Hulk stories have never been the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s forte, so “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” has its work cut out for it.
The latest Marvel Disney+ series follows practicing lawyer Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) who acquires superpowers after a car accident and ends up living and working as a hulk. Created by “Rick and Morty” writer Jessica Gao and directed by “Marry Me’s” Kat Coiro, the nine-episode series is baseline enjoyable with an adventure-of-the-week structure, but doesn’t meet the potential of a captivating cast, talented writers, and MCU might.
In the comics, Jen receives a life-saving blood transfusion from cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), but the show makes things both simpler and duller: His blood drips into her open wounds after a crash, and she transforms — but with coordination and control well beyond Bruce’s best days as a Hulk, even after 15 years.
“I’m better than you?” Jen asks when he tells her that her blood actually healed his wounds. Bruce bristles, but the short answer is yes. She can even control if and when she changes into Hulk form, and in no time at all she’s heading back to life as a lawyer, tapped to head a superhuman law division and represent Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), the man who turned into Abomination in “The Incredible Hulk” and tried to kill Bruce.
The aspirational tone of “She-Hulk” is comedic legal procedural with a superhero twist, but any lawyer would tell you it’s hard to uphold something with no precedent. As the first show of its kind, “She-Hulk” gets to build and break the rules of its universe — like “WandaVision” or the non-MCU masterclass of “Kevin Can F*** Himself” — but it does not feel nearly as confident, focused, or purposeful. There are a handful of promising bits, from Jen’s obsession with Steve Rogers’ sex life to how Wong spends his free time to an truly insane Episode 2 cameo — all of which are amusing, but are either taken too far or not far enough, and thereby ultimately missing the sweet spot. (An ongoing joke about Blonsky’s pen pal “soulmates” oddly works). Tongue-in-cheek references to Hulk’s inconsistencies and other MCU moments fall flat alongside shameless peddling of Pixar, Hulu, and other Disney properties.
The “She-Hulk” team doesn’t lack for comedy writing talent (with alums from “Robot Chicken,” “On My Block,” “Santa Clarita Diet,” and actual She-Hulk comics), but the show still searches for its voice, bogged down by larger tasks of fitting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, developing Phase 4, and establishing this character in a world teeming with superheroes. In the four episodes screened for critics, there’s no hint of where “She-Hulk” is heading. Jameela Jamil’s Titania and Renée Elise Goldsberry’s Amelia both get exactly one scene each, and Charlie Cox’s Daredevil is nowhere to be seen. Jen orders the audience directly to “not forget whose show this really is,” but Blonsky, Banner, and Wong dominate early episodes, the latter two undoubtedly benefiting from being established characters built on strong performances and clear voices.
Blonsky’s trial does not end up being the central conflict, nor is Jen’s struggle to live as a hulk, or what appears to be a plot to steal her blood. The Sacarrian Class A aircraft that causes Jen and Bruce’s car crash has yet to be explained, though that may have something to do with the premiere being a recut version of Episode 8. Jen is adamant about not wanting to save the world, so something has to change her mind — but that something has ostensibly not happened yet.
Despite all that, the cast charms, with Maslany at ease in the lead. She’s a natural fit with any costar, particularly Ruffalo, nailing everything from Jen’s sweet impudence to her command of a courtroom. Jen and Bruce tease each other like siblings, and though he quickly exits the show, their relationship carries the pilot. Benedict Wong continues to steal every scene as Wong, now established across multiple films as impeccable comedic relief that never undermines his powers, sorcery, or status.
Ginger Gonzaga and Josh Segarra make an impression in early episodes as Jen’s best friend/paralegal and a fellow lawyer at her new firm, with Gonzaga quick to nail romcom-bestie energy and Segarra as wholesome and endearing as he is on “The Other Two,” now with legal expertise to boot.
The “She-Hulk” trailer CGI prompted backlash from viewers, and while it has notably improved (and the team has spoken up for VFX artists), it’s still distracting. Ruffalo’s Smart-Hulk was hardly ever photorealistic, but he was part of a massive ensemble in “Endgame” that included multiple CGI aliens. “She-Hulk” sticks out in the everyday office, bar, and household settings, not because of her size and shape, but because she simply doesn’t match the fabric of her surrounding reality.
Gao, Coiro, and Maslany have all spoken about how “She-Hulk” explores societal perceptions of women and their bodies, and it’s clear that they’ve put thought into every way that manifests in Jen’s life. Her Hulk form is taller and curvier with a perpetual blowout. She gets more matches on dating apps than Jen does and when she does go on dates, the men are awed rather than intimidated. Other than a comment about the lack of clothing options for her size, being a Hulk seems to only benefit Jen in early episodes, including the ability to completely demolish a group of men who try to attack her.
When Bruce tells Jen to control her anger in Episode 1, she all but laughs in his face. Her entire existence is an exercise in moderating emotions, she says, from being catcalled and mansplained to earning respect at work. It’s a clever subversion of Bruce’s own “I’m always angry” from “The Avengers”; Jen is such a pro at what took him years to master that she doesn’t even need to say it. “She-Hulk” isn’t yet incredible, but it excels at taking something known and dismantling it, with five episodes left to reveal its true power.
“She-Hulk” premieres Thursday, August 18 on Disney+.
15 Things You Didn’t Know About She-Hulk
She-Hulk has been ranked as one of the top 20 most powerful Avengers, ranking higher than Captain America and Luke Cage, yet there are still a lot of things that are unknown about the character. She shares many of the same abilities as her cousin Bruce Banner when he is in his Hulk form, but her control over her ability makes her, arguably, a more valuable asset than the Hulk.
This is evident in her multiple team memberships, from the Avengers, to the Fantastic Four, to the Lady Liberators, Jen Walters has repeatedly shown that she is a team player with a level head, displaying both teamwork and leadership skills.
Fans and regular readers of She-Hulk will likely be able to rhyme off this list as if it’s common knowledge, but the fact is, She-Hulk doesn’t have that widespread recognition that her male counterpart receives. Everyone knows the Hulk. He’s been a mainstay in pop culture for over 40 years, but since She-Hulk is yet to appear in her own movie or TV show, so for the most part, only comic readers and video game fans will be aware of her excellence.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About She-Hulk.
15. She-Hulk was created to retain a trademark
In the late 1970s, The Incredible Hulk TV movie and subsequent TV series garnered a lot of popularity from both fans of Incredible Hulk comics and non-readers alike. Predictably, this lead to a lot of rumors that the studios involved were thinking of creating a female version of the green monster, in order to appeal to multiple demographics through both shows.
Marvel got wind of this rumor and decided that they had to get there first in order to protect their interests. Thus, She-Hulk was born. Stan Lee and John Buscema created the Jade Giantess in late 1979/early 1980, releasing the Savage She-Hulk #1, and filing the trademark before CBS could, beating them to the punch.
It’s also widely claimed that this creation was Stan Lee’s final significant creation for Marvel, however this just depends on how significant you consider his 1992 c0-creation, Ravage 2099, to be.
14. She’s A Bruin
She-Hulk’s past isn’t Fantastic, it’s not Amazing, and it’s not even Incredible – it’s academic. Jennifer Walters is an alum of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She studied in the same halls as the likes of Rob Reiner, Mayim Bialik, and George Takei.
Part of the appeal of Marvel Comics, for many fans, is that that the universe is rooted in some sort of pseudo-reality that can be likened to our own. Many of the flagship characters were based in real-life places within New York City, likely due to the creators working from within the bullpen in the Marvel offices.
This certainly isn’t the first time UCLA has been used to contribute to pop-culture. Its campus has famously been used in the past by Hollywood and television studios. It’s refreshing to have a Marvel character’s backstory not be rooted in the Big Apple like so many others, but we’re still thankful she eventually made New York City her home.
13. She Has A Law Degree
Like her cousin, She-Hulk has two sides to her – the career Avenger and the former UCLA student, Jennifer Walters. Unlike the Hulk, though, she has full control while in She-Hulk form and has access to all the brain power she gained while earning her law degree.
Thanks to this little extra upside to her abilities, it’s not uncommon to see Jennifer Walters show up to court Hulked-out and in business dress. The confidence gained while in her green form obviously helps her while performing her duties as legal counsel, and it’s definitely a show of force to the opposing counsel.
This side of Jen is a huge part of She-Hulk comics. Like with Daredevil, readers won’t just be treated to some ass-kicking and the dishing-out of street justice, they’ll also see court appearances that rival any courtroom drama on the small screen. Both titles have also benefited from the skills of writer/New York City attorney Charles Soule.
12. Her law firm is named after comic legends
The Marvel Universe’s other fictional law firm, Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, and Holliway, has taken on many cases within the pages of She-Hulk, from Spider-Man vs The Daily Bugle, to Howard the Duck vs Lucas (in which Howard wanted to sue George Lucas over movie rights).
The firm is located in Timely Plaza, New York City (a clear nod to the publishers’ pre-Marvel Comics name). It gains its name from Martin Goodman (Marvel’s first publisher), Stan Lee (whose original surname was Lieber), and Jack Kirby (who was born Jacob Kurtzberg), with Holden Holliway appearing as the fourth member in 2004’s She-Hulk #1 when he hired She-Hulk. The caveat being that she operates as Jennifer Walters in order to avoid swaying juries with the large, green reminder of her past heroics.
During this time at GLK&H, she finds out that her strength while in her She-Hulk form is directly affected by how strong she is as a human, leading to Jen starting to train in her human form, increasing her She-Hulk strength exponentially.
11. Awesome Andy
Although not strictly being a piece of She-Hulk trivia, Awesome Andy is certainly worth a mention. During Dan Slott’s run on the comic, readers were re-introduced to the character as he transitioned from mindless slave of the Mad Thinker, to heroic admin clerk in the firm where Jen works.
In a run in with Thor, Awesome Android copied the God’s nobility, which sparked independent thought within his mind and allowed him to choose not to follow the Mad Thinker’s orders. With his newfound sentience, Andy set about building a legal case in his defense, and he sought out the services of GLK&H, later working for them in lieu of payment.
Awesome Andy also helped Jen after Southpaw (Granddaughter of the H in GLK&H) was placed in her custody. She-Hulk essentially used Andy as a free babysitter for the young criminal, but Andy didn’t seem to mind.
10. The Fifth Member Of The Fantastic Four
After the events of Secret Wars (1984), Ben Grimm stayed on “Battleworld” for a few months longer than the rest of the heroes, leaving the Fantastic Four with a vacancy. It was proposed that She-Hulk take his place, no doubt owing to the fact that, like The Thing, she was one of the heaviest hitters around.
She was introduced as a full-fledged member of Marvel’s first family in 1984 with Fantastic Four #265, with her first day shown in #266 when she is at the hospital with Sue Storm after the latter collapsed due to pregnancy complications.
However, these weren’t her first appearances in an FF comic. It was in the pages of Fantastic Four #254 where John Byrne wrote and drew She-Hulk as a character for the first time, later going on to produce some of the most iconic stories in She-Hulk’s history.
9. Leader Of The A-Force
Marvel fans were “treated” to another Secret Wars in 2015. During the not-so-great crossover, the main Marvel Universe merged with many other alternate realities, creating a patchwork universe where there can exist more than one version of certain characters. Spinning out of Secret Wars (2015), and as part of the crossover event, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, and Jorge Molina created A-Force – an all-female team of Avengers who were led by She-Hulk.
When the universes merged into one after Secret Wars, Singularity awoke on Earth-616 (the main universe) and made attempts to unite the 616-versions of her team. She was successful in bringing a handful together to fight Antimatter – Captain Marvel, Medusa, Dazzler, Nico Minoru, and She-Hulk, who would become leader of the team.
Unfortunately, despite the book’s favorable critical reception, A-Force was short-lived, with a meager 15 issues in total across 2 volumes.
8. Fourth Wall
As we have mentioned before, She-Hulk was breaking the fourth wall long before Deadpool. Jen’s “comic awareness” was mostly seen during John Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk. Readers have seen her interact with the writer and the editorial team on numerous occasions, but her fourth wall breaks aren’t exclusive to her own comics.
In 1998’s Heroes for Hire #14, for example, She-Hulk is seen firing the narrator for being pretty useless. The narrator protests and tries to convince her that it’s Stan Lee, Stan Lee’s girlfriend, and Monika Lewinsky (it was the late ’90s), all of which takes place in front of Luke Cage and Scott Lang (Ant-Man). They’re only hearing She-Hulk’s side of things, however, as she talks to, from their perspective, nobody.
7. The Blood Transfusion
In Savage She-Hulk #1, crime boss, Nicholas Trask had come up against Morris Walters, Jen’s father and the local Sheriff. In true legal defender style, Jen was trying to protect one of Trask’s men after the villain had double-crossed him, as he intended to provide evidence against his former boss.
In a moment of serendipity, this all happened on a day that Bruce Banner was in town visiting his family. After the botched first attempt on Jen’s life, Trask sent a few of his men to finish the job, but they were caught by surprise. Thanks to Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood transfusion, Jen’s abilities manifested at that moment, with the goons exclaiming, “It’s some kinda she-hulk!” Jen trapped them to make them easy for the police to pick up, and she ended up keeping the name. And thus, She-Hulk was born.
6. Immune To Telepathy
Like her cousin, The Hulk, She-Hulk also has telepathic resistance. This is a skill that certainly comes in handy in the Marvel Universe, as there are a high number of mutants with telepathic abilities. Professor X, Emma Frost, Jean Grey, Psylocke, Quentin Quire… the list is seemingly endless.
She-Hulk’s power may be due, in part, to her fourth wall awareness, as Deadpool is also immune to telepathy, and both character’s regularly break the fourth wall. That said, it’s probably safer to assume that it’s due to her Hulk-traits, since Banner is also resistant.
However, this isn’t to say that her mind cannot be altered. The effects of magic and pheromone-based manipulations have altered She-Hulk’s free will in some brutal ways. Ripping the Vision in half, for example. Marrying John Jameson, for another. So telepathic resistance doesn’t actually mean that much anymore, given than She-Hulk and Hulk can be manipulated in other ways.
5. Body Switch Ability
She-Hulk isn’t just stuck with her original abilities, of course, as she can learn new ones. This was the case in Sensational She-Hulk #45, when she had to alert her friends on a Skrull ship, and her fellow captives, members of the Ovoid race, taught her the mind transfer ability that their race is famous for.
However, the ability somewhat backfired — when using it to transfer with her friend Weezi, they didn’t swap minds, but physical stature and ability. This resulted in the height and strength of She-Hulk being transferred to Weezi aboard the Skrull ship, and She-Hulk being left as a green, 5’2″ prisoner with no abilities.
As it turns out in the following issue, the gamma radiation in her blood interfered with the transference, causing her to take on the physical form of the subject. This meant it was Weezi’s time to shine, taking down her jailer and convincing the Skrull commander to help her rescue Jen. This switch wasn’t as permanent as the Ovoid stated, and both women transformed back to their original states.
4. Failed Adaptations
Despite many animated appearances in cartoons such as The Incredible Hulk (1996), Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2003), and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (2013), She-Hulk is still without a major live-action adaptation.
She-Hulk was originally set to be a co-star in the Incredible Hulk direct-to-TV movie in 1989, but nothing came of this. When a third follow-up film did appear, the character was nowhere to be seen.
Marvel Comics, prior to the blockbuster days we’re experiencing now, didn’t have the capital to fund a She-Hulk film or TV series, and so they tried to tempt studios with photos of Brigitte Nielson as She-Hulk. They failed to find investors, both at home and abroad, and so fans remain without. There have been recent rumblings about future adaptations, so fingers crossed. Given what Marvel Studios has been able to produce over the last ten years, it’s certainly not impossible to imagine Jen Walters finally making her big-screen debut sometime in the near future.
3. Magistra Of The Living Tribunal
The Living Tribunal is a cosmic entity within the Marvel multiverse whose main goal is to ensure that the cosmic balance remains intact. If the imbalance involves a single universe, then he delegates the adjudicating to entities within that universe.
She-Hulk is one such delegate. These proxies are known as the Magistrati, and they are used to rule on matters that are not as dire as affecting the wider cosmic order. However, the Magistrati have the power to compel She-Hulk to adjudicate cases anywhere in all of creation (yet another way in which She-Hulk can be manipulated despite telepathic resistance).
After she successfully defends her own universe against the Marvel Ultimate Universe before the Living Tribunal, she resigns her position as Magistra. Although nothing can stop the latest version of the Living Tribunal from ‘compelling’ her again to serve, so we’re not so sure what the point of that was.
2. Wrestler In Spider-Gwen’s Universe
Spider-Gwen comics exist in their own universe, and in it, there’s an alternate version of She-Hulk. In Spider-Gwen Annual #1, the Savage She-Hulk is a famous wrestler who visits Gwen’s high school to set up a charity wrestling match. The stipulation is that if anybody can pin her to the mat, she will give the money earned to an orphanage, but if she wins, then “the green comes home to mama!“
Gwen’s plan is to user her newfound spider abilities and win the money for herself, but when a robber threatens Ben Parker with a shotgun (Ben just can’t avoid trouble in any reality, it would seem), Gwen is distracted. Ben handles the situation, putting himself on the line and living to see another day.
Meanwhile, She-Hulk deliberately takes the loss, showing that the promotional event was a set up the whole time to raise money for an orphanage. She allows herself to be pinned, not really trying to cover the fact that she isn’t too bothered about it.
1. Grey She-Hulk
Much like her cousin, She-Hulk has her own Grey persona. This state, however, can be more likened to Wolverine’s berserker rage as, while in her grey form, she loses control of herself, has increased strength, and her speech becomes more broken, like Banner’s main, green Hulk persona.
Her grey form first made its appearance in Sensational She-Hulk #15 during an adventure with Howard the Duck. When demons, eyeing their next meal, pounce on a human-form Jen, her rage manifests itself as a grey She-Hulk form.
In the recent Hulk #1, Jen is the titular character and she is seen battling to keep her grey Hulk persona in check. The reemergence of her grey form was brought on by the smackdown she received at the hands of Thanos during the events of Civil War II, along with the stress and grief she experienced upon finding out that her cousin Bruce was killed by Hawkeye.