She-Hulk’s Sexual Liberation Is Crucial for Marvel and Disney+
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law promises the most progressive Marvel Studios series to date on Disney+.
The trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law provides the best look yet at the upcoming superhero comedy-drama. Reservations about the CGI aside, the footage hints at what could be Marvel’s most empowering Disney+ series to date.
Like her Marvel Comics counterpart, Tatiana Maslany’s big, green superhero is comfortable with who she is. And she takes ownership of her sexuality, in a largely sexless superhero genre. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is poised to be the next step in the evolution of not only the title character but also the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Who Is Marvel’s She-Hulk?
Jennifer Walters was an attorney who became She-Hulk as a result of a life-saving blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. But while Jennifer was timid, her green, 6-foot-7 alter ego was absolutely savage. Hence, the title of her 1980 debut comic, The Savage She-Hulk.
The last Marvel superhero created by Stan Lee (with artist Sal Buscema), She-Hulk owes her existence to concerns the producer of The Incredible Hulk TV series would spin off a female version of the character. (The producer, Kenneth Johnson, had done just that with The Six Million Dollar Man, which introduced the Bionic Woman.)
However, She-Hulk eventually rose above her cynical origin, and her brutish nature. Instead of being simply a female Hulk, whose monstrous transformation was triggered by anger, Jennifer retained her intelligence. But gone was her timid nature, replaced by an uninhibited assertiveness.
Sensational She-Hulk: The Evolution of Jennifer Walters
She-Hulk was initially very much a product of her time. Her stature and superhuman strength set her apart from most female superheroes, but she was nevertheless depicted in a strategically ripped white dress intended to titillate a male readership. Batman v Superman screenwriter David S. Goyer somewhat-infamously observed that “She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy” represented by the Hulk — only as “a giant green porn star.”
Goyer’s comments drew plenty of criticism. However, it’s difficult to look at The Savage She-Hulk and conclude the character wasn’t designed as the object of the male gaze.
That began to change following the end of her first series in 1982, when She-Hulk joined the Avengers. OK, not immediately. In her first mission, Jennifer fought supervillains while wearing only her bra and underwear. But within a few issues, she settled into what would pass for a costume for years: a practical, and less-revealing, leotard.
The She-Hulk fans love owes much to writer/artist John Byrne, first on The Fantastic Four, and then on The Sensational She-Hulk. The latter cemented Jennifer as the sharp-witted and self-assured character she is today. The 1989 series also immediately established She-Hulk’s awareness that she exists in a comic book. Deadpool may be legendary for his fourth wall-breaking antics, but She-Hulk beat him to the punch by about a decade.
She-Hulk Is Powerful – and Self-Empowered
Byrne pushed the limits of mainstream comics of the 1990s. Most memorably, there was a parody of Demi Moore’s nude Vanity Fair cover, and multiple pages in which She-Hulk jumped rope, seemingly while naked. (She wasn’t, of course. Byrne was tweaking readers in search of “cheap thrills.”) This Jade Giantess was already a long way from her 1980 debut. However, she still had a ways to go.
Jennifer grew comfortable in her own (green) skin, to the point she rarely reverted to human form. What’s more, she became a sexual being. She dated plenty of men, including Fantastic Four ally Wyatt Wingfoot, Luke Cage and John Jameson, better known as The Man-Wolf (the two were even married, for a time).
But She-Hulk also had flings, most notably with demigod Hercules, a longtime subject of her fantasies, and billionaire playboy Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. A reputed romp with X-Men foe Juggernaut turned out to have involved a Jennifer from another reality. (Don’t ask.)
It’s during pillow talk with Tony that Jen broached a double standard that afflicts the real world and the Marvel Universe: Why is a promiscuous man, like Tony Stark, celebrated as a “player,” while a woman like Jen is called “a skank”?
What to Expect From She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
The trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law presents a character very much in keeping with the modern Marvel superhero. There’s no evidence that Maslany will break the fourth wall, but otherwise, the comedy-drama checks all of the boxes.
Like her comics counterpart, this Jennifer is an attorney who mutates into a big, green powerhouse following a tragedy. Her cousin Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo, attempts to coach her in taming the monster within, saying, “The transformations are triggered by anger and fear.” Jennifer’s response appears to establish the tone of the series: “Those are, like, the baseline of any woman just … existing.”
This is a woman not only taking control of newfound powers, but also her life. She becomes comfortable with her green form, going so far as to date as She-Hulk. And, just like in the comics, she’s a sexual being, something rare in the MCU. To hammer that home, the trailer’s final moments show her taking home Mr. Right — or, maybe, Mr. Right Now — and then carrying him toward the bedroom. (She-Hulk … smash?)
It’s a table-turning moment that signals She-Hulk is firmly in charge. It also caps off a journey to empowerment that began, unceremoniously, with a tattered white dress in 1980.
Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres Aug. 17 on Disney+.