The Sensational She-Hulk (Part 1) and Other Stories

A long story, in truth, but She-Hulk is–somewhat indirectly, though shared with Thanos (and Jim Starlin/Ron Lim’s recent annual, specifically)–the reason I am after comic books again. In the process, I found that not only was one run of the last series (before the current one) written by Peter David (basically always a good thing), but that John Byrne had written her as Deadpool before Deadpool (and, in both that originality and the semi-forgotten nature of it, devoid of the obnoxious aura surrounding that character), breaking the fourth wall and acting as a comedic series.

Sensational_She-Hulk_Vol_1_1I’ve got most of Sensational now, as well as most of the 2005 and even 2004 purely eponymous serieses, and chunks of miniseries and alternate appearances (it increased my ownership heavily when it came to Fantastic Four and Avengers, neither of which I’d really ever looked at collecting, as she was a team member of each for a time). But for the moment, it’s Sensational that occupies my attention.

It turns out that, while the series is known for Byrne’s involvement and approach, he only wrote about half of its 60 issue run, and initially left after only 8 issues. Peter David wrote one, future lettering mogul Richard Starkings co-wrote one with Gregory Wright, and then Steve Gerber took over with issue #10 (pencils from the not-yet-so-famous Brian Hitch).

Gerber was the inventor of Howard the Duck, and author of many of his inventions–including a four part story in this very book.

Byrne’s run is most famous–it’s often considered Byrne’s book, despitSensational_She-Hulk_Vol_1_10e his limited authorship of the book, so discussing his writing is not where I’m at–I’m not quite halfway through the series, and he hasn’t returned. For eight issues he defined the book through its fourth wall breaking approach, with Jennifer Walters answering fan mail in addition to making asides to readers, editor Bobbie Chase or directly to Byrne. When Gerber took over, the stories themselves no longer acknowledged any of this–but Jen kept answering letters for a few issues. And then she stopped.

The book was completely divorced, now, from its origins. But this wasn’t the major issue–the most positive thing I can possibly say about Gerber’s run is that he didn’t force this approach into his writing. There’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t know how to write or can’t write or doesn’t like writing a specific style trying to do it anyway. But the problem is that Gerber’s writing on these books is like what I’ve seen of his Howard the Sensational_She-Hulk_Vol_1_14Duck–admittedly, exclusively through his latter-era Max (ie “mature”) Marvel series of that title. It’s satire and parody–but really, really ham-fisted. It’s kind of appropriate considering what he’s satirizing (he has seemingly always had issues with consumerism in particular, as it’s been mentioned in everything I’ve read of his so far), but it’s tiring. One story is multiple issues on a Superman parody (Pseudoman and Lexington Loopner!) that’s centered on the proliferation of hollow symbolism. Another is four issues of Howard and Walters dealing with an attempt to stop mediocrity from overtaking everything (via the crash of “encroachiverses” squishing together until mediocrity is all that remains). I just explained the satire in a sentence. The story took four issues. It’s too long. I open the next book and actually curse aloud when I see Gerber’s name.

The thing that worked about his Howard Max series is that Howard is the acerbic commentator around which the satire and parody revolves. Jen’s not shifted into that role–which, oddly, I guess, makes sense. Again, he’s not forcing something, which is nice. But it means that it turns into a Howard book as long as he’s around, and then an un-centered mess, a book that’s about satire and parody first, and, actually not even incidentally about Jennifer. She’s just…there.

I’m hoping for this to end as soon as possible, to be honest. I can give anyone a chance after this–not that I wouldn’t anyway, but I just can’t wait for Gerber to go somewhere else.

I’ve been reaching a breaking point on sorting the piles of stuff I’ve got (a massive order from eBay just arrived, for instance, of scattered issues of various series I’ve been or started collecting) so I’ve been reading limited series and the like instead. I’ve got the first three issues of Justice League Classified under my belt right now (Grant Morrison’s brief run on the book, after his acclaimed one on JLA), though I started picking the series up more because of Giffen/DeMatteis’s run (4-9), though Ellis takes over after that for 10-15 (I have 10-14!). Apparently Gail Simone took over after that–I can only conclude that this series was intended as some kind of showcase, but it’s probably just the writers they chose. Still not sure what the book is supposed to be, but after picking up 4-9, it just seemed like I should collect around it (especially once finding who’d written those surrounding issues.

But, speaking of limited series, the other one I started last night was Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug. Giffen’s first work I read was Trencher, his creator-owned book for Image 22877-3435-25523-1-ambush-bugback when it was the goofy, ultra-violent, substance-less company it started as, rather than the indie powerhouse it has become. I loved his writing and art, but it was very much its own unique entity. I had no idea, for most of my life, that Giffen was respected for his work like he is–that is, his work on Justice League (etc)¹–or as a known humour writer, or any of that. I saw Ambush Bug and was reminded of Forbush and Hembeck and such goofiness, stuff I figured I’d enjoy here or there, but wasn’t going to take the time to purchase. I started seeing all these connections come together and realized that the issues of that first miniseries I’d ignored I probably shouldn’t have, but now they were gone from the local shop I saw them in. But, hey! All four in this set of lots I bought from a guy in Atlanta! Awesome!

Ambush Bug actually makes a point, in all of its oddities, of mentioning how much more difficult its style of humour is than many people think–as a fan of absurd humour, I could only nod sagely (if I didn’t understand its difficulty, I’d be attempting to slip something in here–amateur hour, that). It breaks the fourth wall less in conversational sense, than in the one where ads are suddenly sprinkled in for non-existent Ambush Bug products. Overall, I was really pleased with the first two issues before I found myself needing to pass out for the night. It was interesting in that it used satire, too–and basically showed the right way to do it, since both of the books I’ve mentioned deal with some satire regarding their own medium–comic books.


¹Let’s not get started on the ridiculousness of that title’s titles. Again.


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