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Includes Issues: Original Graphic Novel
Issue Dates: November 1985
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This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Sensational, huh?

I hate to start off an article with a definition (it’s a lede technique I find tiresome) but I’d like to point out the second bullet in the Merriam-Webster:

“Arousing or tending to arouse (as by lurid details) a quick, intense, and usually superficial interest, curiosity, or emotional reaction.”

I’m pretty sure that John Byrne wasn’t intending “usually superficial” when he wrote this Marvel Graphic Novel, but the She-Hulk here is a far cry from “Savage.”

Previously we took a look at Jennifer Walters’ transformation into the viridian valkyrie in The Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1 and her excellent modern interpretation by Dan Slott in She-Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female.

This oversized softcover book was written between the two, about three years after She-Hulk’s original ongoing ended.

Since her own title, she’s spent time with The Avengers and then as a member of The Fantastic Four (long story.)

The Sensational She-Hulk is actually tied heavily into the continuity of Byrne’s run on his FF series and would perhaps been served better by a title with some kind of Fantastic prefix.

The leap to this book from the Essential volume is pretty jarring. Jen is suddenly deeply involved with Fantastic Four hanger-on Wyatt Wingfoot, living in a very nice NYC apartment, and dressing 80s glamorous.

Then the government sends S.H.I.E.L.D. after her because of something to do with the (regular) Hulk, which is never really explained but must have been pretty bad because everyone else seems to know about it.

Luckily, every single person in the book has constant exposition flowing out of their mouth, so you won’t really get lost.

Unluckily, every single person in the book has constant exposition flowing out of their mouth, so you won’t really be entertained.

Unless you’re here to ogle She-Hulk’s body, of course.

The plot, which doesn’t make sense in a variety of ways, and sees several prominent Marvel characters acting quite out of character, with in character expositional huffs to justify it, seems to mostly revolve around figuring out a way to force She-Hulk to strip (twice at gunpoint, and a third time by literally shooting her clothes off) and undergo a small variety of tortures.

It’s pretty puerile stuff and I’m disappointed in the guy who gave me the often subtle and touching Superman: Man Of Steel miniseries one year after this was published.

I don’t mind a bit of cheesecake, especially if it’s done by people who actually seem to have seen a woman’s body before, but I always find it somehow insulting if the bulk of the fanservice comes at the demand from some lame villain. But somehow this kind of thing is easier to squeak past editors than say, a tender extended love scene with Jen and her boyfriend.

Because her nudity is “bad” and we should be angry because of it! So it’s ok to show her butt naked (from behind) stretched out on some kind of rack. Or something.

The other main point of the plot is to enact a fairly major historical change on She-Hulk’s character. Spoiler [Due to radiation, she can’t change back into Jen Walters. But she doesn’t care. Turns out later that it’s psychological, somehow, which kind of makes Reed Richards look like an idiot for his diagnosis, but I think there was some kind of smarty pants explanation for why he told her the wrong thing.]

Of course, it’s since been retconned and made to seem kind of silly, but the Shulk status quo switch seems to be this OGN’s official function.

It’s a weird book, really. The story is ok (ignoring Byrne’s obvious boner, if possible) but not amazing. There were better issues of the previous series. Except for the major point in continuity or maybe someone’s idea of what warrants oversized printing, I’m not sure why this was an OGN and not just a FF annual or something similar.

I mentioned before that the plot doesn’t make sense.

The primary reason is that the She-Hulk seen previously just doesn’t seem like she’d play nice with this kind of abuse. The reasons given feel week. Plus, she was tuckered out from whatever they’ve done to her yet takes half a clip from a high powered S.H.I.E.L.D. rifle at point blank range without batting an eye?

Her seemingly unreliable power level serves only the function of putting her in the most revealing situation possible – we already mentioned the purpose of this target practice. Oh she looks angry, and you wouldn’t like her when she’s… oh wait, no, she’s cute when she’s angry.

I suppose Byrne thinks she doesn’t mind the exposure, considering the outfits she’s dressing herself in. The one on the left is apparently her standard night-on-the-town get up.

After she complains about being shot up, she is excited to get back to the action in what seems to be a designer swimsuit that shows more skin than her tattered labcoat. No quarter-visible nips, though, so I suppose it’s more modest on a technicality.

I’m being a little harsh – there are a few interactions where she shows her strength of character and her relationship with Wyatt has its moments, but there is just too much oddness here to get past.

The other main problem with the plot is that while the superpowered villain/insanity and resulting calamity is dealt with, there’s absolutely no conclusion to the whole “S.H.I.E.L.D. vs She-Hulk” thing that starts off the book. Unless the ending panel rimshot is supposed to satisfyingly wrap that up – which it doesn’t.

And the slight commentary about abuse of military/police privileged feels forced, losing any subtly when several characters go over their feelings on it in flow-killing monologues.

The Byrne art is Byrne art, though with a few more awkward faces per capita compared to his other work of this era. Again this could be explained by his focus on She-Hulk.

It’s pretty clear what Jon Byrne looks for in a woman. And he’s good at sharing it.

Obviously she’s a looker, but unfortunately not really my type either. Maybe there’s a generation gap, since this book came out a year before I was born.

While Byrne’s pencils are as expected, I had trouble enjoying them due to the coloring job. For some reason, this period of “high quality” coloring has a tendency to feel more dated than the flats from comics much older – which just feel enjoyably nostalgic.

The colors sport odd gradients and over-saturation. She-Hulk tends to look pretty good, but those with “normal” coloring (like Wyatt) are often an unpleasing shade of pink.

There’s not one but two double page spreads of the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier, but unfortunately neither one is composed in a particularly interesting way, though they both manage to be disorienting.

Overall, it’s not really Byrne’s best book. If you were glancing at Amazon stars you might expect a lot more from it, but at least one of those is mis-assigned from the latter ongoing collection, and the others are kind of honest: this is a book for those looking to appreciate She-Hulk’s baser assets.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

For She-Hulk/Marvel completionists or those looking for an 80s pin up book with a few explosions.

Don’t worry, I’ve hypocritically included all the best bits while complaining about them. Don’t say I’m not looking out for you.

Byrne isn’t misogynistic, at least, but he does let his desires get a bit in the way of making a compelling story.

Essential Continuity:
This book contains a major change for the She-Hulk character between her first and second ongoing series.

Read first:
You should read The Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1 and some of the She-Hulk/Fantastic Four stuff at least. The Avengers arcs aren’t really important to this story, kind of optional.

There’s more that ties in, but there won’t be much that can make this volume more enjoyable. It’s possible that the more continuity you are familiar with, the more the redundant explanations here will annoy you. Depends on how used to that writing style you are.

Read next:
Oh, just skip to the modern She-Hulk ongoing, starting with She-Hulk Vol. 1: Single Green Female. It’s damn good and will satisfy your desire for a strong female superhero, instead of a healthy serving of green cheesecake.

Slott includes enough appreciation of her playgirl past and bodacious bod, but it’s just a lot smarter and funnier.

There is a 90s series by Byrne, some of which has been collected in the hard to find and confusingly named The Sensational She-Hulk, but it looks like there’s a new Vol. 1 coming out in April 2011 (Which may also contain this graphic novel.)

I’m a big enough fan of the character and have enjoyed plenty of Byrne’s work in the past, so I’m willing to give him another shot. Especially because I’ve heard good things about that ongoing.

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8 Comments Post New »

  1. gholson wrote on at December 22, 2010 12:55 pm:

    This comic was AWESOME when I was in junior high. Now, not so much.


    Ian replied on December 22nd, 2010 at 12:56 pm:

    haha, I think you’ve hit it right on the nose.


    Ryard replied on December 22nd, 2010 at 5:02 pm:

    Jesus Christ, you ain’t kidding.


  2. Bill Cooper wrote on at December 22, 2010 1:25 pm:

    I’m genuinely surprised Byrne never found a way to make She-Hulk a barely pubescent girl who ends up hooking up with an older man. You figure he’d have done it at least once over the course of this run. It’s a running theme in his work and is VERY creepy once you spot just how explicit the pattern is.


    Ian replied on December 22nd, 2010 at 6:46 pm:

    huh, really? I’ll keep an eye out.

    Is the rest of his She-Hulk run like this then? I’ve always heard it was good so was looking forward to the new printing. Shame if it really is more of this stuff.


    Ryard replied on December 23rd, 2010 at 9:33 am:

    Good Lord no…his She-Hulk series is a bizarre fourth-wall breaking clever-for-its-own-sake mish mash of half realized ideas and too much insider winking. They reprinted an issue in the recent She Hulk 80-pager (or whatever they called it). He quit in a huff when someone else contradicted a story point of his somewhere, or an editor pointed out a contradiction, or something. I can’t recall the details. So Steve Gerber took over and brought back Howard the Duck, so that was cool. At the time it was…well…different enough to be interesting. It does NOT hold up.

    Dan Slott’s version was excellent. When Peter David took over I gave it one issue, realized he was throwing out the entire brilliant concept, and dropped it. Made me sad.


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