My Misspent Youth — The Savage She-Hulk by Stan Lee and John Buscema

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.

The CBS television series The Incredible Hulk was entering its third season when Stan Lee, the publisher of Marvel Comics, decided they needed to play defense. Though hardly trafficking in the sort of extended universe and prequel recycling prevalent today, national broadcast outlets in the nineteen-seventies were eager to exploit audience affection for hit series by cooking up thinly imagined spinoff series. A couple years earlier, ABC had done precisely that by lifting the basic premise of The Six Million Dollar Man and gender-swapping the lead character to create The Bionic Woman. Lee was evidently concerned that CBS and Universal Television might borrow that strategy to develop a companion show for The Incredible Hulk. By terms of the licensing agreement, if those entertainment companies introduced a female Hulk on the program, they would own that character. That simply wouldn’t do.

In a heated reaction mode, Lee decided they needed to get a trademark-protecting book into spinner racks. With great haste, the basics of the new character were cobbled together. For the ongoing series, writer David Anthony Kraft and penciler Mike Vosburg got assignments to be creative team. Lee wanted to make a bigger splash for the first issue, though. Lee took a now-rare scripting credit on the comic and Marvel stalwart “Big” John Buscema provided the art on the debut issue of The Savage She-Hulk.

The comic book introduces Jennifer Walters, a previously unmentioned cousin of brilliant theoretical physicist Dr. Bruce Banner. Jennifer is an attorney at law by trade, which inspires Bruce to visit for an impromptu reunion. Bruce is a little worried about the legal peril he’s in because of his habit — or, more accurately, his green-skinned alter ego’s habit — of smashing things when his anger gets the better of him.

Worried as Bruce is that he might be bringing trouble to his cousin, Jennifer’s profession carries its own set of risks. She’s been recently defending a low-level criminal who’s been framed by a major crime boss. Some of that nefarious fellows thugs just so happen to be tailing Jennifer, and she’s set upon not long after Bruce’s arrival. Jennifer is shot and quickly loses enough blood that’s there’s no time to get her to a hospital. Instead, Bruce breaks into a nearby doctor’s office with her and performs some quick triage, taking advantage of surprisingly deep knowledge of his relative’s medical data and a lucky coincidence.

Jennifer pulls through, but there are some side effects. Evidently, it’s not all that great an idea to share blood that’s been tainted by gamma rays. While recovering in the hospital, Jennifer gets a visit from more of the crime boss’s hooligans looking to finish the dirty deed of offing her. In short order they learn of the repercussions of the emergency transfusion administered by Jennifer’s incredible cousin.

Pretty tough to forever haul around a moniker coined by a random goon the first time an stress-related change resulted in a drastic pigmentation shift and some ruined clothing. And so mighty Marveldom made room for She-Hulk, decidedly less savage that her cousin but formidable nonetheless. It would take some time (and at least one strikingly unique creative approach) before the jade giantess took more of a prime place in the sprawling mythos in which she resided, but every saga had got to start somewhere.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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