She-Hulk vs The Manosphere

My Rambling Review of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law

Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

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All images are copyright Marvel or Disney, and used without permission. Please don’t sue me.

If you go around the net, you’re going to see a lot of hate for She-Hulk. This hate comes largely from the anti-woke crowd, the manosphere, the incels. Their hatred seems to be largely driven by, or at least highlighted by, a comment She-Hulk makes in episode one. A comment that I missed first time around because it didn’t really stand out to me.

The first episode is the She-Hulk origin story, which was rushed and not very enjoyable for narrative reasons, but, more on that later. The main point is that we quickly find out that, unlike the original He-Hulk, She-Hulk maintains her full mental capacity when in hulk form. She doesn’t need to be angry to initiate a transition, nor does transitioning cause her to take on more rage. Maybe a little bit just as she first gets the powers, but almost immediately she’s able to be herself, just bigger and stronger. And also super hot, but that’s just something my male gaze will enjoy, thank you very much.

Any-hoo, original He-Hulk, as we all know from not only a handful of forgettable movies, but also decades of comics and at least one archaic TV show, is, or was for a long time, an uncontrollable ball of rage when in hulk form. It’s kind of the whole point of him. So much so that in most depictions, he’s considered as much a liability as a hero. Once Hulk started smashing, there’s kind of no way to stop him. After a while, though, in this universe, Bruce Banner learns to control his anger. So now, he can just be himself while he’s the Hulk. But it took him years to master that ability.

He-Hulk is surprised to learn that She-Hulk can control her rage right off the bat, no special training needed. In a conversation about this, Jennifer Walters, the non-hulk form of She-Hulk, says this is because as a woman, she has to learn to contain her anger as a matter of course. As she explains it, women have to deal with constant unwanted attention and expectations, and if they respond with the anger that any given situation might inspire, they are dismissed as irrational or possibly find themselves in more danger. Suppressing their anger is something every woman has already learned to do.

Jennifer angrily explains that women control their anger better than men.

This suggestion triggered some men into paroxysms of objection. Part of these objections are based within the context of the universe of the show. For example, they say it’s ridiculous that she would compare the danger of being cat-called to the life and death scenarios, like world-scale alien invasions or being enslaved into mortal gladitorial combat, that Hulk has had to learn to control his anger for. Other objections are more contextual to the real world, where some men feel that women are being histrionic in their claims that they are in constant mortal danger just because men sometimes do things like yell a slightly tactless statement from across the street.

By framing Jennifer’s ability to control her anger and therefor her hulk form as a function of her gender made a whole section of the internet feel like this show is another example of… woke somethingness? I don’t know. Who cares. Incels are idiots.

I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman, so I have no comment on what it’s like to be cat-called or whatever. What I can say is that from a narrative point of view, I think it’s definitely blowing things out of proportion to take this as a canonical claim that Jennifer can control her hulk form more than Bruce because of the social context of their genders. What we know is that the character Jennifer thinks that might be the case, but the real reasons could be anything.

Of course, that isn’t the only example of gender issues being made into grist for the narrative mill of this show. This show clearly does have a point of view on gender issues, it’s just that for me, it’s merely that. A point of view, like a lot of shows have, and it raises food for thought, but not necessarily final answers. In any case, nothing being said here is so threatening to my sense of identity that I have to find reasons to argue every claim. For the anti-woke crowd, though, it seems that first comment by Jennifer was the first spark from which they would spend the next eight episodes looking for reasons to hate the show.

This moment of She-Hulk twerking also seemed to upset the manosphere, for reasons that are too dumb to even address.

I did, however, see one YouTube reviewer, who I’m not linking to because he’s a denizen of the manosphere, make a legitimate complaint among some other nonsense. And that was that this idea that Jennifer can control her anger because she’s a woman was simply unearned from the point of view of character development.

If that’s the claim the show wants to make, then a few scenes of her being cat-called before she has hulk powers, or something like that, where we as the audience can experience her personal relationship to those issues, could have added a lot of emotional depth and would have simply been more engaging from a storytelling point of view. As it was, it was kind of a throwaway line that is unclear about how serious we’re supposed to take it.

Which brings me into straight up narrative issues. The first episode ran through She-Hulk’s origin story like the writers wanted it out of the way as fast as possible. It was awkward and unsatisfying, and also unnecessary. If they really wanted to skim over it, they could have just started in medias res, and maybe used flashbacks if any point was necessary to explain.

Really?

The origin story we have is, in my view, a little silly anyway. A car accident causes Bruce’s blood to drip on Jennifer’s open wound? Note also that we had to have a whole explanation of some weird technology to justify why Banner didn’t instinctively and immediately hulk out the moment he was in danger, which would be the default circumstance that would otherwise make this scenario impossible.

All the circumstances and angles and everything seem so improbable that it makes my suspension of disbelief wander away and think about other ideas. I would have preferred something more like, she has some kind of fatal blood disease, and Bruce has the right blood type and genetics to be a donor, but, he’s afraid of using his blood for obvious reasons. But, she’s definitely going to die, and so, as a last ditch effort, Bruce reluctantly donates his blood, and we’re off and running.

Once past the first episode, the show settles into a more comfortable pace and style. This series is intended as comedy, and it gets there often enough to claim the “comedic” descriptor. For the most part, it’s not super funny, just pleasantly amusing, though I did have a few good laughs. Some premises, like Jennifer’s “quirky” family were a bit stale for me. Other characters, like the head of Jennifer’s new law firm, or the drunk woman, Madison, who ends up dating Wong, were a lot stronger as comedic premises. Overall it was a mixed bag, but on average it was all pretty fun.

Madison and Wong in the courtroom.
I hope that the Wong and Madison relationship continues, but not get overdone. This is definitely a “less is more” situation.

The full title of the show is She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and there is a lot of court room drama. It raises more interesting ideas than it successfully deals with, though. I’m no lawyer, but a guy who is will tell you all about how the show misses more than it hits in terms of how the actual law works.

She-Hulk doesn’t really seem to know the law. Like, apparently, that it’s illegal for her employer to insist she remain in hulk form while at work.

Which is a shame. I’d like to see the show steer more in the direction of really raising questions about the legal issues surrounding super heroes, and then having fun with that. What this show is doing, though, is pursuing character development issues, and then trying to find ways to play them out in court, bending the law to make things fit.

For example, an enemy of She-Hulk named Tatiana starts marketing a brand of cosmetics called “She-Hulk”, and She-Hulk takes Tatiana to court to try and stop her name from being abused. That’s a really interesting legal case, and you could do a lot with it. Super heroes don’t usually tend to trademark and capitalize on their name brands, but is it fair for others to do so?

This show, however, basically just uses that as a set up to force Jennifer Walters to bring a bunch of men she dated into court to prove that she used the name “She-Hulk” on her dating profile. This supposedly helps her case against Tatiana by establishing she was publicly using the name before Tatiana started her brand. But the real point was to comedically(?) humiliate Jennifer with her failed dating life in a court room setting. The legal machinations to get there were whatever they needed to be to make that happen.

Overall, the show is an easy watch. I never got really invested in any characters or story, but I found it entertaining. It managed to stay interesting all the way through to the end, unlike Moon Knight and Ms Marvel, both of which started strong and then just spiraled into badly executed nonsense.

Unfortunately, the show kind of fumbles the ball at the very end. Instead of having a big climactic fight, they do a sort of meta joke where She-Hulk walks out of the fourth wall to confront both the writers of the show and the head of Marvel to challenge them to do something more interesting than just a big fight to resolve everything.

I get the self deprecating humor of positing that Marvel is run by an AI that just churns out whatever it takes to hold our attention, but at the same time… maybe actually try?

There’s a good point being made there, even if they didn’t make the best use of it. The best challenge for a hero whose main power is absolute physical strength is to have an enemy that can’t be simply punched. The main villain in the show is an online incel group, lead by a sort of Elon Musk type with money and resources, that is out to assassinate She-Hulk’s character by slut shaming her and discrediting her. It’s a perfect narrative challenge for the character, and an obviously relevant issue for the zeitgeist. I want to see her navigate her way around that problem using her wits. And sometimes punching people, but only when it’s earned.

Unfortunately, after She-Hulk complains to the meta-contextual powers that be that having her main enemy turn into a punchable super-villain deflates the central conflict, they instead agree to wrap up the show by having She-Hulk say to the head of the incel group that she’s going to take them to court. And it’s done with a finality, as if a court case against anyone is an easy thing to do, let alone a billionaire with bottomless legal resources. The social fall out from their online smear campaign is left unaddressed entirely. It’s really unsatisfying. Maybe even more unsatisfying than the overly simplistic punch-up would have been.

She-Hulk’s struggles against an online campaign to ruin her could be a bottomless wellspring of challenges for her, kind of like how it is for famous women in the real world. And in the context of this show, that challenge ties in very nicely with her own character development.

One of the through lines of the show is that She-Hulk is beautiful and popular and imposing in all sorts of ways that make everyone want to be with She-Hulk, and not so interested in her ordinary, every day Jennifer Walters persona. Jennifer might be a little jealous of She-Hulk, which is complicated by the fact that they’re the same person… or are they? If you were in Jennifer’s position, would you just always be She-Hulk? Would you resent the expectation to be She-Hulk? I can see how a struggle like that would really mess with someone’s sense of identity and self confidence.

I want to see more of that struggle, because it gives added fire to the struggle Jennifer has against the online incels. Although they come at it from a misguided starting place, one of the points they make is that She-Hulk is unjustifiably handed everything she gets because of whatever random event gave her super powers and a killer body… and maybe a part of Jennifer might agree. She-Hulk just walks into a room and everyone is fascinated by her, but Jennifer has to earn everyone’s attention.

That’s the struggle I want to see, Jennifer trying to cope with the fact that She-Hulk is both her and not her, and her relationship to that side of herself is complicated. Building on that struggle is the route to having conflicts, even punch-ups, with real stakes and meaning. I hope season two goes a little deeper into that struggle, and doesn’t just gloss over the legal and social challenges that add fuel to that fire.

She-Hulk looks at episode notes in the writer’s room.
Hoping season two realizes the potential.

Final verdict? Definitely watchable, pretty good fun if you let go of the need for things to make sense. I’m interested enough to stay tuned for season two. On the Marvel leader board, this was much, much better than Moon Knight and Ms Marvel. About as good as Hawkeye maybe. Since Marvel shows moved over to Disney+, none of their shows have reached the level of quality of the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

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Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

I don't post often because I think about what I write. Topics include ethics, relationships, and philosophy.