Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry reviews the first four episodes of She-Hulk, the latest entry in the MCU, but the first one to truly feel like a Marvel comic book. No spoilers.
Superhero fatigue? Pfft. I’ve lost count of how many Marvel Studios movies and shows there are, but She–Hulk is the one I’ve been waiting on. The show is charming, irreverent, silly, and self-confident. None of which has anything to do with my absolute adoration for it. Watching She–Hulk is the closest we’ve come to reading a modern Marvel comic book, a universe where superheroes smashing into a courtroom is a mundane annoyance rather than a cataclysmic tragedy.
The first episode is mostly set up but done with speed rather than reverence. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and his previously un-mentioned cousin Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) are driving down the street, arguing whether Steve Rogers was a virgin before falling into the ice. A Sakaaran spacecraft suddenly appears before them, spinning the car off the road. Since Bruce is wearing a prototype gamma-radiation regulator, he’s de-Hulked and vulnerable. Wounded, his Hulk blood seeps into Jen’s wound, and BOOM, She-Hulk arrives.
She–Hulk is not a series that wallows its runtime in an origin story. The only person who might be disappointed is Bruce. He spent the MCU’s first four phases struggling to control the big guy within. After fifteen minutes as She-Hulk, Jen has it all figured out. As she tells her cousin, her time on this Earth as a woman has already made her an expert at managing anger. Dumb dudes provide endless practice every day. The result is a superbeing who doesn’t require numerous sequels and spin-offs to control her ability. She’s got this.
Jen rejects Bruce’s invitation into superherodom. She didn’t spend her adulthood studying law merely to give up her time in the courtroom. There are enough Avengers and wannabe Avengers in the world that already devote their time to saving it. We don’t need She-Hulk battling Thanos; we need Jen Walters fighting for the desperate people.
However, the She–Hulk series will reveal that fighting in the courtroom may be more difficult for Jen now that she’s got some gamma in her. With superbeings popping up on the reg, the average weakling on the street resents their presence. The super folk are starting to find themselves in trouble with the law and the public, and Jennifer Walters becomes their trusted ally.
When Tony Stark declared himself Iron Man in 2008, the spandex battlefield hosted not even a handful of opponents and partners. Marvel Studios has already rummaged through the best bits of their toy chest, scraping the bottom. We’re not talking about Moon Knight or Namor. They’re A-listers now. We’re talking about Titania (Jameela Jamil).
The backgrounds in She–Hulk are crowded with guest stars and cameos. Jennifer Walters’ Los Angeles is swarming with science experiments gone wrong and alien invaders. If Howard the Duck were to walk into Jennifer’s office, her cohorts wouldn’t bat an eye, and neither would those watching the show. The MCU has finally reached a point where gods and demigods standing in line at Starbucks is no big deal. With such banality, Marvel Studios can cut loose and have a good time. Not every story should feature a bright blue beam of light in the sky.
The She–Hulk series owes its vibe to two particular comic book runs: John Byrne‘s 80s action comedy and Dan Slott‘s early aughts sitcom sidequest. From John Byrne, She–Hulk gets its fourth-wall breaks and savage satire. From Dan Slott, She–Hulk gets its “Lawyer Show!”
Throughout She-Hulk’s comic book continuity, Jennifer Walters’ has faced the usual world-ending disasters. She can go toe-to-toe with her cousin, no problem. For the most part, the superhero movie community traffics in fisticuffs and apocalypses, but superhero comics frequently slip into other genres. She-Hulk is at her best when tackling the absurdity of her situation and the even crazier planet she inhabits. With Byrne and Slott, She-Hulk is a delight, and that’s the vibe the series’ head writer Jessica Gao is chasing.
Those seeking ultra-serious bouts between titans need to look elsewhere or prepare themselves to examine their favorite characters through a lighter lens. If you don’t want to laugh at the Abomination (Tim Roth) or discover the TV habits of Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong), you could recoil from what Gao and her team are dishing. No grumps allowed on Disney+ this week.
Yes, She–Hulk delivers a few mocking jabs at “Smart Hulk”/Bruce Banner, but tucked in those jabs are sorrowful pokes too. We catch a glimpse of what Bruce and Tony Stark were doing during the Blip, and we witness the hurt still present in Bruce due to Tony’s absence. She–Hulk bestows a more whimsical side to the superhero struggle, but the struggle remains.
Twenty years after Sam Raimi’s Spider–Man (which I’m retroactively considering as the start of the MCU), movie audiences are as well-versed in the superhero experience as comic book readers. We’re ready for stories and tones beyond the kicking, punching, and blue beams of light. Through superhero extremity, storytellers can capture the intense emotional heights we all encounter during the day-to-day in the same but different fashion that the best horror movies so expertly accomplish.
In She–Hulk, Jennifer Walters has found herself in a hell that has become painfully ordinary for those around her. To her colleagues, onlookers, and strangers, she’s just another Howard the Duck. For us watching, she is us, navigating the ridiculous obstacles ignorant jerks seem damn determined to plant in our way. We’re all experts in rage these days, but we could use a few more heroes to follow in terms of regulating and weaponizing such anger. She-Hulk is every bit the model as Superman, probably more so.
She–Hulk Episode 1 is now streaming on Disney+