In the late 1970s, Stan Lee took a break from writing at Marvel Comics to focus on bringing his creations to TV and movies. The Incredible Hulk TV show starring Bill Bixby was a certified hit on CBS and Lee was looking to leverage that success and make the jump into Hollywood.
The success of another popular show at the time, The Bionic Woman, had CBS executives kicking around the idea of a female Hulk to add to the series. Wanting to beat CBS to the punch, Lee’s legendary artist John Buscema created the She-Hulk at Marvel, wanting to keep the rights in-house.
In 1980, in the pages of Savage She-Hulk #1, the world is introduced to Jen Walters, a whip-smart, Ivy-League graduate lawyer who is living on the West Coast. During a visit from her cousin and occasional Hulk, Bruce Banner, Walters is targeted by gangsters and shot. After an emergency blood transfusion from Bruce, Jen gains his powers and is transformed into a 6’7” green goliath. But, unlike Bruce, Jen is able to control her transformations (most of the time) and retains her mental acuity when she’s Hulked out.
In early stories, Jen struggled against D-list villains like the Grappler or Elephant Man and of course, Titania, but over the last several decades she’s become a mainstay in the Marvel universe, anchoring teams like the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and A-Force while also serving as the go-to legal defender for many of the Marvel heroes including Hawkeye, Dr. Strange, and Steve Rogers. She’s also evolved personally over the years, from a sometimes timid and reluctant superhero to the confident, quippy, funny, fourth-wall-breaking She-Hulk we know and love today.
To help sort through more than 40 years of She-Hulk stories, confusing legacy numbering, and science behind gamma-radiated blood, here’s a quick primer and reading guide to get you up to speed on all things Jennifer Walters.
Savage She Hulk
After the first issue of Savage She-Hulk, writer David Anthony Kraft and artists Mike Vosburg and Chic Stone took over on the series guiding the character on a slow-burn journey of self-discovery as she battled robots, clowns and gangster Nicholas Trask.
Beyond the first issue and the last few, this series is fairly skippable. You’ll certainly want to see how She-Hulk is created in the very first installment, but it takes almost the full series of 25 issues for Jen to realize that she wants to continue being She-Hulk. You can check it out in omnibus form for easier reading.
Teammate of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers
Soon after the end of Savage She-Hulk in 1982, Marvel writers like Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Ann Nocenti, Steven Grant, Roger Stern, and John Byrne fully brought She-Hulk into the Marvel universe, with writer David Michelinie having her join the Avengers alongside Hawkeye in issue #221. Jen remained an Avengers cast member for a few years until the 1984 crossover Secret Wars. After defeating the cosmic Beyonder and escaping the otherworldly Battleworld, She-Hulk was among the heroes transported back to Earth.
At the time, John Byrne was writing the Fantastic Four and even teased an updated look for She-Hulk in issue #254. In Fantastic Four #265, She-Hulk finally joined the group as the 5th member of the team, stepping in to temporarily replace The Thing who remained on Battleworld in the wake of Secret Wars. You can check those stories in Fantastic Four Vol. 4, the Secret Wars trade paperback, and the Avengers: Trial of Yellowjacket trade paperback.
She-Hulk’s Avengers adventures continued on and off through Vol. 3 and 4 of the historical run, ending with Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers: Disassembled arc starting with issue #500. As the Avengers are targeted by the Scarlet Witch in that series, She-Hulk loses control, ripping the Vision in half and going berserk on the remaining heroes.
While he can be considered controversial, John Byrne is also responsible for giving She-Hulk a lot of the personality and fire fans have come to love about the character over the years. Not only did Byrne first break the fourth wall with the Sensational She-Hulk cover, threatening fans and directly telling them to ‘buy her book,’ he also made the ability part of her character moving forward, using it to highlight everything from the absurdity of the foes she would face off against, to the writers of the book, the fans, and even comics themselves. She-Hulk jumped between panels, complained to the editor and made fun of Byrne regularly.
Byrne also gave She-Hulk a new sleek look as she returned to the law office of District Attorney Blake Tower. During the 60-issue run of Sensational She-Hulk, Byrne sent Jen Walters into space, on adventures with characters ranging from the Fantastic Four to Howard the Duck and into battle against seemingly countless robots until the series ended in 1994. You can check out the first 12 issues along with some extras in the Byrne-centric collection called Breaking the Fourth Wall.
She Hulk Vol. 1
Writer Dan Slott and artist Juan Bobillo, Marcelo Sosa, and Chris Chuckry brought She-Hulk back in 1999 with a new solo series as the green giantess began work as a lawyer for the Superhuman Law division of the New York firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway. During Slott’s initial 12-issue She-Hulk run, Jen took on cases from across the Marvel Universe, represented the Living Tribunal across time and space, sued J. Jonah Jameson, accepted Hercules as a client and adopted Awesome Andy, a once-evil robot created by the Mad Thinker, as a clerk.
In Volume 2, things just got weirder as the TVA stepped in to arrest Jen for using time travel to solve a case, Jen got married to J. Jonah Jameson and even was called in to defend the universe in a cosmic trial. During this 38-issue run, Jen also dealt with the fallout from the Superhuman Registration Act, the resulting superhero Civil War and the decision of the Illuminati to send her cousin, the Hulk, into space (an action resulting in World War Hulk). She even joined up with the Lady Liberators and Guardians of the Galaxy in the Cosmic Collision one-shot. Longtime Incredible Hulk writer Peter David moved over towards the end of the She-Hulk run to close out the series in early 2009.
A-Force and Beyond
Between 2009 and the next She-Hulk series in 2014 by writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido, Jen stayed busy with a whole cadre of new Hulks, the Future Foundation and new versions of the Mighty Avengers and the Defenders. Soule’s She-Hulk focused again on Jen’s time in the courtroom as she departed the firm of Paine & Luckberg and started her own law practice. The run, only 12 issues long, is fun and interesting as Soule’s time as a New York lawyer prior to becoming a writer comes in handy.
Jen represented Captain America in a cold case, faced off against Daredevil in the courtroom, and even represented Kristoff Vernard, the son of Doctor Doom. But that was all cut short when the 2015 Secret Wars event upended the Marvel Universe. During her time on Battleworld, a patchwork of alternate realities, She-Hulk led an all-female Avengers team called A-Force. Jen’s time as the leader of A-Force continued when the heroes returned to a new, rebuilt earth after Secret Wars crossover.
Gray She-Hulk becomes Immortal
During the events of Civil War II, Jen was gravely injured by Thanos, actually ended up dying, and was ultimately left with her brutish gray persona taking over. In 2017’s She-Hulk, writer Mariko Tamaki looked at what the transformation means to the one Hulk that can usually hold it together.
The story continued through 12 issues before it reverted back to legacy numbering for Tamaki’s final arc “Jen Walters Must Die,” which includes issues #159-163. (Comic books! Whew!) The story still focused on Jen’s time bouncing between superhero-ing and work as a lawyer (now for the firm of Ryu, Barber, Zucker & Scott), and had more of an introspective tone to it.
In the summer of 2018, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett launched the best Hulk series ever created, the Immortal Hulk, in which Jen made an appearance midway through. But Ewing’s tale had a bigger effect on Jen’s life as she learned that she didn’t just suffer through an extended recovery at the hands of Thanos, she died. ,The Immortal Hulk Omnibus Volume 3 brings together the one-shot Immortal She-Hulk and several of the connecting issues of Ewing’s run.
When Jason Aaron took over writing duties on the Avengers in 2018, he pulled in She-Hulk as an integral part of the team. Notably bigger and angrier, Jen has embraced the Hulk inside as she gets an upgrade in Avengers #8. via the celestial Eson the Searcher. Towards the end of Aaron’s run, Jen is taken to Russia and experimented on by the Winter Soldier program, setting up the events of World War She-Hulk and a showdown with Jen’s new form, the Winter Hulk.
At the start of this year, just after leaving the Avengers, Jen returned to work as a lawyer, joining longtime friend Mallory Book at her new law firm in She-Hulk Vol. 4 by Rainbow Rowell and artist Rogê Antônio.
Dana Forsythe is based in Boston and is a longtime reporter covering art, comic books and culture.