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She-Hulk: The future MCU star is more than a Hulk spin-off

collage of She-Hulk covers
(Image credit: George Marston)

She-Hulk is about to smash her way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, portrayed by actor Tatiana Maslany in her own Disney Plus streaming show. Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk may not be quite as well-known as her cousin Bruce Banner/the Hulk, but in many ways, She-Hulk is actually the modern concept of the Hulk's predecessor - despite being a spin-off character from the original. 

As one of the first Gamma heroes to channel the best aspects of her human persona attorney Jennifer Walters into her peak physical Hulk form, She-Hulk set the standard for the concept of a fully-formed, fully intelligent Hulk who sacrifices none of her strength and power to maintain her core self while hulked out.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

But make no mistake - she's also been known to rampage just like her cousin, going into full-on "Hulk smash!" mode with the requisite increases in strength, invulnerability - and uncontrollable berserker fury. 

Like her cousin, She-Hulk has a long history with the Avengers, including as a member of the current core roster, and a few historical occasions where her rampages have put her in the crosshairs of Earth's Mightiest Heroes as they attempt to track and subdue her.

She-Hulk's Marvel Comics ties go well beyond her cousin the Hulk and her allies in the Avengers though. She's also been a recurring member of the Fantastic Four and has even gotten into Multiversal, fourth-wall-breaking comedy through her associations with the Time Variance Authority (who made their own MCU debut in Loki).

Now that she's coming to the MCU, Shulkie (her affectionate occasional nickname) seems perfectly poised to leverage those connections to the Avengers, FF, TVA, and more as one of the linchpins of the next wave of MCU heroes - perhaps even forming the unlikely heart and soul of a new group of Avengers just like her cousin Bruce Banner did for the original team (or maybe even subbing in on the FF someday).

She-Hulk's MCU story is just beginning, but her comic book history goes all the way back to 1980, with plenty of twists, turns, and transformations along the way. Here's everything you need to know about She-Hulk before her MCU debut.

Who is She-Hulk?

image of She-Hulk

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Jennifer Walters made her Marvel Comics debut in 1980's Savage She-Hulk #1, written by none other than Stan Lee, with art from John Buscema. Lee purportedly created She-Hulk in response to the popularity of the late '70s Hulk television show, which he believed the producers may spin off with a new female version of the Hulk, the way they had with their other hit show The Six Million Dollar Man, which spun-off into The Bionic Woman.

Though he wrote only the first issue of the title, Lee established Jennifer Walter' odd origins as a superhero, in which she receives a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner after an enemy of her father, a sheriff who was murdered by criminals when she was a child, attempts to assassinate her.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Bruce's Gamma-irradiated blood gives Jennifer the same transformational properties Bruce has as the Hulk. While Jennifer's transformation is initially induced by anger, as with Bruce's change into the Hulk, she gains the ability to control her transformation thanks to help from Morbius, the Living Vampire, who uses his background as a blood scientist to alter her own Gamma-blood. 

Deciding to remain as She-Hulk full-time thanks to the strength, confidence, and power she has in her She-Hulk form with no loss of intelligence or awareness, Jennifer goes on to join the Avengers - a decision that leads her to travel to Battleworld to participate in the Beyonder's superhero war games in the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars limited series. 

She-Hulk's time in Secret Wars has two profound effects on her story. For one thing, she gets her very own arch-enemy in the form of Titania, a villain introduced in the story who has often been billed as the strongest woman in the Marvel Universe. Titania, who is part of the current Gamma Flight title and who is married to Hulk villain the Absorbing Man, will be played by actor Jameela Jamil in Disney Plus' She-Hulk show.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The other major impact Secret Wars has on She-Hulk is that she departs the Avengers, going on to join the Fantastic Four to replace Ben Grimm/the Thing as the team's powerhouse after Grimm is temporarily reverted to his human form during the story. She-Hulk has since become one of the most iconic substitute FF members, filling in as a replacement member again in Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's FF title.

Likewise, she's also been an off-and-on member of the Avengers over the years as well. She's currently part of the team's core line-up, with September continuing the title's current She-Hulk-centric story in Avengers #47, in which she's brainwashed by the Red Room of Black Widow fame.

There are also two other She-Hulks, just as there are multiple characters who have used the Hulk designator (Jennifer Walters included). Alongside Jenn, there's Lyra, the daughter of Hulk and Thundra (a super-strong warrior queen from another world in the Multiverse). And then there's Betty Ross, Bruce Banner's former paramour, who was once able to transform into a Red She-Hulk, much like her father General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross could transform into a Red Hulk.

She-Hulk in the Marvel Universe

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

She-Hulk being a spin-off character may imply that she's often picking up the leftovers of her more famous cousin the Hulk. But that couldn't be further from the truth - with She-Hulk's balanced Hulk personality predating Bruce's own incarnation of Professor Hulk, and a history of fourth-wall-breaking meta-comedy that beat Deadpool to the punch by several years.

Many of Shulkie's most off-the-wall connections to the Marvel Universe stem from her career as a practicing attorney; a vocation through which she's offered legal defense to numerous heroes, villains, and even cosmic beings over the years. 

She-Hulk's rep as a meta-comedic, self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking hero who always has an eye on the absurdity of her own adventures stems from her second ongoing title, Sensational She-Hulk. Many of the title's issues, and most of Shulkie's appearances with the Fantastic Four, were created by writer/artist John Byrne, who became synonymous with She-Hulk while also adding the sense of humor, zany style, and (especially for the time) surprisingly bold sexuality that continue to inform her portrayal.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The early '00s She-Hulk title from writer Dan Slott continued Byrne's take on the character, positioning her as one of the Marvel Universe's premier attorneys not just in the core Marvel 616 reality, but across the entire Multiverse. It's in this capacity that She-Hulk finds herself involved with the TVA.

She-Hulk's initial involvement with the TVA involves a case in which Hawkeye, who was dead at the time in Marvel continuity thanks to the events of 'Avengers: Disassembled,' is brought from the past to serve on a jury in a time trial. She-Hulk tries to warn Hawkeye of his impending death, but the TVA finds out and in turn, puts her on trial for trying to change the past.

Luckily, her sentence is commuted and she's given a pardon when she saves TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius (played by Owen Wilson in Loki) from a villain who is attacking the agency.

A later She-Hulk title from writer Charles Soule and main artist Javier Pulido also focused on her career as an attorney and its bizarre implications in a world of superheroes, drawing on Soule's own background as a lawyer.

Over the years, Jennifer Walters' She-Hulk persona has undergone some shifts, much like Bruce Banner's many Hulk alters. She initially changed through anger, as Bruce traditionally does, though she quickly gained the power to change at will. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In the story Avengers: The Search for She-Hulk, she becomes totally unable to control her abilities, leading her to revert to her human Jennifer Walters form and go on the run, a la her cousin Bruce's classic status quo. This story established that in her most brutal, hulked-out form, Jennifer's transformation is driven by anxiety - while her power to control and manage her transformation comes from her self-confidence and personal willpower as Jennifer Walters.

She also has a grey She-Hulk persona, who is stronger and more savage than the classic She-Hulk, and who sometimes changes at night, much like Banner's Joe Fixit alter. 

The grey She-Hulk persona took the lead following grave injuries Jennifer suffered at the hands of Thanos, who was tough enough to maim her even while powered up. She underwent a long journey in her own Hulk title from writer Mariko Tamaki, which led her to confront the nature of her transformation, resulting in her current incarnation - a stronger, less articulate, smash-y She-Hulk who reverts to her Jennifer Walters form when not fighting alongside the Avengers.

She'll get another transformation in the upcoming Avengers #47, part of the ongoing 'World War She-Hulk' story arc in which she's captured by the Red Room, who will turn her into their own 'Winter Hulk' operative, Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier style.

She-Hulk in the MCU

She-Hulk Disney Plus logo

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Tatiana Maslany's She-Hulk isn't expected to make her MCU debut till the 2022 premiere of her self-titled Disney Plus show (though she could easily make a surprise appearance elsewhere, first). 

That means we don't know a whole lot about what to expect from the show, though we do know that Mark Ruffalo is expected to appear as Bruce Banner/Hulk (or at least one or the other), while Tim Roth will reportedly reprise his Incredible Hulk role of Abomination following the character's cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

This raises an interesting question: Could Tim Blake Nelson also reprise his role from Incredible Hulk as Samuel Sterns? He was last seen with Gamma blood dripping onto his face, presaging his likely transformation into his comic book identity of the Leader, Hulk's greatest nemesis. 

The Incredible Hulk was the second MCU film following Iron Man, with both released in 2008 - but in all that time, the set up for the introduction of the Leader has never been paid off, perhaps in part because of issues between Universal Studios and Marvel Studios over the rights to make another standalone Hulk movie. 

Could She-Hulk take up the torch of Hulk's MCU legacy in terms of his established storylines, such as the Leader, as well as being his successor as the MCU's resident Gamma-powered mainstay? If Jennifer Walters gets her She-Hulk powers through a Gamma-blood transfusion, that would open the door directly to reference the last time we saw someone exposed to Gamma-blood in the MCU.

still from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Along with the potential to bring up and tie off long-hanging MCU threads, the introduction of She-Hulk builds further connections to some key franchises that are coming up in the MCU. 

First, there's her obvious connection to future MCU stars the Fantastic Four. Though it would be a stretch to imagine her immediately replacing someone on the team, it's not out of the question that she'd wind up appearing alongside them sooner or later.

And not for nothing, but if Marvel Studios really wants to throw us a curveball and completely separate their own FF from the previous, failed movie versions, instantly replacing a core member with She-Hulk would certainly be an effective, if controversial, way to do it.

Then there's the matter of her connections to the TVA as an attorney - which could come directly into play in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home. How so? Well, there have long been rumors that Mysterio's reveal of Peter Parker's secret identity in the preceding film Spider-Man: Far From Home will require him to seek legal help. 

Those rumors have also included speculation (or maybe wishful thinking) that Charlie Cox will reprise his role as attorney Matt Murdock from Netflix's Daredevil (which is of questionable MCU provenance) to represent Peter Parker, in reference to their comic book friendship.

Whether Matt Murdock shows up or not (and whether he's played by Charlie Cox or not if so), the idea of Peter Parker facing a legal battle around his Spider-Man identity combined with co-existing rumors that former Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield will appear as 'variants' of Peter Parker from other worlds in the Multiverse (or is that Spider-Verse?) could indicate that She-Hulk might become involved as well. 

page from She-Hulk #4

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

If Peter Parker(s) is accused of some kind of Multiversal violation by the TVA,  She-Hulk could be the perfect person to represent him - or prosecute him on behalf of the TVA. A story like that could provide an in-universe vehicle to separate Tom Holland's Peter Parker from the MCU, where he's on loan from Sony who has been building their own Spidey-adjacent web of films starring characters such as Venom, Morbius, and Kraven.

Spider-Man is also a classic Fantastic Four ally/stand-in, and Jon Watts, director of all three MCU Spider-Man films, including the upcoming No Way Home, is set to helm the FF's MCU debut. It's even less likely that Marvel would sub in two members of the FF, but who knows? 

That's a question for another time, perhaps. But for now, one thing that's not in question is that She-Hulk's arrival in the MCU is sure to make waves, both among fans, and in the overall story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

She-Hulk is a spin-off of the original Hulk, Bruce Banner - but he's got plenty of variant personalities all his own. Learn all about the Hulk and his most iconic personas.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)