At the start of the 1980’s, female heroes had taken the spotlight in team books like UNCANNY X-MEN. That series kicked off the 80’s with an epic centered on Jean Grey and then dove headfirst into the Kitty Pryde-centric “Days of Future Past.” But on the matter of solo heroines, though, Spider-Woman remained the lone survivor following the cancellation of MS. MARVEL. Thankfully for Jessica Drew, the same impetus that led to her creation ensured that she would not remain the sole female hero in Marvel’s lineup.
Concerned that the studio behind the “Incredible Hulk” television series would introduce a female version of the green goliath before Marvel and thus snatch up the copyright to any “she” version of the character, Stan Lee decided to beat the competition with SAVAGE SHE-HULK #1. Lee, John Buscema, and Chic Stone turned out the “The She-Hulk Lives,” a 17-page origin story for the new heroine, in a hurry. But however rushed the creators may have been, they infused the new character with indelible traits that would lead to Jennifer Walters becoming one of the most prominent heroes of the 1980’s. Throughout the entire decade, only five months would pass without an appearance by She-Hulk in a Marvel Comic.
SAVAGE SHE-HULK #1 introduced readers to Jennifer Walters, a lawyer working in Los Angeles and, also, the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. The fugitive Bruce Banner came seeking help, but he soon found out that his “kid cousin” already had problems of her own.
“Jen—I've got to warn you,” said Bruce. “There may be danger!”
“Danger, cousin?,” retorted Jen. "The lady’s a criminal lawyer! I live with danger!”
Walters had chosen to defend a hood named Monkton, who had been framed for murder by his old mob boss. Jen didn't flinch in the face of the mob, leading the criminals to put a hit out on her. Jen took a bullet for her bravado, forcing Bruce to give her a gamma irradiated blood transfusion right then and there. When Jennifer woke up in a hospital, the hit men returned to chloroform the seemingly helpless attorney. They didn't reckon on her undergoing a savage transformation.
“Now let’s see how tough you are—against me!" yelled the new super strong super being. A terrified hit man then gave her a new name: “It's like—she’s some kind’a She-Hulk!"
Unlike her cousin Bruce, Jennifer coped with her new alter ego almost immediately. “The blood transfusion must have caused it! I've become a gamma-ray monster—like poor doc! But I'll learn to live with it! From now on, whatever Jennifer Walters can't handle—the She-Hulk will do!”
And the She-Hulk did for the next two years. Writer David Anthony Kraft and artist Mike Vosburg introduced the world to Shulkie’s might by turning out an unbroken streak of 24 pulse-pounding adventures. They gave her a supporting cast—Sheriff Morris Walters, Buck Bukowski, Zapper Ridge—and her own rogues’ gallery: Nick Trask, The Word, Gemini. A-list characters like Iron Man dropped by for visits, as did more offbeat Marvel characters like Man-Thing, Morbius, Man-Wolf, and Hellcat. The final issue, SAVAGE SHE-HULK #25, arrived in February 1982—but Jennifer Walters’ story didn't end there.
Other creators took an interest in the character, ensuring that she would not fade into obscurity. Current SHE-HULK scribe Charles Soule explains why he thought Jen proved irresistible to writers after her series’ initial cancellation:
“I think it's her optimism about her status as a super-powered person. There’s no grim and gritty to She-Hulk—while she faces her share of challenges, she does so with a sense of humor and grace that was pretty unique when she started up.”
She-Hulk entered the wider Marvel Universe during the summer of 1981 thanks to a guest spot in MARVEL TEAM-UP #107. She reappeared just two months after her final solo issue in DAZZLER #14, informally passing the torch to Marvel’s newest headlining heroine. Then, barely half a year after the end of her ongoing series, She-Hulk joined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in July 1982's AVENGERS #221.
Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall brought Walters into Marvel’s major leagues in a team shake-up issue that highlighted many of Marvel’s heroines. The Wasp invited Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Dazzler, and the Invisible Girl along with She-Hulk to join the team, but only Jen proved to be able to commit. Dressed in a killer purple pantsuit and white tuxedo shirt, She-Hulk proudly entered Avengers Mansion and shook hands with Captain America.
She-Hulk served as an Avenger for the next two years, helping them fight off the menace of the Wizard and enduring the emotional taxation of Hank Pym’s trial. Her status in the Marvel Universe only increased thanks to one of the seismic shifts at the end of SECRET WARS. Walters left Earth to fight in that battle as a member of the Avengers, but she returned as a member of Marvel’s first family—the Fantastic Four. She-Hulk replaced the Thing in FANTASTIC FOUR #265. During her three years with the FF, where she helped the team fight off everyone from Doctor Doom to Psycho-Man, writer and artist John Byrne took a strong liking to the character. His association with She-Hulk would not end with FANTASTIC FOUR #293, his final issue, but Jen had another stretch of adventures to survive before the two would be reunited.
With the Thing back to active duty in the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk immediately rejoined her old pals in AVENGERS #278, where she would remain for another year and a half. She-Hulk’s streak as a team player ended in late 1988 when AVENGERS #297 landed in spinner racks. She-Hulk had spent nearly six and a half straight years playing a headline role in two of Marvel’s most prominent teams. Very few heroes can claim to be essential members of both the Fantastic Four and Avengers; She-Hulk could make that claim after just a few years of existence.
The ex-Avenger and FF member exited the 1980’s as she entered it: a solo super hero. John Byrne had a lot more left to say about She-Hulk, and he got to say it in 1989’s SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #1-8. While her debut series may have flown under the radar a bit, the cover to SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #1 heralded the heroine's return with the confidence and swagger often associated with the character.
“Okay, now,” says She-Hulk on the issue’s cover. “This is your second chance. If you don’t buy my book this time, I’m gonna come to your house and rip up all your X-Men.”
That self-aware attitude permeated every page of Byrne’s 1989 run. The lead character broke the fourth wall on a regular basis, and Byrne pulled offbeat characters like the Toad Men and Xemnu out of limbo for comedic effect. The series also turned She-Hulk into a thoroughly modern—at the time—fashion icon.
“The 80’s SHE-HULK, the SENSATIONAL run under the pen of John Byrne, feels like a snapshot of the late 80’s—particularly in the fashion choices, which still manage to look good on Jen despite the shoulder pads and so on,” says Soule. “However, it doesn't feel dated, exactly, which is probably why people still read it today.”
She-Hulk debuted in February 1980 as a quick solution to an impending copyright problem, but she left the decade a Marvel legend with two dynamically different ongoing series and three fan favorite stints on two hugely important teams added to her resume. Her popularity continues to this day, as writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido continue to put both Jennifer’s super hero and lawyer skills to the test in the pages of SHE-HULK.
“She was always a rich character,” says Soule when asked about the character’s growth over the decades. “The clothes might be different, but she's still the smart, sassy, powerful gal she always was, and that's why I love writing her book.”
Come back later this week to relive the birth of Dazzler, plus see more on the 75th anniversary of Marvel at marvel.com/75 and join the conversation on Twitter using the hash tag #Marvel75!