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Sometimes a hero is born to fill a void, fighting for those without hope. And sometimes a hero is created to secure a copyright.
That’s the case with She-Hulk, who was pushed into production after rumors of a possible female hulk joining the TV Show cast. Due to contractual intricacies, Marvel Comics wanted to secure her in print.
Luckily, unlike some other copyright characters or ashcan avengers, She-Hulk has grown to become a fan favorite character in her own right – for good reason, as we expressed in our previous review of Dan Slott’s She Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female.
This book, a Marvel Essential series reprinting 552 pages in black and white, collects the entirety of the first She-Hulk series, Savage She-Hulk. In these pages, we learn how Jennifer Walters became the gamma radiated beauty we know today and observe her early adventures in the Marvel universe.
The main run here is steered by writer David Anthony Kraft and illustrated by Mike Vosburg along with a rotating team of inkers. The first issue, however, is written by Stan Lee and illustrated by John Buscema.
The scene opens with fugitive scientist Dr. Banner, aka The Hulk, seeking someone to confide in. In a bit of an inside joke for continuity nerds, the narration notes ” Call him David, or Bruce, or Bob – What does it matter?”
This is a reference to the fact that the TV Show calls the character David and Lee himself erred once or twice in the original publication, referring to the scientist as Bob. Nice to see a sense of humor about it!
Banner decides to turn to his kid cousin, now a nicely grown young woman and successful practitioner of criminal law.
She’s going to die, unless Banner can do something drastic – luckily he saves her with a quick blood transfusion from his own veins (a pretty amazing feat.)
Now, perhaps this is because he’s never before shown any sign of being a medical doctor, but things don’t go quite as planned.
As soon as it’s clear Jen will survive, Bruce hulks out and escapes before the cops get close to his secret.
It’s not long before Jen is confronted by mobsters again. This time they find out that it’s not a very good idea to make her angry.
While it’s not particularly terrible – the few logical problems with this origin, like the lack of Bruce’s medical degree, aren’t much worse than most superhero roots – this first story doesn’t feel original either.
And Jen herself, now a She-Hulk, doesn’t seem to have much to differentiate herself from her male counterpart – in this first story she transforms when angry and has trouble controlling her actions. She is pretty eloquent though, for a big green rage machine. Later, she’d transform at will, gain much more control and maintain her humor and wit, but at first those traits aren’t as evident.
With Banner quickly out of the picture and the She-Hulk established, the book is handed off to David Anthony Kraft and Mike Vosburg, who spend the rest of the volume struggling to find a supporting cast and line of action that works for our heroine. The work isn’t uneven – generally enjoyable comics comparable to the average Marvel-house-style work of the time.
She’s got Daredevil’s job, a bit of Spider-Man style motivation for being a superhero, Hulk’s powers – but it doesn’t feel like the writers land on what can make She-Hulk great.
While characters like the Man-Elephant (an inventor looking to prove that Superheroes are a public menace – sound slightly familiar?) are amusing, they seem to be cobbled together from existing Marvel mainstays or one issue pop-ins with no lasting value.
The main villain of the first arc, Trask, seems like he could be a menacing gangster, but ends up veering into fantastic wish-Kirby-was-here underground evil lab territory, which doesn’t feel quite as right.
There were other arcs that felt Kirby-light – including one with a villain “The Word” who reminded me of an older, fatter, Glorious Godfrey without the Darkseid connection.
The book is firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe, with a lot of cameos, some more memorable than others.
Many follow the Marvel formula – Iron Man shows up for a misguided fight and talky resolution. Some are a little more interesting.
In one of the better arcs of the book, foreshadowing the superhuman law stories most suited to the character, Jen defends Morbius, the Living Vampire.
Other notable appearances are by John Jameson, son of newspaper publisher Jonah, and alter ego of the Man-Wolf Stargod. I couldn’t help enjoying any arch featuring such an amazingly awkward character. Since he shows up later in the modern run, it’s worth a peek.
Also, down and out hippie kid Richard Rory (most known for his association with Man-Thing) is featured as an almost incomprehensible romantic interest for Jen. Strange though it was, I found him preferable to Zapper, the mustached whiner who, along with Jen’s dad and a rival lawyer or two, makes up the supporting cast.
I was never really annoyed at the book and I enjoyed most of the experience.
The art was of a fairly consistent quality all the way through, with Vosburg also working in that post-Kirby house style of wide faces and bold action. You can see that look to the technology that always said “Marvel Universe” to me.
I preferred his rendering of men to women, not really a fan of the big awkward lips that sometimes seemed to appear on his ladies.
Perhaps something was lost with the color.
The stylings are classic 80s (particularly the glasses on rival lawyer Buck Bukowski, which said everything you needed to know about him: Douchebag.)
Jen herself doesn’t seem to get a uniform in this early series, unless you count her ripped white slip as an equivalent of Man-Hulk’s purple cut offs.
Truly, almost everything you need to know about this book can be summed up in one sentence: It’s an early 80s Marvel comic.
It’s not the best and it’s not the worst.
The deciding factor in your purchase will be how much you care about this particular character.
A bit of a bump for being an excellent value, more than 500 pages easily found for the price of a couple new comics.
If you like She-Hulk, it’s worth picking up.
Publication side notes: There’s an annoying lack page numbers or dated table of contents. The back includes bios for She-Hulk and Man-Wolf/Stargod.
This book contains the origin of She-Hulk, and helps explain later interactions with Tony Stark, Richard Rory, and Stargod, among other plots that later show up in her other ongoings.
You can understand most of those arcs without this book, but as a continuity nerd I appreciated being able to read this book first.
You may want to check out The Essential Incredible Hulk, but I’ve heard the first volume is of mixed quality.
She-Hulk’s next ongoing, Sensational She-Hulk by John Byrne, gets closer to the satirical She-Hulk of the Modern ongoing, but the first trade collecting issues 1-8 seems slightly hard to find. Thankfully, it seems there may be a new printing of this trade on the horizon.
There’s also an OGN with the same name, The Sensational She-Hulk, so don’t get confused. Both are by Byrne, but I think the second wasn’t as good out of context (since I didn’t care at all about the supporting cast.)
The ongoing by Dan Slott, starting with She Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female, is one of my current Marvel favorites and isn’t to be missed.