Big Is­sue

The fourth-wall break­ing mad­ness that was John Byrne’s She-Hulk #2

Comic Heroes - - Contents - By James Love­grove

J ohn Byrne loves She-Hulk. He in­stalled her in the Fan­tas­tic Four as a tem­po­rary re­place­ment for the Thing dur­ing his ac­claimed run on that ti­tle. He then pro­duced a 1985 Marvel graphic novel star­ring her, in which she is ex­posed to ra­di­a­tion from the atomic pile of a crashed S.H.I.E.L.D heli­car­rier with the re­sult that she be­comes She-Hulk per­ma­nently, no longer able to re­vert to her Jennifer Wal­ters form. Bril­liantly, she has no prob­lem with this; turns out that she prefers be­ing “Shulkie” any­way.

Un­der Byrne’s aegis, She-Hulk be­came that rare Marvel char­ac­ter, one with no hang-ups about be­ing a su­per­hero. Freak­ishly tall, green­skinned and im­mensely strong, she hap­pily ac­cepts what she is, in­deed rev­els in it. She’s smart, too, hav­ing long since shed her orig­i­nal “Sav­age She-Hulk” per­sona. All this makes her very ap­peal­ing, sexy even. Her buxom Ama­zo­nian fig­ure doesn’t hurt, ei­ther.

When Byrne was given a crack at a She-Hulk solo ti­tle in 1989, he brought even more to the ta­ble than just a char­ac­ter he had nur­tured and de­vel­oped. He brought a sense of mis­chief and a will­ing­ness to poke fun at the un­der­ly­ing ab­sur­di­ties of the Marvel uni­verse. Is­sue #1 is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward, a more or less vanilla scene-set­ter. Only on the penul­ti­mate page do we get a hint of what’s to come, as She-Hulk muses: “Some anony­mous bad guy is ready to spend three mil­lion bucks to find out how tough I am... and I know how these things

“Boy! Cousin Bruce sure had to put up with a truck­load of weirdos in his sec­ond is­sue!”

work! It’ll be at least my third is­sue be­fore I find out who it is!” Then, in the next panel, she turns to look di­rectly at us and says, “Al­though my read­ers will prob­a­bly find out on the next page...” (Which we do. It’s the Head­men.)

The fourth wall be­gins to crum­ble. With is­sue #2 it has bro­ken down com­pletely, and Sen­sa­tional She-Hulk con­fi­dently hits its stride. The bad­dies this time are the Toad Men from outer space. There’s a nice sym­me­try here, as they were also the vil­lains in In­cred­i­ble Hulk #2, where they kid­napped Bruce Ban­ner in an ef­fort to de­ter­mine the hu­man race’s level of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment. In She-Hulk #2 these stunted, warty, am­phib­ian-look­ing aliens are played for laughs, as well they should be. They aren’t even gen­uine ex­trater­res­tri­als but, it tran­spires, dwarves in cos­tume, part of a com­plex il­lu­sion con­cocted by Mys­te­rio in or­der to take She-Hulk cap­tive.

As the Toad Men launch their at­tack on her, She-Hulk turns round in in­dig­na­tion to lam­bast her cre­ator: “Toad Men, Byrne?? Toad Men? I thought the cover was just a gag. I was all set for the Kree or the Skrulls... or even the crummy Ky­lore­ans! But you stick me with the Toad Men?”

This comes at the end of a run­ning gag in the nar­ra­tive cap­tions con­sist­ing of notes pur­port­edly passed be­tween ed­i­torin-chief Tom De­Falco and ti­tle edi­tor Bob­bie Chase. The for­mer com­plains about the lack of ac­tion and Marvel “mag­nif­i­cence” in the open­ing scenes, while the lat­ter re­peat­edly re­as­sures him that “cos­mic grandeur” is on its way. When at last a host of Toad Men space­ships ap­pears, fill­ing the sky in a dou­ble-page spread, De­Falco re­sponds la­con­i­cally with “Not bad, not bad. But I could’ve used a few more Toad ships.” Byrne him­self then in­ter­venes: “Well, take a good look at the ones you got, boss! I’m not draw­ing this [scrib­bled-out word] fleet again!”

Of course this is all part of the script, Byrne gen­tly josh­ing. But it’s gen­uinely funny and in­tro­duces an el­e­ment of Har­vey Kurtz­man’s Mad into the pro­ceed­ings, a wry self-con­scious­ness. Later is­sues would fea­ture Shulkie cross­ing panel borders in or­der to get from one lo­ca­tion to an­other; wear­ing a flimsy silk chemise that doesn’t, as you might ex­pect, get ripped to shreds in bat­tle be­cause it has a Comics Code Author­ity la­bel sewn into it; and tear­ing through the page, by­pass­ing an ad­vert and emerg­ing through the fol­low­ing page.

It was all lovely metafic­tional fun and games for eight is­sues un­til Byrne ei­ther quit or was fired – opin­ions vary – af­ter com­plain­ing about what he re­garded as ed­i­to­rial in­ter­fer­ence. He re­turned to the book later for a sec­ond stab that was pos­si­bly more in­ven­tive than the first but at the same time some­how less play­ful.

Dumb vil­lains and a height­ened sense of the ridicu­lous made is­sue #2 and the rest of Byrne’s run a treat. If Monty Python or The Naked

Gun team were ever to pro­duce a su­per­hero comic, it might look some­thing like this.

The Sen­sa­tional She-Hulk #02 | Story “At­tack Of The Ter­ri­ble Toa d Men” | BY John Byrne

Date June 1989

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.