Superheroes have often been billionaires, gods, and kings; now they can be social media influencers or Vegas magicians. With new superpowered individuals popping up left and right in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, someone has to focus on the legal ramifications of possessing powers. Enter Jennifer Walters, Esquire—also known as She-Hulk, attorney at law.
Whereas the previous phases of the MCU set up the Avengers and Thanos’s scorched-earth plan to eradicate half of the universe’s population, Phase 4 is establishing the foundation for multiverses and mutations. Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness have each introduced the concept of variants of the characters in Marvel’s main timeline. And with Bruno’s discovery of a mutation in Kamala Khan’s genes at the end of Ms. Marvel, the first seed has been planted for the introduction of mutants into the MCU.
With superheroes and villains accumulating at an exponential rate matched only by the massive amount of content Marvel Studios is churning out, the resulting legal calamities call for a superpowered procedural. Premiering this Thursday on Disney+, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law stars Emmy-winning actress Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) as Walters, an attorney devoted to moving up the legal ladder. In the aftermath of a road-trip car accident, Walters gets exposed to her cousin Bruce Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood and turns into a 6-foot-7 Hulk herself. Although she, unlike Banner, can transition between human and Hulk forms at will, her life is forever changed as she’s caught in the spotlight that being a Hulk brings. The nine-episode season (Marvel’s longest live-action season since WandaVision) follows Walters as she navigates her unsought superhero responsibilities and the hellscape of dating apps, all while working as the head of the superhuman law division for a high-powered firm that hires her because of her Hulkness.
“It really is about her wrestling with her identity and what it means to see people change how they treat her vs. how they treat She-Hulk,” head writer Jessica Gao told USA Today.
Gao is known for writing credits on comedies such as Rick and Morty (including the fan-beloved “Pickle Rick” episode), Silicon Valley, and Robot Chicken. Director Kat Coiro has helmed films and television shows such as Marry Me, Dead to Me, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Whereas WandaVision was a riff on classic American sitcoms, She-Hulk marks Marvel Studios’ first attempt at an outright half-hour comedy. Legal comedies such as Ally McBeal and Legally Blonde, mixed with the fourth-wall breaking of Fleabag, serve as the main inspirations for the series.
“I’m really excited for Marvel to have a true half-hour comedy and really lean in to a comedy format,” Gao said to The Hollywood Reporter. “I want to know what’s happening on a Tuesday when the world isn’t in danger. What happens when a 6-foot-7 green woman has to buy a business suit for court?”
From the character’s comic origins to her off-kilter personality to the potential for appearances by other figures from the MCU, here’s everything you need to know before the first episode of She-Hulk.
She-Hulk’s Origins in the Comics
Much as fear and anger trigger Bruce to become the Hulk, worry led directly to the debut of She-Hulk. In the mid-1970s, popular sci-fi series The Six Million Dollar Man spawned a spinoff, The Bionic Woman, which ran for two seasons on ABC before NBC picked it up for a final season. Marvel’s Stan Lee feared that Universal would attempt the same spinoff gambit with CBS series The Incredible Hulk, which starred Lou Ferrigno and ran for five seasons from 1978 to 1982.
To prevent Universal from owning the rights to a potential female Hulk character, Lee and artist John Buscema created Savage She-Hulk in 1980. From her very first appearance in The Savage She-Hulk #1, Walters’s career as an attorney has been a vital part of her identity. It’s also partly responsible for her transformation into She-Hulk.
Walters, who’s based in Los Angeles, is tasked with representing Lou Monkton, a criminal accused of killing a bodyguard working under mob boss Nick Trask. She suspects that Trask set up a sting in an attempt to frame Monkton. While Walters is visited by her cousin Bruce, who recounts to her how he became the Incredible Hulk, Trask orders a hit on the attorney.
With Walters bleeding out and Banner unable to find a doctor, he conducts a blood transfusion in a last-ditch effort to save his cousin. Though Walters survives the attack, contact with her cousin’s blood causes her to become She-Hulk.
The Relationship Between Jennifer and Bruce
At first, Bruce and Jennifer’s Hulk identities were characterized by the buildup of rage that summoned them and the destruction they left behind. Once Banner and Walters turned green, their human sensibilities went away. Later iterations of She-Hulk would present clear differences between both cousins—the greatest distinction being that Jennifer’s transformation makes her bigger and stronger without robbing her of the high intelligence of her human form. Banner, by contrast, has always struggled to keep his angry side at bay.
In the comics, the relationship between Banner and Walters has mostly been amicable. Not always, though; World War Hulk (2007), wherein Hulk sets out for revenge after the Illuminati banished him to the planet Sakaar, is one of the notable times when the cousins squared off. In that series, She-Hulk’s powers are taken away by Tony Stark, who fears that her affection for her cousin will blind her to the destruction of which he’s capable. She does put up a fight against Hulk, but comes up short.
In the trailers for She-Hulk, Bruce, who was last seen in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ mid-credits scene, attempts to guide Jennifer through the sudden change in her life, telling her, “This is a multi-year journey you’re about to embark on.” In his eyes, her life as an attorney is over, or at least indefinitely delayed; it’s only in the five years since the Blip that the MCU’s Banner, played by original Avenger Mark Ruffalo, has managed to merge both of his identities into Smart Hulk. Yet the trailers highlight the fact that from the start of the series, Jennifer’s mind is still in control while she’s Hulked out.
Some moments in the trailers suggest that Bruce is envious of how quickly Jennifer takes to Hulk life. Banner runs through all the requisite skills that it takes to be a Hulk, from boulder throwing to ground pounds to sonic-boom claps, all of which Jennifer picks up with a natural ease. Banner tells Jennifer that “being a Hulk asks for balance,” only to see his cousin already holding herself up with one hand. For a second, Banner flashes a look of frustration, almost resentment. Does seeing Jennifer home in on and synthesize both personas in a matter of days, in comparison to the years it took Bruce, force him to once again tame the brooding Hulk inside him? And what would the ramifications of that bitterness be?
It appears, though, that She-Hulk isn’t primarily concerned with rehashing the strife of Dr. Banner’s relationship with Jennifer and her green alter ego, or culminating in a confrontation between cousins. Instead, the show explores the complications that arise when Jennifer’s newly acquired powers conflict with her legal career.
There’s precedent for that conflict in the comics. Over the years, She-Hulk would join forces with the Avengers and sub for the Thing in the Fantastic Four, but event comics such as Civil War (2006-2007) and World War Hulk also put Jennifer’s lawyerly skills on display. In Civil War, Walters sides with Iron Man in supporting the Superhuman Registration Act, but she also counsels Speedball, the superhuman involved in the Stamford Incident that resulted in more than 600 fatalities and served as the impetus for the legislation. In World War Hulk, Jennifer attempts to sue Tony Stark for administering an injection that deprives her of her powers amid her cousin’s revenge tour.
What Makes She-Hulk Stand Out
Seminal installments of She-Hulk established Jennifer as a singularly irreverent comics character. When you think of fourth-wall breaks, the first hero who comes to mind is probably Deadpool. However, the Merc with a Mouth didn’t address the audience until Deadpool #28 in 1997. She-Hulk went there almost a decade earlier.
After She-Hulk’s two-year initial series and subsequent stint as a member of the Fantastic Four, writer/artist John Byrne would create a lighthearted version of Jennifer Walters in Sensational She-Hulk, which began in 1989. Byrne placed Walters in zany situations, from escaping the Baloney-verse with Howard the Duck to one of her adversaries falling head over heels for her after being struck with Eros’s arrow.
In Sensational She-Hulk #1, we see the first time Walters speaks directly to readers—which, based on the trailers, will be an integral component of the show. Beyond that, Byrne’s comedic spin serves as a primary influence for Gao and Attorney at Law.
“For me, foundationally, I felt like first and foremost the fourth-wall breaking and the kind of meta-humor and the self-awareness [was the most important element of the comics],” said Gao during a recent press conference. “It was the John Byrne run that made me fall in love with this character, you know? It was just so lighthearted and fun and refreshing, so that was always kind of a foundational element.”
Sensational She-Hulk is the template for the comedic aspects of the show. Dan Slott’s 2004 eponymous series, however, serves as the model for Walters’s work as an attorney. Slott’s take on the character maintains the whimsical elements of Byrne’s tenure while placing more of an emphasis on Jennifer’s profession and employing a “case of the week” structure that could lend itself to TV. In Slott’s run, Walters is more comfortable as She-Hulk than she is in her human form. So when she’s offered a position in the superhuman law division at Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway by partner Holden Holliway (changed to “Holloway” on TV), she’s beyond ecstatic. One caveat: Holliway wants Jennifer Walters the attorney, not She-Hulk. The position of a lifetime causes Waters to hide a part of her identity that she’s embraced. Slott’s conceit for the character allowed for more crossover between her legal and superhero occupations. In one issue, Walters advises Spider-Man in a libel case against J. Jonah Jameson; in another, Doctor Strange helps her summon a ghost to stand trial.
Which Characters Can We Expect to See?
Judging by the trailers for She-Hulk, the protagonist’s problem seems to have flipped: GLKH wants She-Hulk to be the face of their division for supers, while Walters wants to focus on her job without any green distraction. In that sense, the TV series is more reminiscent of Charles Soule’s 2014 She-Hulk run, in which Jennifer remains in She-Hulk form while she’s lawyering—though in the case of those comics, more due to her own preference than her boss’s. Although the show is best classified as a comedy, the tension between how Jennifer views herself and how others see her could also allow the series to comment on #MeToo and double standards in the workplace.
The trailers have also revealed that Banner and Walters won’t be the only She-Hulk comics characters making the leap to TV. As Holloway notes in one of the trailers, “more and more eccentric superhumans are coming out of the woodwork.” One such superhuman is Titania (played by Jameela Jamil), a frequent nemesis of She-Hulk in the comics.
Mary “Skeeter” MacPherran, alias Titania, made her first appearance in the 1984 incarnation of Secret Wars, in which she was given powers by Doctor Doom in his quest to build a legion of villains on the planet Battleworld. Doom’s intervention gave Titania brute strength and more than a foot in size. With her new superpowers, she faces off against the likes of Spider-Man and She-Hulk. Her initial confrontation with Jennifer would establish a longstanding rivalry between the two. In the show, Titania has been rewritten for modern times as a social media influencer who has a vendetta against She-Hulk.
Jennifer has nemeses even inside the courtroom. Dennis “Buck” Bukowski, introduced in Savage She-Hulk #2, is a self-indulgent lawyer who argues against Walters in the Monkton case. He serves as an annoyance to her, constantly belittling her work and trying to frame She-Hulk as a criminal. (In the show, he’ll be played by Drew Matthews.) But perhaps her biggest courtroom rival comes in Slott’s run, with the introduction of attorney Mallory Book, whom Walters refers to as “the face who’s never lost a case.” Book initially works with Walters mainly for her superhero contacts, establishing Book’s coldness towards her. But as Walters showcases her talent for GLKH, the rivalry between two similarly-driven lawyers grows. Book will be portrayed on TV by Tony-winning actress Renée Elise Goldsberry, of Hamilton and Girls5Eva fame.
Notable characters from the MCU who have appeared in the trailers include Wong and Abomination. Both were last seen together in Shang-Chi, when they sparred at the Golden Daggers Club. Abomination alter ego Emil Blonsky, played by Tim Roth, makes his first appearance since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. After decimating the streets of Harlem in his fight against Hulk, Abomination has been locked up for years in a maximum security prison. Jennifer is assigned by Holloway to represent Blonsky in his parole hearing (which presents an awkward predicament, given that Blonsky nearly killed her cousin). Meanwhile, the Sorcerer Supreme and Doctor Strange have been dealing with the ramifications of a potential multiversal incursion.
There’s also been a brief glimpse of the new look for Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, who’ll be donning his cardinal-red and gold costume from the comics. Fans have been speculating about whether Daredevil will retain the gritty, violent characterization from his Netflix series, but based on a recent statement from Gao, expect some shifts in his portrayal. “What was so fun about bringing [Charlie] and Daredevil into our world is that people have already seen a Daredevil who is very dramatic, little bit on the heavy side, very dark, brooding,” Gao said, speaking to The Direct. “We bring them into our world and they get to play in the tone of She-Hulk. And they got to explore and we get to see a lighter side of that character.”
Along with Cox’s upcoming appearance in next year’s Echo, Kevin Feige recently announced an 18-episode order of Daredevil: Born Again, but She-Hulk is the first time we’ll see the Man without Fear back in action (aside from his cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home). Given that Matt Murdock is a lawyer in his own right, he and She-Hulk could cooperate in pursuit of the same target. On top of all of these characters, there’s sure to be a bounty of lesser-known supers whom Jennifer will have to defend.
The VFX Elephant in the Room
Marvel’s VFX issues resurface with each new release, which makes the online consternation about She-Hulk’s appearance in the debut trailer unsurprising. Blowback only grew after Taika Waititi jokingly criticized the CGI work in Thor: Love and Thunder in a video for Variety. VFX artists who had previously worked on Marvel projects began to speak up about the demands the studio would place on them, which prompted the team behind She-Hulk to voice its solidarity and support for the visual effects workers.
“This is a massive undertaking to have a show where the main character is CG,” Gao said during an August press panel. “It’s terrible that a lot of artists feel rushed and feel that the workload is too massive. I think everybody on this panel stands in solidarity with all workers.”
“I’m just so in awe of what they’re able to do with very little support in that sense,” said Maslany, speaking to the Los Angeles Times. “I know that my union, as an actor, is incredibly important to me. … I think it’s really important to have those systems in place that protect people and that ascribe their skills value and respect.”
It’s unknown how She-Hulk’s CGI will be received by audiences once they tune in on Thursday, though responses to the second trailer seemed less harsh. Any complaints, however, will once again shine a light on Marvel’s unrelenting production schedule and the issues brought up by VFX workers.
Speaking of that schedule: She-Hulk will run through October 13, wrapping up less than a month before Black Panther: Wakanda Forever concludes Phase 4 on November 11. Much of Phase 4 has been devoted to expanding Marvel’s character roster, and She-Hulk will introduce yet another new hero to that swelling lineup, following in the footsteps of Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel.
The MCU has established a propensity to use quippy, snarky one-liners in service (or disservice) of extracting a chuckle from the audience, whether in the middle of large action set pieces or to undercut emotional beats. Perhaps She-Hulk’s embrace of the legal-comedy format will provide a perfect avenue for humor. On the other hand, the mixed reaction to Thor: Love and Thunder and its uber dependency on bombarding the audience with jokes may be a sign that Marvel’s wisecracks are wearing out their welcome. Given the creative team of Gao and Coiro, though, one hopes that She-Hulk: Attorney at Law will strike a desirable balance between comedy and drama. Deviating from the franchise’s formula and pioneering a new genre within the MCU can be a trial by fire, but trials are She-Hulk’s specialty.