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Today’s selection: a somewhat lousy comic book that works surprisingly well if you’re a first-time reader!
The Sensational She-Hulk #58 (“Shock the Shulkie”) by Sholly Fisch, Dennis Jansen, and Barb Kaalberg.Â Published by Marvel, October 1993.
First off, as a long-time comic book reader, I think those creators’ names are made up.Â I have never heard of any of them.Â Have you?Â I think this was really written by … let’s say Chuck Dixon, and drawn by … Rick Leonardi, and inked by … Barbara Kesel, but none of them wanted their names on it!!!!!Â (Okay, it’s nothing like Leonardi’s art, and it’s nothing like Dixon’s writing.Â They were experimenting, people!)
But let’s attack this sucker as if we were first-time comic book readers.Â I’m of two minds about this comic, as you can tell.Â For a long-time reader, this book is awful.Â Really.Â But if it was your first comic book, it might lure you in.Â It tells a complete story, it isn’t incomprehensible, it features a big fight, and it is kind of fun, even though the jokes are lame.Â There are a few minor things that only a Marvel zombie would know, but they don’t interfere with the story too much, except for a bit at the end.Â So it’s a strange comic that doesn’t really work, but might inspire someone to check out more.
We start with the little text piece that used to run across the top of Marvel comics (before they replaced it with the whole page,Â which is nice but always seems a bit excessive), in which we learn that Jennifer Walters got a blood transfusion from her cousin, the Incredible Hulk, which turned her into She-Hulk.Â Let’s just assume people reading their first comic at least know who the Hulk is.Â I mean, Bill Bixby, man!Â And, um,Â Eric Bana!Â We also find out that she’s a lawyer who battles for her clients’ personal injury claims!Â I have wonderedÂ about her focus before, as it seems that Slott was doing different things with her, but I guess in 1993, she was an ambulance chaser!Â Good toÂ know.
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Jen is having breakfast with a blond woman who is a fellow lawyer but whose name we never learn.Â As they eat, a strangely-garbedÂ superhero-looking fellow leaps from the building above onto Jen’s table.Â His costume is purple and orange, which leads us to believe this book isn’t entirely serious (if the cover didn’t give it away) and as he’s leaping, Jen mentions that she has been fighting Spagoom, the Toaster That WalksÂ Like a Man.Â Okay, not serious.Â On the splash page, the strange man lands on the table (without injury, it should be noted, although he doesn’t appear to have any powers, just “finely-honed acrobatic skills,” which still shouldn’t allow him to drop at least three floors straight down) and announces himself as theÂ “Sensational Character Find of 1993!!Â Tommy the Gopher!”Â This is, of course, a reference to the first appearance of Robin the Boy Wonder, who was the Sensational Character Find of 1940.Â Tommy the Gopher is not as impressive.
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She-Hulk grabs him and asks who he is.Â He reminds her that they’ve met before (a footnote tells us it was in issue #51) and that he’s going to be her sidekick.Â She asks why he wants to be, and he mentions that Ghost Rider said no.Â This is one of the in-jokes in this book, because the idea of Ghost Rider with this kind of sidekick is laughable.Â A newbie, however, might recall Nicolas Cage’s wacky sense of humor in the new advertisements for the movie and might think that Ghost Rider is a bit campy.Â They would not know that he always seems kind of moody when he shows up in the comics.Â Jen tells him that she doesn’t need a sidekick, and he says he will reveal her secret identity to the world, whereupon all the people in the street yell out who she is, and Jen tells him she doesn’t have a secret identity.Â He looks at the audience and says, “It worked for Bucky …”Â A first-timer would not know that one of the in-jokes of this comic is that Jen knows she’s inÂ a comic book, so Tommy is addressing us.Â A first-timer would also not get the joke.Â Hell, I’ve been reading comics for almost twenty years and I don’t get the joke – I assume he’s talking about Captain America’s sidekick, but I didn’t know that was how Bucky got Cap to take him on.Â If so, ha ha.Â (Yes, my comics knowledge has big gaps in it.Â So sue me.)
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Jen has to go to ConMax (Consolidated Maxwell, a riff on ConEd) to pay her electric bill, and as she goes in, we see a bigwig at the company showing off their newest doohickey – a nuclear reactor the size of a microwave oven, which will revolutionize … energy, I guess.Â There’s a dude in the crowd wearing a trenchcoat and a purple wool hat that is hiding something strange on his head.Â Given the cover, I wonder who that could be?Â Jen takes a taxi and calls the cabbie “Lockley.”Â This is another in-joke, as the cab driver is Moon Knight in one of his guises, that of Jake Lockley.Â As Jen enters the building, the bigwig (whose name is Fred) runs out crying for an Avenger.Â Luckily She-Hulk is there!
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Electro (whose name we don’t actuallyÂ learn until page 29, when Tommy mentions it) is inside, feeding off the electricity the reactor is producing and going a bit nutty with power.Â He calls himself an “electricity elemental,” which She-Hulk points out is impossible, but that only makes him mad.Â He smacks her around and says stuff like “Consider this a warning, mortal” and “Before my epiphany, my human self was genuinely frightened of your kind.”Â As Jen prepares to attack again. Tommy the Gopher shows up, but she tells him to stay out of it.Â Electro smacks her around some more, and she decides to destroy the generator, but Fred shows up and tells her that the generator is nuclear, and if she messes with it, it will melt down and kill millions of people.Â Jen is more than a little pissed about the nuclear reactor in the heart of Manhattan, but she doesn’t have time to yell at Fred because she has figured out to stop Electro – wrap her fists in insulation and beat away!Â It’s works for a second, but it really pisses him off, and he goes even nuttier, saying, “I am Zeus the Thunderer!Â I am the storm and the fury!Â You expect me to abandon my power?Â To renounce my godhood?!”Â He hits her with everything he has, and she’s down for the count!Â As he’s about to fry her permanent-like, his power shuts off.Â Jen smiles and pops him one, knocking him clear into next week (which would probably have killed him, but hey! it’s a comic book!).Â Tommy shows up and says he never stood a chance against “us,” and when Jen questions him, he tells her that Electro can only store about 100,000 volts without an outside power source, and he was going to use that up soon.Â He knew this nugget because he read it in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which he shows to Jen.Â Tommy tells her that once he read that, he simply turned the generator off.Â He begs her again to be her sidekick, but she rebuffs him.Â Finally she tells him “When your parents get murdered by criminals and you’re caught in a bizarre accident that gives you the powers of a seven-foot, green termite with tentacles … then you can be my sidekick!Â Okay?!”Â Tommy cheerfully says okay and runs out the door.Â Jen isn’t sure why he takes it so well, but then she realizes that she’s in a comic book, and stuff like happens all the time!Â She runs after him as the curtain comes down!
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There’s not much to like about this comic book – the story is dumb, the characters are dumb, and the art is just standard superhero art.Â But let’s just say you’re picking this up as your first comic.Â No, it won’t make you believe comics are great literature, but that’s not the point.Â All comics should do for a first-timer is make them come back, and She-Hulk #58 works remarkably well in that regard.Â We get a clear sense of the character of Jennifer Walters – she’s a lawyer, she’s got a sense of humor, she likes hitting bad guys.Â The idea of her knowing she’s in a comic book, which stretches back to the first issues of this series, is touched upon but isn’t a major part of the book – it’s obvious that Jen has accepted it, and although a first-time reader might be put off by the weirdness of the idea, it’s not anything that is too off-putting.Â Electro is fine as a villain.Â He is obviously unhinged, so Fisch can write some ridiculously over-the-top villian dialogue and Jen can comment on how nutty it is.Â If this were a book that took itself seriously, a first-time reader with no experience with how, say, Victor von Doom talks all the time might wonder why all these people are speaking with such grand vocabulary.Â But because Jen deflates the idiocy of Electro’s ranting, we still get old-fashioned bombast but in a lighter vein than “Doom must crush Reed Richards with his iron boots!Â No man can threaten Doom!”Â Jen’s fight with Electro is vibrant and dynamic, and the solution is perfectly reasonable even though we know it’s coming the whole time.Â Tommy is an inane character, but he does figure out to stop Electro, so we have to give him that!
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All in all, this is a reasonably forgettable issue from the tail end of the series (it only lasted two more issues), but there is nothing in here that would drive away a first-time reader and there’s a lot that could bring them back.Â For that, it passes the test.Â Of course, if you did come back to comics after reading this, you would soon learn that there’s a lot better than this out there.Â But it’s all about baby steps, people!
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