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Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Gamma Ray Glamor with She-Hulk: Part 2!

Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.

Welcome back to Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., gentle readers! Previously, we presented part 1 of our look at Jennifer Walters, the green-skinned gamma-powered “glamazon” called She-Hulk! While Bruce Banner feared the rage and power of his alter ego the Hulk, his cousin Jennifer embraced her new aggressive and muscled-out aspect, immediately becoming a force for good. Isn’t it great when a woman is, from the start, empowered by openly expressing her emotions and goals, not caring if others understand her? Way to be, Jen.

So last time, we discussed Jen’s evolution and fashion from her introduction in 1980 all the way up to the turn of the century. Now let’s see what she’s been up to in more recent years and her new monthly series. While we’re at it, who are these other ladies who have been called She-Hulks?

CHANGING THE STATUS QUO

Jen rejoined the Avengers in the early 21st century. After briefly re-adopting her classic 80s purple suit, Jen wore yet another purple and white number that came with fun fingerless gloves and high top shoes. This became her standard look for a few years, except that the shoes became white rather than purple. It’s a nice update of the 80s model, though like that costume it borders on being generic.

Jen first rocked this costume out in the 2003 story “Red Zone” by Geoff Johns, which featured the Avengers investigating a biological hot zone. She-Hulk’s biohazard suit was ripped, and fellow hero Jack of Hearts tried to help get her to safety. Thanks to exposure to the biological agent and proximity to the radiation-absorbing Jack, Jen’s gamma levels fluctuated and she had a freak out. Growing in strength and savagery, the pain-maddened She-Hulk screamed that she needed to find her cousin Bruce Banner before running off.

The Avengers found Jen at last in “The Search for She-Hulk.” In a story published in Fantastic Four in the 1980s, writer John Byrne established that Jen was now “permanently” locked into her She-Hulk form due to further exposure to radiation. Byrne himself broke this rule a couple of times, but he always established special circumstances for doing so. Now she was once again in her original human body as default, but if her fear level got too high she turned into a savage, freaked out She-Hulk. During these transformations her clothes would rip apart, but her purple lacey underwear amazingly remained intact and grew accordingly. Who made that underwear with its nigh-impossible level of support? Mr. Fantastic? Jesus?

Like I said last time, She-Hulk is an awesome characters but sometimes, sadly, she is treated not as great. You may feel differently about her wandering around in such underwear while having a freak-out. I find it a bit silly, even for superhero comics.

Thanks to a heart to heart with Bruce Banner and the intervention of the Avengers, Jen’s condition stabilized. She went back home with the Avengers and all seemed well.

ON HER OWN AGAIN

In 2004 a new She-Hulk series started under the direction of Dan Slott. Since her experiences in “The Search for She-Hulk,” Jen could now once again shift back and forth between human and gamma form at will, just like in the pre-Byrne days. She still preferred to be in her She-Hulk form it made her less inhibited, more powerful, and more attractive. Early on in this series Jen was acting a little wild and partying perhaps a bit too much, later admitting that she was acting out a little. The Avengers weren’t going to tell her how to live her personal life, but for reasons of security at Avengers Mansion they did ask that she move out. Around the same time, she was fired from her job for juvenile behavior. She then was offered a job by Holden Holliway of the firm Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg and Holliway.

Some of you may not know (and that’s ok, we’re here to learn), but this law firm’s name is pretty funny. Martin Goodman was the founding publisher of Marvel Comics (though it’s true the company existed in earlier form as Timely and Atlas). Lieber is a reference to Goodman’s cousin, a writer named Stanley Lieber who later legally changed his name to match his most famous pen name: Stan Lee. Artist/storyteller Jacob Kurtzberg aka Jack Kirby co-created Captain America, along with many other characters and concepts that formed the foundation of the Marvel Comics universe.

Jen eagerly accepted a position as attorney in the firm’s superhuman law division. But there was one basic rule. It was fine that she was She-Hulk, but they weren’t hiring a superhero. They were hiring a lawyer named Jennifer Walters. So at the office and in court, Jen had to be in human form. The series then explored Jen learning to be comfortable with her original self again in adventures both introspective and hilarious. As time went on, she became much more confident in all aspects of life, truly becoming a rocking hero on a new level.

2004 ended on a bit of a dark note, though. “Avengers Disassembled” involved the Scarlet Witch going crazy due to regaining her memories of a John Byrne story where she lost her husband, learned her kids weren’t real, and went crazy before having her recollection of the whole affair largely and forcibly blocked. With her memories back, the magical lady went nuts on the Avengers, forcing many bad things to happen. One such thing was that She-Hulk became huge and savage again, attacking her teammates and literally ripping apart the android hero Vision. At the end of the affair, the team split up.

When the Avengers reformed months later, Jen didn’t join the roster. Her solo series relaunched in 2005 with Dan Slott still on board as writer.

Back to her solo series. When John Byrne wrote She-Hulk’s comics, she used to work out a lot. In the years since Sensational She-Hulk, he had her apparently falling out of practice. Slott brought Jen’s exercise habits back but with a new twist. After getting her butt kicked by an alien boxer, Jen considered that her strength as She-Hulk was “exponentially” higher than her normal strength.

So by working out in her human form and developing those muscles, her She-Hulk body became even stronger, faster and tougher. Neat!

But pretty quickly She-Hulk realized she was having a really tough time gauging her strength now that it had increased. Even opening a car door often resulted in damaged property. Naturally, this is a serious problem if you suddenly can’t be sure whether your punches will knock out a super-villain or outright kill them by crushing their skull. Not wanting to accidentally hurt or kill anyone, Shulkie sought out a solution.

Around this time Jen was dating John Jameson, son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Way back in Amazing Spider-Man #42 (1966) John had temporarily been given super-powers and a suit designed to stabilize them. Now that Jen was having trouble with her own biology, she started wearing John’s old suit, with the color scheme altered to remain true to classic She-Hulk white and purple. Jen wore this until she got a handle on her powers again.

Soon afterward Jen once again wondered how she regained her transformation ability when Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic told her years before that she was locked in one form. Wasn’t he one of the smartest guys on the planet? The answer turned out to be simple: He lied. Readers learned that Reed could find no biological reason why Jen couldn’t switch back to human form, despite her insistence on the matter. Consulting Dr. Leonard Samson, the super-powered psychiatrist also known as Doc Samson, Reed concluded that She-Hulk was subconsciously preventing herself from changing because she saw her human identity as weak and unwanted. Samson and Reed then decided not to confront Jen about this mental block she had created, hoping she would work through her issues herself.

Now you may think this is messed up on Samson and Reed’s part. And it is. But it’s also in keeping with their behavior over the years. Reed’s teammate Ben Grimm aka the Thing had lived as a monster for years. But then in the 1980s Reed revealed that he had known for years that Ben could indeed change back and was psychologically afraid to do so (and then other circumstances led to Ben being trapped as the Thing anyway).

What about Samson, though? Well, in the 1990s, Bruce Banner and his different Hulk personalities (the green savage Hulk and the gray jerk Hulk who called himself “Joe Fixit”) had started warring with each other, causing a lot of damage. Using intensive hypnotic therapy, Samson worked with Banner and the two Hulk aspects to merge them all into one healthy, stable personality. It worked for quite a while, until Marvel decided to go back to the Hulk as a character with warring personalities. Years later, in the storyline “Dogs of War,” Samson revealed this was perhaps inevitable because guess what? He lied about merging the personalities into one. You can’t just “cure” a patient with Dissociative Identity Disorder in one day, even with a super-villain hypnotist helping you out. Fearful that the warring aspects threatened lives, Samson had actually buried the different personalities deep within Banner’s psyche and then helped the man’s mind create a new, stable Hulk to take their place.

So Dan Slott’s revelation about Samson and Reed’s lie was actually very much in keeping with their characters.

CHANGING ROLES

During the Marvel crossover Civil War, the government decided that superheroes needed to register with the government and become official deputies of the intelligence and counter-terrorism agency S.H.I.E.L.D. or they would be imprisoned without trial. They were too powerful to just have them run around loose anymore. She-Hulk saw both sides of the argument but decided to register. She became an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and continued to kick ass while wearing a standard S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform.

However, she then learned that Iron Man (who was in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.), along with Reed Richards and others, had recently launched Bruce Banner into the far reaches of outer space because they had decided he was just too dangerous to keep on Earth anymore. Ticked off, She-Hulk and Iron Man had words. And punches. And kicks. Iron Man put a stop to the argument by dosing She-Hulk with a microscopic agent that shut off her powers.

When the Hulk returned to Earth, She-Hulk got to access her powers again temporarily. Then, in 2007, Dan Slott wrote his final issue as regular writer with She-Hulk #21. This story not only restored Jen’s powers completely and in a stable manner, it also explained the several times when Shulkie had appeared in other books over the years and acted out of character (such as sleeping with Juggernaut in Chuck Austen‘s Uncanny X-Men issues). I’m not giving away how this was explained. You can go pick it up. Seriously, it’s a great self-contained issue and I recommend it for readers new and old.

Peter David took over with the next issue and sent She-Hulk into a new life as a bounty hunter for a while. Oftentimes she wore jeans over her costume or just wore a tight purple shirt and purple trousers that emulated her previous looks. Sometimes she simply went for casual wear. It all depended on her mood. I personally think the more plain clothes look actually works very well for Jen.

Sadly, She-Hulk ended. But she didn’t vanish from comics because hey, did you know a Red Hulk showed up? Yep. The character was created by Jeph Loeb, who currently oversees a lot of Marvel TV and is an executive producer on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There was this whole thing where Bruce Banner was imprisoned by the military, but then there was evidence of a new Hulk, a red one, wandering around loose. And there was this whole “Who is the Red Hulk?” mystery (even though many readers guessed almost immediately that it was Banner’s old enemy General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross).

She-Hulk was pretty curious about this Red Hulk (sometimes called “Rulk” by readers) and looked into the matter. While teaming up with other awesome lady heroes, she wore her more recent purple and white suit again but added bracers and heavy duty boots to it. I think these additions work very nicely to convey that Shulkie is ready for serious butt-kicking. That belt is pretty silly, though. If it’s hanging that loosely then it’s purely a fashion statement rather than there for battle. It can actually interfere with her fighting. It makes even less sense considering She-Hulk’s costume would in no way benefit from a belt. She has no trousers.

At a certain point She-Hulk vanished from the Hulk comics. Then a new lady showed up who decided to use the name herself.

RED SHE-HULK

So the Red Hulk got together with the mystical assassin Elektra, the crazy assassin and anti-hero Deadpool, the warrior of Femizon named Thundra, and one of the many Russian armored dudes to be called the Crimson Dynamo. This group of people who all wore red was called… wait for it… Code Red. They got into a tussle with the version of X-Force that was running around at the time, a black ops team led by Wolverine whose members all wore monochromatic clothing. There was fighting and explosions, and at one point we all lost track of where Elektra and the X-Force member called Domino were. Then, out of nowhere, there came a red-skinned lady who seemed to be her own kind of She-Hulk. She had one of Elektra’s sais, one of Domino’s guns, and was barely wearing the remains of Domino’s costume.

The Red She-Hulk claimed that she’d killed Elektra, Domino, and even Jennifer Walters. Writer Jeph Loeb wasn’t satisfied making the Red Hulk’s identity a mystery, so here was another mystery on top of it. Who was the Red She-Hulk? The obvious clues of clothing and gun pointed to Domino. The sai and red skin were circumstantial evidence that she could be the red-garbed Elektra. Of course, neither of these possibilities really made sense to readers, since Domino belonged to the X-books and Elektra belonged to Daredevil’s world. Some wondered if maybe Jen had gone insane and changed skin-tone.

When the Red She-Hulk implied that she had once cared for but now resented the Red Hulk some folks guessed that she was actually Betty Ross, General Ross’s daughter and Bruce Banner’s wife who had died years before at the end of Peter David’s run on the Hulk series. But an epilogue scene by the new creative team had shown that Betty’s body was kept in cryonic stasis.

A few years after that, Betty had been resurrected and given superhuman strength during Bruce Jones‘ run as writer on Incredible Hulk. But after Jones left, the story “Tempus Fugit” revealed that these events were illusions. The same story also introduced Daydream, Betty’s daughter, who was conceived from Betty being raped in her sleep by the dream entity Nightmare. Gross.

Despite the “it was all a dream” explanation, readers figured hey, Betty’s body was put in cryonic stasis before that. So maybe she’s been resurrected for real this time while no one was looking. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

Before the Red She-Hulk’s identity was confirmed, she continued her campaign of being aggressively evil and chaotic while wearing the tattered remains of a leather costume that remained on her body through force of will. You’d think she’d get another outfit in between those battles, but apparently it took her a while to think of that.

A flashback story revealed what happened to Jennifer Walters. She met the Red She-Hulk, who apparently killed her. She hadn’t wanted to at first, but she was a thrall to the group of villains known as the Intelligencia and they demanded it (don’t worry though, it later turned out that this was a trick and Jen was just knocked out). During this tale, we saw that the Red She-Hulk’s first costume was basically Jen’s most recent purple and white costume but with the colors switched and the white replaced by black.

Another flashback issue then showed that Red She-Hulk had fought Domino and Elektra during the whole Code Red vs. X-Force incident. During this fight Domino unleashed some heavy artillery that blew Red She-Hulk’s purple and black outfit to bits. In revenge, Red She-Hulk yanked off Domino’s costume (terrifying her in the process) and took it for herself. Yeah, I think it sounds pretty ridiculous too.

As the fight continued, Domino’s costume (how did it even fit the taller, more muscular Red She-Hulk?) got ripped to shreds. This led readers full circle into the Red She-Hulk’s first appearance.

Now, as ridiculous as I find Betty’s ripped-to-shreds outfit and its origin, I have to say that she grew on me as the Red She-Hulk. What’s more, the World War Hulks and Fall of the Hulks storylines were pretty damn fun and entertaining. They were like blockbuster action movies that remembered to include good banter and a plot.

Eventually, Betty’s identity as the Red She-Hulk was revealed. She explained to Bruce Banner that her father had kept her body in cryonic stasis for years and then had the Inelligencia resurrect her, after which they subjected her to the same transformation process that had turned General Ross into the Red Hulk.

Betty later got out of the Intelligencia’s control, after which she was free to act not so evil and chaotic. Like Jennifer Walters, she didn’t have a full-on change of personality when she transformed, though she did get more aggressive. Although she teamed-up with Banner/Hulk for a while, she no longer considered him to be her husband. One of them had died, so legally and literally the marriage was off. They had a rocky relationship again for a while.

Betty got her own mini-series and also worked with a new version of the Defenders team for a while. One she got into the habit of wearing non-ripped clothes, she tended to go for simple and utilitarian black leather gear. Sometimes the colors changed slightly. Sometimes the boots were a bit different. Sometimes she wore versions that had the midriff exposed or that had a touch of purple.

I get that purple is a Hulk color, but I don’t think it works as well on a red-skinned character. Just my own take. In any event, soon after Betty became the Red She-Hulk, we met yet another She-Hulk of sorts.

LYRA, THE ALL-NEW SAVAGE SHE-HULK!

So there is this bad-ass lady in the Marvel Universe called Thundra. She comes from one of the many future timelines of the Marvel Universe. Her timeline’s Earth of the future is renamed Femizonia, and the U.S.A. has evolved into the United Sisterhood Republic. A society of women known as the Femizons rules and occasionally fights with the scattered remnants of the male population. Thundra is their most formidable warrior. In her early appearances Thundra came back to the present-day Marvel Universe to challenge the Thing and prove that women were more powerful than men. She came to rather like the Thing in a romantic way. In later adventures, Thundra also implied a romantic interest in Jennifer Walters.

In the 2008 comic book Hulk: Raging Thunder, we learned that Thundra (or a version of her) took cell samples from the Hulk and brought them into her future timeline. With these cells, she created a daughter born of her and the Hulk’s DNA, a green-skinned warrior named Lyra. Lyra had a tough life growing up, considered a freak due to being fathered by a male. Events then led her to time travel into our present-day, where she met and (after some fighting) befriended Jen Walters. The two eventually developed a sister-like relationship, something we should see more often in superhero comics.

Lyra was created by writer Jeff Parker and artist Mitch Breitweiser. During her initial appearances, she basically wore Thundra’s costume, but with added bracers, different boots, and a computer wrist companion named Boudicca. She later got herself different boots and a new top that wasn’t half bad.

For a time, Lyra joined the villainous group known as the Frightful Four and donned a red version of the Fantastic Four uniform (Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch had worn such an outfit himself back in the 1970s). But working with villains was just a ruse. Lyra did it to infiltrate the Intelligencia so she could find and free Jen Walters, who’d been in stasis since her defeat at the hands of the Red She-Hulk. Now that she was free, Jen was ready to kick a little ass again with her sister-by-another-mother Lyra.

Lyra and Jen then went on to kick ass together for several issues. During this time, they sported new outfits which, as was Jen’s habit, really seemed like they could be exercise unitards. The designs weren’t bad, but I’m not sure what the significance is of placing an arrow on Lyra.

As a joke, Jen was sometimes called the “Sensational She-Hulk” while the aggressive Lyra, trained from birth to be a warrior, was known as the “Savage She-Hulk.” This is an ironic title for the character. You see, while the Hulk often gets stronger the angrier he gets, Lyra gets weaker the angrier she gets. Because of this, she has undergone intense training to enter an auto-trance during battle, calming her emotions and focusing her mind. To enter the auto-trance, she mentally pictured and recited the Lambda-CDM Concordance Model of the Big Bang, which released all gamma radiation in existence.

Not long after this, Lyra went on to join the Avengers Academy on the West Coast. Jen, still considered the main She-Hulk in the minds of many, was asked by the Thing to join a new group known as the Future Foundation. Jen, along with three others, was asked to step up if the Fantastic Four didn’t return to Earth after a mission. When this wound up happening, Jen and the Future Foundation team fought alongside each other in their spiffy blue jumpsuits. This all happened in the series FF by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred. It’s a very fun suit and a nice new take on the classic Fantastic Four design.

THE NEW SERIES

A few months ago, Jennifer Walters became the star of her own series again, written by Charles Soule with art by Javier Pulido and Munsta Vicente. In the new series, Jen finds herself at odds with the law firm she’s been working at. After leaving the place, she starts up a new firm in DUMBO, Brooklyn (for you non-New Yorkers, the name refers to the area Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

With her old pal Patsy Walker aka Hellcat and a new assistant, Jen is ready to once again rock out as both a superhero and a legal eagle. She also gets herself another new costume. Going back to the classic purple and white scheme, this look has a little more superhero edge to it. We’ve also got a proud white S and slim purple H. I’m not sure about those monogram designs, but I’m not necessarily against them either. It could grow on me. I think I just prefer Jen in more of a plain clothes look.

Between bantering with the terrorist scientists known as A.I.M. and fighting battles both legal and literal with Dr. Doom, this has already proven to be a fun new series. It does not require any previous knowledge of She-Hulk and Marvel Comics. But hey, even if it did, we just went through her history together, right?

Look at that, we’re done! We hope you enjoyed this look at She-Hulk, a lady who truly stands on her own rather than in the shadow of her angry cousin (even if she’s not treated great by the occasional writer or artist). Here’s hoping we get a TV series, online series, or movie of some sort soon. Angie Harmon wants to play the role! Just saying!

Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is an actor and writer who moonlights as a geek consultant and comic book historian. He would love to write a She-Hulk TV series. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.

Previously in She-Hulk

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