When the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008, it started with “Iron Man,” and then eventually introduced either characters who were either introduced in the 1960s (such as Thor and Hulk), or were revamped for what was then considered modern times (as was the case with Captain America, who was transported from the ‘40s to the ‘60s after he was unthawed from an iceberg).
The 1960s are often referred to as The Silver Age by fans and comic book historians, and in large part this era, at least in terms of Marvel Comics, was overseen by creators such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko.
While it may not have been Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige’s plan all along for Disney’s (DIS) MCU to parallel the progression of the comics from the '60s onward, it’s roughly, if not exactly, worked out that way (though perhaps by accident).
After actors such as Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson left the Marvel Universe after a decade of films (and until very recently, it was unthinkable that a Hollywood movie star would play one character for so long in so many films), Feige and his team of writers and directors started exploring titles and characters created in the 1970s and onward.
It’s not a perfect one-to-one comparison, as the recent critically acclaimed Disney+ hit “Ms. Marvel” is based on a character who was introduced in 2013. But recent Marvel films and TV series such as “Moon Knight,” “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” were all based on characters introduced in the ‘70s, a time when Marvel writers were pushing the comics into more esoteric, supernatural, and cosmic realms.
The Disney+ series “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” incorporated storylines and characters introduced in the 1980s, a period that’s been stuck with the tag “The Post-Modern Age,” even if neither creators nor fans care for the term. It was a time period when creators were deconstructing the popular characters, modernizing for the times and commenting on the cynicism of the era.
And with the premiere of Disney+’s new streaming series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” it seems safe to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now firmly entering the ‘80s. Better stock up on shoulder pads.
So What’s She-Hulk’s Deal?
She-Hulk was introduced in 1980s by Stan Lee and John Buscema, and is generally considered the last truly significant superhero created by the master. As the legend goes, at the time Marvel was having success with “The Incredible Hulk” live action TV series.
Another popular action TV series, “The Six Million Dollar Man” had recently spun-off a hit with “The Bionic Woman,” and Lee and the rest of Marvel worried that the producers of the Hulk show would make their own female spin-off, so Lee headed them off at the pass with She-Hulk, so the company would own the rights to the character.
In the comics, Jessica Walters is an attorney who received a blood transfusion from her cousin after an accident. This being a superhero comic, her cousin is Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, so she gets green skin and super strength and all that. The twist is she retains her human personality and intelligence, and few storylines aside, isn’t raging out all the time. Unlike many tortured superheroes, Walters loves her powers, and also continues to thrive in her career.
The character bounced around the Marvel Universe for a while, joining the Avengers and Fantastic Four at various points, but didn’t really hit her stride until superstar creator John Byrne began writing her in new series “The Sensational She-Hulk.”
Byrne broke the fourth wall, with She-Hulk aware she is a character in a comic book, poking fun at comic book tropes before meta-comedy became a staple of modern humor, and also having the character comment on how she was treated as second-class hero because she’s a woman.
Byrne would frequently, depending on your point of view, either satirize or pander to the overly sexualized superhero comics of the '90s, including a controversial cover that famously parodied Demi Moore’s nude Vanity Fair cover. (It’s entirely possible to find hormonal fanboy behavior unseemly while also milking it for sales. Just saying.)
This take on the character stuck, mostly, with some writers treating her as a straight ahead hero, and with other writers such as Dan Slott writing a comedic series where Walters is a lawyer who represents superheroes or people wronged by the super-powered community, such as when Spider-Man sued his nemesis J. Jonah Jameson for defamation.
So What Are Critics And Fans Saying About ‘She-Hulk’?
That comedic take informs “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” as both the comics and the show have a lot of fun with playing around with and commenting on just how weird it must be to live in a world where superheroes and supervillains are constantly fighting with each other.
The series is Marvel’s first true sitcom (and not a meta-commentary on sitcoms like “WandaVision,”) and it’s developed by head writer Jessica Gao (best known for the “Pickle Rick” episode of “Rick and Morty”) and stars “Orphan Black” actress Tatiana Maslany, who was pretty much destined to be a superhero at some point.
While it’s a much lighter, episodic affair than most Marvel shows, there’s still a supervillain in the form of Jameela Jamil’s Titania. And in a nod to its '80s and sitcom roots, “Perfect Strangers” star Mark Linn-Baker plays She-Hulk’s dad. And this being the MCU, Mark Ruffalo shows up as the Hulk.
So far critics and fans are mostly onboard. The common complaint about the Marvel+ shows is that the special effects aren’t up to the standards of the films, and that seems to especially be the case here. (But the extent to which a certain kind of sexist fan is using this critique as cover to bag a female superhero show is questionable.)
But the show’s fourth-wall breaking humor (which is heavily indebted to “Fleabag,”) Maslany’s facility with physical humor, one-liners and ability to ground the fantastical in nuanced character work, as well as the many fun MCU cameos (which we won’t spoil) seem to work for most people.
So what are critics saying?
Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall isn't sold on the CGI and finds the humor inconsistent, but thinks Maslany is spot-on.
Variety's Caroline Framke also finds the show a bit uneven, but thinks Maslany carries it handily.
The Daily Beast thinks the show is a bit shallow, and could have explored gender roles with more depth.
But the light touch works for Collider, which found the show very charming.
IGN is now convinced all superhero shows should be sitcoms!
The Mary Sue loves the off-beat humor, especially a running gag about Captain America...experience levels.
The Hollywood Reporter finds it all a bit silly. It's up to you if that's good or bad.
And what do the fans think? Well, the first episode dropped very late at night, which is more than enough time for the Marvel devoted to render a verdict, including one very high profile Marvel fan.