Or – “Mission Creep: The Bane Of The Comics Industry.”

When Marvel Comics originated their original Graphic Novel line in the early 1980s, it was designed to showcase stories that were considered more adult than their average comic output.  Eventually, though, the powers that be began filling the MGN line with things that were essentially just long-form versions of their regular tales.  (The New Mutants Graphic Novel, f’rinstance, was reputedly just the planned first two issues of their book under one cover.)  John Byrne was determined that Sensational She-Hulk would actually be an adult reading experience, but is that necessarily a good thing?  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
Byrne art, including some eye-candy.
Some interesting early use of “adult” tropes in the Marvel Universe.
Cons

The shape of awful things to come.
A bit unfocused overall…

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

READER RATING!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 3.75 out of 5)
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SheHulkCoverMARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #18 – THE SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Kim DeMulder
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Editor(s): Michael Carlin & Michale Higgins
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $6.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12.00

Previously in Sensational She-Hulk: After an emergency blood transfer from her cousin, attorney Jennifer Walters found herself transformed into the Savage She-Hulk, a seven-foot tall green creature much like the Incredible Hulk himself.  The difference was that she maintained control of her mutated form and her normal intellect even when transformed.  First joining the Avengers, she transferred her membership to the Fantastic Four after an adventure on another planet (documented in the original Secret Wars miniseries.)  Soon after, Bruce Banner’s mind was finally overcome by the Hulk’s savagery, and he was transported out of space and time by Doctor Strange after rampaging through New York city and nearly killing everyone there.  This rampage made the government of the United States reconsider their stance on ALL superhumans, especially big green ones powered by radiation.  Cut to the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, as director Nick Fury gets an ominous call from his shadowy bosses…

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Fury is ordered by the council to find and capture the She-Hulk, regardless of her status or innocence, upon orders from the Commander-In-Chief.  (At the time of this book’s publication, it should be noted, that C-i-C was none other than Ronald Reagan, still a few months out from his battle with Captain America in the streets of Washington.)  Amazingly, rather than try to keep arguing, Nick Fury walks off the job, taking some of his accrued vacation to keep from being part of a witch-hunt against someone he knows to be a hero.  Meanwhile, Jennifer Walters finds herself dismayed to realize that it his her lost cousin’s birthday, and finds herself totally brought down by the realization.  Enter boyfriend Wyatt Wingfoot…

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This review was actually inspired by another recent Retro Review, one during which I noted some distaste for the use of Wyatt’s ethnicity as a repeated punchline for the bad guys.  This issue’s use of the racial stereotypes to cheer up his girlfriend is a lot more charming for Mister Wingfoot, but that doesn’t make it any less off-putting 30 years later.  She-Hulk decides that the cure for her ills is a night out with her man…

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I will say this:  The Jennifer/Wyatt romance is one of the best things about Byrne’s Fantastic Four run, and it gets some lovely airtime in these pages.  The twosome is pretty cute together, and seeing the ultra-manly Wyatt in the Lois Lane role makes for a nice contrast to your average Bronze Age superhero relationships.  Of course, the aforementioned S.H.I.E.L.D. decree is about to ruin Jenny’s date night, hardcore…

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Interestingly, though S.H.I.E.L.D. as a corrupt organization has gotten a lot of play in the modern Marvel U (especially under Norman Osborn and *ahem* Tony Stark circa Civil War), this is one of the first times that we see Nick’s spy agency as anything more than the ironclad good guys fighting the good fight.  The agents not only come at She-Hulk with their guns literally blazing, they aren’t in any way worried about bystanders, even threatening to prosecute anyone who gets in their way…

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With his field agents clearly out of control, acting field commander Dum Dum Dugan kicks in with his last resort: Teleporting She-Hulk, Wyatt and a large group of innocent bystanders out of Times Square and into custody.  She-Hulk tries to get the civilians to safety, only to find herself trapped on the deck of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, but one of the Times Square bystanders wanders off into the bowels of the Helicarrier.  When the armed agents arrive, their awful situation gets even more distasteful…

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Aaaand, once again, we’re in creepy territory.  Much like the skeevy pornographer in her previous solo Retro Review, Lieutenant Dooley of S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to humiliate She-Hulk with nudity.  This time is only slightly less creepy, and that is mostly because of Jennifer’s defiant response to being treated in this manner…

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…but even so, it’s still a skin-crawling moment for me as a reader.  She-Hulk’s speech about how the spy agency “used to be the good guys” is a bit overplayed as well, pushing the book’s hand too far.  Byrne clearly has good intentions in showing that power corrupts, even places like S.H.I.E.L.D., but Dooley, with his facial scar and obvious perfidy, pushes well into cartoony territory.

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I’m reminded of Percy Wetmore in ‘The Green Mile,’ threatening to throw his weight around, while we all know his comeuppance is waiting in the wings.  Of course, it doesn’t come right away…

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After years of seeing that Nick Fury keeps S.H.I.E.L.D. as an awesome crime-fighting agency, it’s shocking (and kind of goofy) to find that suddenly their ranks are filled with jerks, thugs and jackasses like Dooley, but his Snidely Whiplash mystique is made even worse with his predilection for making our hero show her bazongas.  This time, though, he flat-out has her tortured while she’s naked…

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CYANIDE? S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to kill Wyatt, an innocent bystander, just to keep She-Hulk under their thumb?  I get that Byrne is trying hard to show us that things at the Supreme Headquarters are darker than they seem, but once again, the story veers past suspense and into the vaguely ridiculous, and stays there are Jennifer and Wyatt figure out a way to circumvent their captivity…

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While Wyatt braces himself against the roof of the cage, Jennifer transforms back to her human form and slips through the bars, then turns off the poison gas.  Unable to get Wyatt free, she slips away through the helicarrier to try to find a way out of their predicament.  But, Dooley has a little bit more greasy evil to permanently smear across her memory…

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But, much like Wild Bill brought about Percy Wetmore’s downfall, another mysterious stranger has brought doom for Agent Dooley, this one the lost homeless man who was teleported onto the ship earlier in the book…

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…even though I’m not sure what in the world he is or why.  There’s no real explanation of what he was doing in New York and he’s been creeping through the crawlspaces of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with some unknown goal in mind.  Possessed by the stranger after their awkward kiss, Dooley shuts down half the ‘carrier’s engines, leaving the passengers panicking, and the planes on the deck…

Well, Byrne believes in the old adage of “Show.  Don’t tell.”

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The corrupt agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. regroup to try to take She-Hulk back into custody, regardless of the fact that there are bigger fish to fry.  It does not go well for them…

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That final panel, by the way, with its not-quite-uncovered glimpse of She-Hulk’s nipples, was one of the reasons that myself and my teenage friends were all enamored of this book back in ’85, but in retrospect, it seems like yet another attempt to make sure that the book has as much sexual content as they can get away with.  With a little help from Nick Fury’s scientific advisor, Irving “The Gaffer” Levine, She-Hulk finally gets to put on some clothes and fight her way into the helicarrier command center to right the ship…

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Remember how I said that things were unclear regarding the actual villain of the piece?  As the rapidly decaying Dooley attacks She-Hulk, we find out what it is that has really happened to him….

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…aaand it’s kind of nonsensical, as he’s a bag OF LIVING COCKROACHES!!!  Shocking and gross, though, I’ll give it that.  Dooley has booby-trapped the ship, though, and we are treated for the first time to the shocking sight of a helicarrier crash!

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The larger pages here really sell this sequence, and the crash itself is depicted in spectacular fashion by Byrne and DeMulder.  (It’s kind of a shame that Marvel has replicated this terrible crash like six times in recent years.  It really kind of undermines the drama of it all.)  Having barely survived the crash, things get worse for She-Hulk as The Gaffer informs her that the helicarrier’s atomic power plant is about to blow, and only she can save the day…

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The Gaffer’s choice is simple:  Risk dying from the radiation, or die for certain in an atomic explosion.  Being a hero, Jennifer Walters has only one option, but she has forgotten about the tiny six-legged villains of the piece…

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After some tense moments waiting, Wyatt and Gaff are relieved to see She-Hulk climb from the wreckage of the helicarrier, and the cleanup begins.  A few days later, after returning home to the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building headquarters, Reed and Jennifer try to figure out what in the world the irradiated bugs were doing on the helicarrier in the first place…

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After a long pause, She-Hulk asks, “So what’s the bad news?”  Returning home to Wyatt, Jennifer realizes the real underlying question of what all happened in the issue…

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WHAT WAS THE DEAL WITH THE COCKROACHES?  Thirty years and change down the road, I still have NO idea (though there are those with theories) and it’s one of the biggest reasons that this “adult” graphic novel doesn’t really make it as heavy literature for grown-ups.  Indeed, while the sexuality addressed here wouldn’t have flown in a regular Marvel Comic of the period, it would only be a few years before the likes of She-Hulk’s strip search would be a regular occurrence, while her peek-a-boo tuxedo would be considered overdressed for characters circa 1993.  More than that, though there is some interesting subtext about the corruption within S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s treated so superficially and over-the-top ridiculously that there’s no real consequences.  (The same theme would turn up a few years later in ‘Nick Fury Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., where it’s revealed that the central council is composed of aliens who have been replacing the agents, ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ style.  Soooo…  that happened.)  Marvel Graphic Novel #18 – The Sensational She-Hulk has a story as unwieldy as it’s title, but gets by on the charm of the main character, her relationship with Wyatt and some lovely art, but hasn’t aged nearly as well as the likes of The Death of Captain Marvel, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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2 Comments

  1. Ian
    August 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm — Reply

    “Onan the Barbarian” Bahahahahaha

  2. August 20, 2013 at 1:08 am — Reply

    Someone at Marvel needs to revive the Cockroach Conspiracy as a legitimate story thread. It’s not worthy of one of Marvel’s yearly crossovers, but it would be an interesting and potentially creepy story thread to weave into various books. As we’ve seen, it’s already an established trend, albeit a dated one.

    And end it with a miniseries where sentient cockroaches try to exterminate humanity in a nuclear war.

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