She-Hulk originated as part of a social conscience move by Marvel Comics in the 1970’s to increase diversity among its roster of super powered heroes. Greatly influenced by the civil rights movement, Marvel established titles like Black Panther, the titular character a nod to the civil rights organization the Black Panthers. The success of these comics led Marvel to weigh in on the women’s rights movement. By the 1970’s, the movement coalesced around the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, popularly referred to as the ERA. In 1972, Congress passed the ERA and submitted it to state legislatures for ratification. The ERA, if ratified, would have guaranteed women equal protection under the law from discrimination on the basis of sex. While 35 state legislatures ratified the amendment by 1977, it ultimately fell short of the 38 states, three quarters super-majority, needed to pass.
It was in the context of the women’s rights movement that Marvel Comics introduced a series of strong women characters: The Cat, Night Nurse, and Shanna the She-Devil. Greer Grant, first introduced as The Cat, was a super powered heroine who flung from buildings like Batman with her grappling hook claws (The Cat # 1-4, 1972). Grant started out as a college student who gave up her education to marry police officer Bill Nelson. After he was killed in an attempted robbery, she took a job as a lab assistant to her former college professor Joanne Tumolo, who used her as a test subject to gain super human powers. Later, the same Professor Tumolo ritually transformed her, as a life saving measure, into the were-creature Tigra (Giant Size Creatures # 1, 1974).
The Cat would be followed by the series Night Nurse. Night Nurse was a mix of supernatural and medical drama (Night Nurse, #1-4, 1972). Shanna the She-Devil would join her contemporaries The Cat and Night Nurse in her own series as a pre-historic hero (Shanna the She-Devil #1-4, 1972). While each of these comics were short-lived, their characters would make regular appearances in the Marvel Universe, particularly in team ups with The Avengers and The Fantastic Four. Night Nurse would later even make her way onto television as a regular character in the popular Netflix series Daredevil.
On November 30, 1979, on the heels of this first wave of women super-heroes, She-Hulk premiered in her own book, The Savage She-Hulk. Unlike the aforementioned, Jennifer Walters was a crusading prosecutorial lawyer. It is her work as a prosecutor that led to her becoming a superhero. After a near fatal assassination attempt, her visiting cousin Bruce Banner gave her a life saving blood transfusion. But, being gamma radiated blood it turned her into a hulk like him. She-Hulk, though, had several distinguishing characteristics. Unlike The Hulk, She-Hulk retained her mind and, in later comics, could transform into her hulk form at will.
While her initial run did not last, She-Hulk would go on to have an impressive career with Marvel. She was a member of The Fantastic Four when The Thing chose to remain in Battleworld at the end of Secret Wars. John Byrne’s run on The Sensational She-Hulk would provide a lighter side to the characters as Jennifer Walters loved to break the “fourth wall” and speak directly to the reader. Charles Soule’s later take on the character would emphasize her legal prowess as She-Hulk found herself starting her own law firm specializing in superheroes. As an aside, Charles Soule is a lawyer, and being one myself, I can say that his portrayal of the legal profession and the pressures of law firm life is spot on.
Big Shoes To Fill
With big shoes to fill, the new series from Marvel Studios, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, follows the success of the comics in establishing a strong woman hero. She-Hulk borrows from both the Byrne and Soule runs on the character while bringing Walters firmly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Episode one finds attorney Jennifer Walters preparing closing arguments for an upcoming case. At the conclusion of her practice closing, the show quickly moves into a truncated form of her origin story. After a car accident involving her cousin Bruce Banner, his blood is accidentally mixed with hers. Thus, Jennifer Walters becomes She-Hulk.
She-Hulk demonstrates promise as a legal drama. First, Walters does not want to quit her job to become a full time superhero. She likes being a lawyer. And unlike the flubs in the 2002 Daredevil film, we know that Jennifer Walters is a prosecutor. The paralegal even says that she will one day be DA (District Attorney). In the coming episodes, it will be interesting to see how the show explores her professional life.
More Attorney At Law
The rest of the episode is essentially a comical training montage as Jen and Bruce playfully poke at one another and compete for who is the better hulk. This is the weakness of her introduction. Unlike the Disney Plus show Moon Knight where an entire episode is devoted to establishing Steven Grant as a character, She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law jumps right into the action. The strength of the show is its portrayal of a strong female character. Canadian actor Tatiana Maslany does a great job of embodying She-Hulk with strength and intelligence. There is also something relatable when her boorish co-counsel tells her “not to blow it” as she is about to give closing arguments at trial.
The nearly 30 minutes of hulk comedy deprives the audience of seeing more of Jennifer Walters as the successful attorney she is before her transformation. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Professor Hulk is underutilized left only for comic relief. By not exploring more of the family history, there is only a superficial dynamic between the two. Ultimately this all leads to a disappointing first episode but one that shows enough promise to continue watching the series.