She-Hulk Season 1’s Best Changes From The Comics
After smashing her way into our hearts, "She-Hulk" ended season 1 with a loving homage to comic writer John Byrne's fourth-wall-breaking approach to Jennifer Walters. Series writer Jessica Gao opted to close the Disney+ show's debut season with Jennifer's self-aware commentary, discussing how the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to end its storylines with explosive fights that weaken the narrative. (Yes, I'm still upset with the head-scratching choice to end "WandaVision" with a bombastic, "Avengers"-style face-off). "It felt natural that not only that she was in a show, but that she would have opinions about the show, especially since she just was completely betrayed by the makers of this show," Gao told Marvel.com.
Byrne's "The Sensational She-Hulk" inspired several beats in Marvel Studios' "She-Hulk" series. However, the show cleverly takes some creative detours. Sure, she experiences similar frustrations as her comic counterpart — like struggling to find a fitting balance between a demanding career and her savage alter ego. But Tatiana Maslany's She-Hulk imbues joy, agency, brawn, and wit into the beloved character that'd make co-creators Stan Lee and John Buscema smile. Here, we'll explore where the show's adaptation of familiar storylines excelled.
Jennifer's Revamped Origin Story
Jennifer Walters entered the world of Marvel Comics with 1980's "The Savage She-Hulk." After a crime boss attempts to assassinate the quick-witted lawyer, Bruce Banner saves his cousin's life by giving her an emergency blood transfusion. Of course, his gamma ray-radiated blood transforms Jennifer into a Hulk, too. In hindsight, having Bruce use his blood — while knowing the epic costs — without consent from Jennifer is a huge downside to her superhero origin story. No one asked if she wanted to be a Hulk. Other methods of saving her life (like maybe using a non-mutated blood donation) aren't explored. Throughout her first comic series, a lot of the stories revolve around her attempting to process what was done to her and how she has to change everything about her life to adjust to it. Men like Bruce swoop in and try to control her, urge her to calm down, and keep her out of harm's way — despite her being more than capable of handling herself.
Thankfully, 2022's "She-Hulk" television series rewrote how Jennifer (Tatiana Maslany) gets her powers. Yes, there's still a near-fatal car crash. Sure, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) still causes her to transform into a Hulk. However, it's completely an accident. Jennifer doesn't need to be saved, and Bruce's interference in her life only makes her life more complicated. Refreshingly, the series explores how much Bruce has to learn about being a supporting player in Jennifer's story.
No Superhero Team-Ups!
"She-Hulk" makes it clear that Jennifer Walters puts herself and her career first. Despite the show's Hulk-smashing training montage and spandex jokes, this series doesn't position Jennifer as a contender for a new Avengers lineup — at least for now. The series' central focus is Jennifer's life, the stakes of becoming a Hulk, and her dreams of success and romance. What works best about this approach is how much it lets the audience connect to Jennifer and She-Hulk as characters who don't need to tie into some grand MCU puzzle to seem vital. Her failures and triumphs are enough to carry a show.
As a comic character who belonged to several superhero teams (Avengers, The Defenders, Fantastic Four) this series easily could have pushed Jennifer more directly into being recruited into a crime-fighting group. Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) and Bruce could have dropped a leading line of dialogue or proposition for a team-up, but as with writer Rainbow Rowell and artist Rogê Antônio's 2022's "She-Hulk" run, this Jennifer wants to figure out her way to serve justice as a lawyer and superhero. Maybe there will come a time in Jennifer's future when she might need some help to save the day, but Gao's Jennifer positions her as being savvy enough to discern the answers to these questions for herself.
Jennifer And Titania's Fresh Start
She-Hulk met her enduring nemesis Titania in 1984's "Secret Wars" #3, during an epic battle between the forces of good and evil. Aligned with Doctor Doom on Battleworld, Titania attacks She-Hulk and utterly fails to defeat her. Their one fight inspires Titania's lifelong jealousy of Jennifer Walters and desire to beat her — even if it nearly kills her! At times, her seething feelings towards Jennifer become comical. Jennifer is almost always dealing with a more serious matter when Titania arrives to challenge her, though we all know Jen's quippy comebacks and blows will win.
As you can imagine, a rivalry that began in the '80s and persists until 2022's "She-Hulk" run carries a lot of history. Instead of bringing in a nefarious character like Doctor Doom, the "She-Hulk" series simplifies their antagonistic relationship. Why does Jameela Jamil's Titania hate She-Hulk? She wants to protect her brand! While having Titania punch her way into a courtroom seems like it came out of nowhere, her motivation works way better. Titania's fear of losing public recognition for being a uniquely smashing and hulking hero feels more understandable than her devoting her life to destroying Jen just because she's a sore loser.
My only complaint is we never get to see these two reconcile and start a fight club as they did in 2022's "She-Hulk" #1. Fingers crossed that this will happen in Season 2!
Hulking Out Isn't An Issue
Throughout the first episode of "She-Hulk," Bruce warns Jennifer that she'll need to control her anger, which makes her laugh. Poignantly, she explains to Bruce how women deal with anger much differently than men. "I do it pretty much every day because if I don't, I will get called emotional or difficult or might just literally get murdered," she says. "So I'm an expert at controlling my anger because I do it infinitely more than you." Throughout the series, this remains true. The only time she does Hulk-out angrily is when she's publicly doxxed at a work event that ends with footage of her having sex blasted on the big screen.
In several comic runs, Jennifer struggles with controlling her inner Hulk. Scarlet Witch once tricked She-Hulk into unleashing her rage. That incident ended with Vision ripped in half. Due to her anger, she lost her license to practice law for some time. She's gone into seclusion in fear of hurting others when She-Hulk emerges. The focus is consistently on Jennifer's sanity.
However, the show focuses on the external pressures adding stress to Jennifer's carefully arranged life. "She-Hulk" examines how much the world wants Jennifer to lose control and succumb to smashing through the patriarchial vitriol targeted at her. Her biggest struggle is letting go of the idea that she needs to be perfectly composed. She learns it's healthy to express her anger and stand up for Jennifer Walters — especially when no one else will.
Her Bestie Doesn't Die!
For decades, She-Hulk spent a lot of time with machismo-fueled guys like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in the comics. It's refreshing that the television series gave Jennifer a ride-or-die bestie in Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga). When I heard that Dennis "Buck" Bukowski (Drew Matthews) was a character in "She-Hulk," I was worried that Nikki was going to be killed off. In the comics, the reason why Jennifer and Dennis butt heads is that they hold the other responsible for the death of Jilly Stevens, Jennifer's best friend. (However, the truth is Jennifer and Dennis' disjointed efforts to save Jill ultimately doom her.)
However, Nikki doesn't die! Most importantly, she plays a vital role in the series, grounding the legal comedy with a close friendship that keeps Jennifer in touch with her humanity. As one of the few characters who knew Jennifer before her transformation, she helps her adjust to She-Hulk life in ways that feel genuine and realistic. While Jennifer wants to outwit Matt Murdoch in court, Nikki reminds Jennifer to take care of herself by having clothes that can fit every shape of her body or experimenting with dating apps to meet someone new.
With the exception of the "Ms. Marvel" television show and (arguably) "Loki," friendships outside of crimefighting teams are rare. We seldom see superheroes have human friends, which limits how deeply we can connect to their journeys.
She-Hulk Is A Better Hulk
In the comics, it's hard to tell whether She-Hulk or Hulk is stronger, although Marvel.com ranks Hulk as a more formidable opponent thanks to his durability, energy, and intelligence. In some storylines, writers explain that She-Hulk's lesser strength is due to not going through a full transformation, as her blood transfusion isn't quite the same as direct exposure to gamma radiation. Still, She-Hulk once destroyed a Thanos copy all by herself, so it's always open to debate as to who is the stronger superhero!
However, Disney+'s "She-Hulk" makes it clear that Jennifer is better than Bruce at being a Hulk in its premiere episode. Unlike Bruce Banner, She-Hulk's body quickly synthesizes the gamma-radiation and allows her to retain her personality, intelligence, and control of her powers. While it took Hulk several years (not to mention colossal amounts of destruction!) to tweak his formulas and give the MCU Smart-Hulk, She-Hulk naturally adapts to her new form. There's no internal struggle. The "A Normal Amount of Rage" episode playfully compares the two during Bruce's training montage with Jen. While Bruce is physically larger and can lift more than Jen, she moves quickly and strategically, knocking Hulk off his feet.
Hulk's Tiki-Bar Set Piece
Hulk's tiki bar is an invention that adds much-needed levity to the MCU. Hulk and She-Hulk hang out at the bar to bond over their statures, drink, and gossip about other superheroes. Fittingly, this set piece also clears up a question that has plagued MCU fans: Where did Hulk go during the Blip years? He and Tony Stark went to a quiet island and built a bar! (or more likely, Hulk built it while Tony sat, drank, and vented about how much Captain America annoys him.)
Due to Hulk's tiki bar, we hear one of the funniest debates in the superhero universe: Did Captain America (also known as "that ass" by Jennifer) die a virgin? What's so fantastic about that story beat isn't just that it was fun but that it acknowledges that individuals in the MCU do have sexualities. Despite the MCU's romantic pairings, we've yet to see any characters have sex, openly discuss pleasure, or desire sex. "She-Hulk" proves out of the gate that this series will embrace sex positivity and Jennifer's smashing.
Choosing To Use Her Love Life As Evidence
She-Hulk has had several flings, romances, and exes, including the likes of Tony Stark, Luke Cage, Wyatt Wingfoot, and Jack of Hearts. In 2007's "She-Hulk" #19, Jen was once asked under oath to list out the names of everyone she's ever dated. The stenographer needed pages to document it, leaving Jennifer horribly embarrassed.
However, the television series homages this moment in a way that gives agency back to Jennifer. Instead of having Mallory Book force Jen to discuss her sex life on public record, Jennifer volunteers this information to support herself. During the trial against Titania, Jen realizes that she can prove that she used She-Hulk as a name before Titania by inviting all her past sexual partners to testify on the stand. Not only does her plan work, but she uses the oath to interrogate her partners and gain closure to what did or didn't work between them. She uses the stand to get the honesty from her partners that they couldn't give her otherwise. Although it's painful to hear, Jennifer learned that most people wanted She-Hulk, not her, a hurtful fact that would later inspire her to find someone who likes both sides of her (see Daredevil's future walk of shame in Episode 9.)
She-Hulk And Jennifer's Connection
In several comic runs, Jennifer struggles to accept becoming She-Hulk. Often, she makes lists comparing how she is when she's Jennifer versus how she is when she's She-Hulk. Sometimes, she vows off transforming into the emerald giant. Other times, she prefers to walk around as She-Hulk. Often, Jennifer feels torn that she needs to choose at all.
Disney+'s "She-Hulk" series excels in how this is depicted. Most importantly, the show highlights how Jennifer's struggle has way more to do with how others treat her than how she treats herself. Sure, she loves walking around as the gorgeous She-Hulk with thicker locks and increased strength, but she doesn't love how people tend to prefer her as a Hulk — making her human side feel alienated. One of the best ways the show handles this concept is by bringing She-Hulk into Emil's (Tim Roth) group therapy session. The audience hears that it hurts Jennifer when people only want to see her superhero side and not spend time with the hardworking, quippy lawyer that she is, too. Jennifer has confidence as herself or She-Hulk, but what she wants is for others to appreciate her no matter her form.
No Tony Stark Shenanigans!
Yes, I know Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is dead. "She-Hulk" takes place years after the events of "Avengers: Endgame," so it was never likely that Iron Man would show up. However, when a Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong) is in the mix, you can't be too sure of anything. Thankfully, the "She-Hulk" series doesn't resurrect Tony or bend time. There's power in knowing that characters can die in the MCU — unlike in comics, as the second a new writer joins or launches a Marvel title retconning abounds.
Why was I worried about that? Tony Stark and She-Hulk have a long and fraught history in the comics. Despite their team-ups and past of fighting together, it usually doesn't take Tony Stark long before he ruins their working relationship. Between launching her cousin into space without telling her and stripping away her powers permanently (well, for a time), Stark is not high on Walters' list. He's often arrogant and belittling to her, not to mention skeptical of trusting any Hulk. Tony doesn't trust anyone with powers greater than his (see Marvel's "Civil War" event that swayed Jennifer into siding with him).
While the MCU retconned Hulk and Tony's relationship to be a beloved bromance, it remains to be seen how Jennifer's relationship with Tony would be explored. In this television series, Jennifer has no connection to Tony, and that inevitably saves her a lot of frustration and gives her one less male adversary to tackle.
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