Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Classics - The Sensational She-Hulk #1

My reaction to the news in 1989 that John Byrne would be writing and drawing a comic book starring The Sensational She-Hulk was... well, surprise.

Byrne had established himself as one of Marvel's top talents with his work on X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers and Alpha Flight - why would he tackle a character that had never built much of a following?

Obviously he liked the She-Hulk - he used her as a substitute for the Thing in the Fantastic Four when that character was written out of that comic (and given his own series).

I never cared much for the original version of the Savage She-Hulk - another "dumb Hulk" type character - but I liked Byrne's version. She was smart, funny and a powerhouse - so I picked up the first issue.

It was a surprising issue - in that it was very much a normal super-hero comic. It starts with She-Hulk visiting a circus to test her strength against the elephants - but of course, she doesn't realize she's visiting the Ringmaster's Circus of Crime, and she's quickly hypnotized and made part of the criminal band.

The art, of course, is terrific (Bob Wiacek provides the inks), with lots of creative layouts and imaginative action sequences on display.

But it all reads just like a normal comic - until you hit the next-to-the-last page. There she's complaining about the mystery villain behind things, and she says, "... I know how these things work! It'll be at least my third issue before I find out who it is!" She turns, looks at the reader and says, "Although you readers will probably find out on the next page..."

Yep, she totally broke the "fourth wall" (the imaginary plane that separates the character on the page from you, the reader). It wasn't unusual in comics (or stage or movies or TV, for that matter) - in fact, she does the same thing on the cover - but it had never been done inside a comic set in the Marvel Universe (aside from the occasional gag).

But it was just the beginning, as future issues not only tore down the wall, but also made great comedic use of the idea, poking fun at standard comic book practices, including cut scenes, ad pages and clothing that doesn't tear.

It was clever and very funny - and while Byrne had already established himself as an excellent writer, who knew he had a gift for comedy?

It made the comic a lot of fun to follow, and as long as he was writing and drawing it, I bought it.

The character's fortunes have been hit or miss ever since, and other creators have turned in some excellent She-Hulk stories, but no one delivered a better (or funnier) She-Hulk. At least not yet.

Grade: A-



Superman Fan Podcast said...

This was one of the most fun comic book series I ever read. It wasn't the same after Byrne left the title.

Chuck said...

I agree. I was surprised how little of that "breaking the fourth wall" was in that first issue - I was remembering later issues where it really got over the top (the jump-rope issue springs to mind). Sad that humor comics are so rare!