The Sensational She-Hulk #1, May 1989, Marvel Comics
writer/penciller: John Byrne
inker: Bob Wiacek
colorist: Glynis Oliver
letterer: John Workman
editor: Bobbie Chase
EIC: Tom DeFalco
Women’s History Month + St. Patrick’s Day + Random Comic Book Reviews = The Sensational She-Hulk! ‘Nuff said, right?
You know She-Hulk doesn’t have to worry about wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, not that anyone would try to pinch her if she wasn’t. Ironically, in this first issue of her second series, her emerald complexion is obscured by a flesh tone when the Ringmaster and his travelling Circus of Crime brainwash her, disguise her, and commandeer her strength to rob their unsuspecting audiences of their loose change. Their plan? When the Ringmaster stupefies the crowd, She-Hulk picks up the bleachers and shakes loose their valuables like a bully flipping over the local nerd for his lunch money.
“Nearly thirty-seven hundred bucks in cash plus some jewelry . . . pocket watches . . .,” a clown proudly reports to the Ringmaster.
Thirty-seven hundred bucks? You need the She-Hulk for that? Hey, I’ve been to the circus, okay? Between admission, carnival games, the outrageously priced snack bar, and maybe a dollar petting zoo, a regular circus gets away with more highway robbery!
Since this is a first issue, and John Byrne is at the reigns, an origin sequence is inevitable, for which I’m actually grateful since I know little of She-Hulk beside the fact that she’s Bruce Banner’s cousin. Of course, Byrne manages to mention this twice, which was three less times than I expected, what with his reputation for, uhm, thorough storytelling. I also vaguely remembered reading somewhere that She-Hulk frequently broke the fourth wall and talked to the reader, a phenomenon I dismissed as a psychologically-angled subplot until I actually experienced it here. When She-Hulk realizes that her abduction by the Circus of Crime was actually one part in a mysterious master mind’s grander scheme, she muses, “I know how these things work! It’ll be at least my third issue before I find out who it is! Although you readers will probably find out on the next page . . .” This gimmick takes the concept of the classic Marvel caption that addresses its audience (or “True Believers,” as we were frequently called) to a wholly different level. Those captions were third person, uninvolved narrative elements -- proverbial Shakespearean muses that established mood or plot. In this case, as much as the idea is meant to pull the reader into the story, sharing that private joke with She-Hulk, it took me out of the tale, as I wondered if John Byrne really sought to experiment with his narrative, or just had an inordinate amount of space to fill. I don’t know if She-Hulk enjoys being watched, but I felt a little violated, and . . .
Sigh. I was reading this issue on the toilet, okay? The last thing I need is a hot superhero barging in on me in my own Fortress of Solitude, okay?
I might be the only comic book fanboy that actually straddles the fence about John Byrne. You either love him or you hate him, plain and simple. (My friend Aaron at Geek in the City boasts the latter category, but admittedly I haven’t thoroughly examined his undoubtedly well thought out opinion in favor of separating the art from the artist. I’m afraid that if I examined the lives or perspectives of my favorite -- or even casually appreciated -- comic book contributors I’d end up burning half of my collection in protest! ) I find Byrne’s superhero storytelling techniques a little dated and formulaic, and his artwork so consistent it’s almost redundant, but his issues aren’t not entertaining. They retain a certain camp-factor that most writers and artists abandoned a long time ago; yes, Byrne suffers from “reliable dog syndrome,” as introduced to pop culture (or at least my mentality) by this season of American Idol. Still, She-Hulk herself confesses on page three of this very issue that she’s capable of bench-pressing seventy-five tons, and Byrne exhibits this strength by having her lift a couple of elephants, then punching out a runaway circus cart. What’s really so “sensational” about that?
So, despite my seemingly foolproof equation at the beginning of this review, The Sensational She-Hulk #1 does little for the cause of St. Patrick’s Day or Women’s History Month. For half of this issue, She-Hulk isn’t even green! Further, and more importantly, any viability she might have had as a remarkable female figure in comicdom is vanquished by her inability to exhibit any real strength, both physically and mentally against the Ringmaster’s attack. Emotionally, heck, she can barely endure one adventure without mentioning her more famous cousin, and, in the end, that whole talking-to-the-audience thing just makes her look a little nuts. You’d think women would be green with envy toward a powerhouse like She-Hulk, but if this issue was their only impression of the character, they’d just walk away jaded.