There’s a new superhero on the Marvel block, and she’s a wisecracking, smart-talking, all-powerful being who would frankly much rather be finding love and getting on with life as a rising star lawyer than troubling herself with the tiresome day-to-day troubles of actually being a superhero.
She’s also not afraid to break the fourth wall to speak to the camera and frequently remind the audience of this fact, as well as the sheer ridiculousness of the latest scrape she’s found herself in.
If this all sounds a bit familiar to fans of Deadpool, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law head writer and creator Jessica Gao has some news for you. “Deadpool copied She-Hulk. She was doing it long before Deadpool, or Fleabag,” the Rick and Morty and Robot Chicken alumnus tells The National with a frankness that could easily alienate fans of foul-mouthed comic-book heroes and self-aware British, post-feminist comedy alike.
Gao has a point — the She-Hulk character first started dropping one-liners directly to Marvel comic readers way back in 1980, more than a decade before Deadpool ever showed his face on the page.
Gao isn’t here to undermine one of her employer’s most popular creations, however, so instead she discusses the process behind creating She-Hulk’s own Brechtian relationship with the audience. It was clearly a relationship she put a lot of thought into.
“We really talked about this a lot, and it went through a lot of evolutionary steps,” she says. “It was a long journey of ‘how much does she talk to the camera? Is she talking directly to the audience? Is there another meta element? Is she talking to somebody else that's behind the scenes?’
"At one point, there was an iteration in the script where instead of talking directly to camera, there were textboxes that were editor's notes, like in the comic books, and she was interacting with the editor’s notes that would be on the screen. We eventually scrapped that idea, but we went through a lot of different versions of how she would do it.”
She-Hulk’s habit of addressing the audience directly isn’t the only character trait that sets her apart from most other superheroes. Audiences are perfectly familiar with the conflict that inevitably comes with living a double life as a caped avenger, from Batman’s angst-ridden inner turmoil to Spider-Man’s hormonal teenage confusion at his new powers, but She-Hulk simply wants none of it.
Her human form, Jen Walters, has spent a lot of money training to be a lawyer, and she’s rather good at her job. When Mark Ruffalo, reprising his role as Bruce Banner/The Hulk from the MCU, shows up and whisks his cousin away to his secret Mexican beach house to train her in the finer details of being a hulk, there is clearly nowhere she would like to be less, as Hulk soon learns via sustained bruising.
“It was actually her conflict with it and her resistance to it that I found most interesting,” the show’s star Tatiana Maslany admits. “She's built this life for herself that she does not want to let go of. She's trained and worked so hard to be a lawyer, and she has to constantly prove herself.
"She's on this path, and then when this thing happens to her, she has to contend with a whole other perception being placed on top of her. There are expectations societally of how she should be, and who she should be. To navigate those two versions of her was super-interesting. Honestly, when I read the pilot, I was like ‘I have to do this because it's so funny’.”
The show’s mundane nature, and the unwillingness of its reluctant superhero, are its biggest selling points. This could put it in a difficult place with fans accustomed to the epic storylines and dramatic battles of Marvel’s other output, however.
The internet has already been set ablaze with criticisms, following the release of the She-Hulk trailer, of its perceived low-quality CGI. This seems to be missing the point of a show which is essentially a legal comedy, whose central character has the unfortunate sideline of being a giant green monster. It’s a conflict that Maslany and Gao haven’t failed to notice.
“I'm curious about what kind of conversations people will have about this show,” Maslany admits. “People can have a real visceral response to a woman superhero anyway, which we've already felt online. It's interesting to me that there is such a visceral response. I'm curious as to why. There is so much else going on in the show that challenges people, and I think we really hit that in a really wonderful way.”
Gao agrees, and like the show’s star, she hopes that audiences will find the positives in something that is undoubtedly breaking a Marvel mould that has already been broken several times. She says: “I hope that the people who didn't feel like there was a place for them in the fandom of Marvel, or that they didn't get represented, they didn't get to see themselves reflected; I hope now they feel like they get to finally see that.”
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law will be released on Disney+ on Thursday, August 18.
Scroll through images of all the MCU films and shows expected this year below: