(Photo by Marvel Comics)
As Marvel Studios and Disney+ continue to chart new waters with their new Marvel television shows — a selection of limited (and potentially not so limited) series with deep ties to their film franchise — they continue to surprise moviegoers and thrill fans of the comics with their deep pulls from the comic book library. One such character is She-Hulk; her origins are fascinating, and her conquest of the streaming landscape will fulfill a destiny that has eluded her for decades. At the same time, nothing in her world is that grandiose for long, so let’s take a look at what we know about the She-Hulk series so far and get a feel for what it might be like and how it could expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
(Photo by ©Universal Television courtesy Everett Collection)
Created by John Buscema and Stan Lee in 1980, Jennifer Walters is the cousin of Bruce Banner. After she is accidentally shot by mobsters looking for her father, Bruce volunteers to save her life with a blood transfusion. The procedure transfers some of his gamma-irradiated power into Jen. Initially, she “Hulks out” whenever she gets angry, but her powers and why they manifest become more nuanced over the years. Oh, also, she happens to be an attorney working in New York, which makes things a little bit tough when she starts showing up to court all green.
Unlike her cousin (at least, up until Avengers: Endgame), Jennifer develops great control of her powers, maintaining her wits even if she ends up a little short-tempered as She-Hulk. Additionally, she can go for a very long without reverting to a purely human form. In fact, she prefers being somewhere between human and Hulk.
But as legend tells it, She-Hulk was created at a time when Marvel was branching out into television with the very successful The Incredible Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The show’s producer, Kenneth Johnson, also had success with The Six Million Dollar Man spin-off, The Bionic Woman. Fearful he would think of a gender-swapped Hulk first, Marvel rushed She-Hulk into the pages of her very own title, The Savage She-Hulk, which ran for 25 issues. Afterward, She-Hulk would guest star in other comic titles and eventually join the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. She would also get her own title again, as well as various miniseries and short-run comics.
(Photo by Marvel Comics)
Once trademarks were secured, Marvel shopped Jen around as a potential series in her own right. She nearly made her TV debut in 1990’s The Death of the Incredible Hulk TV movie. ABC was also circling a She-Hulk series around the same time, but neither her cameo nor the series came to fruition. Soon after, Larry Cohen began working on a She-Hulk film with Brigitte Nielsen set to star, but that never materialized either.
At one point in the 2010s, ABC and Marvel Television were also developing a female-led series that very well could have been another attempt at She-Hulk. That plan, whichever character it was based on, was snapped into dust when Marvel Studios took control of all TV operation in the summer of 2019. Around the same time, studio president Kevin Feige announced at the 2019 D23 Expo that She-Hulk would join the roster of Disney+ series. The other series announced that day included Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Knight, and while all four premises could make great television, She-Hulk has long been ready for prime time.
(Photo by Marvel Comics)
To a certain extent, the pitch for She-Hulk should be one of the easiest sells in television: a single female lawyer who also happens to be a Marvel superhero. In fact, this was the basis for a 2014 She-Hulk comic book series by writer Charles Soule – a practicing attorney at the time – artist Javier Pulido, and colorist Munsta Vincente. After a number of years guest-starring in superhero books (and with a new She-Hulk taking Jen’s place), Soule and his team moved her to the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she went into a small practice defending other super-powered beings. Along for the ride were the potentially supernatural paralegal Angie Huang, her pet monkey Hei Hei, and Patsy Walker (a.k.a. Hellcat) as a private eye on retainer.
Jen’s cases included representing Doctor Doom’s son’s attempt to obtain political asylum, clearing an aged Steve Rogers of a wrongful death wrap stemming all the way back to 1940s, and getting a small-time villain’s widow her due share of a patent stolen by Stark Industries. It even had a “season-long mystery” in the form of the Blue File – a incident Jen was involved in but could not remember to save her life.
Additionally, Jen’s office was in a building filled with other super-powered entrepreneurs, and by the series’ conclusion, Howard the Duck moved in down the hall. Playful with Marvel history and with gripping storytelling in its own right, the Soule She-Hulk series can be seen as a proof of concept for the TV show Marvel Television wanted to make… or the show Marvel Studios will make.
(Photo by Albert L. Ortega, Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
We’re betting the series will have a similar comedic edge, thanks to lead writer Jessica Gao and executive producer Kat Coiro. Gao cut her teeth as a writer on Rick and Morty – she wrote the meme-friendly “Pickle Rick” episode. Her other credits include episodes of Robot Chicken and The Mighty B! Coiro, meanwhile, is a veteran director from shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She is currently slated to helm the pilot and direct several more episodes.
Of course, the comedy Gao and Coiro may mine from the comics is not limited to Soule’s time with the character; writers like John Byrne and Peter David also found the premise to be a solid driver of laughs. They also found the character offered plenty of dramatic stakes. A more recent run by writer Mariko Tamaki reframed Jen’s ability to Hulk out as a form of PTSD, using the concept for a more serious tale. Though she eventually returned to super-heroing as She-Hulk, the story illustrated just how malleable the character could be, and it re-established that Jen could live her life in a more human guise.
(Photo by Dee Cercone/Everett Collection)
After years of speculation and names like Betty Gilpin, Alison Brie, and Kerry Washington bandied about by fans, Marvel shocked everyone by signing up Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany to play Jen. As her BBC America series revealed, she is great with drama and no slouch with comedy. Various guest roles on shows like Parks and Recreation also underscored those comedic chops.
That should work in her favor, as the series appears to be leaning more into that aspect of the character than, say, an Avengers-style adventure or the more serious drama of Tamaki’s story. But Maslany’s casting left people wondering if she will play Jen and She-Hulk, or if someone else will be her Lou Ferrigno and slather on some green paint to portray “Shulkie.”
For much of her time in the comics, Jen has remained a statuesque (and green) force for justice and the law. Maslany’s relatively diminutive height suggests one of two equally valid options: she will Hulk out when necessary or, like Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce in Avengers: Endgame, her entire performance will be motion captured so Jen can be animated into every scene. These Marvel shows are said to be quite expensive, so the money is there to do it. Alternatively, the story could see Jen learning to balance herself with a more Hulk-half and see her practicing law as She-Hulk by the end of the first season. Well, assuming She-Hulk is intended as a multi-season series, of course. Marvel has been imprecise about its status as a limited series like WandaVision or Loki.
The fact is, there is a great story to tell with Maslany as Jen – and that’s before you consider all of the Marvel elements it could introduce or even reintroduce.
(Photo by Marvel Comics)
When Marvel Television and Marvel Studios became separate corporate entities thanks to a restructuring at Disney, the plan to keep everything connected dissipated, leaving Manhattan as the purview of the Netflix Defenders scheme. Marvel’s other famous lawyer, Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox), led the way on Daredevil while Patsy Walker transformed into Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) on Jessica Jones.
But when plans for the Marvel series on Disney+ became public, Netflix became less interested in committing to more Defenders. Across 2018 and 2019, a bloodbath ensued as Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and Jessica Jones were all cancelled. Though various reasons were offered, it was clear Disney becoming a direct competitor of Netflix soured the relationship.
As a New York-based lawyer – sometimes with her own firm, sometimes as part of a bigger and more prestigious one – Jen is the perfect character to re-introduce some of these lost Manhattan residents. We’d love to see Taylor return as a reformed Hellcat who works for Jen as a repayment for getting her out of the Raft early. We’d also love to see the character re-imagined as a more direct version of the Patsy Walker seen in the pages of Soule’s She-Hulk. And it only seems like a matter of time before Jen faces Matt Murdoch in court – either played by Cox or someone entirely new.
(Photo by Barry Wetcher/©Netflix, David Giesbrecht/©Netflix)
Timing is, of course, an issue. Marvel has something of a non-compete clause with Netflix regarding the characters on those shows. The clause is set to expire two years after each show debuted its final season on Netflix, but Marvel cannot even begin to talk about developing shows with the characters in the interim. As it happens, characters from Luke Cage are, presumably, available to Marvel Studios now as that series debuted its final season on June 18, 2018. Matt Murdoch, Foggy, and the rest of Daredevil‘s crew will likely be free for use in a month’s time. Jessica Jones characters, however, must remain sidelined until June 14, 2021. The situation may keep Hellcat from being part of the main She-Hulk cast, but Marvel could probably pull off a special guest appearance by Cox’s Murdoch if they are so inclined.
Meanwhile, She-Hulk could also suggest things like the Baxter Building (home of the Fantastic Four), Doctor Doom’s homeland of Latveria, or, potentially, the Mutant teens who call Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester County home.
That’s one of the great things about She-Hulk as a format: it can be as small as a courtroom drama or go as big as an Avengers film.
(Photo by Marvel Comics)
It is currently unclear when the series will debut on Disney+. Going by the original D23 plan, it was set to be part of the MCU’s Phase 5 calendar and premiere sometime after Hawkeye. But with that series still lacking a critical star, it appears She-Hulk is moving into the post-Loki slot for the end of Phase 4 and a potential late 2021 release. Of course, that could change quickly, so consider a 2022 debut the most likely scenario.