Skip to content

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: she-hulk

Earlier this month I overviewed the Second Wave origins of Jane Foster, Carol Danvers, and Jenifer Walters. This week their characters transform even further.

Captain Marvel

Because Captain Marvel never became a popular character (Marvel published Captain Marvel only every other month before cancelling the series after #62 [May 1979]), Marvel allowed Jim Starlin to script and pencil the 1982 graphic novel Death of Captain Marvel, in which Mar-Vell dies of cancer.

Unlike the vast majority of superheroes whose apparent deaths are retconned as non-deaths, Mar-Vell is likely the only major Marvel superhero not to be restored after more than forty years. The editorial decision prompted Marvel to create a new character, presumably to maintain control of the trademark. Scripter Roger Stern and penciler John Romita, Jr. introduced Monica Rambeau in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (October 1982) who transforms into an unrelated superhero and adopts the name “Captain Marvel” with no apparent reference to Mar-Vell.

Though Third Wave feminism begins several years later (arguably when Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989), because Rambeau is a Black woman, she reflects the later shift away from feminism focused primarily on white women. The vast majority of Marvel’s female superheroes, however, remained white.

After featuring Rambeau in The Avengers during the 80s, Marvel changed the character’s superhero name multiple times, applying “Captain Marvel” to other characters (including briefly Mar-Vell’s son, Genis-Vel), before Carol Danvers (who had also undergone multiple name changes) was rechristened “Captain Marvel” in scripter Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and penciller Dexter Soy’s Captain Marvel #1 (September 2012).

Deepening Danvers’ claim to her new name, scripter Margaret Stohl further retconned Danvers’ origin beginning in The Life of Captain Marvel #1 (September 2018), revealing that the Kree device that Thomas scripted in 1969 and that Conway retconned in 1977 to have duplicated Mar-Vell’s powers in Danvers had instead awakened Danvers’ own powers inherited from her Kree mother who had defected and lived as an Earth woman.

Ms. Marvel

Since Danvers’ assuming the name “Captain Marvel” left the name “Ms. Marvel” unused, editor Sana Amanat assigned scripter G. Willow Wilson and penciller Adrian Alphona to create Kamala Kahn in Ms. Marvel #1 (February 2014).

Like Amanat, Kahn is a New Jersey teenager of Pakistani immigrants. Because Kahn idolizes Carol Danvers, when her Inhuman superpowers emerge, she initially shapeshifts to look like Danvers (in the Ms. Marvel costume introduced by artist Dave Cockrum in 1978) before assuming an appearance of her own (which included the scarf of John Buscema’s original 1977 design).

Thor

Later the same year, Jane Foster assumed the title role in scripter Jason Aaron’s and penciller Russell Dauterman’s Thor Vol. 4, #1 (Oct. 2014), which replaced the previous Thor series that had featured the original character (though Thor’s Donald Blake identity had been discarded since 1983).

After Thor’s hammer chose Foster, she assumed the name “Thor” when in her superhero form, and Thor became known by the full name “Thor Odinson,” retconning “Thor” as having always been an abbreviation of that full name. Aaron’s Foster now calls him “Odinson,” explaining to him as she succumbs to cancer:

‘There must always be a Thor.’ That’s what I said right before I lifted Mjolnir and was transformed for the first time. I was honored to carry that mantle for a while. Honored that you bestowed upon me your own name. But it’s time you reclaimed who you are. […] There must always be a Thor. And now … once again … it must be you. […]  The hammer made me the Thunderer. But not you. You did that yourself. Odinson, look at me …”

Foster remains the title character until Mighty Thor Vol 2 #706 (June 2018), when she dies (though soon resurrected), and Thor Odinson returns beginning Thor Vol. 5 #1 (August 2018).

She-Hulk

After her initial series, The Savage She-Hulk, concluded on #25 (March 1982), Jennifer Walters appeared in multiple team titles and eponymous titles, including: The Sensational She-Hulk #1-60 (May 1989-February 1994), She-Hulk #1-12 (May 2004-April 2005), She-Hulk Vol. 2 #1-38 (December 2005—April 2009), and She-Hulk Vol. 3 #1-12 (April 2014-April 2015).

All-New Savage She-Hulk #1-4 (June 2009-September 2009) features a different character (a time-traveling Hulk descendant from an alternate future timeline) in the title role. Marvel had also introduced Red Hulk in 2008 and Red She-Hulk in 2009, expanding “Hulk” as a category rather than as a proper name.

When Walters assumed the title role in Mariko Tamaki’s Hulk Vol. 4 #1-11 (February 2017-December 2017), it was the first time she was featured in a series without She-Hulk in its title, and also the first time a Hulk title did not feature Banner, who at the time was dead (and not yet resurrected).

The trend continued with Totally Awesome Hulk #1-23 (February 2016-November 2017), which featured Amadeus Cho (who removed the Hulk from Banner and placed it himself) in the title role, after which the original character was known as “Banner Hulk,” appearing next in Generations: Banner Hulk & Totally Awesome Hulk #1 (October 2017).

As with Jane Foster who is no longer called “Thor” (Foster is currently “Valkyrie,” another superhero name and identity with a complex history I won’t try to cover here), Jennifer Walters is no longer called “Hulk.” Reverting back to her earlier name, Walters was next featured in She-Hulk #159-163 (January 2018-May 2018) and currently in She-Hulk Vol. 4 beginning with #1 (March 2022). The latest title coincides with the Disney+ series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which premiered in August 2022. She-Hulk Vol. 4 #12 is scheduled to be released in April 2023.

Reboots

The MCU versions of Foster, Danvers, Walters, and Kahn are reboots of these originals, condensing and altering their complex comics and inconsistently feminist histories.

In all four cases, the original superhero name (Hulk, Thor, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel) began as a proper noun that referenced one specific (and usually male) character, before the name later became either a transferable title referencing one person (of any gender) at a time or a kind of category referencing two (or more) people (of any gender).

  • “Hulk” originally meant only Banner Hulk, but now “Banner Hulk” means only Banner Hulk, and “Hulk” means multiple people including both Banner Hulk and Jenifer Walters.
  • “Thor” originally meant only “Thor Odinson,” but now “Thor Odinson” means only Thor Odinson, and “Thor” can mean different people including formerly Jane Foster and currently Thor Odinson.
  • “Captain Marvel” originally meant only Mar-Vell, but now “Captain Mar-Vell” means only Mar-Vell, and “Captain Marvel” can mean different people including formerly Mar-Vell and currently Carol Danvers.
  • “Ms. Marvel” originally meant only Carol Danvers, but now “Ms. Marvel” can mean different people including formerly Carol Danvers and currently Kamala Khan.

While the trend is toward gender-inclusive names (with “Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Captain Marvel” formerly male-specific but now gender-neutral), “Ms. Marvel” was and remains female-specific. That’s an artefact of the title originally meaning roughly “female version of Captain Marvel,” just as “She-Hulk” meant something like “female version of Hulk.”

Oddly in the MCU, Carol Danvers never used the name “Ms. Marvel,” and, even more oddly, neither does Kamala Kahn. Ms. Marvel is the title of a TV series whose main character never adopts a permanent superhero name. So the MCU includes Ms. Marvel but not Ms. Marvel.

Marvel Entertainment also chose to keep Jenifer Walters superhero name “She-Hulk,” despite Tamaki’s 1917 Hulk comics influence on the TV series. As a result, the MCU is arguably a feminist wave behind Marvel Comics.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

With the death of Black Widow and the supervillaining of Scarlet Witch, the MCU currently features only four major female superheroes, all recently introduced.

Captain Marvel (2019), one the last films in Marvel Entertainment’s so-called Phase Three projects, fully introduced Carol Danvers. Phase Four featured Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), Kamala Khan in the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel (2022), and Jenifer Walters in the Disney+ series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022).

I’m tempted to compare the MCU superwomen with the Fourth Wave of feminism, in part because Fourth Wave is largely a continuation of the Third Wave, much as Marvel’s Phase Four is a continuation of its Phase Three. But Phase Four owes far more to Second Wave feminism.

Though feminist waves are not dated consistently, Second Wave is typically understood to span from the early 1960s (President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in June 1963) through the 1970s and 1980s, stopping before the 1990s. The male superheroes Hulk, Thor, and Captain Marvel, as well as two of the three female characters who later assume those names, originate in early 1960s comics, but few reflected any feminist attitudes during their first incarnations.

Banner, Blake, and Mar-Vell

The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962), cover-dated five months after the premiere of Fantastic Four, introduced the second superhero title under publisher Martin Goodman’s newly renamed Marvel comics. After caught in the radiation of a Gamma bomb detonation, Bruce Banner transforms into a “man-monster” with a distinct and separate identity.

Stan Lee scripts a pursuing soldier: “Fan out, men! We’ve got to find that – that Hulk!” Lee’s narrator responds: “And thus, a name is given to Bruce Banner’s other self, a name which is destined to become – immortal!”

Marvel followed the Hulk with Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) and Thor in Journey into Mystery #83 the same month. For Thor, Lee and penciller Jack Kirby created Don Blake, a doctor with a disability (Lee uses the adjective “lame”) who discovers an enchanted cane that transforms into a hammer with the etched explanation: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of … THOR.” The hammer also transforms Blake’s body (Kirby draws muscular bare arms and long wavy hair) and clothing (Kirby combines superhero cape and briefs with nominally Nordic boots and winged helmet). Despite the physical changes, Blake’s consciousness remains. After reading the inscription, he remarks: “Thor!! The legendary god of thunder!! The mightiest warrior of all mythology!! This is his hammer!! And I – I am Thor!!!”

Lee was apparently influenced by the pseudonymous Wright Lincoln‘s “Thor, God of Thunder” published in Fox Comics’ Weird Comics #1-5 (April 1940–August 1940), in which the Norse god decides: “I will invest an ordinary mortal with my great powers.”

The absence of a separate Thor grew increasing complex in the Lee and Kirby stories, with the transformed Blake visiting Asgard and interacting with characters who understand him to be the actual son of Odin, including Odin himself. Lee also scripted the character’s speech in faux Old English, further blending Blake and Thor. Eventually, Lee and Kirby retconned an explanation, revealing in Thor #159 (December 1968) that Odin had erased Thor’s memory and created the mortal identity of Don Blake: “Yet ever were thou son of Odin … though thou knew it not! Twas I who placed thy hammer in an earthly cave … so thou wouldst one day find it! … And find it though didst … when thy lesson had been learned!”

One of the last of Lee’s co-creations, Captain Marvel first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967).

An unrelated Superman-derivative character of the same name had premiered in Fawcett Comics’ Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940), prompting DC to sue for copyright infringement.

When the legal dispute was finally settled in 1953 and Fawcett agreed to cease publishing the character, the market for superhero comics was decimated.

In 1966, after DC and Marvel had revitalized the genre, a third company, M.F. Enterprises, released a new Captain Marvel title featuring an unrelated superhero to capitalize on the now popular Marvel Comics name. Marvel responded by introducing their own Captain Marvel to secure a trademark claim. Unlike the Fawcett original, Lee and penciller Gene Colan’s Captain Marvel was literally a captain (in the military of the alien Kree race) with the last name “Mar-Vell,” which human characters interpret as “Marvel.” Gil Kane updated his costume in Captain Marvel #17 (October 1969).

Foster, Danvers, and Walters

Lee, Kirby, and co-scripter Larry Lieber (Lee’s brother) introduced Jane Foster as a love interest in Thor’s second issue, Journey into Mystery #84 (September 1962), in a variation on the superhero-formula triangle relationship established by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in Action Comics in 1938. The Clark-Kent-like Dr. Blake secretly pines for his assistant nurse, who, fooled by Blake’s double identity, secretly pines for him and yet also for the hypermasculine Thor. Like Siegel and Shuster’s Kent, Lee and Kirby’s Blake feigns cowardice, explaining his absence during Thor’s heroics: “I was … ahh …. hiding behind the execution wall! I figured it was he safest place to be!” Foster expresses her disappointment in a thought bubble: “Hiding! Golly, why couldn’t you be brave and adventurous like — Thor!”

After Lee scripted Captain Marvel’s premiere, Roy Thomas took over the series, collaborating with Gene Colan when creating Carol Danvers in the subsequent issue, Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968). A U.S. general introduces her: “This is Miss Danvers! Man or woman, she’s the finest head of security a missile base could want!” Though the professional position of authority contrasts Foster’s assistant role when introduced six years earlier, Danvers narratively still serves as a Louis-Lane-derivative love interest, attracted to Captain Marvel while unaware of his secret identity when he poses as an earth man she is indifferent to. Mar-Vell also spends a lot of his superheroic time rescuing her.

As the women’s rights movement gained prominence in the early and mid-70s, Marvel introduced a range of female characters (Valkyrie, The Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, Satana, Tigra, Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, Storm, Red Guardian) and heightened older ones. A re-costumed Black Widow received her own series beginning in Amazing Adventures #1 (August 1970), and scripter Chris Claremont transformed Marvel Girl into the far more powerful Phoenix in Uncanny X- Men #101 (October 1976).

In Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), scripter Gerry Conway and penciller John Buscema reconceived Carol Danvers as the editor of Women Magazine, an allusion to Gloria Steinman’s Ms. magazine launched in 1972. Conway’s Danvers explains her career change: “Captain Marvel’s appearance at the Cape – and my inability to capture him – just about destroyed by security field career. I kept trying to hold it together, until I finally went back to my first love – writing.”

Danvers also suffers from migraines and black-outs, becoming a female version of Captain Marvel (Buscema’s costume design reproduces Mar-Vell’s, except with bare legs, stomach, and back) who is equally unaware of her double identity. When asked whether she has a name, she answers: “I don’t think I do!”

Though the title prefix “Ms.” was first proposed in 1901, and activist Sheila Michaels had been promoting it since 1961, it did not gain popular attention until Michaels was interviewed on a New York radio show in 1969, and Steinman and organizers of the Women’s Strike for Equality began promoting it the following year (Zimmer 2009). Danvers adopts “Ms. Marvel” by the end of her first adventure, and Conway later retcons an incident from Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969)  in which Thomas had scripted Mar-Vell rescuing Danvers from an exploding alien device, now revealing that Danvers had absorbed his alien abilities as a result.

Dave Cockrum redesigned her costume for Ms. Marvel #20 (October 1978).

Marvel introduced the premise of Jane Foster becoming Thor a year later in What If #10 (August 1978). Scripter Don Glut described the series as “just one-shots” that came about at parties: “We’d get a little bit happy and someone would say something like, “Hey! What if Spider-Man had two heads?” (Imageantra). Glut recalled the question and eventual issue title “What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?” emerging from such a conversation with Rick Hoberg, who later penciled the story. Glut’s recollection also implies that the notion of a female Thor was as outlandish as a two-headed male superhero.

For What If #7 (February 1978), Glut and Hoberg had imagined that three different characters, including Spider-Man’s first girlfriend, Betty Brant, “had been bitten by the radiative spider.” Spider-Girl, the lone female variant, initially avoids using her super-strength but then accidentally kills a criminal and so chooses to end her superhero career.

Hoberg’s female Spider costume includes bare legs, arms, shoulders, upper chest, and cleavage, but he draws Thordis in a costume closer to Kirby’s original (her legs are bare, and two of the previously decorative chest circles are now protruding breast armor).

The Jane Foster What If issue title also avoids the question of identity by focusing on Foster finding the hammer rather than on her becoming Thor. As originally scripted, when Lee’s Blake transformed, he vacillated ambiguously between two identities. Glut scripts Foster to draw a different conclusion: “Obviously, if I’ve got Thor’s powers now, I’m not really Jane Foster … so maybe I should call myself something else. I remember from nursing school a Norwegian girl named Thordis; that has a nice sound to it. All right, then … that’s what I’ll call myself – Thordis!!”

Ultimately, Odin requires Jane to “surrender” the hammer because “ownership of Mjolnir hath ages ago been decreed by fate.” After the hammer transforms Blake into Thor and Odin restores his memory, Thor is united with his Asgardian love interest, Lady Sif.

Odin has also transformed Foster into a goddess as reward for her service, and she weeps over the “cruel joke” of being “made an immortal only to suffer an eternity — — separated from the man I love.”

She asks to be made mortal again, but Odin instead proposes marriage to her, which she accepts, realizing in the concluding full-page panel “that those very qualities she admired and loved in the mortal Don Blake — — are also to be found in the father of the immortal Thor.”

Jennifer Walters premiered two years later in The Savage She-Hulk #1 (February 1980). As with Captain Marvel twelve years earlier, Stan Lee and penciller John Buscema created the character for copyright reasons. The TV series The Incredible Hulk began airing in 1977, and Marvel feared that producer Kenneth Johnson, who had created the spin-off series The Bionic Woman from a character originally introduced on The Six Million Dollar Man, would create a female Hulk.

Acknowledging the Marvel character, Johnson later explained in an interview that “we had plans for Banner’s sister having a disease where only the blood of a sibling would save her life. We weren’t going to do a bra-popping She-Hulk, but we were going to do a woman Hulk who was crazy and scary and dangerous” (inverse.com). The character would have appeared in the fifth season—but the series was cancelled mid-season in 1982, two years after Marvel debuted their version of “a woman Hulk.”

In Lee’s script, Walters is Banner’s younger cousin, a retconned character who Banner calls “Little Jen” but who he hasn’t seen since before he “quit med school for nuclear physics,” so prior to The Incredible Hulk #1. Walters is also a “big time criminal lawyer” with “Jennifer Walters ATTN” on her office door.

Because she planted a rumor about having murder evidence, she is shot by a hitman while leaving her office, prompting Banner to perform an emergency transfusion. Walters reflects in the final panel: “The blood transfusion must have caused it!”

Like Banner whose transformed self was named descriptively, Walters is described by an onlooker: “It’s a girl! But — look at the size of her! Her skin! It’s – it’s green!  It’s like — she’s some kind’a She-Hulk!” She adopts the name: “whatever Jennifer Walters can’t handle – the She-Hulk will do!”

Though “Hulk” remains a proper name referencing Banner’s alter ego, like the 1974-78 TV series Police Woman or DC’s “Lady Cop” in 1st Issue Special #4 (July 1975), “She-Hulk” distinguishes the character as a female variant of a nominally ungendered but implicitly male category.

(Next week: Third Wave Rechristenings!)

Tags: , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: