Disney Plus’ She-Hulk is an intentionally silly, fourth-wall breaking show that pokes fun at itself and the MCU overal using tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted insults. With themes culled from almost 200 She-Hulk comic books, the show portrays Jennifer Walters, an attorney who is transformed into a Hulk when she gets her cousin Bruce Banner/Hulk’s blood in her system after a car wreck. What ensues is an irreverent send-up of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its various characters.
Some fans are unhappy with She-Hulk‘s critical sense of humor. Mining the topic on the internet yields countless negative responses to the way the show is referencing some beloved MCU characters. There is the strong sentiment that such heroes as Iron Man, Daredevil, and Captain America are sacrosanct and do not deserve to be mocked, least of all by the studio that owes its success to these characters. Tied into the preciousness of these characters, She-Hulk has also incurred its share of misogynistic rants and social media posts.
On the other hand, there are those who enjoy the comedy in She-Hulk. Again, mining the internet shows that these fans enjoy the self-deprecating nature and the way the show pokes fun at the MCU and at itself. The jests aren’t made to belittle, but rather to pay tribute with humor. The presence of another female superhero is mostly a welcome sight as they are still in the minority, though this does seem to be changing.
Iron Man The “Billionaire… Narcissist”
Perhaps the most keenly felt insult is when Jen, who adamantly does not want the She-Hulk transformation, said that, “I’m not a superhero. That is for billionaires and narcissists. And adult orphans for some reason.” This line is unmistakably a jab at Iron Man, though there are quite a few other superhero adult orphans—Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Hawkeye, to name a few. Outside the MCU there are also superhero orphans like Batman and Superman. This archetype does not specifically apply to Iron Man, but in combination with narcissist and billionaire it does. Despite this comment, Jen, when wandering in Hulk’s abode, sees the ruined Iron Man helmet and looks at it with tenderness, as if she can imagine why it’s in the shape it’s in, and she has respect for that.
She-Hulk Undermined Hulk’s Entire Arc
Hulk’s character arc has been a series of problematic identity crises. He began as a man on the run, struggling with a destructive beast inside him, one he wants to get rid of. He comes to a slow realization that he could use this power to do good. In The Avengers, he’s recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D., and with the aid of Tony Stark, he learns how to believe in himself, and he finds a home with the Avengers. After an unfortunate incident with the Scarlet Witch, Bruce Banner is once again on the run, with Hulk in complete control and Bruce Banner hiding in the background. After The Blip, he took time to figure out how to integrate Bruce with the Hulk, which led to him becoming Smart Hulk. He’s had tremendous internal struggles, but he no longer had to be a mindless monster of destruction.
The problem arose with Hulk’s role in She-Hulk. Here, he was a mentor of sorts to his cousin Jen who had just become something he had internally battled against for years. He wants to help her learn to control the green side of her. Throughout her training, she seems to demonstrate a greater capability than Hulk, as evidenced by her prowess at boulder throwing and gymnastic ability in yoga mediation. Hulk’s surprise at her performance may also carry a bit of jealousy. She-Hulk is a newbie performing really well and appearing to be in complete control of her power when Bruce Banner was a tortured character cursed by his power, and She-Hulk seems to embrace it. As far as an insult goes, She-Hulk’s attempts at mastery in no way diminish Hulk’s struggle or his strength.
Open Daredevil Insults (& Ruining His Corridor Fight)
Daredevil appears in episode 8 of She-Hulk, a much-anticipated event. Matt Murdock and Jen Walters face off in a courtroom, and later hit if off in a bar, with Matt telling her that she can be both a superhero and a lawyer, “I think you’re in a unique position to do some real good. Jennifer Walters can use the law to help people when the society fails them, and She-Hulk can help people when the law fails them.” During a spectacular fight scene, She-Hulk discovers that the man she just had drinks with is Daredevil. There’s a nice tip of the hat when the theme from Daredevil is played briefly.
The insult here is that the Daredevil in this episode of She-Hulk is showing a fair amount of humor, which seems counter to his character in the series Daredevil. Despite Matt Murdock being capable of humor in the comics, the portrayal of a funny, talkative Daredevil is disappointing and outrageous to some. It didn’t help matters when She-Hulk crashed through the ceiling in one of his iconic hallway fight scenes, which had become a staple in Daredevil.
Captain America’s A Virgin?
In a hilarious sequence in She-Hulk episode 1, Jen and Bruce are driving in a car, and she is speculating about Steve Roger’s virginity. She points out that he did not have a girlfriend before going into the service, and he was obviously busy being a superhero when he got out, so it logically follows that he was a virgin, a remark that immediately, though in jest, emasculates Captain America. In a later post-credits scene, during an evening of drinking, Bruce tells Jen that Captain America did indeed lose his virginity during a USO tour in 1943.
The Episode 8 “Finale Set-Up” 4th Wall-Breaking Monologue
In the second half of episode 8 of She-Hulk, Jen is sitting on her couch after spending the night with Matt, and she delivers what might be her best fourth-wall breaking monologue. She questions whether the viewers should still be here and what is the purpose of this scene. Nikki reminds her that the gala is that evening. Jen says, “Is next episode the finale? Oh..Just like a tacked-on set piece near the end of the season. This is the big twist, isn’t it? But the question is, is it the kind of twist that’s like, ooo, there’s another Hulk and this one’s red, or I’m getting fridged?” She-Hulk is poking fun at tried and tired tropes. Fridging is used to kill of a female character to augment a male character’s arc, and it’s tiresome but widely used. Think of how Marvel often uses Black Widow.
She-Hulk Mocked Marvel Fans’ Theory Obsession
In what has to be the most pointed barb of all, She-Hulk directly takes on misogynistic fans, using their own words against them. In episode 3 of She-Hulk, there is a montage of media figures slamming She-Hulk’s supposed takeover of Hulk’s manhood: “They took the Hulk’s manhood away, but then gave it to a woman?” “I don’t get it. Why are you turning every superhero into a girl?” “So we have a MeToo movement and now all the male heroes are gone?” This brief scene takes actual comments made about the show and throws them back to the viewers. It’s an acknowledgment of the criticism and a means to poke fun at the tropes and online backlash, an unsubtle way to hit at reactionaries whose knee-jerk outrage to a female superhero gets in the way of good television.
She-Hulk‘s “insults” levied at superheroes and their creators is a lighthearted way to pay tribute and also stymie critics. The show isn’t mean or hateful. It is, in fact, fun. By poking at such iconic characters as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk, She-Hulk is shining a light on the superhero genre and also suggesting ways it could be more inclusive.