From Savage to Sensational, Part III

For Those Who Came In Late: In recent weeks, we’ve been chronicling the comic-book career of Marvel’s resident Jade Giantess, otherwise known as the She-Hulk. After a bit of a shaky start in her underwhelming solo series, She-Hulk began to gain some respectability with a steady if a little unremarkable stint in the AVENGERS, followed by a featured role in Marvel’s blockbuster 1985 maxi-series MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS. The biggest boost for the character, though, was just around the corner…</i>

Marvel’s SECRET WARS series in 1985 jump-started a lot of new directions for many of its series. Spider-Man’s black costume made its debut there, and the Thing’s solo series took a dramatic turn, with Ben Grimm electing to stay on the far-off planet after his super-powered associates had all returned to Earth. However, the vagaries of publishing meant that although Ben Grimm wouldn’t make that decision until the 12th and final issue of SECRET WARS, the repercussions would have to be seen in the Marvel Universe immediately with the return, only one month after the majority of Marvel’s heroes disappeared into a mysterious alien monolith in New York’s Central Park. Accordingly, issue #265 of FANTASTIC FOUR saw its cover teasing the identity of Ben Grimm’s replacement:

“Home Are the Heroes,” written and drawn by John Byrne, sees a pregnant Sue Richards, along with little Franklin and Ben’s girlfriend Alicia Masters, rushing to Central Park at the sight of the same unearthly glow that heralded the departure of their loved ones a week (story-time) earlier. Sue immediately recognizes the glowing forms of Reed and Johnny fading into view, but the figure accompanying them definitely isn’t Ben Grimm:

In one of Marvel’s better surprise revelations (this being back in the days before the Internet and PREVIEWS catalogues, when you could actually pull off a surprise), She-Hulk has been enlisted by Ben Grimm to take his place on the team, after his decision to stay on the alien planet, which for some reason allowed him to resume his human form at will. (Naturally, Reed knew the reason why and elected not to tell him, another of the boneheaded decisions by the supposed world’s smartest man that would come back to bite him on the rubbery ass.)

She-Hulk barely has a chance to catch her breath before Sue has to be hospitalized due to complications stemming from her pregnancy, and She-Hulk spends her debut issues with the FF primarily standing around looking worried. She finally sees her first bit of action as an FF member in FANTASTIC FOUR #268, during, of all things, her Baxter Building orientation, as the mask of the believed-to-be-dead Doctor Doom suddenly leaps to life and begins blasting the hell out of the Torch and She-Hulk. As a matter of fact, her first mission with the team is less than auspicious, as she winds up thrown from the building by her own misplaced momentum, and plummets to the ground hundreds of feet below.

Byrne’s approach to drawing the character is immediately apparent, even in his first few issues. Where Mike Vosburg tended to focus on the Hulkish nature of the character, and the artists on AVENGERS tended to draw her as more of an overdeveloped bodybuilder type, Byrne seemed to be going out of his way almost immediately to make Jennifer Walters more glamorous and appealing. While still seven feet tall and unquestionably muscular, Byrne made her a bit more slender and gave her a somewhat more feminine figure. And Byrne, who has unfairly struggled against the incorrect slam that “all of his women look alike,” created a distinct, extremely attractive face for She-Hulk, which provided the vehicle for Byrne to do some of the most expressive penciling of his career. As far as characterization goes, under Byrne’s pen, She-Hulk was definitely more intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor. Byrne’s refinement of the character was so striking that he often gets full credit for saving the character from her failed solo series, a compliment that Byrne continually deflects, citing AVENGERS writer Roger Stern’s use of her in AVENGERS, as a character who actually seemed to have fun being the Hulk, unlike her more famous cousin, as the reason he wanted to induct her in the Fantastic Four to begin with. The complete package, of She-Hulk’s redesigned visuals and refined personality, stands out has the most fully realized characterization of Byrne’s career, in my opinion.

Byrne dabbled with She-Hulk’s sense of inferiority in trying to fill Ben Grimm’s shoes in her early issues, but not for too long. Even here, with her appearance at the wedding of Black Bolt and Medusa in FF ANNUAL #18, despite a few critical missteps in battle, her personality shines through. This was what Byrne’s She-Hulk brought to the table: a real sense of fun, often surpassing even the comic relief brought by the Thing’s usual wisecracking role, just because there wasn’t that layer of tragedy overlaying it, as in Ben Grimm’s case.

Byrne also remedied Jen’s longtime lousy taste in men by introducing a new love interest for her, longtime FF associate (and Johnny Storm’s college roommate) Wyatt Wingfoot. The two first met in FANTASTIC FOUR # 269, when Reed and Jennifer head out West to Wyatt’s tribal homeland to defeat the cosmic threat known as Terminus. The two wind up, well, falling all over each other, for lack of a better term:

And by issue’s end, Wyatt has elected to forfeit his place as tribal leader and return to a life of adventure alongside the Fantastic Four, and already She-Hulk seems impressed with him. Of course, the fact that he’s not sporting a giant porn ‘stache should be Jen’s first clue that she’s trading up.

She-Hulk’s best and funniest showcase issue in Byrne’s run came in issue #275, “The Naked Truth.”

In a story that’s actually even more relevant in today’s paparazzi-ridden tabloid world than it was when it was published twenty-two years ago, She-Hulk is minding her own business sunbathing on the roof of the Baxter Building, when a sleazy skin-magazine publisher comes along in a borrowed traffic helicopter and manages to get some topless photos:

Needless to say, Jennifer’s not taking this lying down, and immediately leaps to pursuit:

While she catches the chopper, they manage to get away after slamming her into the side of a building. Luckily, Wyatt Wingfoot is there on a borrowed jet-cycle for the pickup. Jen puts her not-so-rusty attorney’s skills to use and tracks down the traffic copter, where she … persuades the pilot to hand over the name of the photographer.

Consequently, diminutive attorney Jennifer Walter and her burly Native American bodyguard wind up in the more than slightly seedy offices of THE NAKED TRUTH, a periodical that Jen remarks “makes HUSTLER look like the CONGRESSIONAL REPORT.” Meeting with the rag’s publisher, T.J. Vance, Jen realizes that all her legal threats aren’t going to do much good against the slimeball:

Rather, she opts for another route, changing into She-Hulk and crushing the publisher’s safe containing all their checks and receipts into a ball.

Unfortunately, even then She-Hulk has to face the fact that, satisfying as that was, it still won’t prevent the photos from being printed. However, there’s a surprise in the works, as delivered by Johnny Storm. It turns out that the publisher was in such a rush to get the magazine in stores, he neglected to tell the printer that they were of a green woman, so the printer color-corrected them:

Johnny’s right, by the way: The STAR TREK pilot had the same thing happen with the makeup tests for the Orion slave girl, but I digress…

A charming, funny She-Hulk solo story from Mr. Byrne, and one which whetted the appetite for more. Luckily for readers of the time, more would be on the way. As we’ll see in the weeks to come.

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