Monday, March 18, 2013

Derivative Ladies: She-Hulk

The Savage She-Hulk #1 (February 1980)
"The She-Hulk Lives"
Stan Lee-John Buscema/Chic Stone 

Doug:  I never read any books in She-Hulk's original run; in the late '80's I read some of John Byrne's version and found the breaking-the-fourth-wall stuff to be mildly annoying.   While it worked in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, for whatever reason I didn't care for it in comics.  And what of Stan Lee?  I'll bet you're wondering about the date of Stan's previous script, as compared to this one?  He actually got a writing credit alongside Marv Wolfman for the previous month's Amazing Spider-Man #200; but before that you'd have to go back to January 1978's Silver Surfer original graphic novel.  And before that?  I think it's safe to say that by the time Stan wrote The Savage She-Hulk #1 he'd been out of the scripting game for the better part of a decade.  Here is the take from Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story:

From Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, (c) Sean Howe

Karen: I did pick up this first issue when it came out -and that was it for me. I didn't actually care for the character at all -hated the name,still do - until many years later, when she began appearing in Avengers and Fantastic Four. Over the years I have grown to respect her, and I did read her book for a time, I believe when Dan Slott was writing it.

Doug:  We had some interesting conversation on our Ms. Marvel post, and got a little mileage on Spider-Woman.  Both Karen and I felt that those two stories were passable, but I'm going to have to go on record here at the top and say this one is not.  First of all, we open with Banner in those god-forsaken purple pants.  Hey -- raise your hand if you have ever, ever -- seen any man wearing purple pants (and if I just offended any of our readers, I don't really care.  It's not a good look).  Then we get the long-lost relative, making her first appearance, dropped in our laps.  Talk about late to the party, as Jennifer Walters and Banner talk about old Aunt Mabel and everything else.  Stan's script is just as melodramatic as it ever was, but in a story we're almost being forced to care about it's somewhat painful.  "I might as well come out with it!"  "Answer me, Doc!  I have to know!  What have you done?"  Bro-therrrr.  The best thing this book has going for it is that it's only 17 pages rather than the standard 20-21.  Jeez, I'm writing this on a day off from school, with a snowstorm looming, and I'm as curmudgeonly as ever.

Karen: It's rough, reading this and realizing just how bad it truly is. It's Stan Lee -I want it to be good, I want to make excuses, or tell myself I'm being too hard on him, but honestly, it's just bad. I ask myself too, is it really that different from his work that I consider to be his apex, his best years on Spidey and the FF? I think so. I think this book is an example of all of his foibles as a writer being magnified, his reliance on soap opera melodramatics rather than honest drama come to the fore here.

Doug:  So here's the plot --  and I have to give Stan a kudo for a little self-deprecation at the start.  He introduces us to "David, or Bruce, or Bob -- what does it matter?"  "Bob Banner" was a no-prize from the earliest days of the Hulk, and of course David Banner is the name the lead character on the Hulk TV show went by. Anyway, Banner's on the way into a Los Angeles law building.  Finding the correct office, he walks in on a Jennifer Walters, Attorney at Law, with her nose in a big law book.  What a step up from the days of women portrayed only as domestics.  But how about the manner in which John Buscema chose to dress her?  No business suit?  Banner takes a seat and begins to tell Jennifer that he's a wanted man -- she of course cannot believe that.  Saying they used to be like brother and kid sister, Bruce can tell her anything.  We then get a one-page recap of the Hulk's origin, and Banner begins to pull back.  Jennifer offers him to come home with her -- she is going to try to help him.

Karen: How the heck would she not know Banner was the Hulk? It's been common knowledge for years! This was just an example of laziness in the writing -or perhaps poor memory on Stan's part?

Doug:  The two exit the building to a parking lot, where a couple of toughs wait in a dark sedan.  Jennifer is a criminal lawyer, so we can assume this is going to go badly very shortly.  As Jen and Bruce drive off, they are tailed.  Jen tells Bruce a bit about a case she's working on, and Bruce tells her that her strategies could prove dangerous to her.  As Jen pulls into her driveway, the thugs make their move.  The sedan pulls up as Jen exits her car -- she's shot in the back.  One of the baddies steps out with his piece, to finish the job.  Banner races for a garden hose laying in the yard and uses it on the gunman, "I've seen cops use it -- for riot control!"  It's working -- pushing him back!"  Really?  And the hose was on?  And had the same power as a fire hose?  Stan, Stan...  Bruce scoops up his cousin and enters the apparently-unlocked house, closing (apparently not locking) the door behind him as another bullet screams through the wood.  He goes to the window in time to see the car speed away.
Karen: A garden hose. A garden hose. I wanted to shut the book at that point, but I'm a professional. For the sake of the blog, I kept reading.

Doug:  I don't know about you, but I'd assume that someone hit in the back or shoulder area would be a) losing blood, b) be in danger of a spinal injury, or collapsed lung, or c) partially paralyzed.  Well, we'd be wrong.  No blood, apparently no danger of moving Jennifer before stabilizing her spine, and she's able to support some of her weight though unconscious.  I think the deadline on this issue must have been two days.  Bruce knows she needs a doctor, but there's no time for an ambulance.  He spies a "doctor's shingle" across the street (I have no idea -- is this common?), and carries Jen to the front door.  No answer, no sign of anyone around, so Bruce breaks in.  Finding an examining room in the home, he starts the procedures for a blood transfusion.  He says, "I still remember -- her blood type -- same as mine!"  Raise your hand (again) if you know your own blood type, let alone that of your cousins.  Man... this just gets worse.  As it appears that Jen (no stitches on the wound, mind you) appears to be OK, Bruce calls the police.

Karen: It just gets worse and worse... Jen is supposedly dying but looks as if she's just fainted. Bruce somehow is an expert on blood transfusions. There's conveniently a doctor across the street who happens not to be home. Jen recovers minutes after receiving the Gods, I can't take any more! Might I add, the art is also less than inspired -very pedestrian.

Doug:  As the cops arrive, they of course want to question Banner.  Taken to the local precinct, he's not carrying any ID of any sort, which the cops don't like.  They call the D.A. and tell Banner he was to wait.  That's not going to happen, so Banner allows himself to Hulk-out and smashes through the wall of the station house.  Gone.  The next day, he's wearing the same clothes he'd destroyed the previous evening.  Additionally, he reads in a newspaper a story about the attempted murder, and that Jen will survive without any complications.  Understanding that, he takes his leave of She-Hulk #1.  In the hospital, Jennifer's not even in ICU (shoot, she doesn't even have an IV)-- just a regular room.  She thinks about what has happened, and how she feels strange.  Suddenly, the gooniest looking orderlies enter her room.  She is leery of them, and they attack her.  One guy tries to put a cloth over her mouth.  The next thing they know the room explodes with furious power and the bad guys are scattered.  Where once had been Jennifer Walters now stands a huge green woman, christened the She-Hulk by one of the goons.

Karen: Banner's the lucky one -he got to leave. 

Karen: Jen looks very comfy in her bed, as if she hadn't been shot in the back and lost a tremendous amount of blood which required a transfusion. Sigh....

Doug:  So in the ongoing discussion of unstable molecules and those that aren't, Ms. Walters seems to have burst her bra but not her hospital pajamas.  And speaking of which, she was brought in in an ambulance wearing the clothes she'd had on the previous day -- have you all seen hospital-issued gowns?  Yeah, they're pretty open and breezy in the back.  Not here.  Nope.  The She-Hulk wears the sexiest tattered whites we have ever witnessed!  The same guy who tried to off her earlier pulls his gun again, but She-Hulk picks up her hospital bed and uses it as a shield -- and then throws it at the crooks as they peel out into the hall.  She gives pursuit, and rips open the doors of the elevator.  Seeing that the car was descending, she grabs the coils and pulls it up.  Now I'm no expert on elevators, but I am pretty certain they have to lock into place at some point.  Apparently I'm wrong, because She-Hulk is able to use the door she's wrenched open to punch through the roof of the car, yet the bad guys exit hastily out the regular doors of the elevator.  I must be dumb.  Once outside, She-Hulk uses a lamp post like a boomerang and disables the getaway car.  Pouncing on it, her mere presence prompts a confession from the thugs, a confession loud enough for the now-assembled police to hear.  Of course one cop wants to detain her, but his partner talks him down -- after all, there isn't any law against green skin (nevermind the fact that she's 6'7", 300 lbs., and bursting out all over in public!) he says.  For whatever reason, the She-Hulk feels she must return to the hospital and does so -- and right into some fresh-as-new PJs.  Wow.  And hey -- she didn't think they'd run a blood test on her at some point during her stay?  Anyway, she says that whatever Jennifer Walters can't handle, the She-Hulk can!  This girl's embracing her gamma-irradiated curse!

Karen: At one point She-Hulk says she's "throbbing with power" - by the time I was done reading this my head was throbbing with pain.

Doug:  I'm going to let Karen close this one up, as it's pretty clear what I feel about the effort.  I will say one thing about the art.  It's John Buscema, which is always going to be better than a lot of guys who could have garnered this assignment.  We've commented in the past that Chic Stone wasn't the best fit to embellish J.B., but overall I'd say Big John's heart wasn't fully committed to this assignment.  There's pride in the work, but he's not loving it -- we can tell.

Karen: What more can be said? It's a hack job, pure and simple, poorly written, and certainly not John Buscema's best effort. They wanted to protect the Hulk name, and they did, but it's nothing to be proud of. You can pass this one by, amigos. Thankfully, the character herself has grown and become far better than this ignominious beginning.


Fred W. Hill said...

Another one I picked up when it came out and, yeah, it was dreadful. It was definitely a pattern for Big John B. to do the first issue or so of many new series from '76 - '80 (thinking specifically of Nova, Ms. Marvel and now She-Hulk, but I'm sure there were others) just to get the ball rolling. Of the 3 derivative Marvel female stars, She-Hulk's mag was the worst. And Stan didn't do his legend much good with his script on this debut.

david_b said...

Hate to say, but a few years after I stopped seriously collecting, seeing this on the racks only affirmed my decision (after I stopped laughin' my backside off..). Obviously not knowing the background business story, what I once regarded as clever, fun and entertaining now insulted my old habits.

What was next..? "Ms America"..? "Lady Avengers"..? "X-WoMEN"..?

Aside from classic reprints, I felt the box lid was closed.

Matt Celis said...

Put it this way: I got the Essential She-Hulk on the cheap and still haven't managed to bother reading past issue 1. Stan probably was asked to write this as a way to generate sales. I doubt he thought much of it either. Reads like he cranked it out in 15 minutes. I'm sure John buscema was hired to draw it for the same reason he drew Ms. Marvel and nova at first: let's give the illusion that this will be a top magazine with a top creative team.

Bad comics!

The only reason this and the other derivative titles seem to exist was because it was probably cheaper to produce the comics and register the trademarks than it would have been to pursue anyone via litigation. Certainly any other publisher using the words "hulk," "spider," or "marvel" in the title of a comic book would not prevail if it had to go to trial, but marvel would have had to spend a lot ofmoney on it.

Edo Bosnar said...

At the start, She-Hulk was definitely the weakest of the three "derivative ladies" as you call them. I bought this issue off the racks, and was pretty unimpressed, although I read a few more subsequent issues before deciding it just wasn't worth it. You could tell both the writers and artists were completely uninspired and working under orders from above.
It was Roger Stern's later stroke of genius - when he introduced her to the Avengers - to have her not only accept being She-Hulk but actively enjoy it, and also have her wear a costume rather than tattered XXL blouse (or is that a polo shirt?) that rips just right to cover all of the non-Code-approved body parts. Byrne later took that idea and ran with it, so that She-Hulk eventually became the most popular of the "derivative" women heroes. By the way, Doug, I have that trade that collects the first 8 issues of Byrne's later She-Hulk series. For the most part, I enjoyed it; I liked the rather humorous approach, although I agree with you, that breaking-the-fourth-wall stuff gets old fast.

Matt Celis said...

Byrne's defensiveness ("it goes back to Shakespeare") got old even faster.

Comics Bronze Age said...

When Savage She-Hulk #1 first came out, Little Me had no clue that Stan writing it was a big deal. After all, every Marvel comic carried the “Stan Lee presents” tagline and I just assumed he was knee deep in every Marvel comic. Adult Me didn't like She-Hulk's debut much at all, giving it a B-.

Comics Bronze Age editor

Matt Celis said...

When I was a kid I just knew that Stan Lee, for some reason, presented everything. I loves those one-paragraph explanations at the top on page one!

david_b said...

Edo, I picked up the deluxe format She-Hulk book by Byrne (with SHIELD and the cockroaches..).

I've been looking at 'comic run' auctions on eBay to grab a stack of the early Byrne-drawn title at a low price (sorry, cannot do Essentials..), but my interest waivers back and forth. I agree the fourth wall would get tiresome, but it sure looks like a fun read.

It was around the time of 'Moonlighting' on television which did a lot of that as well.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I'm with Edo (again). She-Hulk was obviously a quickly-hacked out idea but was rescued from the cut-out bin by being made an Avenger.

She turned out to be the only one of the derivative heroines to have real staying power even though she was obviously the most derivative at the outset. I think this was because they allowed her to have to keep her intellect when she changed. That gave the character room to grow as well as keeping her distinct from the Hulk.

Because her power was simply enormous strength and the symbolism inherent in that, she actually became a genuinely feminist hero (without being too overt about it). The She-Hulk that emerged in the Avengers was tough, confident and ready for any challenge -- a good foil for characters like Hawkeye, Wasp and Thor. (It is a pity Wonder Woman wasn't written the same way at the time...)

By the way, is there any proof Universal was even trying to create a female Hulk in the first place? Or was this an act of paranoia as well?

Matt Celis said...

Except Moonlighting was actually funny.

david_b said...

Agreed, Matt.

I actually just tracked down that tbp for the first eight issues, etc of Byrne's run, that'll most likely be all I need.

Unless I find a cheap full run, like nearly the entire Howard the Duck run for $15 I bought a few months ago.

Karen said...

Regardless of all the improvements to this character, "She-Hulk" remains a terrible name. But if you want to hang on to that Hulk moniker, I guess there's not a lot you can do. "Ms. Hulk"? "Hulktress"? "Lady Hulk"? Anything with "Hulk" and something female attached to it sounds stupid. Heck, "Red Hulk" is pretty bad.

Doug said...

Karen's point is well-taken, and I don't know how many of our readers followed the Legion at the end of the last century, but their She-Hulk knock-off may have sported an even worse name: Monstress.

Oh my.


Hoosier X said...

I'm probably in a minority here, but I like the Buscema/Stone art. Very distinctive. As soon as I saw some of the scans, I knew it was Buscema and Stone.

As for the story, yeah, it leaves a lot to be desired. I know I had the first issue and I seem to remember getting it for a few issues after that, but I have no memory at all of anything that might have gone on in She-Hulk after #1.

I had two or three issues of the Byrne She-Hulk. The Toad Men! The Headmen! They were great! (Especialy at the bargain bin prices I paid.)

I'm currently reading She-Hulk in FF, the Fantastic Four companion mag. It has art by Michael Allred and it's a very interesting series.

And I guess I should mention that I also read Red She-Hulk. That is one CRA-ZEE comic book!

Matt Celis said...

I always like John Buscema's art. I just wish he had been given a better story to tell!

Bruce said...

Agreed that this series got off to a shaky start, to put it politely. But I really enjoyed the character in the Avengers and FF.

Like Edo said, the central concept of She-Hulk in these books was that she enjoys being 7' tall, super-strong and green. This set her apart from her green-skinned cousin and made her an interesting character.

I didn't much care for Byrne's She-Hulk solo series - the "Breaking the fourth wall" approach doesn't work in superhero comics, in my opinion. But I loved how Byrne used She-Hulk in the FF. While it may sound like sacrilege, I honestly didn't miss the Thing during the FF's She-Hulk era.

mr. oyola said...

Absolutely in my top three favorite Marvel characters.

The name may seem cheesy, but like any name you get used to it after a while and couldn't imagine anything different.

As Shakespeare would say: "A rose by any other name would still break the fourth wall. . " ;)

Like many of her fans, I grew enamored of the character as an Avenger and then later as a fill-in for The Thing in FF.

Dan Slott's two volumes of She-Hulk are among my favorite comic books of all-time.

She-Hulk has personality and smarts and is allowed to own her own sexuality in a way I think a lot of other Marvel women are not. .. She's fun, and I love the meta fourth wall stuff - in the Slott run there is some awesome stuff with comic book collectors that was both clever and funny.

I wish Slott could go back to She-Hulk (if only people had bought them!), since his Spider-Man stuff is so mediocre (a sign of which is that the series is actually better with Dr. Ock brain in Parker's body than it was when he was writing it straight - but that is a tangent).

Hoosier X said...


I found issues #2, #3 and #5 from the Byrne She-Hulk series and I'm going to read them while I'm having a very late breakfast.

I already read the first five pages of #2 and I'm thinking that maybe it's not "Breaking the Fourth Wall" per se that's the problem. It's that he just does it so much and thinks it's clever. (And Odin save us all from John Byrne when he thinks he's being clever.)

I shall return.

Matt Celis said...

That was my problem, byrne being so
impressed with himself and thinking he was so clever when actually it was just not working.

Rip Jagger said...

I'm a fan of She-Hulk generally. The original series is okay, with good enough scripts and better than average artwork. As I recollect, Mike Vosburg was the mainstay on this series. The She-Hulk was better than Spider-Woman in my mind, and frankly better than the first incarnation of Ms.Marvel.

Byrne elevated her. Her tenure as an Avenger was dandy, but her time with the Fantastic Four made her an absolute fave of mine. She works very well in a team setting as that points out her size. A big woman on a team is a rarity and makes for some fun images.

She's been a great character since, one of Marvel's most consistently entertaining.

Rip Off

Chris said...

I have this issue (picked up cheap from a Mart) but never got around to reading it. You guys really went to town on it though.I guess each fault was made 10 times worse because of the previous ones. I might have to dig it out now just to see if it's all true!

I agree with those here that say that her Avengers issues were good (that's Roger Stern for you) and I did really enjoy her FF, and Byrne's solo series had it's moments but Dan Slott's She-Hulk run is just pure comics gold.

When he first came to Marvel his love of the characters and the medium just made each issue of his She-Hulk series a joy to read.

I love this blog and it's bronze-age focus but I do find it frustrating to know there's a few cynics here who struggle with anything published post 1990. Some modern comics are good just like some bronze-age are not-so-good (as in this example).

That being said I've enjoyed the Derviative Ladies feature and the discussion. Thanks for including snippets from "The Untold Story". Very interesting but I can't bring myself to read it as your review was quite depressing. I want to remain blissfully ignorant!

Karen said...

Regular BABster Garrett asked the other day if it was harder to write a review of a mediocre book, and the answer to that (for me anyway) is "yes," with this issue being a perfect example of why.

I really don't enjoy ripping on comics legends like Stan Lee or John Buscema, but when a book is so poorly conceived and slapped together as this one was, I have to say so.

It's also just hard to make it through the book sometimes. This one was mercifully short, but when we are on a multi-issue review that just reeks, boy, is it painful. It's particularly rough when re-reading old issues that seemed OK or even entertaining in my youth, but have lost that allure with the passage of time.

If there's one thing I've realized, as Chris said, not everything in the Bronze Age was fabulous. For every Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men, there's a She-Hulk #1. In general, I prefer the comics I grew up with, and yeah, a lot of it is nostalgia. I can see the blemishes pretty clearly now. But still, these books were my first love.

But there have been good books published in recent days, and I thought Dan Slott's run on She-Hulk was one of them. I got into it late, but it was fun and clever without patting itself on the back (which I felt Byrne's She-Hulk run did).

Hoosier X said...

Between the Headmen in #2 and #3and Doctor Bong in #5, those were some fun issue to read during my late breakfast. Nice art! The setup for the return of the Blonde Phantom. And a cameo by Razorback!

It didn't bother me so much in #3 and #5, but #2 was just dripping with inside jokes about "Lookit! She-Hulk knows she's in a comic!" and the notes paper-clipped to the story going back and forth between the editors and Byrne were just excessive.

We get it, Byrne!

Remember a few years after this, when he was quoting Shakespeare at the start of his stories and attributing it to The Earl of Oxford? You know, even if Oxford wrote the plays (which I find highly unlikely for a number of reasons), he wrote them as Shakespeare and they should still be attributed to Shakespeare. But John Byrne was determined to make sure that all his fans were fully aware that he was a pretentious, egotistical possum's pizzle.

Matt Celis said...

It's a shame because sometimes he turns in really good work, but his persona is such a turn-off to me. He really seems to need his readers to know he's "smarter than comic books," if you will. Almost like he's embarrassed by his occupation.

Hoosier X said...

When all things are said and done, She-Hulk has actually done very well since her not-so-earth-shattering debut.

Sure, she's had her ups and downs, but she had a great run in the Avengers and then in the FF, and a lot of people here are saying good things about a later She-Hulk series that I never read.

And then I look at the very, very few Marvel Comics that I'm reading right now: Red She-Hulk, Journey Into Mystery (a great Sif series is going on right now), Captain Marvel ...

... and a series called FF (a companion series to the regular Fantastic Four book (which I don't read)). She-Hulk is a member of this FF and the Michael Allred art was the main draw and it has Ant-Man and Medusa and I'm very much enjoying it.

At a time when I've pretty much given up on ever liking some of my old favorites ever again (The Avengers, The X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk, the regular FF, etc.), Marvel has come up with a great series for the She-Hulk.

Doug said...

Chris --

I'm sure I've been a dissenting voice toward "modern" comics in the past, but what keeps me away from books like the highly-recommended Slott She-Hulk series is the outrageous price points of today's market. At $3-4 bucks a pop, I just cannot justify that sort of cash outlay, story and storyline aside. Just last week I received the gigantic trade paperback Avengers vs. Thanos along with Nova Classic. I got 35 comics between those two books, for right around $35.

That's what keeps me from buying new stuff off the shelves.

And yes, I am cynical, because I let Bendis' handling of the Avengers, along with the big events and quarterly deaths irreversibly jade me toward the Big Two's output in the 21st century. It really is a pity, because I'm sure there are creators out there who actually can write and draw!


Matt Celis said...

$3-$4 for an issue and it takes them at least six issues to tell any kind of story, so it's really at least $18-$24 just to read one story these days. That, plus the low quality i see when I do browse, is why I'm out and never coming back to new comics.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hmmm, I've seen the Slott run on She-Hulk praised elsewhere before, and now here again. I'm genuinely interested in reading it, but I'm a bit daunted by the fact that it's spread out over 5 tpbs. I'm a bit daunted by the investment that would involve...

Bruce said...

I haven't read the complete run, but from what I have read, the Dan Slott She-Hulk series is a lot of fun.

Chris said...


You don't have to argue with me about the cost of modern comics! I gave up on the few "floppies" I was getting when Marvel raised their cover price to $3.99. Which made it about £3.20 in the UK. Extortionate!

All my modern comics are in trade now via Amazon or such-like. I look to pay around £1 per issue if it's paperback. Maybe a little more if hardcover. Even so, there's not many titles I'll get. But I occasionally will try something. I am going to give Hawkeye a go very soon as Vol 1 has just come out in paperback. And FF (featuring She-Hulk to stay on topic)has been getting good feedback from those reviewers who seem to share my tastes so perhaps I will try that too.

And I'm not going to defend Bendis' Avengers either but I will say I enjoy both "Powers" and "Daredevil". Like some bronze-age writers he isn't (IMHO) as good on big team books as on solo heroes.

I use this blog for recommendations from the bronze-age. Or probably more often - what to avoid. I really appreciate the effort you and Karen put in. Especially on those mediocre books! :-) So if you want any requests from me on what to review, the more B-list (not B-rate) the better!

Finally, can you believe what good value that Thanos book is?!! If I hadn't got all the originals (and I just got the last Daredevil issue a month ago) I would have been all over that. Brilliant value for a great storyline.

Anonymous said...

Just jumping back in time here to post a link to my latest post: Dan Slott’s She-Hulk: Derative Character as Meta-Comic - which is not Bronze Age, is about a series steeping in a Bronze Age sensibility.

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