’s less than stellar fashion sense, designing a whole new wardrobe for her, one which goes over quite well with the rest of the team; well, except for one, Hawkeye, who laughs it up over Jen’s new look intil she takes matters into her own hands:

Unfortunately, the new look hits a snag when the Wasp is attacked by the Masters of Evil, and She-Hulk’s arrival to the rescue doesn’t quite get the reception she expects, with a apnicked Wasp demanding she remove the designer ensemble before joining the battle. Rather than risk tearing Jan’s new outfit, the She-Hulk is forced to strip down and go into battle in her unmentionables (which, we’ll see, winds up becoming something of a trend, especially in the hands of later creator John Byrne), and even more insulting, isn’t even recognized by the super-villains:

She-Hulk settled into a sturdy if not starmaking supporting role in AVENGERS, providing both strength and power and a touch of comic relief. It wasn’t until Roger Stern took over the scripting of the series with issue #227 that the character really began to shine. In Stern’s hands, Jennifer Walters became the prototypical transplanted Californian in New York, constantly yearning for the beaches of Malibu and scouring the city for a decent apartment. In the place of the ranting, irrational emotional wreck we saw in SAVAGE SHE-HULK, Stern’s Jennifer Walters was gregarious and fun, a touch brash, and a little overconfident. The fighting togs did see some slight improvement as well, with the barefoot tattered shirt look replaced with a simple leotard and legwarmers. It’s a touch ’80s, I’ll grant you, but at least it was logical.

Stern gave us a great little She-Hulk/Hawkeye moment early in his run, after he had Masters of Evil member Radioactive Man bombard She-Hulk with focused Gamma rays, forcibly changing her to her powerless human form. After trying several times without success to return to She-Hulk, Jen had given up and withdrawn into an emotional hysteria. And naturally, Hawkeye can’t have that:

Does it work? You could say that:

Jen’s bad taste in men remains constant, though, shacking up with new Avengers recruit Starfox not long after he’s joined the team. In a much more conservative era for comics, writer Stern still manages to pretty heavily imply what’s been going on between these two.

I mean, really? Starfox? I’m not sure what’s worse, the costume or the haircut.

When most of Marvel’s major-leaguers were shunted off to deep space as part of the company’s first major crossover event, MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS, She-Hulk was along for the ride, although she didn’t figure in to the storyline dramatically, in part because, especially early on, SECRET WARS scripter Jim Shooter didn’t seem to have a good handle on her character, choosing to write her as something of a bubbleheaded Valley Girl:

She also seemed to get sucker-punched a lot, such as in this moment where Jen is taken out of action by new supervillain Volcana, who’s had her power for <I>about</i> a minute and a half:

You have to wonder if this was being done by Shooter as more of a plot necessity, just to keep someone with her power level out of action, to provide at least some level of jeopardy for a team that already had powerhouses like the Hulk, the Thing, Thor, Colossus and the Unbeatable Spider-Man on it.

The She-Hulk does get a spotlight moment in SECRET WARS after her teammate and friend the Wasp is kidnapped by Magneto, then murdered by the Wrecking Crew, with her corpse tossed on their doorstep like so much dirty laundry. (It’s comics; she eventually got better.) Defying Captain America’s orders, a furious, vengeance-seeking She-Hulk infiltrates the bad guys’ compound and pounds the holy crap out of all four members of the Wrecking Crew, before Titania, another new supervillain created by Dr. Doom, shows up and puts her to the test. Titania, who seems to be close to She-Hulk’s strength level, gives She-Hulk a run for her money, that is, until the Absorbing Man, Doctor Octopus and a resuscitated Wrecking Crew join Titania in beating her down mercilessly.

Thanks to Reed Richards’ genius with alien technology, She-Hulk survives the beating, and she quickly recovers.

The biggest change to come out of SECRET WARS for She-Hulk only took place on the next-to-last page of the series. But that was because it had actually been revealed some 12 months earlier, in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, and it was a doozy:

Next time: the John Byrne She-Hulk era begins. Come on back, won’t you?

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