How 'She-Hulk' Solves a Longtime Marvel Problem
We have a Hulk. A She-Hulk to be exact. At D23 last Friday, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced three new shows coming to Disney+, one of which is She-Hulk. One of the more unexpected announcements to come from Marvel’s recent lineup, She-Hulk is a big deal, especially considering Marvel Studios’ inability to create its own franchise around Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Hulk, as a solo film property, is caught up in legal distribution rights with Universal. The idea of seeing any of Banner’s famous, non-Avengers-centric storylines, adapted seemed out of the question for the foreseeable future. And it was assumed that meant She-Hulk would be stuck in stasis too. But with the Disney+ series on the horizon, is it possible for She-Hulk to carry the weight of Banner’s mythos and her own?
Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk first arrived on the scene in Savage She-Hulk No. 1 (1980). Created by Stan Lee and John Buscema, She-Hulk was one of the last Marvel characters Lee had a hand in developing for over a decade. Though Jennifer Walters, granted the powers of the Hulk thanks to a life-saving blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner, began as a female equivalent to the Hulk, she soon evolved into her own distinct character. What’s interesting about her upcoming turn to TV stardom is that the character was created for that very reason, though she never appeared outside of cartoon series. Given the popularity of ABC’s The Bionic Woman, Marvel was convinced that CBS would create a female-centered spinoff of their series The Incredible Hulk and wanted to make sure they got there first in order to maintain rights. Walters has never made a live-action appearance, despite the early development of two television projects in the '80s, and a film set to be directed by Larry Cohen and starring Brigitte Nielsen in the early '90s that only got as far as test photos.
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Walters managed to do just fine on her own without a television show or film to launch her into the public consciousness. She-Hulk became distinct from her cousin in that she was able to control her powers, and rather than choosing to transform back into Walters she enjoyed being She-Hulk and the confidence that came with it. As an Avenger and Fantastic Four substitute, She-Hulk enjoyed the positive attention rarely afforded to Banner. The role that has defined most of her comic runs is her successful career as a lawyer, and her rise as New York’s district attorney. There’s a sizeable amount of humor in the idea of a towering green woman operating as a lawyer, humor that writers John Byrne, Dan Slott and Charles Soule leaned into during their tenure on the character. She-Hulk has also dealt with a fair bit of controversy surrounding sexism, both in the form of public commentary and within the context of the Marvel Universe.
It’s easy to imagine the Disney+ series going the way of Fox’s Ally McBeal, in which a young, successful lawyer tries to balance her career, personal life and workplace sexism, while also happening to be 7 feet tall and green. There’re also the added complications that come with operating as a superhero and a lawyer, something we saw in Netflix’s Daredevil, but in this case wouldn’t have the crutch of a secret identity to lean on. As Marvel Studios seeks to explore other genres within their series and films, She-Hulk rather obviously works as a superhero legal drama. But there’s likely a desire for the series to operate as more than that, especially when considering how little Hulk content we’ve received in the MCU.
While there’s been no confirmation yet, it seems likely that Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk will have some role in She-Hulk. But Hulk has managed to get control of his abilities, as seen in Avengers: Endgame, and the idea of two incredibly smart and content Hulks running around and managing normal lives seems a bit too easy. Recently, following her near-death experience in 2016’s Civil War II comic, Walters lost control over her abilities and supermodel-esque physical transformation. Now she turns into a more monstrous, brutish version of herself when angry, living up to the name of the savage She-Hulk. Perhaps these modern stories are where a She-Hulk series should open, with Walters becoming a rampaging monster and Banner having to show her the ropes to control her abilities so that she can live a normal life and continue her successful law career.
In terms of adversaries, most of She-Hulk’s are borrowed from other heroes, but given that Hulk fans have missed out on seeing many of his villains make it to the MCU it seems She-Hulk could be their moment to shine. While The Incredible Hulk (2008) is often treated as the black sheep of the MCU, due to Edward Norton portraying the Hulk and not Mark Ruffalo, there are still threads from that film that should be followed up on. And if William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross can return, then I see no reason why others from that film can’t as well. We know that Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) aka The Abomination is still locked up somewhere, probably in the Raft. And we know that Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) has yet to make his full appearance as The Leader. So far, many of the Marvel Studios shows on Disney+ seem to be playing double duty in introducing new characters, or new roles, and resolving old threads. WandaVision isn’t just the story of Scarlet Witch and Vision. It’s also the story of Monica Rambeau. The Falcon & Winter Soldier isn’t just about its titular leading men, but Sharon Carter, Zemo and John Walker. And it wouldn’t be surprising if the time-travel-centric Loki features other Asgardians. She-Hulk can manage on her own, as there are plenty of her own storylines to draw from, but given the seeming format of these Disney+ series, do we really want her to?
Not to take away anything from She-Hulk as her own character with her own mythos, but given that she is so tied to those of the Hulk’s, and not just in name, She-Hulk could be an opportunity for Marvel Studios to give the Hulk his rightful due as well, even if in a less robust capacity.
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