My Misspent Youth: Sensational She-Hulk by John Byrne

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

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In my dull snobbery, enhanced by an equally misguided tendency to dismiss anything viewed as too girly from my pop culture consideration, I was an unlikely reader for a series featuring She-Hulk, the unfortunately named cousin to Marvel’s signature green goliath hero. Introduced in a comic book with a 1980 cover date, She-Hulk was the titanic alter ego of Jessica Walters, previously unmentioned cousin of Bruce Banner. When her relative happened to be visiting, a cataclysmic encounter with thugs required the emergency transfusion of blood. When Bruce’s gamma irradiated blood intermingled with Jessica’s, her life was saved, but she also suffered the side effect of similar transformations into a towering, emerald-hued superhero, blessed or cursed with greatly enhanced strength. I never so much as brushed my fingers across the cover of an issue of the character’s original series, but when her second shot at a monthly ongoing arrived, in 1989, I had no doubt I would buy it from the very first issue.

By then, I was making my purchasing decisions on the basis of creators more than characters, and the new series, dubbed Sensational She-Hulk, was written and drawn by John Byrne, who I would have quickly named as my favorite at the time. He was returning to Marvel Comics, the publisher with whom he’d made his name, after a high-profile defection to their distinguished competition to, among other things, revamp Superman. Byrne worked with the character previously, having her fill out the quartet when the Fantastic Four’s ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing stayed behind on the Beyonder’s planet following the Secret Wars (sometimes even I can’t believe the stuff I type out in these “My Misspent Youth” posts). By most estimations, Byrne redeemed a character viewed as a misguided mistake, an attempt to lock up a copyright rather than a compelling figure worthy of a spot in the mighty Marvel universe. Even if the character’s bodacious measurements stirred up some of Byrne’s weird predilection for putting his character in kinda porny situations (which probably reached its pinnacle in a now-infamous Action Comics story), he largely succeeded in making She-Hulk smart, winning, and capable in a way she hadn’t been before. He also gave her a wry sense of humor, which went a long way toward informing the innovation of the series he created for her.

Back before Deadpool had even sprung into existence, and well before his transformation from just another nineteen-nineties abomination with an over-accessorized costume and guns with barrels the size of mailboxes into a fully self-aware snark-monster offering running commentary on the tropes of his own stories, Byrne’s She-Hulk basically introduced the concept of in-continuity meta storytelling to the Marvel universe. She-Hulk directly addressed the readers, calling attention to rhythms of the story, the obligatory nature of guest stars, and the very mechanics of comic book publishing. In Byrne’s rendering, the series was constantly calling attention to its own artifice, even suggesting that the characters took lackadaisical breaks when their storyline briefly ceded panels to one of the ongoing subplots.

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Once Byrne established his main character (and a few of her closest supporting cast members) was in on the grand joke of her four-color existence, he ran with the concept completely, tirelessly coming up with new ways for her to break the fourth wall or generally bend the rules of sequential art storytelling to her own convenience. He even established a somewhat cantankerous relationship between She-Hulk and himself, allowing her to routinely taking umbrage at the plot turns he imposed.


The comedic nature of the series further allowed Byrne to raid the discards bin of the Marvel universe, employing villains and heroes that were largely relegated to the status of jokes or afterthoughts. There was mockery to the use of these characters, but Byrne usually managed to include at least a dose of menace, keeping the stories from devolving into She-Hulk knocking down easy targets. Even if she was exasperated that such doltish foes were giving her a hard time, She-Hulk still had to struggle to the inevitable victory, just like all her more straightforward neighbors on the new releases rack.


At least in his initial run on the title, Byrne didn’t last all that long, stepping away after the Christmas-themed eighth issue. In line with the bulk of his career, Byrne left due to the dreaded creative differences. From there, Marvel floundered with the title, uncertain as to how the tone of the series could be maintained without its inaugurating author. Even recruiting writer Steve Gerber, whose inspired nineteen-seventies series Howard the Duck was the closest progenitor Sensational She-Hulk had, didn’t prevent the title from floundering. Amazingly, Sensational She-Hulk endured long enough for Byrne to return, some two years and twenty issues later. He successfully brought the title right back to the same spirited cheekiness (and occasional queasy kink) that defined his earlier tenure. I thought it was terrific, in part because there was nothing else quite like it, certainly from either of the major publishers. Like a lot of comic book fans, I took the stories a little too seriously. Sensational She-Hulk was a welcome corrective.



Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton
Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall
Fantastic Four #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez
Fray by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline
Legends by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne
Uncanny X-Men #153 by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Marvel Team-Up #100 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller

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