Friday, September 21, 2012

My 10 Favorite Sensational She-Hulk Comic Covers

Simply sensational...
It's called a "distaff counterpart." You take a character, often male, swap out the gender and introduce them as a whole new character. There are numerous examples and reasons for this. For the sake of gaining a newer and wider audience, Mattel & Filmation did it with the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe franchise when they introduced She-Ra. To create It could be a case of the writer having fun, and for once not being lazy, as was the case with Marvel Comic's Deadpool meeting numerous alternate versions of himself, including a distaff counterpart in Lady Deadpool. Or it could be seen as a way of sexualizing an already overly sexualized character without having to deal with all the homophobia in an already overtly macho industry, as was the case with Wolverine and the female X-23. Or it could be done to secure royalty rights, as was the reasoning behind She-Hulk, the distaff counterpart of Marvel Comic's Hulk character, intended to ensure CBS' possible & rumored spin-off series featuring a female Hulk would net them some money.

And while, to be fair, most distaff counterparts are treated rather lazily, with few exceptions, She-Hulk is one of the few that truly stands out. Instead of trying to simply create gender biased/flavored stories featuring a Hulk with tits, She-Hulk ended up with a title known as the Sensational She-Hulk, which took the character of Jennifer Walters, one time lawyer and now green skinned glamazon, the farthest away from the the Incredible Hulk comics. Granted, because of the whole "with tits" thing, there would be sex appeal (they are comics after all,) the true stand out was humor. Often found on the covers. So to celebrate the individuality of the title's run, which happens to be one of my favorite books of the late 80's & early to mid 90's, here's a look at my ten favorite comic covers.

10: Shock the Shulkie (#58)
One thing I can not stress enough about the Sensational Shulkie line was it's humor. Often the was rather meta, spoofing on Marvel Comics, or the comic industry in general, with an insiders view point. And then you get covers like this.
Electro Season! Shulk Season! Electro Season!
I have to admit, I don't have this comic. I must've spent my money already the week before, because there was no way I was going to miss out on a She-Hulk/Electro crossover. I'm a fan of Electro you see. Can't explain why. The humor here is an obvious. But what makes it, in my eyes, stand out at the time period is the appearance of our title super-heroine. This was 1993, part of the so-called "Dark Age" of comics. Women were, well... the treatment of women in media during the 60's has been harshly criticized, but let me just say that it was a LOT more polite than many comic writers (and especially illustrators) during the 90's treated women during the 90's. Here we have an character who gets glammed up as a sex symbol (if you don't believe me, just check the She-Hulk model in the Marvel logo in the upper left corner) made to look rather unpleasing. Well, granted she still has boobs that defy gravity, but for a sex symbol of comicdom, my god did they make her ugly.

9: TIE -  Date Worse Than Death (#39) & What's Xemnu With You (#43)
I'm calling these a tie because they're essentially the same cover, with essentially the same joke. While I did state that the Sensational title was very funny numerous times in my life, I never claimed it was wholly original. Much of it's humor was often derivative, although usually done just a tad better than it's predecessor. Sometimes this predecessor was an earlier comic of it's own run. Still, let's just say these two covers do it equally well.
Come to think of it, maybe my 10 year old self was drawn to these comics for other reasons than the humor...
It wouldn't be the first time the covers made this joke, as you'll see in a moment, but these were rather fun at the time. Many comic writers and illustrators were being asked about the rampant sexual images of women, the poor and often lazy characterization of women, and that's not to mention the numerous statements that comics were perverting America's youth. Many in the comic industry tried to deny or even defend themselves. Those behind the Sensational She-Hulk however, spoofed it by flat out admitting it was true, while still managing to to treat the audience with a level of respect usually not seen in similar comics.

8: "Untitled" (#40)
This cover is a joke, but it's also what women were treated like in comics during the 90's. Pure sex symbols intended to entice the horny and lonely (mostly) male fan-base. If I remember correctly, and I might be remembering this wrongly or misinformed here, it's from a joke made during one of the side content, like an editor's column or a letters section about skipping rope nude.
Comics aren't always mindless, juvenile and sexist. Sometimes they're satirical, juvenile and sexist.
A huge ongoing trend with comic covers is the "pinup cover." A sexy woman involved in a scene or pose of some sort intent on titillating the hornier fanbase. Heh... titilating... I said tit... heh... Oh, ahem, sorry. My 10 year old inner child broke through for a moment. You already saw that earlier, but this cover actually involves the events of the comic... well, sort of. Furthering the satire take on the sex symbol on the cover trend, as seen in the previous entry, Shulkie is actually skipping rope in the (seemingly) nude for the first several pages. I may not be explaining it well, but the mockery of the industry was actually very well done. It involves another character actually stepping in to tell She-Hulk to stop pandering to the masses (more politely I should say) and get on with the story.
Plus the fact that she's covering herself with the comics code approval stamp on this cover is absolutely hilarious.

7: Cognito (#44)
So we've seen a trend here, one I didn't actually intend. And that would be the spoof of sex appeal, I pretty much spent 3 entries in this list talking about it. Let's change it u-uhh, never mind. Let's keep doing what we're doing, at least for another moment, and continue talking about sex appeal in comic books, particularly the use of beautiful scantly clad women in covers, simply to sell the issue.
Oh wait, let's not.
For those not feeling like clicking on the images to see their full size, let me just paraphrase the cover's text; Sorry, I've been scantly clad a bit too much lately, so I gotta go and tone it down. She-Hulk clad in heavy winter clothing to ensure that no skin shoes, save for around her eyes, in the middle of what is obviously (judging by the background characters) a heat wave. Yes, it's still essentially the same joke, but now we're doing an inversion of it. And I thought it was clever. Okay, okay, I promise - we'll stop talking about sex appeal now.

6: Interrupted Melody (#31)
John Byrne is either a genius you respect, or a genius you really, really dislike it seems. Well for the September issue back in '91, John Byrne ended up taking over the book for a bit. To celebrate that, this cover was put together.
Wait, you mean there's a Sensational Shulkie cover WITHOUT sex?!
In case you're not already familiar with this cover, nor are you up to the task of clicking on the image to see it in a much larger size where you can read the text, let me paraphrase the joke, and give you some insight as to why this cover works on several levels. Mr. Byrne had worked on the Sensational She-Hulk issues 1 through 8, but had not worked on issues 9, 10, 11, 12 and so on, until this issue rolled around. The cover features John Byrne attempting to tack on the identifier of Sensational She-Hulk #9, the first comic in the line to have not feature Byrne. He states that he was promised he could do whatever he wanted in his "first issue" (as writer, I believe) while She-Hulk drags him away, stopping his ploy. Granted he's told by Renee Witterstaetter (the issue's editor) that he's probably getting away more than he should on the inside of the book, still giving off the cheap sex appeal pop for the male base.

5: My Guest Star... My Enemy (#3)
There used to be a joke about Marvel Comics involving Spider-Man. Every third issue involved Spider-man. This was often quite literally true, the amount of comic books that, to ensure an early sell, would include Spider-Man is staggering. Even books that technically weren't in the Marvel Universe would inexplicably have Spider-Man guest starring in the third issue. Even Marvel's Transformers title featured Spider-Man.
Is Spider-Man appearing in all my Fav 10's going to be a running trend?
I have to admit that when I was a seven year old kid buying this issue, I did not get the joke. I kind of was part of the problem I saw Spider-Man and was like "WHOA! SPIDEY! GOTTA BUY IT!" That's actually how I got introduced into the Sensational She-Hulk, and ended up buying most of the comics in the line from then on. It's humorous, really. When I stopped reading comics in the 90's for several years, it was because I was tired of this very same pandering and lime light stealing by outside heroes invading my favored titles. Granted by then it wasn't good ol' Peter Parker popping up everywhere, but Wolverine.

4: He's Dead (#50)
Often times a comic book reaches a milestone, such as reaching a fiftieth issue. This often draw some kind of nifty cover. When a character has a particular image associated with them, be it a pose or insignia of some form, it will more often than not end up being on the cover. While Superman & Batman didn't use their chest insignia for their 50th issue (or at least for their first 50th), they often would use this shot for numerous covers. The big red s was featured as the centerpiece of numerous special issue covers. She-Hulk doesn't exactly have an insignia, but that doesn't stop her here.
The ONLY foil cover to ever be on one of my favorite covers lists!
It might be me but it really does make me think of those classic iconic images of Superman's iconic shield being front and center. But what I really enjoy is the minimalistic approach of this cover. Sure, it's another "sex appeal" styled cover, but it's done tastefully. It carried all the clichés: foil cover, extra sized issue, guest writers/artists, it had it all and yet somehow succeeded. That gets it bonus points.

I just want to talk about the inside of this issue for a moment. The story was that Shulkie had found out her writer/artist John Byrne, mentioned earlier, had died. To move on with her career, she was forced to try out numerous artists & writers: Walter Simonson, Dave Gibbons, Terry Austin & Frank Miller (before he was completely batshit insane.) You know how people love Deadpool for breaking the fourth wall? Yeah, She-Hulk was Deadpool before Deadpool. She's like the original Lady Deadpool - oh crap, that would be awesome!

3: The Big Rub Out (#37)
As I alluded to earlier, Spider-Man was everywhere at one time, and while Spidey still jumps into other character's titles to boost sales, the phenomena has become closely linked to the character of Wolverine. The two are by far the worse offenders of this in Marvel Comics, but you know who comes a close third? The Punisher.
Btw, I'm getting all these images from

She-Hulk spells it out right there, stating that although these characters appear on the cover, they have no appearance inside the actual story. This is of course a continuation of the earlier third issue joke, but it also added to the humor. A common complaint with many of these guest stars is that they were pretty much shoe horned in by the writers at the request of the editorial staff. As such Spider-Man might appear in the hypothetical Sixty-Man #3, and even have the majority of that issues cover devoted to him, only to appear for 3 hasty panels that have no real connection to the other 27 or so pages of the book. While the earlier She-Hulk #3's story did involve Spider-Man as an important asset of the story, that didn't stop the Shulkie staff from poking fun at the phenomena.

#2: Second Chance (#1)
Ask anybody, when you are shilling a product the most important thing is that first impression. And the very first of multiple first impressions is always that very first issue. It has to be eye grabbing, something all comic covers fight to be, and set itself apart from everything on the shelf. At the same time it has the obligation to set a standard for the story. A detective story should appear as a detective story. Some authors and illustrators love to pull a bait and switch, but generally when involving comic covers, this is seen as a grievous act by the audience. The Sensational She-Hulk #1 succeeded in these aspects.
I have too much class to make the cyclopes/penis joke that my 6 year old self would have made at this time.
The Sensational She-Hulk is actually the 2nd solo title the character She-Hulk had, the first being a run titled The Savage She-Hulk, of which the first issue she's holding in her hands. The composition could be considered a tad lazy, but I think the color choices really work here. The title is there, it pops against the simple purple background, and our lead character's personality is front and center. I mean, c'mon, she sets up the whole 4th wall shattering personality by acknowledging she's a comic book, as well as being severely over shadowed by the most popular book of the time, the X-Men. We now know enough about what kind of story, humor and play we'll be getting from the series. A great first cover, in all honesty, and one that is often over looked.

1: Big Hunt (#60)
We've talked about 3 major trends in comic book covers. The sex appeal pin up, and the play on the iconic imagery. Another well to do trend worth mentioning is the throwback cover. A cover that bases itself entirely on a previous issue's cover. The original solo run of She-Hulk I had just mentioned, the Savage She-Hulk, had for it's first cover a play on the cover of the Hulk's first appearance. Several Sensational She-Hulk covers that didn't make this list were also plays on various covers of other comic titles. But the Sensational line came to an end, and thankfully it had the time to sneak in one more bit of humor. Obviously I'm referring to a throw back cover, this time to the previous entry, the first Sensational She-Hulk title itself.
And now that we got her angry I'm glad I didn't make that cyclopes/penis joke.
So, if you're going to come in with a joke, you might as well exit with a joke. Particularly if you can make it a brick joke. Admittingly not as well drawn (in my opinion) as the first issue of the title, but an excellent sense of humor to string the entire run together. I don't own the entire Sensational Shulkie line. I couldn't afford every comic I wanted, and at times did buy an X-Men book instead. Looking back I should have put my two bucks towards Shulkie instead.

I should probably note that I do not own She-Hulk, or any associated copyrights or trademarks, all images, characters and etc. are all properties of Marvel Comics / Marvel World, Inc. Duh.

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