I don’t blame you for clicking this and giving it a long, hard side-eye. Sensational She-Hulk is written and drawn by quite possibly one of the most polarizing figures in all of comics, John Byrne. I won’t rehash every awful thing he’s ever said or done because I think that alone would take about a dozen individual pieces. The unfortunate other half of this coin is that he’s also one of the most influential creators in superhero comics from the Bronze Age and beginning of the Modern Age. I want to be explicitly clear here and say there will be exactly no excuses made for anything this man has said or done over the years. John Byrne’s spent a lot of time and energy seemingly actively destroying any goodwill he may or may not have had due to the impact his work has had on comics. This alone I feel negates any sense of “Death of the Author” and “Problematic Fave” as do many, many others. So what do you do when pieces of media you consider foundational to you are created by people you commonly describe as “a garbage golem cosplaying as a human”? I was approached about writing this series for that exact purpose. I am essentially this Onion article 24/7 because when you’re a lifelong nerd (and also someone with A Conscience and a Women’s & Gender Studies degree), you have to learn to shut off the little alarms in your head temporarily to enjoy literally anything. So how am I going to navigate the process of taking my current self and going back to a piece of media I know for a fact will have aged poorly, but is deeply ingrained in my entire love of superhero comics? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. I do want to make it explicitly clear though, that enjoying or engaging with dubious media does not make me, you, or anyone a Bad Feminist.
To start at the very beginning of this relationship, I came into comics as a hobby through an uncle. My mother’s oldest brother had collected tons and tons of comics over the years and had gifted them to her to then pass onto my brother and I when we were “old enough”. I say “old enough” because looking back at a lot of these comics, they are not for kids. I always tell people I literally learned how to read on Bronze Age and early Modern Age comics because, well, I did. I spent the first few years just staring longingly at the colorful pages and sussing out the story in my head. Eventually, I started actually reading the words and slowly getting as much as an elementary school age kid can out of say, Claremont dialog. One of the biggest things I took away from that box of comics was that I loved the X-Men, X-Factor, Excalibur, and She-Hulk. I think She-Hulk and X-Factor appealed to my younger self particularly because Polaris and She-Hulk’s massive, almost animated green locks were visually stunning and unlike anything else I had ever seen. There are statuesque superhero women with green hair? You can have green hair?! They were strong, complicated, and took nobody’s shit. To me, this was this absolute coolest thing ever and from there, literally nothing could ever be cooler to young DW than female superheroes.
All of this exposition is the shortcut way to really express how serious I am when I say I have loved She-Hulk my entire life. Imagine asking an 8 year old girl who her favorite superheroes are in the early 1990s and having her give you a long list of various X-Men and…She-Hulk? That treasure trove of comics I had growing up contained a significant chunk of John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk and this is entirely where my deep, defensive love of She-Hulk as a character comes from. Growing into adulthood, however, you become more aware of things and I learned all about John Byrne’s laundry list of misdeeds. I also hadn’t read Sensational She-Hulk since I was probably ten years old, a teenager at the oldest. So I rarely, if ever, bring up that this particular run was responsible for my attachment to She-Hulk. No one ever wants to tell people that they fell for a character when she was written by one of the absolute worst human beings to ever contribute to the medium? I anxiously discussed this with Dave a few months ago and I have never seen anyone ever light up at this awkward admission more. I’ll admit that I’m still nervous about embarking on this journey because it has been so long since I’ve actively engaged with this text and because well, I’m a 30-something Terminally Online Feminist that wants nothing more than to never admit John Byrne has ever positively impacted a facet of pop culture that means a lot to me because he’s just that awful.
Ultimately, what I aim to do with this series is to really get into the uncomfortable, dirty, dark path of engaging with a piece of media that was very important and significant to your personal journey and connection to a part of pop culture. I’ll be reading issues and spending a small amount of time discussing the content itself, but in not wanting to give John Byrne any serious props, I’ll also spend a good portion of time talking about pretty much the only thing you can ever consistently positively say about Byrne, which is his art. Specifically, as the title of this series would imply, I want to talk about She-Hulk’s outfits and designs. The entire reason this comic is so close to me is because of the visuals, not the writing. I couldn’t tell you a single thing from the actual narrative of this series from memory, but I can absolutely point to dozens of covers, pin-ups, and various panels that are iconic. When I think about She-Hulk and why I love her as a character, that is what comes to mind. Nothing Byrne put in the dialog or the overall narrative of the series, but the images he created throughout. I welcome you to take this journey with me, but I will warn it will likely be very difficult and uncomfortable at times because of the creator and time period this was made and released in. I want to come into this with fresh, albeit jaded eyes and see how exactly revisiting this series impacts me as an knowledgeable adult and whether or not it radically changes how I think about it as a whole, the impression it left on me as a fan, and brought us into the world of She-Hulk we know now. To quote Mark Hoppus, “well, I guess this is growing up.”