Words by Stephanie Tran
Ok, I admit it—I am, if not the target audience for new Disney+ show She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, then the dream audience: I’m femme, a lawyer*, and a huge nerd. Even as someone who professes to be more of a DC fan than a Marvel one, I’ve been charmed by She-Hulk (civilian name: Jennifer Walters, played by Orphan Black power house Tatiana Maslany) ever since seeing scans of John Byrne’s “Sensational She-Hulk” series back in middle school. When I met Jen, she was cheeky and witty, regularly making comments to the reader in a fourth-wall break more commonly associated with Deadpool (She-Hulk actually did it first, way back in Byrne’s 1989 “Sensational She-Hulk” series). Comic book Jen is a fun character, and so is Maslany’s version, albeit in a different way: Maslany’s She-Hulk is earnest, driven, and impatient to get over this whole Hulk thing and get back to her normal life as a deputy district attorney.
So yes, I’m predisposed to be interested in a She-Hulk show. However, from the beginning, a few things made me leery: the wonky CGI in the trailer, for one, and the apparent inability to tap into the mind of an attorney—seriously, that binder of Bruce’s is not impressive—for another. The latter is maybe not so surprising, as show creator Jessica Gao admitted that she and the rest of the writers’ room weren’t adept at writing the kind of exciting trial scenes that Gao initially wanted to include.
A lack of trial scenes in a show with “attorney” in the title may not be a deal-breaker—She-Hulk is, after all, a superhero show, not a legal procedural. But it’s also a show about a modern woman navigating the world. Somehow, a show about a female attorney who can turn into a giant green fitness model is relatable. Not everyone is a lawyer, but many people of color, for instance, can empathize about being dismissed by co-workers or doubted by peers who think that you’re just an identity hire (that the She-Hulk writers’ room includes two Black writers is not a coincidence). Jen’s struggle is about being true to yourself and to your identity, even one that is new and somewhat unwelcome.
So how exactly does She-Hulk hold up? I’d say pretty well, from my perspective as both a nerd and an attorney. Some things I really liked and some things could be improved. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the series’ introduction:
Big and Bold
- Yes, the name “She-Hulk” is derivative as hell. I don’t expect the writers to change it, but for fans of the show, may I suggest “Shulkie,” a nickname I picked up among comic book fans?
- Let’s talk about the elephant—or the She-Hulk?—in the room: no, Jen’s She-Hulk form is not nearly as large and muscled as Bruce’s transformed form and, comic book accuracy aside (what about her big curly ‘90s hair? Where’s that?), it’s likely because of sexism. While some have suggested that She-Hulk may bulk up later in the series in proportion to her rage, I’m not so sure—superpowers are one thing, studio directive is another. It’s truly a shame because between Louisa in Encanto and Resident’ Evil’s Lady Dimitrescu, I think the internet has established that big, buff women have their fans.
Being a Woman
- I hope that the writers delve more into what it means to be a woman and lose control of yourself and your anger. Yes, we had several scenes in the first couple of episodes where Jen masterfully displayed her Hulk-ness, but even the possibility of losing control of your emotions and hurting the people around you is a particularly terrifying idea for women, and particularly lawyers.
- Nikki’s and Jen’s comments about ruining her suit during her first fight is not just a cute interaction between the two friends, but also accurate: women’s suits are expensive, especially if they’ve been tailored for you to look your best in front of a jury or, alternatively, because you’re 6’ 7”.
Actually an Attorney
- Anyone else spot that one Marissa-Tomei-à-la-My Cousin Vinny-lookalike in red in the women’s bar bathroom that Jen stumbled into after her first transformation in episode 1? That was a nice shout-out, particularly since I know several lawyers, including my Evidence professor, who consider the movie to be the most accurate Hollywood portrayal of a trial.
- Why are Jen’s student loans so big? Well, not only does law school take three years and cost $200,000 in tuition, rent, and living expenses, most law graduates immediately start their two-and-a-half-month full-time bar exam prep instead of earning an actual income. To that you also add a bar prep course that can easily cost you $2,000, exam registration that costs $800, and, of course, that rent and living expenses. Then if you live in California (where Jen and I both reside), you have another four months of earning just a law clerk’s hourly pay to find out if you are among the less than 50% of people who pass. It’s no wonder that Jen is not on board with a 10-year Hulk training plan—she’s only just gotten started paying back her loans!
- Incidentally, is vigilantism still actually legal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Emil Blonsky mentions working for the U.S. government when he first transformed into Abomination, but being a vigilante who isn’t sanctioned by the government still seems pretty contentious. Maybe they could make a movie out of it (or not). Being a lawyer slash superhero and breaking the law by being a superhero is sort of a niche struggle, but we know that Jen is far from the only one. If the brief Daredevil cameo at the end of the series trailer, maybe they can bond over it together.
- Speaking of Emil, I get that episode 2 had to end on a bit of a cliff-hanger to keep people’s interests. Still, having Jen say that she had Blonsky’s parole hearing “100% in the bag” is so jarring to me. It violates the fundamental rule of being a lawyer: it depends. The saying, oft-quoted among those in the legal field, is a concise way of saying that there are too many variables to guess whether a case or hearing might go well. Lawyers, anxious and risk-averse as they are, know this and are therefore loath to guarantee any kind of success.
- I was very pleased and excited to see Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldberry as Mallory Book, another female attorney in the Superhuman Law Division in episode 3, but am disappointed that she’s listed as only going to be in one episode. While Nikki is awesome (paralegals make the world go round, folks), Jen needs more than one woman in the legal field to be part of her support group. A female co-worker of color would be a welcome addition. Surely that can’t be all for Goldberry. Perhaps the studio is trying to keep the impact of her character under wraps…?
- The Megan Thee Stallion cameo and end-of-credits scene in episode 3 is fun, no matter what anyone says. I also loved English rock band Yonaka’s song “Seize the Power” closing out the credits with Theresa Jarvis singing—it’s definitely going on my legal “pump-up” playlist.
- I appreciate that Jen calls Wong’s comment about mind-wiping everybody unethical. What so-called Sorcerer Supreme would do that anyway? Surely not someone who had been explicitly advised by Wong not to do that…
- Did you know that there are QR codes hidden in episodes of She-Hulk? If you scan them, you can get free digital copies of past She-Hulk Marvel comics. I myself think I spotted one on Emil Blonsky’s prison uniform, but my phone couldn’t pick it up. Given that the past QR codes linked to digital copies of She-Hulk’s original 1979 comic book appearance written by Stan Lee and the first issue of She-Hulk #1 written by Dan Slott in 2004, I’m guessing Blonsky’s QR code will be a digital copy of the first issue of John Byrne’s 1989 Sensational She-Hulk. Given the clear influence of Byrne’s She-Hulk series on the TV show, it’s a bit of a shame this is one of the more difficult QR codes to scan.
Although there are some hits and misses with the feminist themes and legal aspects of She-Hulk, I find it a lot of fun and definitely worth a watch, especially for lawyers and attorneys. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jen’s strong sense of justice, Renée Elise Goldberry’s attorney character Mallory Book, and Charlie Cox as fellow superhero attorney Daredevil/Matt Murdock.
*Note: Although a lawyer in the American legal system is technically someone who has graduated law school and has a juris doctorate, and an attorney is someone who has passed their state’s bar and is licensed to practice in their state, I sometimes use the terms interchangeably as many people do. I also sometimes lump myself in with the technical definition of lawyer because although I am not a barred and licensed attorney like Jen is, I still graduated from law school and have the piece of paper that I paid six figures for to prove it.
Published on September 8, 2022
Words by Stephanie Tran
Stephanie Tran is a 30-something law graduate and Vietnamese-American child of South Vietnamese political refugees whose publications include a paper on the socializing effect of the German Grimms version of “Cinderella” and another on the gender inequity that Chinese businesswomen face. You can read more of Stephanie’s thoughts on Twitter at @youandyourego.