When the chance came to discuss my first fictional crush, I had to step back a moment and really put thought into my selection. The knee-jerk impulse was to cover Princess Leia Organa: certainly she’s been a part of the architecture of my life and times as much as any other woman. But despite the commanding presence, capability and radiant beauty of both the character and the actress who portrayed her, Leia has always been more of a friend than a crush, a partner rather than a paramour. As I sat down with this piece before making my decision I realized there was really only one character that had left me smitten in the halcyon days of my youth, and one who I still retain great deal of affection for to this very day: Jennifer Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk.
Get that knowing look off your face, it’s not like that. To properly put things in perspective, let’s cast our minds back to the prehistoric era that was the 1980s, specifically the last year of The Best Decade, 1989.
Our hero is 13 years old and is painfully shy due to circumstances beyond his control. Talking to people is something he can only do with a select few who’ve earned his trust. Overall, with rare exceptions, his junior high experience could probably rank as Dante’s bonus content. And girls? Take his normal shyness and multiply it by about a factor of a thousand. Then you’ll have a rough idea of how it felt. Unpleasant, to put it mildly.
Fortunately, as is the case with so many of us who share the knowing, mile-long stare of the older fanboy/girl who grew up when all this was decidedly not mainstream, I had the escape of comic books. Comics were a haven in my youth, a place I could escape to in my room or out on the patio with a cola slushie.
This was during the period when I was slowly making the transition from a kid who happened to read comics to a serious comics fan. I knew character arcs, I owned DC Comics Who’s Who and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I knew most characters histories and backgrounds the way sports fans memorized the stats of their favorite players. That love of superhero comics buoyed my spirits and kept me afloat during some truly dark days. It was when things were at a particularly low ebb that I met her.
Jennifer Walters was an up-and-coming young attorney who ran afoul of some criminals and was shot to near-death. A last minute transfusion from her cousin saved her life, and left it forever changed. Jennifer’s cousin was none other than Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk.
Through the miracle of comic book science, Jen inherited her cousin’s powers through the transfusion and would transform into the powerful She-Hulk when danger threatened. She holds the distinction of being one of the last major Stan Lee creations in Marvel Comics (largely to hold the copyright on the name in case the television producers behind the Incredible Hulk TV show wanted to create their own female counterpart, a la the Bionic Woman to the Six-Million Dollar Man).
She-Hulk’s initial series The Savage She-Hulk ran for about 25 issues before cancellation. After, she would become a mainstay of teams like the Avengers and even the Fantastic Four during a period when the Thing left the team. Enter writer/artist John Byrne, easily one of Marvel’s most acclaimed talents of the decade, who launched The Sensational She-Hulk as the eponymous heroine’s first solo title in over a decade. The book was an action comedy with one decidedly major swerve: She-Hulk knew she was in a comic book.
She bickered with Byrne like Daffy Duck did with the artist in “Duck Amuck”, she fought villains like the Toad Men, Doctor Bong (yes, you read that correctly), and the Circus of Crime. They were lame villains, and half the fun of the series lay in not only seeing Jen fight the baddie of the issue, but also crack wise about their general lack of menace.
The series was also great at showing what life inside a comic book universe would be like, with all the insanity that would entail. One day you’re fighting space monsters alongside intergalactic truckers, the next you’re teaming up with Nicholas St. Christopher, the World’s Greatest Detective.
Jennifer was confident, she was smart, and she was funny. She faced down the odds with a powerhouse punch and a quip and gave as good as she got. She was also drawn by John Byrne at the height of his powers. Thirteen year-old Stacy didn’t stand a chance.
It’s because of Jennifer Walters that I always find myself drawn to strong women with a wry sense of humor and all the confidence in the world. She looked out of the panel and was always friendly, always fun, and there when I needed her most. I’ll always be fond of her for that.
She also left me with a weakness for green women, but that’s a matter for my psychiatrist.
Who was your first fictional crush? Do you want to write about them for Rogues Portal? Email pitches to Samantha! (Submissions are unpaid at this time.)