Jennifer Walters might not seem like an obvious choice for the next generation of Marvel superheroes—in fact, as trailers for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law demonstrate, she’s not even interested in being a superhero at all—but there’s a lot in the latest Disney+ series to show that Marvel is using Bruce Banner’s cousin to experiment with some new ideas on how to tell super stories. Sitcom setups? Breaking the fourth wall? Barely disguised metaphors about how the world treats angry women? All of this has been covered by the character’s comic book history. If you’ve finished the show and want to learn more, here’s where to start.
The creation of She-Hulk is a strange and amusing story. Hearing rumors that the producers of the 1970s Hulk TV show had been toying with creating a female version of the character for a potential spin-off, à la The Bionic Woman, Stan Lee himself jumped into action to make sure Marvel came up with their version first, resulting in a character that … didn’t really emerge into print fully formed. The resulting two-year run of The Savage She-Hulk makes for a fascinating curiosity of roads less traveled, as early ’80s feminism—filtered through an entirely male creative team, of course—meets the Mighty Marvel Method in a veritable clash of the titans. Who wins? Who loses? Four decades on, it’s still hard to say.
If there’s a breakthrough project for She-Hulk, it’s Sensational She-Hulk, a stealth reboot of the entire character that established her as a comedy hero. Building off appearances in both the Avengers and Fantastic Four series—she was a member of both teams after her first comic got canceled—writer and artist John Byrne set Jennifer up as a snarky, fun-loving hero who was ready to talk back to her fans (and, at times, her creators) when she felt things weren’t living up to her standards. The roots of the onscreen She-Hulk can be traced back to this troubled run, which deserves its place in the spotlight this time out. (The gap between #8 and #31 comes down to Byrne leaving the book over arguments with editors, and then returning once cooler heads had prevailed, to explain the trouble.)
The idea that She-Hulk would work in an office that specializes in superhuman legal cases comes from this mid-2000s series written by Dan Slott, who’d go on to make his name with an extensive run as Marvel’s primary Spider-Man writer. (It’s one consistent series that gets relaunched after a year, hence the confusing numbering above.) It’s not only a strong comedy series, but one that adds a central element to the Disney+ show: a deep love of Marvel lore, to the point where the stories become filled with cameos, Easter eggs, and references that tease fans with glimpses into future events. (Slott teases something called the Reckoning War in his She-Hulk comics; that wouldn’t come to fruition until the very end of his Fantastic Four run, earlier this year. It’s good to plan ahead, I guess.) If you’re looking for just one She-Hulk comic to match what you’re getting onscreen, this is the one.
What if She-Hulk, a superpowered attorney, appeared in a comic book written by an actual lawyer? What if that made the legal side of things both more authentic and more enjoyable? And what if said legal cases included a courtroom showdown with Marvel’s other superhero attorney, Matt Murdock, a k a Daredevil? (Yes, we know he’s going to be in the Disney+ show as well; that’s kind of why we mentioned it.) Thanks, Charles Soule! (And artist Javier Pulido, whose art for this run is absolutely astounding.)
To finish, here’s something very different indeed. Spinning out of the Civil War II storyline from 2016, in which She-Hulk got hit in the face by a missile and almost died, award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki took on the character for something that’s madder, messier, and arguably emotionally deeper than anything she’d appeared in before: a story about recovery, anger, and how to deal with things when they seem overwhelming and impossible. It’s a big ask, but not a heavy read, filled with the kinds of smashing that you’d want from any Hulk story … just with a lot more added in for extra flavor.