One of the many great parts of Avengers: Endgame was the fact that Professor Hulk was a viable character, able to exist in normal scenes without sticking out like a sore thumb. Once they had that tech figured out, it was only a matter of time before She-Hulk became part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now, here we are, with the announcement of She-Hulk getting her own Disney+ show.
She-Hulk is high on the list of “top Marvel characters to not yet show up in the MCU,” especially now that both the X-Men and Fantastic Four are inevitable arrivals. Since her introduction in 1980, she’s been a major fixture in Marvel and a fresh enough take on an existing property that she rarely feels redundant when standing next to her brutish cousin.
So who is She-Hulk? Let’s take a look …
THE ORIGINAL SERIES
The funny thing about She-Hulk’s creation was that she was made for the sake of legal strategy. The Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk TV show was a massive hit and Marvel came to a dire realisation. Since it was an easy trope to give a popular male character a female counterpart (ie. the Bionic Woman), there was strong potential that the TV show would introduce a female version of the Hulk. But if that happened then the character would belong to the TV show. It’s like why Skeeter from Muppet Babies never shows up in actual Muppets stuff…
So Stan Lee exclaimed, “John Buscema! Get over here! We’re making a She-Hulk comic!” Then he let David Anthony Kraft and Mike Vosburg take care of the rest of the 25-issue run.
Funny enough, with Savage She-Hulk #1 existing to counter the TV show, the very first narration box even calls attention to the show, making a joke about whether Banner’s first name is David or Bruce.
Jennifer Walters starts out as a mild-mannered lawyer until the day her cousin Bruce Banner shows up because he needs someone to confide in about his whole Hulk situation. They’re hanging out for a good 10 minutes before a criminal involved in one of Jen’s cases shows up and shoots her. In order to save Jen, Bruce knocks together a blood transfusion and then splits. Jen soon discovers that she can transform into a giant, jacked, green woman, and so we have She-Hulk.
It’s your usual Bronze Age fare after that. She does double-life hero stuff because She-Hulk gets blamed for tragedies. The supporting cast is boring. The villains are forgettable (outside of a half-man/half-elephant).
Somewhere, it’s established that Hulk isn’t a rage monster simply because of the gamma radiation, but because Banner spent so much of his life holding down his anger. She-Hulk plays on that by showing that instead of being driven by fury, her second form is based on Jen’s lack of confidence. She-Hulk is strong in all the ways Jen Walters could never bring herself to be.
THE FANTASTIC HULK
With her series done, She-Hulk went on to become a member of the Avengers. She remained a regular part of the team up until Brian Michael Bendis’ mid-00s reinvention of the gang. What’s interesting is that she was actually part of two major teams at the same time for a period.
As an Avenger, she was pulled into Secret Wars, where a cosmic hipster forced the heroes and villains to fight for the sake of Marvel raking in the sales. Outside of Spider-Man’s symbiotic black costume, the biggest development to come out of the story was Ben Grimm getting cured of being the Thing and remaining in space. She-Hulk took his spot as the Fantastic Four’s down-to-earth muscle for the next few years.
Naturally, Thing returned eventually and She-Hulk was no longer needed. Regardless, this experiment was put together by one John Byrne and he wasn’t finished with She-Hulk by a long shot.
Having found an identity more from her team adventures than her original solo run, She-Hulk gets a more defining spotlight with the 60-issue run of Sensational She-Hulk. No longer playing up a dual identity, Jen dives headfirst into the ridiculousness of the Marvel universe and everyone in it. A lot of it is played for laughs, including She-Hulk’s newfound ability to break the fourth wall.
Fun fact: if you use She-Hulk to defeat Deadpool in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, she’ll give him hell for ripping off her early ’90s style.
It’s a fun five years of comics that we’re rather surprised hasn’t been revisited.
Outside being a fixture in the Avengers, She-Hulk doesn’t have much going on until the mid-00s, when Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo relaunched her with another wacky series of misadventures that doesn’t quite go full Deadpool, but does play with the ridiculousness of the superhero world. More specifically, the ridiculousness of law in a superhero world.
Like, if ghosts exist, can they testify in court? If Spider-Man is testifying, how do you know he’s the real Spider-Man? Crazy stuff like that.
Unfortunately, the second half of the series doesn’t work out as well. Mainly because Dan Slott goes into full ‘continuity cop’ mode and has to bring any changes to the status quo from other Marvel writers back to earth, including his own interesting developments. Like there was an X-Men story where She-Hulk and Juggernaut had a brief fling. Rather than ignore or build on that, there’s a whole reveal that it was a She-Hulk from another dimension who did the deed with the unstoppable one.
Peter David took over writing duties after Slott left and while it didn’t last long, it wasn’t half bad.
There was a time when there were SO MANY Hulk-based characters running around at the same time. Rick Jones (A-Bomb), General Ross (Red Hulk), Betty Ross (Red She-Hulk), Hulk’s barbarian space son (Skaar), Hulk’s alternate future daughter (Lyra), and not to mention all of Hulk’s space gladiator buddies who had settled on Earth. Jen was…there.
Even though she didn’t leave much of a lasting impression, Lyra starred in her own miniseries, All-New Savage She-Hulk, and Jen acted as a mentor and a supporting character. So Lyra’s deal? Okay, deep breath.
In an alternate future, men and women are barbarians going through a literal gender war. The amazon warrior Thundra has had a few run-ins with the Hulk via time-travel and decided to make the strongest warrior ever via getting impregnated by him. In a non-sexual way. Really. As a teenager, Lyra the She-Hulk was ostracised by her peers for being partially created by a dude, but she could kick ass and that was what was important. She went back to the present to sleep with and/or kill Norman Osborn and hooked up with Jen along the way.
Anyway, Lyra’s deal is that anger is her weakness. If she gets mad, she gets weaker.
So Jonathan Hickman wrote Fantastic Four and FF (Future Foundation) concurrently and brought huge interest into that side of Marvel for a bit. A couple of years later, Hickman wrote the 2015 version of Secret Wars, which was partially Marvel’s way of getting rid of Fantastic Four/FF for a while because of movie rights issues. In the in-between, Matt Fraction wrote the two titles.
His Fantastic Four was more or less forgettable, except for a scene where a rightfully annoyed Human Torch ranted at Reed and Sue for constantly patronising him.
FF was something very different. Fraction teamed with Mike Allred and had a team of She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Medusa, and a pop-star named Darla who was wearing a robot Thing costume. The whole thing was easily the better series of the two and was quirky beyond belief.
LAWYERS WRITING LAWYERS
There was a time when Charles Soule wrote approximately 99% of comics. He might be writing this article for all we know. Not only is Soule incredibly prolific, but he’s also a practicing lawyer. Kind of the perfect choice for She-Hulk, right?
Javier Pulido is on art and it’s something you either love or hate. He has some really cool layouts, but Jen’s wonky eyes might take you out of the book too often.
Anyway, it’s more emphasis on She-Hulk’s lawyer stuff, including a courtroom showdown with fellow super-lawyer Daredevil. As much of a main event as that is, the highlight is She-Hulk’s time assisting Kristoff, Dr. Doom’s adopted son who is so casual about the utter weirdness of his father’s machinations.
THE FAMILY BANNER
You know how we have been gushing about all the fun runs with She-Hulk? Lately, she’s been…not so sunny. The story Civil War II happened, which not only started with She-Hulk getting beaten within an inch of her life by Thanos, but later on, Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner. Don’t worry, Bruce got better thanks to very bizarre comic book reasons, but for a time, Jen had to deal with some nasty trauma.
It was here that they brought back a concept from the early 90s run: She-Hulk has a gray form that makes her rage-driven and more like Bruce. Her new series was titled Hulk because of her daily struggle with not turning into the beast and ruining everything. Mariko Tamaki’s run on the book is tense and takes its time getting to the monster at the end of the book, but is still not as dark as the pitch would initially have you believe. It’s not about living with trauma, but living through trauma and finding the light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s fine for what it is, but we’re hoping it’s not the tone of the Disney+ show. At least MCU Thanos isn’t around to clobber her.