Wednesday, May 18, 2022

"She-Hulk, Attorney-at-Law" is Coming to Disney+

It's not easy being green whilst filing writs of habeas corpus

On May 17th, the trailer hit for Marvel's She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law multi-episode series, which is set to begin on Disney+ in the coming months.  

When talking to pal GadK about the trailer last night, I had to put aside 30-something years of personal knowledge and history and consider what the hell She-Hulk looks like to someone unversed in the character.  Which, for us old man comic nerds, is an increasingly common occurrence.

Here's that trailer.

We're just in a weird, weird part of whatever the arc will be for superheroes media in our very own reality and continuity.  We're moving rapidly away from how superheroes were understood by the broad population as costumed do-gooders who fight obvious bad-guys in melodramatic four-color battles, an impression derived from barely understood comics of a by-gone era.  

What a non-comics person should know:  At some point, the various genres of comics that appeared across a range of comics (romance, western, etc...) seeped into various genres of the booming superhero genre and sparked endless iterations and permutations - and that is what you will now get at your local comics shoppe.  And it means things in Marvel and DC comics adapted to TV and movies will get weirder than a sarcastic space raccoon post haste.  

In many ways, Endgame signaled the end of the 1960's Marvel comics adaptations in many ways, and moved us, the viewers, into the comics and characters of the late 1970's - 1980's.  We're now seeing adaptations of much bigger comics universes from when DC and Marvel, like a Big Bang, continued to expand (only to contract and explode again, over and over).  
She-Hulk was someone's idea in the 1970's.  I'm not sure she was super popular when she first appeared, but I remember a vague awareness of the character, probably from the Hulk cartoons of my youth.  By the time I got to comics, She-Hulk was a member of the Avengers, subbed for The Thing with the Fantastic Four and was a Marvel mainstay.  But she's few and far between anyone's favorite, exactly.  But I like her!  She's NEAT.

But like a lot of serially produced, long-lived characters, She-Hulk isn't what she was when she first appeared.  When Moon Knight was advertised for Disney+, Jamie just saw me laughing and was like "what?" and I was like "ha ha ha.  You can't make a TV show out of Moon Knight.  But I thought that was true about Doom Patrol, and here we are."  Both Moon Knight and Doom Patrol debuted as off-kilter but fairly concrete ideas, and over the years, various creative teams have mucked about with the characters endlessly, and it all counts.  So it makes the heroes very weird properties once you start digging into what the hell they are by 2022.  

And it's understood and taken for granted in comics that not every title is for everyone.  And maybe that's okay here, too?

I recall by 8th grade I had disassembled a Marvel calendar and stapled all 12 months of images up, and among them was a John Byrne-drawn She-Hulk image, which was the first cheesecake I likely had on my wall as a youth.  

I can only imagine the conversations this sparked between my parents

In 1989, Byrne debuted a new series, The Sensational She-Hulk, following his work on the graphic novel.  The cover utterly sold me, and I followed the series for a while. 

the Venn diagram of my interests and sense of humor here was a circle

Byrne isn't always my cup of tea, but here he showed he had real comedy chops, could stay light, and deliver *the* Marvel comedy comic for quite a while. And like any run on a character that people take a shine to, even when the comics stray from the idea and try something else, others return to it and find ways to try their own hand, and it comes what the character(s) is/ are.  

What GadK asked about was:  is the show going to be exploitative and sexist?

Well, I don't think so.  

The writers and directors are women, and Tatiana Maslany doesn't really go in for roles where she'd be the butt of jokes (she's an astonishing actor if you ever delved into Orphan Black, a show which would push any actor to their breaking point, and she's amazing in it 10 times over.).  

Because the trailer is a little sexy, right?  We're only really used to ogling Thor and maybe Steve's butt.  Somehow ScarJo as Black Widow went remarkably unremarked upon for a decade of movies.  But here - we get right to it.

I mean, that's been the gag with She-Hulk since the 1980's, at least.  Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk's real name, doesn't lose her intellect as She-Hulk, she becomes a 7 foot super model and goes from introvert to extrovert.   And she owns her sexiness.  

Of course, you can't not know the origins are from an all-male crew of comic creators who likely wanted to draw statuesque women for a living, and Byrne - who turned the character into a comedic comic icon with his run - broke the fourth wall repeatedly telling us "can you believe this is the gig?"  

actual frames from an actual comic

Couple of things worth noting - She-Hulk did and does have a strong female following.  The idea that a woman could be funny AND bullet proof AND smart AND successful AND gorgeous (and green!) AND consider anyone a potential hook-up was appealing to women in an era where estimates are that 90+% of the readership was male.  The comics appealed beyond the usual Quasar readers by spoofing most of what was in most comics, which is inherently goofy a lot of the time.  I mean, my first exposure to US-1, Marvel's trucker character, was in the pages of She-Hulk.  And I think for people who looked sideways at comics, that went over pretty well.

The controversial bit is:  how does sex fit into the Marvel Universe, especially if the woman is now valued because of her appearance - and she embraces it?

I haven't read any early She-Hulk to see how this was handled, but since the 1980's, She-Hulk's self-awareness of her appeal and rolling with it as a bonus has been part and parcel of the character.  Sometimes she's annoyed by it, sometimes she's less so.  I've lived with it so long and from a context of a different era, it defies the twitter-friendly good/ bad dichotomy we want to slap these things with.  There's some nuance there and room to work with the character.  

I don't think the show will be *about* all of this, but I do think - hey, we should have some different kinds of characters.  Not every character is a sad-sack martyr, and we should probably check our biases when it comes to why some things seem fine for, say, Tony Stark, but we flip our lid when it's a green lady.  I'm expecting Marvel will bring some action/comedy to the screen, and we can enjoy some wackiness.  We deserve some wackiness.  Even some kinda horny wackiness.  But let's also assume from the credentials and gender of the leads on this show - the concerns we might bring with us are probably well in hand.  Even if the mere existence of She-Hulk is going to drive some folks to the twitters to let us know "Green Stacy is bad".

The irony of pondering all of this as a negative is that there's a portion of twitter that can't take Marvel seriously because, after Iron Man, the universe has been mostly sexless.  But on this same day I was asked if Marvel were making a misstep, I watched a twitter thread unfold in which a lot of people talked about how horrified they were by sex on TV and in movies.   This brief twitter flurry led me to guess there is going to be some group of people for whom acknowledging sex and sexuality at all is an issue, and they will make themselves known.  And I will not take them seriously.  Because not everything is there to meet your personal rubric, people.

And, if I was gonna ban something on TV, the last thing I'd be worried about for adults watching TV is people doing the deed.  I'm way more concerned about at least a dozen other things that are on TV all the time.  So.

Unrelated, but related - I am also aware that some folks are out there saying "why didn't they just find a taller actress with the right physique and height and paint her green?"  And, as much as I want more Hannah Waddingham on my TV, no. Ms. Waddingham is busy and does not need to be green.  Also, Shulky isn't 6'0", she's much taller.  If you know a lot of female actors who are 6'6" or taller, can act, and have a superhero physique... maybe!  Or, you know, recognize that your request is dumb, it wouldn't work, "the CGI looks bad" is what is said in 1 in 3 projects when trailers hit, and you will be sold on the show when you actually watch it.

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