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The She-Hulk

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Conceived during the run of the highly successful Incredible Hulk CBS television series (1978–1982), the She-Hulk sprang from the brow of Stan Lee (the co-creator of the original Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and most of Marvel's seminal early 1960s heroes) and artist John Buscema (who was associated closely with the first Silver Surfer series and Conan the Barbarian). Created in 1979 principally to prevent competitors from trademarking their own female version of the Hulk—and in the hopes of spawning a television series that never came to fruition—the She-Hulk was Lee's last major creation for Marvel before he relinquished his editorial duties in favor of developing the company's many properties in Hollywood.


The Savage She-Hulk, a monthly series that began its twenty-five-issue run in early 1980, introduced female lawyer Jennifer Walters, a cousin of Robert Bruce Banner (the Hulk's alter-ego). As children, Walters and Banner (who is five years her senior) are very close, though they choose very different life paths later on; while the bookish Banner pursues a career in high-energy physics that culminates in his invention of the gamma bomb that transforms him into the Hulk, the mousy Walters enters UCLA's law school and ultimately becomes a criminal defense attorney. Years later, Banner visits his cousin, to whom he confides the torments he suffers as a consequence of being the Hulk. During this period, Walters is defending a client named Lou Monkton, who has been framed for murder by a mobster named Nicholas Trask. After one of Trask's hit men shoots and wounds Walters, Banner saves her life by giving her an emergency transfusion of his own (gamma-irradiated) blood. Walters soon finds herself transformed into a 650-pound, 6' 7 tower of exquisitely-muscled emerald outrage.


Although the She-Hulk initially possesses a real streak of savagery (hence the title of her comic), she quickly becomes quite different from the character that inspired her. Unlike Banner, who becomes a ravening beast when his suppressed anger transforms him into the Hulk, Walters retains her intellect as She-Hulk and can change back to her ordinary human guise at will. She also contrasts sharply with Banner in that she has little desire to return to her human form; the same gamma rays that release Banner's repressed rage also allow Walters to free herself of the prim lady lawyer personality that had shackled her throughout her professional life. While Banner is perpetually tortured by his transformations into the Hulk, Walters exults in her newfound power, enjoying her crime-fighting adventures and imbuing them with verve and passion. If the Hulk is a study in emotional repression and mania, his distaff counterpart embodies instead the liberated, upwardly-mobile professional woman of the early 1980s, attractive, quick of wit, and unintimidated by anyone's glass ceiling. When exposure to radiation traps her permanently in her She-Hulk form (during the 1984–1985 twelve-issue Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars miniseries), Walters hardly gives her buttoned-down human persona a second thought.


Like many a refugee from a canceled Marvel series (her first one ran twenty-five issues), the She-Hulk becomes a member of a supergroup, joining the Avengers (Avengers vol. 1 #221, July 1982) before temporarily replacing the Fantastic Four's Thing during his extended off-planet leave of absence (Fantastic Four vol. 1 #265, April 1984). Even after the Thing's return more than two years later, the She-Hulk (or Shulkie as her friends often call her) remains a close friend of (and sometime babysitter for) the FF family.


In 1989, the She-Hulk once again became a monthly series headliner with the debut of The Sensational She-Hulk. Written and illustrated by John Byrne (famed for his work on The Uncanny X-Men and The Man of Steel, the 1986 reboot of DC Comics' Superman), this series made much better use of the character's obvious comedic potential than did the previous one. Not only does Jennifer Walters still enjoy being a superpowered jade giantess, she is also keenly aware of the absurdities inherent in the superheroic life. Moreover, she is wryly cognizant of the fact that she is a comic-book character, often driving the point home by grabbing panel borders, chasing bad guys by tunneling through the pages of her comics, and speaking directly to the audience (and sometimes even to writer/artist Byrne) in a manner reminiscent of television's It's Garry Shandling's Show (1986–1990) or The Burns and Allen Show (1950–1958). She-Hulk isn't the only self-aware character in the series; Marvel's golden-age Blonde Phantom joins the supporting cast (issue #4) in a deliberate effort to take advantage of the slow aging process that all comic-book heroes seem to enjoy—but only as long as they are featured in a monthly comics magazine.


Following a squabble with Marvel, Byrne left the series with issue #50 in April 1993(having left and returned after another squabble from issue #10 to issue #31, an interim in which, among other writers and artists, Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber stepped in for a well-regarded run), and the book limped to its finish exactly ten issues later. Since that time the She-Hulk has been ubiquitous on Marvel's guest-star circuit, racking up appearances from the mid-1990s forward in such titles as Nova (vol. 2), Fantastic Force, Thunderstrike, The Avengers (vols. 1 and 3), The Fantastic Four (vols. 1 and 3), Iron Man (vol. 2), Heroes for Hire, and Captain America (vols. 1–3). She finally regained a fixed address with a new ongoing series in 2004, and remains one of Marvel's most consistently merchandised characters, her image appearing on everything from drinking cups to apparel. Created as an exercise in trademark building, the She-Hulk even now continues to fulfill her primary function—generating green—while seeming to laugh all the way to the bank. —MAM

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