And you thought we were done with U.S. 1, didn't you! DIDN'T YOU! BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-oh lord what have we unleashed this day....
The Sensational She-Hulk #4 "Tall Dis-Order"
Let me state up front that, while it's a book I've always been curious to check out, I've never read any of John Byrne's She-Hulk before, so I'm diving into this without any knowledge of prior established threads or characters. But these aren't going to be full reviews anyways, focusing more solely on the aspects that somehow feature the leads from U.S. 1. Which will only be referred to as U.S. Archer in titles from this point, as the numeric is part of the deal they had with TYCO, which had since expired.
One night, Taryn O'Connell is standing outside of a truck stop where she followed C.B. chatter to catch up with a specific rig. The truck, a massive monster of a vehicle, pulls up and out steps a hulking, silhouetted figure with the head of a warthog. He says, "Road word is you're lookin' f'r me..."
And that's all we get right now. The rest of the issue is Jennifer "She-Hulk" Walters breaking the forth wall as she chooses a snappy business dress suit, meets her hunky new boss D.A. Towers (I noticed that name grouping, too - we'll see), bonds with his aging secretary Louise Mason (formerly The Blonde Phantom, who explains how aging works when you haven't been featured in a comic for a while), and goes up against Stilt-Man, who's out to get Towers. There's some other cryptic stuff involving a Mr. Powers and Mr. L, which may or may not be a reference to the Superman relaunch Byrne had recently left at the time, but a lot of the book is dedicated to gags and humorous ways to draw Stilt-Man's stilts, and it's a lot of fun. It's a little clunky from time to time, but the art never falters and there's a good warmth and energy to everything.
The Sensational She-Hulk #5 "The Doctor is In"
Again, we only get a single page of cryptic action here. A couple months have gone by and the massive rig, labelled Big Pig II, is pulled up outside a motel called Launch Pad. In a room, Taryn is drying off from a shower while a bulky trucker named Buford, in blue jeans, toothpick, and pompadour, studies books of starfields and navigation charts, while reassuring her he's dedicated to what's coming as "there's love involved". He recently discovered he has the mutant ability to drive anything, and wants to make sure he's got all the factors covered if they're going to find Ulysses Solomon Archer in deep space.
The rest of the issue pits She-Hulk against Doctor Bong, a bell-headed villain with an ability to zap himself and others through television channels, meaning we get oodles of parodies (some good, some flat) of Jetsons, Flintstones, Robocop, Three Stooges, and other slightly skewed classics (Robocop is in there because, as the dialogue states, Marvel had his license at the time and produced the animated series). More fourth wall breaking ensues as She-Hulk literally tears through ad pages to cross dimensions. It's all good fun.
The Sensational She-Hulk #6 "Star Truck"
And now the full feature begins!
While visiting NASA as a promotional celebrity, Jennifer bumps into Reed Richards and they have a fond reunion (I believe this came after Byrne's run of Fantastic Four where she joined the team for a while). He's supervising the Starblazer, a state-of-the-art hyperdrive shuttle about to be tested as Earth tries to branch out more into the stars, given all the traffic coming and going from heroes and villains alike.
Big Pig II crashes the gates and starts careening about the launch site, driving technicians away from the shuttle. Jennifer jumps on top and rips the roof off, only to find the cab empty as it's being driven by remote control. Just then, the shuttle launches and takes off into the sky, the truck having been a distraction. Using an inflated Reed as a springboard, Jennifer sails into the sky, latching onto the shuttle and trying to work her way to the air lock before she succumbs to the vacuum of space. She blacks out, but not before she's pulled in.
Coming to, she finds her savior was Razorback, the big dude with a warthog mask. I have no prior history with the character, but apparently he's a good guy and has appeared with his truck in other stuff before now. Anyways, he's the Buford from the last issue, and he and Taryn have already launched the Starblazer into hyperdrive and are a thousand light years from Earth. Taryn goes into a humorous version of the U.S. 1 backstory recap (in which angry brother Jeff always has a ridiculously adorable frowny face), ending with Taryn saying she's gotten over her fear of space due to her love for U.S., and Razorback saying they're homing in on the advertising beacon of Star Stop, a massive commercial relay station with the original Short Stop built at its heart.
Their trademark coffee is still being served at the Short Stop counter, albeit by alien waitresses to alien truckers, yet still overseen by Poppa Wheelie, who breaks away from giving the Guardians of the Galaxy directions when he spots Taryn and pulls her into a big hug. He also recognizes Razorback from the trucking days. There's a bit of a scene where he mistakes Jennifer for a Skrull and says "We don't serve your kind here!", but that's quickly sorted out. Until Taryn is devastated to learn U.S. married Mary McGrill, who's pregnant with their baby.
Taking the reunion back to the family home, Wide-Load Annie gives Poppa guff for not breaking the news to Taryn more smoothly, and Mary only feels sorry for her up to a point as she was invited to come along way back when, and years have since gone by. Before Taryn can sort things out, there's the blaring of a siren and they see U.S.'s new red, white, and blue space rig soaring towards the station with no brakes. He's running behind schedule and they can't reach him on a radio, so all they can do is watch as he slams through the protective force field of the station (which reseals behind him) and crashes to a stop in the docking port. When everyone arrives, it's not U.S. who steps out of his rig, nor his sidekick Retread, but rather the giant fluffy white monster with hypno-eyes: Xemnu!
Overall, a blast of an issue, racing into its silly premise with a gusto and skill they never had a chance in hell of pulling off in the original series. As big of a blowhard ass as Byrne has become over the years, the man is a genuine talent, and his art and writing are all strong. I like how he eases us back into this world and these crazy characters in a way that feels natural for them, anchoring it on the genuine hope Taryn has that she can reconnect with what she's lost. Also points for the Ron Cobb style design of U.S.'s new space rig, as him still soaring the stars in the old semi would feel just a hair too silly (not to mention in violation of copyrights Marvel no longer owned).
The Sensational She-Hulk #7 "I Have No Mouth and I am Mean"
So Xemnu - who has an unconscious U.S. and Retread with him, and knocks everyone else out with a mental bolt - apparently has the recurring motive of kidnapping children in failed attempts at repopulating his dead homeworld. Taking a new tact, he now has the pregnant Mary McGrill bound to a lab table as he intends to manipulate the developing fetus so it'll become a member of his race. Jennifer quickly tears off her bonds and, while Razorback frees the others and they escape, starts pounding on Xemnu until he knocks her out with yet another mental bolt.
Jennifer now wakes up on the lab table, covered in green fur, and discovers Xemnu is in the process of turning her into She-Xemnu, the Bride of Xemnu!, because he's been so alone all these years. He's stopped when an alien armada surrounds him and he's bolted with a collar neutralizing his mental powers. Sure enough, the armada is led by Al, who's wife uses laser electrolysis to quickly rid Jennifer of her unwanted coat of fur.
Razorback and Taryn are set to face whatever fate lies before them from earth authorities, but when NASA is contacted and filled in, they find out the organization is actually quite thrilled at how well Starblazer handled, and offer Razorback a permanent job as the first official space trucker for NASA. Taryn leaps into his arms, planting a kiss on him and finding love after all, as they repaint Starblazer and emblazon it with the name Big Pig III. Xemnu is taken care of when he's given to an infantile giant named Enilwen who has a fondness for teddy bears. As for Jennifer, U.S. and Poppa give her a fully restored '59 Dodge they've had sitting out back, which Al has modified to make a single trip back to Earth, after which she's free to keep it.
The art is still great, and there's a wonderfully drawn bit as Jennifer has a romantic dream about Hercules, but this was a bit of a sour and unpleasant issue, going for fun but in ways that made me squirm instead of laugh. Let's be honest, what Xemnu's doing is not funny, it's twisted and cruel. Stealing children, mutating babies inside their mother's wombs, and then getting all rapey as he tries to make She-Hulk one of his own kind so he can have her all to himself... that's not where you go when you're trying to have a zany fun time. And then ending him on a big, obvious, completely unnecessary jab at Len Wein (Enilwen is an anagram) by portraying the man as, literally, a giant baby.
As for the U.S. 1 cast, they just kind of end and wave goodbye. I'm glad Taryn and Razorback get a happy ending together, but the rest of the Short Stop crew just came and went, and U.S. himself barely appeared for just a line or two. I get it from the point of giving Taryn a full arc and some closure from where the original series unfortunately chose to leave her, but it would have been nice to get a little more something to go with it. And wow, they actually brought Al back, though I love that it's mostly just showing up a couple times and waving "Hi!"