While the release date is anyone’s guess, a new She-Hulk series is currently slated for release on Disney Plus at some point in the next couple years. In our humble opinions, She-Hulk and her comics just might be some of the most criminally underrated in the Marvel canon. As such, we thought we’d give you a bit of a primer on who she is, where she comes from and what comics you should read to give you a good taste of who she is and why she is such a delight.
IN THE BEGINNING
SAVAGE SHE-HULK #1
In 1980, She-Hulk debuted in Savage She-Hulk #1, pencilled by John Buscema and written by Stan Lee. Stan Lee hurried the writing and publication of this particular character — not necessarily to meet fan demand for a hulking green beSHEmoth — get it — but to get ahead of the copyright. Remember that CBS series, The Incredible Hulk? So that show was doing relatively well and had a dedicated following, so CBS was exploring ways to create a female version of that hero — whether it be a female version of the Hulk or something more akin to a Bionic Woman
At that time, Stan Lee was living in Los Angeles and doing every last thing he could do to get Marvel IP into television or film. They’d already proven to have some mild success in animation, but were still striking out in their attempts to introduce more properties into live-action, with Incredible Hulk being their first big success. So when Stan Lee heard that CBS was looking at possible ways to create their own female version of the Hulk and, in doing so, cut Marvel out of those profits, Mr. Lee rushed a story to print and got ahead of them!
This is not meant to be read in a pejorative way; rather, it was a bit of a stroke of genius because even when Stan Lee’s initial motivation was a business one, he still could not help but create a great character filled with a lot of meaning and purpose.
In an In Memoriam for Stan Lee written for the Washington Post, journalist Alyssa Rosenberg put it best, saying of Lee’s creation, “…one measure of his accomplishment in creating (She-Hulk) is that she has been such a fertile template for other writers.” She goes on to say, “She-Hulk speaks to a world where women are compelling and alluring when we’re at our most powerful, where our anger must be reckoned with and can’t be an excuse to marginalize us.” She eventually concludes that “She-Hulk is strong, and that strength is a source of pleasure to her as much as it is a reason for us to admire her” and that she “…doesn’t lose herself when she transforms; she becomes a more concentrated version of herself.”
So what exactly happens in this first issue of Savage She-Hulk #1 that you should absolutely read?
We meet criminal defense attorney Jennifer Walters when her cousin Bruce Banner, you know — the Incredible Hulk — pays her a visit at her law offices. He’s on the run and looking for help, a place to lay low, so he tells her his whole grisly origin story. Being the loving and understanding cousin that she is, she takes in Banner and drives him to her place. On the way, Walters tells Banner about the case she is currently on where her client, the defendant, a known criminal lowlife named Monkton, is being framed by a criminal mastermind named Nick Trask.
No sooner had Banner warned Walters of getting involved with criminals like that, she is shot by some of Trask’s goons. Banner fights them off … with a garden hose … and then breaks into a nearby doctor’s house and, having studied medicine himself, gives her a blood transfusion — with his own Hulk-irradiated blood!
Not wanting to spoil anymore of the story, just know that she goes on to become She-Hulk later in that issue and it’s fantastic and you should read it.
The rest of the series is just as great. Taken over in Issue #2 by writer David Anthony Kraft and artist Mike Vosburg, we see She-Hulk take on plenty of other criminals, have to keep her identity secret from her father, Sheriff Morris Walters, and saving people from natural disasters. In one issue — Savage She-Hulk #6 — we see She-Hulk able to defeat Iron Man due to his assumption that, when she’s in her Hulk form, she’s just as dumb as her cousin when, in fact, she is just as bright and cogent as she is when she’s merely human.
While there’s plenty of great stories here as we watch She-Hulk in her nascent years becoming the hero we all know and love, it’s not until John Byrne takes over her stories in 1989 that she truly comes to life in the way we know her now.
SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #1
Who here is familiar with Deadpool, raise your hands.
Pretty much everyone? Cool cool cool.
So you know how he breaks the fourth wall and is aware that he’s in a comic?
Yeah — John Byrne did that first with She-Hulk back in 1989.
However, where Deadpool’s knowledge that he’s in a comic has driven him insane — or maybe it’s because he’s insane he knows he’s in a comic book? — She-Hulk is not necessarily viewed as insane by those around her. Sure she’ll get a strange look or comment here or there, but she’s not crazy — she’s just smart enough to know she’s in a comic and, even better, smart enough to know how to take advantage of it. All throughout this particular volume, she walks between the panels to beat traffic, makes use of subplots so she can get busy with her love interests and makes fun of the Comics Code whenever she can.
This fact is even announced on the very cover with She-Hulk directly addressing the readers, saying —
“Okay, now. This is your SECOND CHANCE. If you don’t buy my book this time, I’m gonna come to your house and rip up all your X-Men.” She’s even holding up a copy of Savage She-Hulk #1.
Byrne left the series pretty early on due to editorial issues, leaving at Sensational She-Hulk #8 — but don’t fret all of you Byrne fanatics, he comes back to the series later.
And it’s not like he was followed by a slouch — the writer following up Byrne was none other than Steve Gerber, pretty much the top comedy guy at Marvel, who’s Howard the Duck was one of their top-selling comics at the time.
Though, admittedly, he didn’t stay on it for very long either.
If you want to read anything from this era of She-Hulk, we’d recommend starting at the beginning, with Byrne’s first eight comics. There you’ll see her take on increasingly stranger and stranger stories, starting off with the Circus of Crime, then fighting some very strange villains named The Headmen and eventually ending up in space to fight on behalf of some space truckers and their space diner. Byrne’s last comic in this particular stretch sees She-Hulk teaming up with the world’s greatest criminal psychic — Santa Claus — after all, he does know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Bonus — he gives her a Christmas gift that pays off issue #36.
Bryne returns to Sensational She-Hulk in issue #31, giving us some of She-Hulk’s most iconic moments like in issue #40 when she appears to be jump-roping naked but, in reality, is revealed by her editor at the time, Renee Witterstaetter, to be wearing a swimsuit the entire time.
In fact, John Byrne increasingly made himself and his creative team a part of She-Hulk’s life, giving them these terrific fourth-wall breaking meta-conversations about the creative processes behind the book’s monthly publishing, the comic book medium and the industry itself.
And that’s what brings us to one of the very best issues of the Byrne run — Sensational She-Hulk #50, which was also the end of Byrne’s run on the title.
SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #50
The issue starts off with She-Hulk devastated at the death of her creator, John Byrne, and their now sudden need to find a new artist for her. From here, the book’s editor, Renee, shows She-Hulk a number of pages by other artists and writers for her to choose who she’d like to take over her stories, giving us pages from iconic creators of the day like Dave Gibbons — who was the artist on Watchmen, Frank Miller — who had entirely reenergized both the Batman and Daredevil universes — and a few others until finally revealing that writer Michael Eury and artist Todd Britton would be taking over the reins.
She-Hulk only ran for another ten issues following Byrne’s exit on the title, but even after her title’s cancellation, there was still plenty of She-Hulk to be found in the pages of The Avengers and the Fantastic Four where she was a member of both teams here and there.
SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #29-30
One final suggestion from this era — if you can find it — Sensational She-Hulk #29-30. From our research, these two issues are not included in any collections, but the individual copies can be found online at affordable prices.
In this storyline, we see a professor teaching his class about extra-dimensional space and how he’s discovered a fourth dimension, which he’s calling “Fourth Wall.” From this dimension, one can watch other people and introduce new elements into their daily life — it’s a little on the nose, but it’s a tremendously fun and madcap read that just proves how fun She-Hulk is.
THE DAN SLOTT RUN
While She-Hulk is certainly a presence in the Marvel universe following the cancellation of her book in 1994, she doesn’t get her own title again until 2004 when writer Dan Slott and artist Juan Bobillo take over her story. Where the Byrne era was filled with mad cap characters, insane stories and breaking the fourth wall, Slott is able to take all of that and streamline it into an exploration of the powerful, loving and compassionate hero She-Hulk is at her core and how that intersects with how she is as an attorney.
First of all, a bit of a caveat — don’t get confused with her comics as the numbering for the Dan Slott run is split into two different volumes. The first one starts in 2004 and runs until She-Hulk #12 in 2005; the second one starts with #1 in 2005 and runs until She-Hulk #38 in 2009. Peter David takes over writing duties in She-Hulk #22 and stays on it until #38. Both volumes are great and worth exploring because, very sincerely, there are so many great comics in this particular run that it’s hard to pin down which ones to choose!
In the 2004 run, we get a lot of fantastic new world building. Dan Slott takes the whole concept of “breaking the Fourth Wall” and turns it into an homage engine. Instead of She-Hulk turning to directly address the audience or Byrne making himself part of the story, we have things like the name of her firm being Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzman and Holliway, which for comic book fans is equal to Martin Goodman (Marvel’s first publisher), Lieber (which was Stan Lee’s true last name), Kurtzman (which was Jack Kirby’s true last name) and Holliway, her new boss in the comic. She works in a building called Timely Plaza, which was the first name of Marvel Comics back when it started in 1939, and she lives in a building called The Excelsior, which is the saying made famous by Stan Lee.
Then there are the comic references. Where Byrne would make meta-references inside his comic to other comics, Dan Slott, in a rather unique stroke of brilliance, made it so every Marvel comic that’s ever been published under the Comics Code Authority, which is considered a government entity in the comic, is therefore admissible in court as evidence or precedence. So while GLK&H has a law library for research, they also have a basement filled with long boxes and a team of comic book experts who can help them to cite various other instances.
And just why is it important to have comic books as reference for Walters and the rest of the attorneys at GLK&H — because they are pioneering a new legal practice in Superhuman Law. All throughout Dan Slott’s run, we see She-Hulk and her colleagues taking on increasingly ludicrous cases.
A stand-out issue in this regard is She-Hulk #4 in a story titled “A Web of Lies,” where Jennifer Walters represents Spider-Man in a libel case against J. Jonah Jameson. After years of being maligned in the Daily Bugle by J. Jonah and having no legal recourse due to Peter Parker’s unwillingness to drop his mask, Walters and her colleagues are able to figure out past “comic book” precedence allowing Parker to keep his true identity a secret and appear in court as Spider-Man. This story can be found in the volume titled, “Single Green Female.”
SHE-HULK: SUPERHUMAN LAW
However, it’s the volume titled “Superhuman Law” that you want as that one sees Jennifer Walters recruited to become a Magistrati — a practicing attorney for the Living Tribunal who argues throughout the cosmos on behalf of Universal Law. She is brought to a far off planet called Skardon to oversee a boxing match between various other heavy-hitters in the Marvel universe as they take on Tryco Slatterus, an Elder of the Universe known by the rather pompous sobriquet — The Champion of the Universe. In this volume, we get the best of both worlds with She-Hulk having to use her brilliant mind for litigation and her tremendous brawn to box the Champion of the Universe.
Bonus — there is also a complete collection of the first twelve She-Hulk comics simply titled, She-Hulk by Dan Slott: The Complete Collection Volume 1.
One last recommendation before we move on to the Charles Soule era —
SHE-HULK #3 (100)
She-Hulk #3 in the 2005 run is a celebratory issue that is — technically — marking She-Hulk’s one hundredth comic. In it, we see She-Hulk brought to trial following the events of the previous two comics where she tried to bring Hawkeye back to life from the past.
Okay — so let us back up a bit — in 2004 one of the biggest, most defining events in Marvel’s history — Avengers Disassembled — took place wherein Scarlet Witch, provoked by Doctor Doom, basically destroyed the Avengers from the inside-out. This later provoked another event, published in 2005, called The House of M wherein Scarlet Witch basically erased Hawkeye from existence, atom by atom.
So when a defense case involving time travel allows for a jury composed of citizens from the past and Hawkeye is among them, She-Hulk attempts to save his life by keeping that past-Hawkeye in the present, to make him present-day Hawkeye. Since this is a huge crime for the Time Variance Authority, a.k.a. the TVA, she is put on trial to determine if her existence has any meaning. If the outcome is that her existence contributes nothing to the fabric of space-time, her entire existence will be entirely erased.
What follows is, essentially, a Marvel universe love letter to the Jade Giantess with a whole cavalcade of characters from her past showing up in her defense including The Fantastic Four, Wyatt Wingfoot, The Hulk and a space trucker from the Byrne era named Buford T. Hollis, a.k.a. Razorback. However, in the end, it’s not She-Hulk strength and heroism that is proven to be the unique individual — it’s the compassionate, creative and humor of Jennifer Walters that has affected the universe in a way that no one else could ever duplicate.
Finally we arrive at our last recommendation and it comes from the Charles Soule era in 2014.
What makes his twelve issue run so unique is that the writer, Charles Soule, was a practicing attorney before he started writing for comics. That fact alone makes this run worth the read. It’s apparent that Soule knows what he is talking about and is having the giddiest good time writing ridiculous legalese and making fun of characters and scenarios that smack of absolute authenticity.
Just — here — in one of her first cases she has to go up against Tony Stark and she runs into his Legal team on the 18th floor.
It’s apparent that Soule absolutely knows how to write for attorneys.
However, perhaps the best story out of this volume is the one involving Steve Rogers and an alleged crime he committed in 1940 before he became Captain America. This story can be found in She-Hulk (Vol.3) #8-10 or in a collection titled, “Disorderly Conduct.”
What makes this particular story such cracker-jacks fun? Well, there are two heavy-hitter attorneys in the Marvel Universe — one is She-Hulk, the other is Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil. The two of them, up until this story, had never before gone up against each other in court but in the hands of Charles Soule you are absolutely rooting for both of them — even if Daredevil is prosecuting our Sentinel of Liberty.
For an example of just HOW great his writing is, we’ll give you Murdock’s closing arguments. Warning for slight spoilers here, but it’s not so much that it will give the entire story away by any means.
With that, we’d recommend diving in and purchasing the entire collection, titled She-Hulk by Soule & Pulido: The Complete Collection. Again, it’s only a twelve issue run, but each issue is more fun than that last. However, if you can only afford the cash or time, dive into the second half of the series, Disorderly Conduct, as that is the one that features the court battle between She-Hulk and Daredevil over Captain America.
This article was originally published 5/26/20
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