The Essential Savage She-Hulk: Volume 1
I've been a fan of the She-Hulk since I was a hormone-drunk adolescent. My meager allowance only allowed me a few issues of her titles--notably the first issues of Savage She-Hulk and Sensational She-Hulk--but I poured over these comics countless times, and relished each guest appearance in the pages of Fantastic Four or Wizard Magazine. That she was green didn't matter--my father raised me to be free of prejudice. What did matter was that she was beautiful, brazen and bold. She could kick the ass of any poor fool that stepped in her path, and as the victim of countless bullies, all I really wanted was a girlfriend that could protect me. And her more-often-than-not-shredded clothing didn't hurt either.
So it was with great pleasure that I dived into Marvel Comics' Essential Savage She-Hulk, collecting the entire 25 issue run in the Essential line's standard black and white. This often times hinders the visual experience, especially seeing as how the title character is green, but it also makes it an affordable way to get the whole story.
For those of you who aren't in the know, Jennifer Walters was just your average, hot-shot Los Angeles lawyer who was currently embroiled in a courtroom battle against sleazy mobster Nick Trask. Trask does what any good goodfella would do--he tries to have her whacked. A couple of his thugs gun her down in her own driveway, leaving her for dead.
Luckily for us, Jen's visiting cousin Dr. Bruce Banner (AKA The Incredible Hulk) saw it all, and knows exactly what to do. He gives her an emergency transfusion of his gamma-radiated hemoglobin. This saves the lady lawyer's life, but it also imbues her with the gift--or the curse--of becoming THE SAVAGE SHE-HULK.
She decides that "Whatever Jennifer Walters can't handle--the She-Hulk will do!" The majority of her adventures involve her taking on the mob, like a less-lethal Punisher, but she meets a handful of other baddies along the way, along with a few Marvel Universe goodies, too. Iron Man, Man-Thing, Morbius the Living Vampire, The Man-Wolf, Hellcat--they're all here. Strangely enough, however, beyond her origin issue, the Hulk doesn't make a single appearance.
She-Hulk is aided in her adventures by her lovestruck neighbor Zapper, and hindered in them by slimeball Assistant District Attorney "Buck" Bukowski (think Dan Fielding from Night Court), as well as her own father, the Sheriff, who doesn't know about his daughter's secret identity and is seeking the She-Hulk on murder charges. Understandably, this puts a serious strain on their relationship.
The most interesting angle played here is, believe it or not, a love triangle. As Jen Walters, she falls for lifetime loser Richard Rory (ripped from the pages of Man-Thing); but as the She-Hulk, she's involved with Zapper. It's a clever take on the alter ego/romantic interest theme, surpassing anything seen (or hinted at) in the Clark Kent and Lois Lane/Superman and Wonder Woman territory.
The art is sometimes amazing (especially in issue one, courtesy of John Buscema), and actually even looks good in the black and white. Come issue two, Buscema is gone but the good art still remains, thanks to the dynamic duo of penciler Mike Vosburg and inker Chic Stone. For those who doubt the artistic merit of an inker (Chasing Amy fans, I'm looking at you), just compare the duo's work with any of the Chic-free issues, and tell me you can't see the difference.
So does the She-Hulk live up to my, ahem, fantasies? Not completely. Perhaps I've been jaded by reading the likes of Sandman and Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but the stories just don't hold up to today's standards, although this is surely the case with many classic comics. Marvel did used to be known as Timely, after all, not Timeless.
As for the dialog, it gets a little weak in places. The instance that sticks out the most in my mind comes from issue #22. I mean, I'm all for a little philosophical exposition in the funny pages, but it's got to fit the character. The Savage She-Hulk does not say things like, "The metaphor doesn't escape me! All my life I've felt this sort of constriction! I felt it freeze up my father, sealing him in a rock-hard exterior! Let this metaphor be my strength! I won't wear a shell!"
I can forgive a lot of things. I forgave the phenomenally embarrassing Man-Elephant (issue #17), for Christ's sake. But every man has his limits.
Still, it was a lot of Retro fun, a look back at the not-too-distant past that, if nothing else, serves to make you appreciate the present.
And Shulkie? You've got my number. Just leave the metaphors at home.