The Small Lebowski:
Characters Appearing: Arthur Nagan, Bruto the Strongman, Chondu, Clown, Ernesto Gambonno, Jerry Morgan, Luigi Gambonno, Princess Python, Ringmaster, Ruby Thursday, She-Hulk
Issue(s): She-Hulk #1
So it's after all of this that She-Hulk returns to her own series in Sensational She-Hulk. What's interesting is that after all the work done to establish that She-Hulk isn't a joke, John Byrne feels comfortable giving this book a humorous and even irreverent tone. The ad used for this series (also used as the cover for this issue)...
...is not just a joke for an ad, but a preview of the style of the series itself. Not only because the series is a comedy that uses a lot of the weirder and sillier aspects of the Marvel Universe - this issue features the Circus of Crime and the Headmen - but because She-Hulk will indeed look directly at the "camera" and talk to the readers.
The issue begins with She-Hulk having accepted an offer from a circus to use them as a training ground, not realizing that the circus is actually run by the Circus of Crime.
Our first hint of the breaking of the fourth wall to come is when She-Hulk references Avengers #1. By itself that might have gone unnoticed, since it's been established that Marvel comics exist in the Marvel universe, documenting the "real life" adventures of Marvel's heroes.
And from there, it's some fairly standard first issue stuff, with the Ringmaster hypnotizing She-Hulk...
...and asking her about her past, providing an origin info dump for readers not familiar with her history. While she's reciting that (note the Gambonno brother's cartoon Italian accent)...
...we learn that the Circus has been hired by someone else to "test" She-Hulk, and we get glimpses of them recognizable to anyone familiar enough with the Headmen, but that probably wasn't all that many people.
Ringmaster decides to make some extra money on the side while testing She-Hulk for the Headmen, so he has his make-up artist paint up She-Hulk in a disguise.
More from the Gambonno brothers.
One person not happy about what's being done to She-Hulk is Princess Python, who is used to being the "looker" of the group. And the Headmen also aren't happy about it, since using She-Hulk to empty the pockets of circus rubes...
...unnecessarily increases the risk of discovery. So Arthur Nagan dons a gorilla mask and heads to the circus to see what's going on. But he winds up getting noticed and chased around by a brainwashed She-Hulk.
Nagan manages to un-brainwash She-Hulk...
...and then clears out when the police (called by Jerry Morgan) arrive. Later, after she gets cleaned up at the police station, She-Hulk makes another reference to Marvel comics...
...and then goes to interrogate the Ringmaster and find out who hired him. He doesn't know - it was through intermediaries - and that's when Byrne does the first real breaking of the fourth wall in this series.
Despite a few things - the characters used, the exaggerated accents for the Gambonnos, and of course that scene with She-Hulk turning to the readers - this issue is played straight and it works well as an opening issue for a series, providing nice art and storytelling from John Byrne, some action, and a set-up to a larger scheme from the villains. But it's the weird humor that will make this more than just a typical super-hero comic.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Yay, John Byrne is back!!!!!
Posted by: doomaday | September 21, 2014 4:05 PM
I did like this series when Byrne was on it, but I was very conflicted whether an in continuity book should be like this because there's the question whether Jen's actions in breaking the fourth wall are actually in character, or should just be ignored like topical references are. There's also the issue of saddling the character with a ridiculous rogues gallery.
However, overall there seems to have been little damage to the character, perhaps because she would often appear in other titles as a serious character.
Posted by: Chris | September 21, 2014 4:18 PM
A week before this issue came out there was an 8-page story in Marvel Comics Presents 18 that was a tease for Jen's new series and showcased the 4th wall breaking aspect.
Posted by: Michael | September 21, 2014 4:22 PM
I second doomsday's "yay." I loved this series. It was actually my first #1 that I ever bought with my own money, instead of my parents buying it for me. It was a lot of fun and unlike anything else Marvel was putting out at the time. Too bad it would be so short-lived. When Byrne left/was fired from the title I was so pissed I never bought another issue off the newsstand. I picked the whole series up years later off ebay for $12.
Posted by: Robert | September 21, 2014 4:33 PM
Count me as another fan of this series! I absolutely loved the way She-Hulk would talk with the readers or even yell at John Byrne about lame villains and such. It was such a breath of fresh air compared to the ultra series stuff, like the X-Men.
Posted by: Bill | September 21, 2014 6:57 PM
I'm surprised to see this issue turn up before West Coast Avengers #42, which debuted 2 months earlier in 1988, if I remember correctly.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | September 21, 2014 6:59 PM
The order i add books isn't necessarily the final order that they'll be listed in (it almost never is, actually). Sometimes it's a matter of what i've had time to read or review, or sometimes i'll pull something forward to look at or hold back on reviewing something until i read some other issues that i think might affect it.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 21, 2014 9:08 PM
Just wanted to add that I find Bob Wiacek to be doing a much better job on inks than the Alpha Flight days.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | September 22, 2014 1:07 AM
Just to close the loop on Vincent's comment, i did indeed decide to keep this placed prior to West Coast Avengers #42 despite that issue's publication date being earlier (March cover date). WCA #42-45 are a single story and issue #44 takes place after Captain America #354 (June cover date), so i've pushed that whole arc forward in publication time.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 25, 2014 12:19 PM
The art here looks great, which is typical of Byrne's nfrom this period, but the self-indulgent asides to the audience really drag this title down. Sure, the whole series is supposed to have a light-hearted tone and I applaud that but the unfunny in-jokes and meta-criticism of the very fans that had Byrne rich got pretty tiresome. It's also a technique that should have been allowed in a shar universe. When She-Hulk admits that all of her adventures are just a big fake joke, what does that say about the rest of the Marvel Universe?
Posted by: Jay Patrick | September 25, 2014 4:38 PM
The "meatball" line is taken from an early 1970s Alka-Seltzer TV ad. Ironically, it was taken off the air because it was perceived to be insulting to Italian-Americans.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 27, 2014 4:41 PM
If you were a fan of Byrne in the '80s, and he had many of them, you were always waiting for the other shoe to drop. His departures from titles (and whole companies) tended to be abrupt. In those days we didn't know as much about what was going on behind the scenes. We'd just pick up the Comics Buyer's Guide and get the news as a fait accompli: he's gone from this, his last issue will be this, he'll be moving to that. He had a mystique about him -- he could create excitement around a new project and revive interest in an existing character or title, and when he left, the book never was as good, at least in the short term. His departure from the Superman titles at DC, just weeks after his TIME cover had been on the newsstands for the character's anniversary, was quite a bombshell.
This She-Hulk title was the best consolation prize I had at the time. I hear what Jay is saying, but I never minded the irreverent asides to readers. I accepted the book as in-continuity yet different in tone from the general run of Marvel books. There was fourth-wall breaking going on on some popular TV shows at the time; this old device was enjoying a brief vogue. I never took the humor here as mean to comic-book fans, although Byrne definitely was capable of that elsewhere, as seen in his characterization of the comic-book fan in Fearbook.
Posted by: Todd | September 29, 2014 2:38 PM
Speaking of Byrne bugouts, Fnord, please be sure to include the controversial "pile of shaving razors" scene when you get to the She-Hulk: Ceremony limited series ;)
Posted by: Cullen | September 29, 2014 11:49 PM
Byrne revealed several plans for this book in Comics Interview #71. He was going to use Wyatt Wingfoot for the first 5 or 6 issues and eventually break them up. However, his use of Wyatt was vetoed on grounds that he was appearing in the She-Hulk Graphic Novel(which became "Ceremony"),and Wyatt actually was removed from #1's splash page. In #12 She-Hulk was going to visit her father in California(Byrne confirmed her mother was dead), and the Blonde Phantom would start a romance with him. He also intended to use her in Avengers and WCAvengers in separate storylines at the same time.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 17, 2015 12:05 PM
I have a theory that around the time Deadpool became popular, Jen didn't want to be associated with this crazy loon and downplayed her meta-aware aspects. It would explain how she's much less of a fourth wall breaker nowadays.
Posted by: Nate Wolf | April 18, 2017 4:06 PM
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