Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?
Air Date: 17 August 2022 to 12 October 2022
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Todd Phelps, Jameela Jamil, Josh Segarra, Ginger Gonzaga, Tim Roth, and Mark Ruffalo
Following the incredible success of the Incredible Hulk television show, Marvel had Stan Lee create a female counterpart to the Green Goliath to beat Incredible Hulk producer Kenneth Johnson to the punch. A powerful feminist icon for Marvel who has been a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk shared the spotlight with her cousin in the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the nineties and very nearly got her own live-action movie back then, too; Brigitte Nielsen was even cast to bring the character to life at the time. Decades later, Marvel Studios announced that She-Hulk would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a nine-episode series streaming exclusively on Disney+, with Kat Coiro placed as the guiding hand behind the series and Tatiana Maslany cast in the dual role. She-Hulk’s visual effects were the work of multiple effects studios and initially caused some premature backlash, and the show promised not only to feature Mark Ruffalo as Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in a mentor role but also the long-awaited return of Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/The Abomination. After being delayed due to COVID-19, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law released to largely positive reviews; critics praised the performances and interpersonal slant towards a legal drama, and the comedic aspects were particularly lauded. Others, however, were not so impressed; some criticised the pacing, the CGI effects were a massive point of contention, and the show was slandered by online trolls throughout its run. Regardless, She-Hulk was also praised as an empowering series for female viewers that tackled the subject toxic masculinity and was highly regarded if only for returning a beloved, seemingly forgotten MCU character to the franchise. Finally, unlike other Disney+ MCU shows, Kevin Feige stated that She-Hulk had the potential to not only gain additional seasons but to also cross over into the MCU’s big-budget feature films.
After a car crash sees her blood contaminated with the Gamma-irradiated blood of her cousin, Bruce Banner, lawyer Jennifer Walters (Maslany) finds herself able to transform into a superpowered hulk. As she tries to adapt to her new situation, she tackles a series of unique superhero court cases and finds herself targeted by a slanderous online smear campaign.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law begins in medias res; Jen is already capable of becoming She-Hulk, her best friend and paralegal Nikki Ramos (Gonzaga) is aware of her abilities, and she immediately showcases her additional ability to address the audience to catch us up with her origin story. Jen was on a road trip with Bruce and the two of them were involved in a car crash caused by the sudden appearance of a Sakaaran spacecraft. While rescuing Bruce from the wreckage, some of his blood drips into her wound, instantly transforming her into a savage hulk in the first of many call-backs to the pilot episode of The Incredible Hulk. Disoriented and dishevelled, she’s unquestionably supported and fixed up by a gaggle of helpful women at a bar but is triggered by a group of pushy guys before being tackled by the Hulk and brought to his secluded island laboratory for testing and training. Jen is distraught at the idea of being handicapped by such a life-destroying condition and immediately annoyed and critical of the Hulk’s attempts to mentor her; this ends up going both ways, however, as the Hulk’s lifelong syllabus on controlling his rage is rendered mute by Jen’s natural ability to retain her personality and intelligence in her Hulk form since she’s so used to managing her emotions, both in public and at work, to avoid lashing out at every creep or being branded as inferior because of her gender, which allows her to willingly transform at will because, essentially, she’s always angry.
This presents the unique dichotomy of She-Hulk; while the Hulk strived for years to master his abilities and to reconcile his two warring halves, Jen immediately has full control of not only her strength but also her transformations; though she’s physically smaller and less savage than the Hulk, she showcases all of his abilities with the added benefit of greater physical control. However, despite the Hulk’s best efforts, Jen has no desire to abandon her life and her career to be a superhero; after a brawl, he reluctantly agrees to let her live her own life, but things quickly become complicated for the superpowered lawyer when, during a session in court, she’s forced to reveal her dual identity in front of the world when “superpowered influencer” Mary Macpherran/Titania (Jamil) literally crashes in and threatens lives. It takes Jen some time to embrace her superhero identity; she regularly distances herself from the She-Hulk name and constantly downplays the appeal and benefits of being a superhero, and her condition comes to negatively affect her when she’s fired and unable to find work at a conventional law firm. Holden Holliway (Steve Coulter) throws her a lifeline by offering her the chance to join a superhero law division at Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway (GLK&H); though initially annoyed that she’s been hired to represent clients as She-Hulk and as more of a publicity stunt than for her legal skills, she’s won over by her new office and just being back at work. Unfortunately for Jen, her troubles only escalate; the press constantly hound her, reporting rumours as facts and often belittling her because of her gender, and she’s even forced to set aside her personal bias in order to represent Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Roth) at his parole hearing. This all comes to a head when Titania releases a rage of beauty products using the She-Hulk name and sues her for misuse of the copyright, which ties into a central theme of the series, which revolves around Jen learning to embrace both sides of her personality, the meek and somewhat awkward Jen and the sexually confident and alluring She-Hulk; throughout the show, she takes great strides in reconciling both in the court room by embracing her moniker and even later donning a form-fitting superhero outfit to directly assist others.
This character growth is full of little stumbles, however. Not only is she faced with an overbearing family who clearly care for her but can’t help but interfere and put her down, her love life is a bit of a shambles. Even after she reluctantly changes her online dating profile to a She-Hulk one, Jen is forced to endure a series of disastrous dates with self-obsessed, disrespectful, and down-right creepy men who either disregard her entirely or care only about comparing her to her more famous cousin, such as the uncomfortably obsessed Todd Phelps (Jon Bass), who later forms an entire online movement, Intelligencia, designed to hate on She-Hulk. Because of this, and Jen’s low self-esteem and desire for attention, it doesn’t take much for Arthur (Michel Curiel) to make an impression; he seems genuinely interested in her and actually engages her in conversation, however he has no interest in Jen and thus isn’t interested in pursuing a serious relationship with her. While attending the wedding of her high school friend, Lulu (Patti Harrison), Jen is surprised to make a connection with the charming Josh Miller (Trevor Salter), especially as she’s forced to stay in her human form so as not to steal Lulu’s spotlight. Josh appears to be the opposite of Arthur; he’s only interested in Jen and never really asks about She-Hulk and they actually take the time to date rather than jumping into bed right away. Unfortunately, after they do sleep together, he ghosts her, driving her to distraction; while she finds a measure of closure and self-respect thanks to some unlikely advice from Blonsky and the gaggle of misfit, rehabilitated supervillains at his retreat, she’s driven into an uncontrollable fury when Josh leaks her personal information, including photos and videos of her, to Intelligencia, resulting in her briefly losing the support of the public and being imprisoned.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad news for Jen in the romance department. While he initially rubs her the wrong way by proving to be a competent lawyer, blind, flirtatiously charming Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) proves to be a suitable confidante and partner after not only encouraging Jen to help others with her powers when the law fails them but also being unmasked as the superpowered vigilante Daredevil. Together, they’re able to rescue a mutual acquaintance, eccentric superhero fashion guru Luke Jacobson (Griffin Matthews), from wannabe superhero-turned-supervillain Eugene Patilio/Leap-Frog (Brandon Stanley) and, in the process, She-Hulk learns a little bit about what it means to be a superhero. The chemistry between them boils over following their fight and the series ends with the suggestion that they’re going to be a regular thing going forward since he joins her and her family for a meal. Although he steals the show in every scene, Daredevil isn’t the only guest star to feature in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law; Wong (Benedict Wong) shows up a few times, first to help with Blonsky’s appeal and then to ask for She-Hulk’s aid in barring disgraced sorcerer Donny Blaze (Rhys Coiro) from threatening the fabric of reality with his reckless magic. Similarly, the Hulk also plays an important role in the first episode; initially appearing as Bruce Banner thanks to a convenient inhibitor, he assumes his “Smart Hulk” form and puts Jen’s abilities to the test. He’s frustrated by her not taking his lessons seriously and tries to emphasise the burden and responsibility of being a Hulk, but ultimately trusts her to live her life her own way and disappears into space for his own side story, one that we’re not privy to but see the results of in the finale when he returns from Sakarr with his son, Skaar (Wil Deusner). We even get a couple of celebrity cameos as David Otunga and rapper Megan Thee Stallion feature in the series but the show’s breakout original character is clearly the brazen Madisynn King (Patty Guggenheim), a career party animal who makes a shady deal with a demonic goat and ends up forming an unlikely bond with Wong over their shared love of television.
At its core, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a superhero comedy with a fair amount of courtroom drama serving as the focal point or backdrop of each episode. Whether it’s Jen trying to find a job in her field, Nikki and their co-workers Augustus “Pug” Pugliese (Segarra) and Mallory Book (Renée Elise Goldsberry) working cases involving shapeshifting elves or immortal cuckolds, rogue sorcerers or bumbling heroes, superhero law is naturally a large focus of the show. Conjecture, hearsay, trademarks, and faulty manufacturing are all elements that need to be addressed in a court of law, just like in normal life, but the superhero slant definitely makes these aspects more entertaining to watch. She-Hulk is often representing or even defending individuals who have wronged her in the past; she puts her neck on the line to vouch for the rehabilitated Blonsky, is called to speak to misogynistic Dennis Bukowski’s (Drew Matthews) stupidity, and is even forced to parade her former dates in order to prove that she identifies as She-Hulk. That’s not to say that the show is without any action scenes; Jen may prefer to use her legal skills more than her fists to resolve conflicts but she gets into a number of scraps throughout the show, often for comedic effect. Her first fight with Titania, for example, is over in a single punch and Jen forgets herself for a moment when she’s jumped by Wrecking Crew – Dirk Garthwaite/The Wrecker (Nick Gomez), Eliot Franklin/Thunderball (Justin Eaton), Henry Camp/Bulldozer (Tennison Barry), and Brian Calusky/Piledriver (Kyle Murillo) – when they try to steal her blood using Asgardian-powered construction tools, before easily dispatching them as She-Hulk. She-Hulk is specifically recruited by Wong to fend off the goblin demons Donny unwittingly summons, and she throws down with Titania again at Lulu’s wedding, much to the delight of the guests, but she chooses to leave the violence to Daredevil when confronting Leap-Frog and instead offers him legal counsel. Indeed, She-Hulk largely subverts a lot of the usual expectations when it comes to action sequences; she openly criticises Daredevil’s reliance on stealth and denies him another fight in a hallway and even finds herself really opening up to Blonsky and the oddball guests at his retreat since they can relate to her identity crisis.
She-Hulk’s true enemy here isn’t the monstrous Abomination, who’s now repentant and committed to offering emotional support and spiritual guidance, or even Titania, who’s strength makes her almost as formidable a foe as her spiteful nature. Instead, She-Hulk’s greatest foe throughout the series is toxic masculinity. We get our first taste of this moments into the first episode when Dennis undermines Jen’s abilities and suggests he’s a more capable lawyer than her; he continues to talk down to her even when addressing She-Hulk and, later, refuses to have her or Mallory represent him as he’d rather have a man. A shallow, arrogant little man, he refers to women as “hot chick” and “it” but it’s this delusional nature which ends up winning him the case against catfisher Runa (Peg O’Keef). Although a small-time annoyance, Dennis is just one example of the persecution Jen faces, both as herself and as She-Hulk; when the Wrecking Crew confront her, they accuse her of flaunting herself when she’s simply living her life and the press are constantly using derogatory terms to label her. Very few males treat her as an equal or with the respect she deserves, allowing the likes of Pug, Murdock, and even Blonsky to stand out as they actually engage with her and don’t condescend her or try to undermine her intelligence and abilities. Male chauvinism isn’t limited to just She-Hulk either; Craig Hollis/Mr. Immortal (David Pasquesi) lands himself in hot water after abandoning his many marriages by faking his death, leading to him not only earning Mallory and Nikki’s ire but also being forced to agree to a fair settlement tailored for each of his slighted partners. No male is more troublesome to She-Hulk’s stature than Todd, however; using the online alias “HulkKing”, Todd forms Intelligencia specifically to slander her and create a following of likeminded assholes to steal a sample of her blood so they can take the power they feel she doesn’t deserve. Still, luckily for Todd and his vile followers, Jen herself takes issue with the redundant nature of their plot and literally demands that the show try something a little more original, tailoring the ending into something a little less derivative and seeing that the HulkKing and his cohorts are exposed for the toxic, petty-minded jerks they are.
There’s a real nasty environment that’s brewed online in the last few years where any product that even dares to try something new or feature a strong female lead, or include any kind of diversity, is immediately labelled as “woke”. Personally, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean and find it extremely degrading as it’s just some catch-all term mindless, anonymous idiots use to slander anything they don’t like. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law deals very heavily in this topic; although she largely ignores her online haters (primarily because she knows they wouldn’t dare say anything to her face), Jen is constantly besmirched and belittled both subtly and explicitly throughout the show. It’s small wonder, then, that she goes on a rampage, one eerily reminiscent of Carrie (De Palma, 1976), when Intelligencia publicly slut shame her at an award ceremony. This ceremony is perhaps the best example of the struggles Jen faces in her career; multiple women are named Female Lawyer of the Year and they’re paraded on stage like it’s a Miss Universe pageant, and Jen even foreshadows this when she quite rightly rants to her cousin about how difficult it is for a women to succeed as she’s slandered the moment she shows any weakness.
But I know what you want to hear me really talk about: the special effects. First of all, the Hulk looks fantastic; his CGI model is on point, which is to be expected as they pretty much perfected the look in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), but still surprising for a television show, especially as a Hulk-centric show seems to me to be one of the more costly MCU projects. Similarly, the Abomination looks really good; I’m really digging his more comic-accurate redesign and even enjoyed seeing him as this rational pacifist rather than some mindless monster, though I will admit that his face was a little off and his transformation was a little too “clean”. She-Hulk suffers from this a bit as well; she simply grows larger or smaller, her custom-made clothes expanding to accommodate her, so we’re largely beyond the days of dramatic transformation sequences for these characters. As for She-Hulk…she mostly looks perfectly fine, but it does vary wildly. Given that she’s not as monstrous as the Hulk, I do wonder if it might’ve been better to use her on-set stand-ins, Maliah Arrayah and Devon Lewis, to actually portray the character and enhance her with CGI, imposing Maslany’s face onto the larger doubles as a modern take on the 1970’s show (something the show does actually do when it lovingly recreates The Incredible Hulk’s iconic opening sequence). I think the things that bother me the most is her hair, which looks like a bad wig most of the time, and her eyes and face, which are a little lifeless and blank at times. It definitely works but it does stick out quite a bit and I can see why people would be distracted by it; low lighting definitely aids the presentation, but I admire how often Jen is seen in broad daylight as She-Hulk. Thankfully, Daredevil is here to again make up for some of these effects; now garbed in a yellow and red number, this is a fantastic return to form for the character, who seems much more jovial and far less bleak than in his Netflix show, allowing him to kick ass and be intimidating but also be a fun and attractive prospect for Jen. Hell, I even enjoyed the Leap-Frog suit and the inclusion of small-time, ridiculous villains like William Taurens/Man-Bull (Nathan Hurd), Alejandro Montoya/El Águila (Joseph Castillo-Midyett), Saracen (Terrence Clowe), and Alexander Gentry/Porcupine (Jordan Aaron Ford). I always enjoy it when live-action adaptations turn to the more obscure and ludicrous characters, and they really worked in the context of this show and played a surprisingly poignant part in shaping Jen’s acceptance of herself and her duality.
Of course, one major aspect that separates She-Hulk from most comic book characters is her ability to break the fourth wall, which is present right from the start and, while characters occasionally react to this, it’s mostly just played for laughs and ignored. Jen habitually addresses the camera, generally asking us not to judge her, addressing the abundance of cameos throughout the show, and questioning the plot at certain points. This metatextual approach extends to the title sequence, which changes a number of times to reflect what’s happening (such as Jen being out of work, Titania’s lawsuit, and Jen being barred from transforming into She-Hulk). The aforementioned recreation of the 1970’s intro was my favourite instance of this but all this metatextual commentary comes to a head in the finale; after being forced to wear an inhibitor after her rampage, Jen is at her lowest point when Todd transforms into a Hulk-like creature and even Titania and the Hulk show up at the last minute in a chaotic attempt to have all her separate storylines converge. She’s so unsatisfied with the conclusion that she literally escapes to the Marvel Studios: Assembled (Baruh, 2021) documentary to confront She-Hulk’s staff, who are amusingly non-plussed at a fictional character gate-crashing their meeting and direct her to “Kevin”, who turns out not to be MCU executive producer Kevin Feige but an artificial intelligence which makes all of the decisions about the MCU. Somewhat reminiscent of the divisive finale to The Matrix Reloaded (Wachowskis, 2003), Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus/K.E.V.I.N. (Brian T. Delaney) continues the metatextual narrative by asking that she transform back into Jen as she’s “very expensive” and the visual effects team has “moved on to another project” and explaining that it uses advanced algorithms to create “near perfect” products, the quality of which is left up to the internet. Using her legal skills, Jen’s able to argue for more originality in her show, criticising Todd’s plot and the entire finale and demanding that she get the ending she deserves rather than what’s expected. She then goes on to address many of the issues people have with the MCU and even asks about the X-Men before being denied such a boon in the future and left to enjoy her happy ending.
I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as much as I did; like a lot of people, I was mainly watching it to witness the glorious official integration of Daredevil into the MCU but the whole show was really good from start to finish. At nine episodes, it’s longer than usual for a Marvel Disney+ show and there’s an argument that a couple of the episodes could’ve been trimmed down or had their plot points combined into other episodes, but I have no complaints about the length or the content. It was a great introduction to this fresh new Hulk character, one who’s fully capable of defending herself and having a successful career and yet as conflicted and full of doubts as anyone else. Jen’s ability to break the fourth wall helps her to stand out even more and enabled the show to have a fun, carefree vibe while still holding up a mirror to the online trolls and toxic masculinity that is so prevalent in this day and age. While they were only minor roles, I also enjoyed Jen’s supporting cast; her doting, if annoying, family, Nikki’s endless enthusiasm, and Pug’s awkwardness at being forced to integrate with Intelligencia all made for some compelling and entertaining side characters. The courtroom drama was also very enjoyable; I liked seeing She-Hulk coming up with legal loopholes, even if it meant embarrassing herself, to win cases and I’d like to see the second season spend a little more time in the courtroom with some of Marvel’s more colourful and obscure characters. Alterations to the Abomination and the continuation of the Hulk’s mini arc also landed well with me; it was great to see Blonsky back, and cast in a sympathetic light and elevated into something more than just a brutish solider/supervillain and I was left really intrigued to see what’s next for the Hulk family. Yes, She-Hulk’s special effects can be wonky but I fully expect to see this addressed in another season; they work and can be impressive but you will have to get over it to fully enjoy the show. Also, if you’re one of these “woke” crusaders it’s probably better you watch something else as She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is very much geared towards sending a positive message about rising above hate and valuing people based on their ability and merits rather than belittling them because a small-minded minority think of themselves as somehow “superior”.
What did you think about She-Hulk: Attorney at Law? Did the CGI used to bring She-Hulk to life put you off? What did you think to her ability to break the fourth wall? Were you a fan of the legal drama and comedy aspects? What did you think to the Abomination’s character growth and the reintroduction of Daredevil? Did you enjoy the attack on toxic masculinity or was it too “woke” for you? Where would you like to see the character go in the future and are there any She-Hulk storylines or characters you’d like to see included in future seasons? Whatever you think about the show, or She-Hulk in general, leave a comment below or on my social media and be sure to check out my other Hulk content!
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