Sunday, November 17, 2013

1989: Jade Jaunting Part VI: Saying Sayonara by way of Star Truck 'n Santa

By Jef Willemsen (

In the final part of Jade Jaunting, the 80s come to a close and so does John Byrne's stint as chronicler of She-Hulk's ground & fourth wall breaking series. But not before Shulkie went to outerspace to check in on that equally sensational character find of 1983: US Archer.

She-Hulk in outerspace? Sure, why not...

Issue #6 opened with Jennifer Walters as a special guest at NASA during the launch of the first space shuttle built with a faster than light (FTL) drive, allowing it to travel across the stars. Cheekily admitting her reason for being there was a bit of a stretch, she proceeded to fill the readers in on what was going down. And speaking of stretches...

"Reed! It's been forever!"

Having two superheroes on hand was fortunate, because the giant rig Big Pig II came out of nowhere to cause trouble. While Mr. Fantastic got the civilians to safety, Shulkie tried to stop whoever was behind the wheel only to discover it was being piloted by remote control. Before she could properly process this twist, the FTL shuttle launched and it became clear the Big Pig had been little more than a diversion.

Using Reed's elastic body as a giant trampoline, She-Hulk jumped after the shuttle and managed to grab hold of the tailend of the booster rocket, barely managing to resist the harsh conditions as she climbed up towards the shuttle itself. Eventually, she found an airlock but Jennifer's time and oxygen were running low...

"Looks like my book turns out to be a mini-series after all"

After coming to, she found who her rescuers and the shuttle hijackers were: the trucker turned superhero Razorback and Taryn O'Connell, a lady trucker with an interesting past. Taryn had been the love interest of Ulysses Archer. Better known as US Archer, he was a trucker who, after getting hurt in an accident, received a metal plate in his head that allowed him to pick up C.B (Citizen's Band) radio transmissions...

That, plus a souped up, semi-sentient truck, was all he needed to become a superhero of sorts. His 1983 soloseries lasted twelve issues and ended with aliens taking US and most of his supporting cast into space because what the cosmos needed most was good ol' American truckers hauling freight.

Taryn elected to stay behind, but as time went on, she found she missed her lover and wanted to join him in space. She figured Razorback would be the perfect hero to help her, not only because he was a fellow trucker, his newly discovered mutant ability to drive anything would allow him to pilot the shuttle.

Having Razorback be a mutant with the most mundane power imaginable was a decidedly tongue in cheek wink at Marvel's late 80s attempt to capitalize on the X-men's popularity by revealing lots of established characters as children of the atom. Having already activated the FTL engines, Razorback and Taryn pretty much forced She-Hulk to come along for the ride... and before long they hit up on the truckstop US used as his base of operations that had been taken into space as well. Run by Poppa Wheelie and rebranded the Star Stop, the place had become a popular pitstop. populated by a variety of interesting aliens...

"... and you're sure that's the... off-ramp we need?"

The Star Stop's Marvunapp entry contains a detailed list of the 'easter eggs' Byrne put into this scene. It's just a lot of goofy fun, even when Taryn realises U.S. had moved on, marrying her old rival Mary McGill who also happened to be having his baby. Speaking of US, people were getting a little worried because he was late returning from a delivery with Mary mere days from giving birth In the closing pages of #6, US and his space rig returned to the Star Stop, along with a most unwanted hitchhiker...

"I have no mouth and I am mean!*
(*with sincerest apologies to Harlan Ellison)

Continuing the tradition of pitting Shulkie against the lamest of the lame, Xemnu the Titan had come to kidnap US' unborn baby. Byrne played up Xemnu's original scheme: he was out to kidnap children to repopulate his own planet. But even infants proved too resistent to his indoctrination, that's why he decided to start his recruitment drive while they were still in the womb. 

It goes without saying Shulkie wasn't that big a fan of Xemnu's prenatal promo talk.

"We haven't had any good, senseless violence since I took on the Stilt-Man...
And that was three issues ago!"

However, She-Hulk fell prey to Xemnu's powerful hypnotic mind. Unconscious, she woke up to find that Xemnu's plan to turn the child in utero had failed. Instead, he had already moved on to plan B: if you can't steal a baby, why not go and make your own? Guess who was the lucky gal:

"Now YOU will become the bride of Xemnu!'

Poor She-Hulk... defeated not once but twice by a big teddybear who also tried to turn her into his equally furry bride. And to add to her woes: in the end she didn't even get to defeat the Titan herself. Shulkie was saved by a whole armada, all customers of the Star Stop who agreed to come to her aid. With a little help from Al the Alien and his wife, the She-Hulk received one heck of a Brazilian wax. Once rid of her excess fur, Al made sure she got home safely inher new flying car. 

In between issues # 7 and #8, the 1989 crossover Acts Of Vengeance kicked off. During this company wide event, a cabal of supervillains decided the best way to finally defeat their enemies would be to simply switch opponents. She-Hulk participated too, showing up in the second issue of the Damage Control limited series.

"C'mon guys! Hurry up! We're on page seven and we haven't even had a fight scene yet!"

When John Byrne started Sensational She-Hulk he expressly requested she only broke the fourth wall in her own book. Byrne reasoned that this would give the title a unique hook and the added exclusivity helped keep the gimmick fresh. Contrary to Byrne's request, the late great Dwayne McDuffie had her talk to the audience anyway... and with great success, after all Damage Control had always been a title that lent itself to inside jokes.

She-Hulk's presence in D.C. felt natural and she was more than happy to be there after learning what the crossover was about. After all, with the villains playing musical chairs, she just finally might get to fight some bad guys worthy of the name. Hey, it could happen... right?



Hoping for Doctor Doom, Magneto or Hobgoblin she instead got stuck with disgruntled DC-employee Eugene and his partner Washington who couldn't decide what to call themselves. Switching fromSimon & Garfunkel, Hammer & Sickle, Cloak & Dagger or New & Improved, often changing their minds per panel, they actually managed to throw Shulkie for a bit of a loop.

In the end, She-Hulk begged Marvel editor in chief Tom DeFalco to treat her with a bit more respect, leading to a great one liner by Damage Control's cigar chompin' foreman Lenny.

"I wonder why She-Hulk keeps talking about DeFalco cigars?"

Still, She-Hulk's pleas to get her old writer back would prove prophetic, because issue 
8 of her solo book proved to be John Byrne's last. Released in December 1989, Shulkie closed out the decade by teaming up with the world's greatest detective. Greatest detective? You mean? No, not the Batman: *this* guy...

"You're kidding, right?"

Yeah, the She-Hulk got help from a womanizing, naughty, butt pinching Santa Clause to prove a crazed criminal was responsible for an unresolved murder. Shoving She-Hulk through chimneys, claiming he knew who was naughty and who was nice, Nick St. Christopher was utterly ridiculous and fun... But he got things done, charming the pants off Jennifer. That is, until his wife showed up to slap some sense into him. 

In an interview for Modern Masters, Byrne revealed his love for having Santa show up. He even got a kick out of the fact the fans got mad when he wrote him in, saying it only served as further incentive to include Clause as often as possible.

But his editor, Bobbie Chase, also wasn't a fan. Not just of Santa, but of Byrne on the book in general. After several months of growing frustrations, John Byrne simply decided to leave. And even though #9 was still promoted as 'just a fill in issue', people who could read between the lines already saw what was coming down the line. Also: people who read the obvious word pun in the following promo blurb:

And with that, She-Hulk's 80s adventures came to an end. Starting in 1990, Steve Gerber took over as regular writer, with a young Bryan Hitch on art. While certainly not the worst of Marvel's early 90s comics, Sensational She-Hulk lost its trademark fourth wall breaking charm and good natured ribbing of the genre. Gerber wrote 16 wacky, but hardly world shattering issues. When he bowed out in September of 1991, his replacement was... John Byrne? 

Yup, a few months before that, Renée Witterstaetter had succeeded Bobbie Chase as editor. After realising she had a better working relationship with Byrne, she managed to bring him back to the book he had started. The cover to #31 showed just how eager Byrne was to continue where he'd left off.

Maybe a bit too eager...

For the next 19 issues, Byrne continued his meta-joking shtick, exploring the boundaries of the genre while having embarassing baddies like Spragg the Living Hill, the Living Eraser and the Carbon Copy Men show up. Not to mention a band of zombified minor X-men characters called the X-Humed.

Another continued trend: having She-Hulk's enemies fall for her left and right. Xemnu was the first, but the Mole Man and Mahkizmo were also ready to make an honest woman out of the emerald giantess.

"What a revoling development this is!"

One could hardly blame the villains, after all Byrne made sure the stories were rife with blatant cheesecake shots of She-Hulk running around in the skimpiest of outfits... In one issue he even forced her to jump rope naked on the cover. All in a shameless attempt to both mock and cash in on the early 90s panting fanboy craze that warranted the publication of several high selling Marvel swimsuit specials...

Byrne left with #50, feeling he had told all the stories he had in him. The book continued under a new creative team who went for a slightly more serious tone. Sensational She-Hulk was cancelled within ten months after Byrne's departure. However, the legacy of this fourth wall breaking series was that the character would forever more be considered fun. Without Byrne's influence, the book would never have spawned Shulkie's critically acclaimed 2004 soloseries by Dan Slott...

And as for She-Hulk's new series launching in February 2014, it's pretty much a given it will be fun. But let's hope she gets to fight some decent baddies this time, eh?

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