‘She-Hulk’ Takes Marvel Out of the MCU and Into the Real World
Every couple of years after a big comics crossover, the X-Men would stop whatever they were doing and just play baseball. Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and the rest of the crew would take to the field behind Xavier’s School of Gifted Youngsters for a friendly game. Powers weren’t typically allowed, but of course there was always a cheater or two who used them anyway.
The relative calm of those X-Men baseball issues never lasted long before Magneto or Mister Sinister showed up to threaten the world again —but they were always my favorite X-Men stories as a kid. They were designed to give readers a breather between epic storylines, and to reestablish the characters’ relationships and the team’s status quo. They were also an opportunity to blue sky how bunch of hormonal teenagers with super powers would play sports. How do you tag out a baserunner who can turn intangible like Kitty Pryde? How do you strike out a batter like Quicksilver, whose super-speed makes a fastball look like it’s floating on a tee?
Answering those sorts of questions — and considering the real-world impact of superheroes — is one of the quintessential touches of classic Marvel comics. DC’s heroes existed in their own fictional reality. Superman hung out in Metropolis; Batman was off moping in the shadows of Gotham City. Spider-Man lived in Queens; the Fantastic Four owned a building in Midtown Manhattan. Marvel heroes lived in the real world, and the best Marvel books examined their impact on that world in fun and thoughtful ways.
That, I have come to realize, is the reason I like She-Hulk: Attorney at Law on Disney+. It’s basically a whole show driven by the same storytelling impulses behind the X-Men playing baseball. Fight scenes are rare; this week’s episode had none at all. Some episodes don’t have a traditional super-villain; others subvert our expectations about them, as when Tim Roth’s Abomination from The Incredible Hulk showed up in She-Hulk as a seemingly reformed man who wants the title character to help him earn his parole.
Unlike something like WandaVision or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or What If...?, you could watch and enjoy She-Hulk if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before. You don’t need to watch YouTube videos that explain why all the tiny references to Marvel Comics that you didn’t notice actually make the show brilliant. Have you heard of the Hulk? Have you ever watched a lawyer show? Great! You’re all set. (Not that I am advocating against watching YouTube videos, and if you want to watch such things, hey ScreenCrush’s channel has some really terrific ones about She-Hulk!)
Technically, She-Hulk still takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it has featured appearances from other Marvel characters, like Doctor Strange’s Wong. But even with the occasional cameos, She-Hulk is the rare MCU production that actually feels like it’s taking place in something like our universe, with recognizable and relatable characters and conflicts.
In place of the typical fights and chases, the show asks that quintessential Marvel question: What would a functioning world with superheroes look like? Through five episodes, She-Hulk has already considered the impact of people with powers on dating, health care, technology, fashion, beauty, trademarks, and the penal system. It’s shown us what ordinary magicians do in a world where there’s an honest-to-goodness sorcerer living in Greenwich Village, and it’s revealed where the Avengers get their durable, stretchy costumes. And it’s barely scratched the surface of where a show like this could go.
I’m sure there are traditionalists out there who are annoyed that She-Hulk is a relatively low-stakes affair with few ongoing subplots and no major threats of impending global doom. But they can get that stuff from literally everything else Marvel releases. As those old X-Men baseball games proved, it’s nice to have a little break from the monotony of smashing and shooting every now and then.
New episodes of She-Hulk premiere on Thursdays on Disney+. Sign up for Disney+ here.