The Making and Evolution of She-Hulk
We spoke to Jennifer Bush-Kraft, wife of ‘She-Hulk’ writer David Anthony Kraft, about the Jennifer Walters we see in the Marvel Universe today.
“I see David’s profile from my side as he watches the end credits of every single episode of every single Marvel television show,” reflects Jennifer Bush-Kraft on her late husband, writer David Anthony Kraft.
“I see him sitting next to me in the theater at the end of every single Marvel movie I watched with him from 2007 to 2021. We'd sit quietly talking about the movie; dissecting it, complimenting it. And when those creator credits would come up during the end credit sequences, he'd tell me each of the names he knew along with little anecdotes. He would tell me, ‘It's been X years for everyone else, but I remember these people, these moments like it was yesterday. And, now, look, that story is up on the screen!’ That's how deep an impact Marvel had on David.”
David Anthony Kraft (1952-2021) was an elite professional of the comics industry: a writer, a journalist, a critic, and, first and foremost, a fan. His Marvel career spanned stories for CAPTAIN AMERICA (1968), THOR (1966), and even classic horror in CREATURES ON THE LOOSE (1971). He is perhaps best known for a multi-year run on fan-favorite team book DEFENDERS (1972), and a 24-issue run on SAVAGE SHE-HULK (1980) with artist Mike Vosburg. It was this series that introduced readers to attorney Jennifer Walters and her gamma-irradiated alter ego. And, the character’s wholly unique persona. Much of the She-Hulk that we see on the page and screen today owes her spark to Kraft: “David didn't set out to try to write a ‘woman character,’ says Bush-Kraft. “He set out to write a person, and that person happened to be a female with Hulk-like powers. He wanted her to be like the heroes he loved and with whom he identified: powerful, flawed, human.”
We spoke to Jennifer Bush-Kraft about her husband’s legacy, the writer’s personal ties to the Hulk, and what it means to see She-Hulk brought to life for new audiences today.
Do you know if David was a Hulk fan prior to his assignment on SAVAGE SHE-HULK?
JENNIFER BUSH-KRAFT: David was a huge Marvel fan from a very young age, and one of his very favorite characters was the Hulk. David's mother passed away when he was nine years old and his father traveled—around North Dakota—for work. David spent a lot of time with different family members, shifting from home to home. There wasn't a lot of money in the house, so he would negotiate with his father for toys for his birthday and Christmas, pledging part of his allowance. His father encouraged his love of comics and his determination by giving him that allowance, part of which was used for comics and part of which he saved (and used) for said toy negotiations.
David was always eager for the newest issues of THOR and HULK especially. He liked the Hulk because I think he identified with the character's temper. He often lamented (and displayed) his own truly magnificent temper and fondly ruminated over his experiences with his father’s. Both Krafts were mild-mannered and affable people, but had awesome tempers when angered—just like Bruce Banner. Don’t get me wrong, David and his father were slow to anger and were never violent, but the "Kraft temper" was a known thing. I'm inclined to agree! His temper with inanimate objects was…prodigious.
I've quietly been amused at many a project destroyed after he "Hulked out" on it because he got impatient with stumbling blocks. But that was the faceted man I loved—he was humble and self-deprecating as well as confident and self-aggrandizing. A pure Gemini. He used to say he fully embodied his twin sign, being two different people in one. I think this is also why he loved the Hulks.
Being such a fan of the Hulk, was David excited by the SAVAGE SHE-HULK assignment?
JENNIFER BUSH-KRAFT: David's initial reaction to the creation of She-Hulk wasn't what one would expect! He had two very distinct feelings about taking on her series: disgust and determination. His disgust stemmed from his personal exasperation that the comics industry would crank out and oversaturate the readers with derivative characters like ‘super-cats’ and ‘super-horses.’ His determination also stemmed from those feelings. David approached taking on SAVAGE SHE-HULK with a kind of resignation that was so typical of the man I loved! He knew he could make the character into something other than a female, rampaging anger-beast, and he loved the Hulk enough to want a female version to have depth and a story. He had this “If you want something done right I guess it's got to be me” confidence that would make you want to sock him sometimes—especially since he was usually right.
In its earliest issues, Jennifer Walters is still developing her sense of control and Super Hero identity. What about David's approach made her, and She-Hulk, so individual?
JENNIFER BUSH-KRAFT: Goodness, so much of David's deeply personal beliefs are evident in She-Hulk, but while he had an agenda for her, it’s not what everyone believed. He's been hailed as a writer, especially via She-Hulk and his work on DEFENDERS, who promoted female empowerment, and that's true…kinda. David didn't have a feminist agenda when writing SHE-HULK. He simply wanted her to be a character with depth and life. He wanted her to be real.
Much of the pro-female vibe in the stories came from him accentuating her femaleness by giving her villains and foils who tried to tear her down because of it. This wasn’t about a feminist agenda, per se! David wrote She-Hulk based upon the kind of woman who always attracted him: intelligent, funny, openly sexual, fearless, confident and vulnerable. And because of his associations with women like that, he knew their plight from stories firsthand: openly sexual and intelligent women are desired but disparaged, forcing them to hide who they truly are.
David also had a subversive streak a mile long, and it's sneakily evident in She-Hulk. He loved to flaunt convention because he felt living by anyone else's rules was stupid. David felt that truly creative and intelligent people weren't the ones who thought outside the box, but the ones who ignored its existence entirely. It was this subversive streak that prompted him to give the She-Hulk a candid attitude and two boyfriends. This is something upon which people don't focus, and I don't know if it's because it's too subtle (with him having to navigate the [censorship of the Comics Code Authority]) or if it's because on some level it made people uncomfortable. Regardless of its lack of attention, it's one of the few things David deliberately planned with her.
What sort of things did David share about his co-collaborators in the comics industry?
JENNIFER BUSH-KRAFT: David minimized his comics career to the point that it wasn't something I ever thought about. In contrast, he talked a great deal about people he'd known in comics. I know certain names and have stories about people like George Pérez (David adored him and his talent), Marv Wolfman, Marie Severin (brilliant and sweet), [SAVAGE SHE-HULK editor] Jo Duffy (funny and stern), Brian Stelfreeze (a diamond brought to light), Don McGregor (his staunchest ally and treasured friend), Roger Slifer (his best friend), Jim Salicrup (friend and a rare person—someone David trusted to go to for advice), etc. Here and there, he'd mention something or have me read something, but for the most part, I didn't understand his career until mostly after he died. I have all this knowledge, slowly gleaned over our 14 years together, but I didn't put it together as a full picture of who David truly was in the comics industry until late in our relationship. Despite these facts, there were three things about which he was very passionate: comics in general, Marvel, and, not surprisingly, She-Hulk.
What does it mean to you to see She-Hulk introduced to such a wide global audience?
JENNIFER BUSH-KRAFT: I can only say that it makes me feel so much joy, but also this aching, yawning sadness. David should be here. This was his dream. He should be here to sit in the darkened theater after everyone has left, talking to me and our son and waiting for his name in those credits so that he can turn to us with that wide, cocky smile he would get when he's accomplished something. I can see him now...he would pump both fists into the air in that jubilant, childlike way he would do when he succeeded at something that had taken him time and effort.
David loved Stan Lee and he loved Marvel. And he was so proud and happy to see the names of his friends and the people with whom he'd worked up there on a big screen. Sometimes he'd say in this wistful tone, “One day, we'll see my name.” If you knew David, he was anything but wistful. Confident and, to those who didn't know the vulnerability he hid, arrogant. But not wistful. It was the only time I saw him like that.
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