Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?
Story Title: “The She-Hulk Lives”
Published: 13 November 1979 (cover-dated February 1980)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Buscema and Chic Stone
The Incredible Hulk (and his human alter ego, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner), was another creation of Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Inspired by a story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength to rescue her trapped child, as well as classic movie monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Lee and Kirby’s allegory to the foils of war initially debuted as a stone-grey figure who emerged at the onset of night. Although The Incredible Hulk was cancelled only a year and a half in, the character returned to a position of prominence thanks to subsequent expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the Incredible Hulk television show. The eighty episode series not only established the Green Goliath as a mainstream icon but also directly led to the creation of his female counterpart; fearing that Incredible Hulk producer Kenneth Johnson would create a female spin-off as he had with The Bionic Woman (1976 to 1978), Marvel had Lee dream up a She-Hulk first so that they would own the rights, and the character would be the last one Lee created for Marvel until the early nineties. Written as the alter ego of Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk was intentionally cast as a lawyer to promote equality and her original self-titled run lasted 1982, after which she made guest appearances, joined the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and became known for both breaking the fourth wall and being a strong feminist icon for Marvel. Although a live-action film never came to pass in the early nineties, She-Hulk shared the spotlight with her cousin in the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the mid-nineties and made her live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the tail-end of 2022.
Our story begins with a dialogue box amusingly lamp shading Stan Lee’s tendency to get Banner’s first name wrong and finding the fugitive arriving in Los Angeles, California. After being on the run, hounded by the police and the military, ever since his first transformation into the Hulk, Banner has finally reached his limit and is in need of help, so he seeks out his kid cousin, Jennifer Walters, for some solace. I’m not entirely sure where his long-time friend, confidante, and on-and-off sidekick Rick Jones is or if the comics have ever mentioned Jennifer prior to this, but apparently they were extremely close as children, almost like brother and sister. Jennifer works as a successful criminal lawyer and affectionately refers to Banner as “Doc”, but also has absolutely no knowledge of his dual identity so you know what that means! Over the course of six panels and one page, Banner recounts the specifics of his origin and his curse to transform into a rampaging, near-mindless beast whenever angry or panicked thanks to a massive dose of Gamma radiation, and, despite her shock at this knowledge, Jennifer immediately insists that he come back to her home so that she can shelter and help him. Although he’s reluctant because of the inherent danger, she waves his concerns off since her profession means she’s used to living with danger; for example, she’s currently defending a low-level hoodlum named Monkton who’s been accused of murdering mobster Nick Trask’s bodyguard, which she believes is a frame-up.
While she’s confident of her ability and safety, Banner isn’t so sure, and his concerns immediately turn out to be correct as Trask’s hitmen follow them back to her house and put a bullet in her back. Banner’s able to keep calm long enough to fend the gunmen off with a simple garden house and they hit the road to avoid attracting any unwanted attention, leaving Banner to struggle with his rising emotions and to find some way of helping the injured Jennifer. With no time to wait for an ambulance, he carries her over to (and breaks into) a convenient nearby doctor’s surgery and does the only thing he can think of: a blood transfusion with his blood (which, also conveniently, is the exact same as Jennifer’s) which stabilises her long enough for him to call for an ambulance and the police. For some reason, the cops immediately peg Banner as a suspect, especially when he doesn’t have an identification or credit cards, and the stress finally reaches boiling point, causing him to Hulk-out and escape custody (though we only get the briefest glimpse of the Hulk). The next day, Banner is relieved to learn from the local tabloid that Jennifer is doing well and reluctantly makes plans to leave town to avoid his true identity being discovered. However, while recovering in the hospital, Jennifer feels a strange tingling sensation throughout her body but this, and her concerns over Banner’s welfare, are quickly set aside when Trask’s hitmen come in posing as doctors and looking to finish the job they started. As they pin her down and attempt to chloroform her, Jennifer suddenly undergoes her own startling transformation, tossing her attackers aside and looming over them as a huge, muscular, savage green-skinned beauty they dub “She-Hulk”.
Unlike her brutish cousin, Jennifer retains her intelligence and personality when transformed, but the surge of power afforded to her (especially after feeling so helpless mere moments before), causes her to lash out and revel in her newfound abilities. She easily tosses a hospital bed at one of her would-be murderers (probably killing him…) and chases down the others, ripping open elevator doors and hauling the elevator cart up when they try to escape! Though terrified by their pursuer, the hitmen are able to elude her, and she inspires only further fear in the hospital staff and orderlies due to her savage appearance and ceaseless pursuit of her targets. “Throbbing with power” and revelling in her superhuman strength, She-Hulk’s rational mind is somewhat clouded by her absolute rage and, as they try to race away in their car, she easily cripples their vehicle with a well-timed throw of a nearby road sign. She then manhandles one of them until he confesses that Trask hired them to kill her and admitting that it was Trask himself who killed Monkton. This is apparently enough for the nearby cops to arrest the gunmen, and they ultimately let She-Hulk go since “there’s no law against green skin” (and, apparently, destruction of city property, causing an affray, grievous bodily harm, and harassment are all hunky-dory). As She-Hulk flees, her anger fades alongside her incredible strength with it. She successfully makes it back to her hospital room without being seen, returning to her normal, human state just in time, and consoles herself with the knowledge that her newfound monstrous alter ego will be able to handle any threat that comes her way in the future.
I was expecting a little more from “The She-Hulk Lives”, if I’m being honest. Her bombastic debut issue really could’ve done with being a double-length feature so we would could learn a little bit more about Jennifer and Banner’s past and relationship beyond a couple of panels, and the story almost reads like it could’ve been condensed down a little and been included as a back-up feature in the regular Hulk book. Thankfully, the artwork, writing, and dialogue are much better than what we normally saw in the sixties; unlike many female characters, Jennifer isn’t written as some air-headed bimbo and is actually a pretty capable woman in her own right. She clearly went to law school, or a similar educational institute, and is successful enough to have her own office and to be working on a big case. She’s also incredibly compassionate and loyal to her cousin; she doesn’t judge him for his affliction and offers to help him without hesitation, viewing him as a brother and sure that the two of them can work something out. Finally, she’s pretty self-confident; although he’s usually overly paranoid, Banner immediately recognises that her case against Trask is considerably dangerous but she’s so sure of herself that she doesn’t even consider there being any reprisals against her. Naturally, this ends up biting her in the ass and she nearly dies from a gunshot wound and this (and her subsequent spell in hospital) is the only time Jennifer is portrayed as being weak and in need of help from others.
Banner is so panicked at the thought of losing her that he gives her his blood without thinking and, for all his science-smarts, without even considering the effect his Gamma-irradiated blood might have on her. Due to the risk of being exposed and causing unnecessary destruction, he doesn’t even check in on her afterwards and quietly leaves the story without us even properly seeing the Hulk, which is actually to allow the She-Hulk to take centre stage. It’s not explored in this story but it can be assumed that the transfusion was far less potent than Banner’s own Gamma exposure, accounting for She-Hulk’s retained personality and intelligence and less impressive strength, but she’s still a force to be reckoned with in her green state and overcome with anger due to her previous helplessness and the evil of Trask’s men (and, it can be inferred, all such men who seek to undermine and hurt women). I do feel, though, that the story might’ve benefitted from a confrontation between She-Hulk and the Hulk; maybe she could’ve battled him to a standstill and helped calm him down through their shared condition and showing him some compassion. I have no doubt that this probably did happen in a subsequent issue or encounter between the two, but it does mean that She-Hulk’s debut falls a little flat even compared to her cousin’s first appearance since she only exerts herself against a few regular hoodlums. While this opens itself up into a feminist reading about a woman exerting power and dominance over an oppressive patriarchy, I feel that’s more inferred than explicitly showcased in her debut issue and wouldn’t come to the forefront until she was a bit more established.
Could Be Better
How did you find She-Hulk’s debut story? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, did She-Hulk leave much of an impression on you or were you expecting something more? What did you think to the concept of a female Hulk and the idea that she is far more stable when transformed? Would you have liked to see her throw down with the Hulk here or were you happy with her rallying against common mobsters? What is your favourite She-Hulk story or moment and how are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on She-Hulk, go ahead and share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Hulk content!
I have never read the She-Hulk comics. I did really enjoy the Disney + show though. (I don’t know if you’ve watched them yet) They were 1/2 hour episodes and maybe a little cheesy at times. But I did like that she seemed to get a handle on her hulkness fairly quickly- in one of the episodes Banner actually has her at his home and is “training” her to be a hulk and keep things in check. He’s pretty mellow and chill in his hulk form in the show. She goes on to defend other what are they called mutants? Super hero’s? And a couple villains? Great review as always! Super interesting.
This is the only She-Hulk comic I’ve read so far, but I’ve heard she has some good stories so if you liked her show maybe check them out.
I did watch She-Hulk: Attorney at law; my review is coming next week! 😁