Thursday, October 31, 2013

1984: Jade Jaunting Part III: Voyages Into The Fantastic

By Jef Willemsen (

In the third part of our look at She-Hulk in the 1980s, the year is 1984 and the place is the Baxter Building. Shulkie just stepped in to replace the Thing and, in her own inimitable way, became as much of a rock to the FF as her bepebbled predecessor...  Even if she didn't yell "it's clobberin' time" half as much as Ben did.

 "Oh my! Is the world ready for this?"

The Invisible Girl posed a fair question... Back in April of 1984, the addition of She-Hulk to Marvel's first family came as a complete surprise to the readership. As we covered last time, Shulkie joining the FF was part of the fallout caused by the first Secret Wars. While it might not have been as well remembered or controversial like, say, a certain wallcrawler's new, sentient black costume, no one could have predicted this... and yet it felt altogether natural. 

Blame FF creator John Byrne, who had slowly been developing an interest, nay, even a bit of a crush on the character. Still, introducing a new character into so tight and well defined a family unit as the Fantastic Four can be tricky. Crystal worked out because she was the Torch's long term girlfriend, which made her cousin Medusa a bit like family too when she temporarily replaced Sue in the mid 70s. 

By that same logic, Luke Cage didn't work... or maybe that's because he insisted on getting paid to fill in for the Thing. Still, even when characters were not looking for a payday, they found it impossible to truly become one with the team. Tigra, Thundra and the Impossible Man were all valued house guests and helped out the FF on numerous occasions, but at the end of the day they were 'merely' friends of the family.

John Byrne's first attempt at tinkering with the family dynamic was the introduction of Frankie Raye, another of Johnny's girlfriends who turned out to be a human torch as well. Frankie worked, to a degree, but her tenure on the team was cut short when Byrne had her volunteer to become Galactus' latest herald Nova.

And now it was Jennifer Walters' turn at bat... And she couldn't have signed up at a worse time.

"I feel like an intruder. The FF have made me welcome, but I don't belong.
Not here. Not now."

The here and now Shulkie refered to was by Sue Richard's side in the hospital, shortly after she had lost her second child. An intensly emotional and private moment, so it only made sense Jennifer felt awkward about being there. Still, her presence, at arguably the team's darkest moment of the 1980s, served several wonderful functions: it helped create emotional ties between the She-Hulk and her new teammates. Having her there also provided the FF with a welcome distraction, seen in FF # 268 in which the Human Torch takes the time to show the She-Hulk around their headquarters, including the FF's trophy room.

The mask of Doctor Doom!"

Meet She-Hulk's first FF foe... continuing the trend of pitting her against lame villains, Byrne had Shulkie fight the remote controlled mask of Victor von Doom that came back to life to haunt them. After the mask gave Jennifer and Johnny a run for their money, flying and firing eye blasts out of thin air, it was Mr. Fantastic who saved the day by hitting the Baxter Building's 'flight mode' button, effectively ending the threat. 

She-Hulk also joined the FF right in time to meet her new love interest in Fantastic Four # 270. 

"I hope my tenure with the FF will be at least half as interesting as yours"

The military called in Reed Richards when a mysterious forcebeam from outerspace burned a statement of ownership across the American continent. Shortly thereafter, a massive alien ship crashed near the Keewazi reservation, home of Wyatt Wingfoot, Johnny's old Native American roommate from college. Jennifer and Wyatt instantly hit it off and, after surviving the first appearance of Terminus, Wyatt decides to accompany Reed and Shulkie back to New York, hungry for adventure...

One of She-Hulk's most beloved Fantastic Four stories didn't actually involve the team at all. In issue 275, Shulkie was enjoying a leisurely Summer afternoon with Wyatt, sunbathing on top of the Baxter Building in the nude... When this happened.

"I got some beauts! Get us outta here!"

Yup, the She-Hulk fell prey to sleazy girly magazine The Naked Truth. Its even sleazier editor mister Vance planned to run Shulkie as his next centerfold and Jennifer had to use both her strength and her skills as an attorney to prevent the pictures from seeing print. This led to a thoroughly entertaining She-Hulk solo story, which really feels like a pilot of sorts for a new She-Hulk ongoing.

That second solo title would eventually happen four years later in 1989. However, a few months down the road Marvel did green light (get it?) The Sensational She-Hulk, a graphic novel which truly set the tone for how Byrne would write She-Hulk a few years down the line: like a giant slice of emerald cheesecake. She-Hulk was naked.

A lot.

"An' get the lady a smock fer chrissake!!"

In a nutshell: She-Hulk found herself kidnapped by SHIELD and forced to fight a colony of sentient, body snatching cockroaches. This caused the Helicarrier to crash and, while trying to secure its exposed powercore, she was exposed to so much hard radiation, she lost the ability to turn human again... a fact Shulkie didn't mind in the least. 

Meanwhile back with the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk realised in #277 just how much her brief time with the team had meant to her in a conversation with Alicia Masters that told her two things: Alicia and Johnny were now dating and Ben Grimm had returned to Earth after travelling the Beyonder's Battleworld for a year.

"Then... then it's over. My time with the Fantastic Four is done!"

Well, not so fast, Jen... Ben's in no mood to return to the FF, not with his ex-girlfriend dating his best friend. So She-Hulk stayed on a while longer. She was there when young Kristoff Vernard used Doctor Doom's memories to turn the Baxter Building into a death trap he launched into orbit, hoping the ensuing explosion would kill his hated foes.

Vernard hadn't considered the Invisible Girl's forcefield, however. Sue kept everyone safe with a giant force bubble she reshaped into a makeshift shuttlecraft that was space worthy thanks to the Torch's flame power. Reed steered the vessel straight towards Castle Doom in Latveria where She-Hulk was free to do what a jade giantess does best: bust heads and take names.

"Let me soothe your tortured brow!"

In those days, She-Hulk loved to pop out from underneath and drag her foes down for a good smashing. A fine strategy, but it doesn't always work. For instance, in Fantastic Four # 280, she attempted to surprise Malice, mistress of hate in the same way. But results may vary...

Malice, a mind controlled Susan Richards, wiped the floor with She-Hulk and her teammates. It wasn't until her husband literally slapped some sense into her that Sue was able to free herself from her Malice persona, only to realise who was responsible for twisting her feelings of security, trust and love into fear, doubt and hate... It was the Hate-Monger, an accomplice of the FF's old foe Psycho-Man. 

In the aftermath, the Invisible Girl felt só violated she forced the team to do something heroes never really did back in 1986: actively look for revenge. But seeing his wife's distress, Reed Richards had very little choice in the matter and he asked the She-Hulk to break out the FF's reducto-craft...

The Fantastic Four journeyed into Sub-Atomica where they faced the Psycho-Man who exposed them to his emotion manipulating device. While he kept the three original FF members in his lab as his personal playthings, the Psycho-Man had little use for She-Hulk. He sent her to the mines of Nuvidia where she was to perform hard labor. Why the usually boisterous, strong headed Shulkie didn't fight back, you ask? Well... Mister Fear-Doubt-Hate knows his stuff.


In the mines, She-Hulk encountered Pearla, the former ruler of the realm Psycho-Man had conquered. She also met the sadistic prison guard Dutta, who mercilessly tortured the slaves under his rule. Dutta was a less than subtle reference to regular reader and letter writer Barry Dutter, who made it his personal quest to vilify the She-Hulk in whatever book she might appear in. Dutter simply wasn't a fan and John Byrne finally decided to use She-Hulk, unwittingly, in a first attempt at breaking the fourth wall by sending the vocal fan a message that was rather hard to ignore...

"Dutta... Shut up!"

The remainder of She-Hulk's stay with the Fantastic Four is relatively uneventful. She journeyed with them to the Negative Zone, watched in horror as Mr. Fantastic seemingly bought the farm in the aftermath of the team's fight against Blastaar and Annihilus... and then, after returning to Earth courtesy of SHIELD, found herself back in 1936 New York, babysitting an unconscious Nick Fury who was intent on killing Germany's leader Adolf Hitler before 'der Fuhrer' could start World War II. 

"Keep out of sight, she says! Easy enough when you're the Invisible Woman! Not so easy when you're six foot seven and green!"

In the end, it was revealed the 1936 reality was inadvertently created by 'Licorice' Calhoun, a 1930s clarinet player who turned out to be a mutant whose could reshape reality When some mobsters learned of Licorice's abilities, they tried to press the reluctant musician into service. When he failed to deliver, the gangsters ran him over out of spite. Left comatose, Calhoun somehow ended up in SHIELD's care for decades until the now aged man suddenly started to dream about the world he remembered.

The last major FF story She-Hulk was involved in, incidentally turned out to be John Byrne's final tale as well. Starting in Fantastic Four # 293, the appropriately titled 'Black Out', She-Hulk joined the Westcoast Avengers in investigating just why a mysterious, impenetrable black dome had suddenly shut Central City off from the outside world. One wonders if Stephen King read the issue before he came up with the concept of his hit novel and subsequent tv show Under The Dome

Midway through the storyline, John Byrne left the book, leaving Jerry Ordway to finish up the story. By then, the big anniversary was right around the corner. No, not #300, but #296, which was the official 25th anniversary of the FF being in publication. Stan Lee scripted a plot by Jim Shooter that saw the Thing reunite with his former teammates... and leaving the She-Hulk out in the cold.

The Thing kinda-sorta returned to active duty in #297, sharing the strongman position on the team with She-Hulk. But by #300, it became obvious Ben was back for good when he attended the wedding of Alicia and Johnny Storm and didn't go on a jealousy fueled murderous rampage. She-Hulk bowed out gracefully, along with Wyatt Wingfoot who departed for parts unknown. Jen showed up a few weeks later in Avengers # 278.

Roger Stern had just put the Avengers through the wringer with the Mansion Siege, in which baron Helmut Zemo and the Masters of Evil succesfully invaded Avengers Mansion, almost bringing Earth's mightiest to their knees. The Masters managed to beat Hercules into a coma and seriously injured longtime butler Jarvis as well.

Even though the Masters were eventually defeated, they left the Avengers severly demoralised and with a trashed headquarters. With the mansion ashambles, Avengers chairwoman the Wasp hired office space in the FF's headquarters to try and get the team on its feet again. Luckily, She-Hulk showed up to help out.

"I can return to active duty right now!
The Thing is back with the FF and I'm pretty much at loose ends!"

And with that, She-Hulk was a late 80s Avenger again... However, by that time the Avengers was no longer the warm, comforting group of friends she had come to know and love during her initial time with the team. But we'll get to that in part IV of Jade Jaunting. 

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