I’m back today with a highly-specific guide for “pledgeonaut” Patrons of CK. This one also spun out of last week’s update to my Guide to She-Hulk, because it’s also a Guide to She-Hulk! No, not that She-Hulk, the other She-Hulk – it’s a Guide to Red She-Hulk!
Be warned: Even though the guide itself is careful not to spoil details of Red She-Hulk’s secret identity while covering pre-reveal issues, I’m talking about it openly in this post.
Honestly, it was only a secret for nine months 12 years ago! But, I think it was a fun secret executed well, so I try not to ruin it for people who might be coming to the run for the first time.
Marvel was going through an interesting period from 2005-2012 where at first they were revitalizing lines and characters purely out of the business instinct to stay alive, but then they started adjusting them even more due to the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To me, this began with the period of Bendis launching New Avengers through the death of Captain America at the end of Civil War, with House of M sandwiched between them. Despite Marvel using the “All-New, All-Different” tagline since the Bronze Age, this was the first time in a while that the main 616-Marvel Universe felt like a truly new and different place.
(A lot of that was down to the sales and popularity pressure from the Ultimate Universe, which at that point was threatening to subsume the main one.)
One result of that period was character lines that felt larger than they used to. Marvel’s major Silver Age characters feel encouraged to reinvent their casts and build their own huge events. That was certainly true for Hulk, which went from a Marvel also-ran to one of their hottest titles on the strength of Greg Pak’s “Planet Hulk” storyline, which spun into the line-wide “World War Hulk” event.
In the wake of that, Pak and Jeph Loeb had more leeway than ever to expand the scope of Hulk comics. Suddenly, there were a lot of Hulks and Gamma-powered characters. We had Bruce Banner as Hulk, Jennifer Walters as She-Hulk, Doc Samson, Rick Jones as A-Bomb, the newly-birthed Skaar, and even Lyra – Hulk’s daughter from a potential future!
(Spoilers begin here.)
In 2008, two additional Hulks joined the frenzy – Red Hulk and a matching Red She-Hulk. This red variety of our Gamma-power characters were stronger, smarter, and more-cunning than the Hulks we were used to – and, they seem to be entirely amoral.
The cool reveal was that these two Red Hulks were related by both color and blood – they were Thunderbolt Ross and his daughter, the previously deceased Betty Ross (though, Thunderbolt didn’t know that at first).
This was a positive in the short term, but a negative in the longer term.
At first, it was mega-fun, because Hulk’s entire supporting cast were now all Gamma-powered heroes! There was no more uneven power dynamics. Thunderbolt Ross could really threaten Hulk and not be cowed by his strength. And, Betty Ross didn’t need to accept Bruce’s apologies for Hulk anymore – not that she ever did before, but now she was a Hulk of her own and saw Bruce’s weaknesses in a new light. It was very satisfying to see Red She-Hulk deck Hulk when Banner assumed they’d pick up their marriage right where they left off in Incredible Hulks (2010) #612.
The negative is: when everyone is Gamma-powered, is any character special?
Having so many Gamma heroes hyped to have Hulk-level strength made it tricky to write a good Bruce Banner book without pushing his concept in a wildly different direction, which has been the case for every Hulk comic since 2011.
Meanwhile, it also meant an identity crisis for the other Gamma characters once their initial novelty wore off. Jennifer Walters always had her 4th-wall-breaking comedy angle and lawyering to rely on, but with Marvel Now came the need to give Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk their own distinct identities.
The wild thing about that is that it actually worked for Red She-Hulk, but she wasn’t popular enough to maintain it! Matt Fraction’s Defenders andher Jeff Parker-penned solo title turned her into a weird combination between Howard the Duck and Captain Britain. It recast her as smart, tough, no-nonsense player stuck in a slightly comedic work where she was in over-her-head with the sudden task of defending a multidimensional cross-time machine.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stick, and so Red She-Hulk was one of the many Gamma characters sacrificed to Gerry Duggan’s Hulk consolidation in Hulk (2014). Then, to give us complete whiplash, she was briskly re-Hulked after her comeback in 2017 at the hands of Al Ewing in his massive hit, Immortal Hulk.
To his credit, I think Ewing did a lot of thinking about who Betty was, and her submissive relationship to both her father and to Bruce as Hulk. In the moments where she shines in Immortal Hulk, she shines in a way that gives her agency over her decisions even as she grows ever more monstrous thanks to her association with Bruce.
However, I can’t help but be saddened that to get this monstrous Harpy version of Red She-Hulk we had to lose the sassy and slightly over-violent version we had from 2009-2014. Even if Jennifer Walters already has the market cornered on Gamma-powered sassiness, there was something so satisfying about Red She-Hulk as a specific woman’s wish fulfillment character – and, I wish we got to see that played out under a woman’s pen at some point.
Ultimately, I think Marvel took lessons from Red She-Hulk’s development and applied them to Jane Foster’s transformation into the Mighty Thor – which was much more successful on a similar Silver Age love interest, including having a much more intentionally-planned second act.
If you want to get to know Red She-Hulk as well as I now know her, sign up to be a $1.99/month Patron of CK and read my list of 50 issues that tell her entire anti-heroic story! With your pledge you’ll gain access to every exclusive guide on the site – nearly 60 guides not available to the public, that will take you far into the corners of the Marvel Universe with issue-by-issue breakdowns of supporting heroes like Red She-Hulk.
Patrons of Crushing Krisis currently have access to…
Exclusives for Crushing Cadets ($1/month): 28 Guides!
Marvel Guides (22): Alpha Flight, Angela, Beta Ray Bill, Black Cat, Blade, Captain Britain, Dazzler, Domino, Dracula, Elsa Bloodstone, Heroes For Hire, Legion, Marvel Era: Marvel Legacy, Mister Sinister, Sabretooth, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man – Peter Parker (2018 – present), Thunderstrike, Valkyrie, Vision, Weapon X, X-Man – Nate Grey
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All of the 28 guides above, plus 29 more…
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Indie & Licensed Comics: None right now