She-Hulk and the Importance of Lawyers in Marvel Stories Over the Years
Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, is Marvel’s latest superhero, and her day job as a lawyer is part of a long Marvel tradition of using lawyers as narrative pegs to discuss Red Button political issues. in comics.
Marvel’s latest series, She-Hulk: Lawyerwill begin its six-episode run on August 18. The show was created by Jessica Gao, a TV screenwriter who has previously worked on acclaimed shows like Silicon Valley and rick and morty (for the latter, she wrote the acclaimed episode ‘Pickle Rick’, which juggles quite impressively between survivalism, science fiction and psychiatry). The story follows Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), a lawyer who works at a large law firm called Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg and Holliway (GLK&H) specializing in cases involving super beings.
After Walters suffers a car accident alongside her cousin Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), she receives an infusion of his blood that ends up giving her some pretty similar superpowers. Like Bruce, she too can transform into a green-skinned, physically imposing version of herself with exceptional strength and stamina. She can also retain her human form for far longer than Bruce, and has better control over her rage (although it’s still there).
One of the most interesting pieces to come out of the series so far is the watch featuring Emil Blonsky aka The Abomination (Tim Roth), a character we’ve seen before in The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Shang Chi (2021). In the latter, the character was seen alongside Wong (Benedict Wong) who comes looking for Walters, trying to convince her that Blonsky might be too big a problem for the American justice system. “We answer to a higher power,” Wong says and Walters replies, “I’m a lawyer, gotta do things by the rules!” whereupon Wong replies, “The Book of Vishanti?”, referring to a book of enchantments he encountered in Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness released earlier this year. Walters is impassive (the comedy takes place in threes, remember): “No, the book of American laws”
Another Marvel character who is a lawyer by day is Walters/She-Hulk. For a variety of reasons, lawyers have always played a key role in Marvel stories. Superhero characters who are also lawyers, like Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, often end up representing minority groups, immigrants, and the like, giving comic book writers room to discuss these red-button political issues, great topics of discussion with their young readers. Plus, there was the glitch of superhero comics on the conservative radar, legally speaking, because of the violence and, on occasion, sexuality and nudity exhibited on some of those titles. So the legal challenges on the page were a great way to discuss censorship issues without actually spelling it out.
Multiple Man and Matt Rocks, Esq.
One of the most interesting examples of a superhero lawyer actually happened in the pages of She-Hulk itself, in a supporting character called James Madrox aka Multiple Man, who can create endless copies of themselves, each with their own consciousness and free will, and then “reabsorbing” them later, along with whatever they learned on their own, including new skills and new memories.
In one of his ‘iterations’, Madrox is seen creating ‘Matt Rocks’, who becomes a lawyer, entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. Matt Rocks was played mostly for laughs by Marvel, but he ends up having a few harrowing moments. Notably, he is ultimately not absorbed by Madrox, who does not consider his skills good enough for re-induction. Hard if you ask us because Rocks had developed some kind of conscience, which wasn’t always Madrox’s forte.
Ultimately, Madrox loses control of his mind after creating too many copies of himself. After a while, he can no longer distinguish between his own memories and those of the copies he has “reabsorbed”.
Matt Murdock aka Daredevil
As a young boy, Matt Murdock was blinded by a radioactive substance that fell into his eyes following a car accident. Adult Matt Murdock (having learned deadly combat skills from a ninja named Stick) is a freelance lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen by day and the crime-fighting vigilante called Daredevil by night. Murdock and his friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson).
Nelson and Murdock’s work in the Netflix-era MCU show daredevil showed them that they fight again and again for the underdog. Their very first client and later ally is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) who is a whistleblower. She uncovers evidence of financial corruption at her workplace, Union Allied Construction, and soon becomes the target of very powerful and beleaguered businessmen. Murdock must protect her inside the courtroom when she is falsely accused of murder and outside, when the mobsters hired by her former employers try to run her down, only to run into Daredevil.
Eventually, of course, Murdock’s two jobs – as a lawyer who can’t be bought off and unafraid to take on gangsters – and as a crime-fighting army at Hell’s Kitchen at night, put him in direct conflict with the big bad of the series. , mob tycoon/boss Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). When Nelson and Murdock represent Carl Hoffmann, a police detective on Kingpin’s payroll, the man agrees to testify against Fisk, providing enough evidence to put Fisk behind bars for years.
Murdock’s victory over Fisk comes in the courtroom, not at night on a rooftop, where Daredevil is usually found beating criminals to a pulp. Narratively speaking, this is important to Murdock’s character development as his best friends Foggy and Karen are both very invested in the “right way” of bringing down criminals, i.e. the legal route. However, Murdock, especially in his early days in the Daredevil costume, is a little more trigger-happy and more willing to let his alter-ego finish what his legal savvy started.
Conversely, in the show’s second season, we see Matt Murdock in direct conflict with someone who doesn’t believe in the legal system at all – former military hero Frank Castle aka The Punisher, a brutal vigilante who murdered dozens of gangsters, taking them out long distance with his expert sniping and superior firepower. Murdock and Castle are on opposite sides of the debate whenever the script discusses the “system” and they essentially represent two grades of comic book superheroes – one filled with old-school virtues like hope and hope. optimism (the Superman archetype) and the other with a grittier, far more cynical view of humanity (i.e. the Batman archetype).
Jennifer Walters from the comics
There are plenty of exciting courtroom stories involving Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk from the original Marvel comics. On one memorable occasion, she took on Matt Murdock in the courtroom, representing Captain America/Steve Rogers himself in a wrongful death case. In general, Jennifer Walters is known for fighting for minority rights, immigrants and the importance of due process. She clashed with quasi-governmental organizations like SHIELD when they used the bodies of super-villains for medical experimentation, for example.
Over the past 10-15 years in comics, Walters has also represented several other superheroes in court. For example, she sued J. Jonah Jameson (played by JK Simmons in the MCU) for defamation, portraying Peter Parker/Spider-Man. One of the most controversial story arcs involving Walters’ legal career in the comics occurred in 2006, when in She-Hulk #6 she led the defense team of Starfox, a member of the Avengers who uses his superhuman powers of persuasion to have sex. with a civilian woman. It is implied that Walters herself is under the superhuman influence of Starfox when she argues in court. But she also believes, somewhat naively, that an Avenger would never abuse his powers for sexual gratification.
When she realizes her mistake (it turns out she may also have been “persuaded” into having a sexual relationship with Starfox in the past), her She-Hulk persona takes over; she captures a runaway Starfox and brings him to justice.
Any of these storylines would be pure gold for a TV series, and it will be fascinating to see how Tatiana Maslany approaches the courtroom segments of her role. As we mentioned earlier, she is the attorney representing Emil Blonsky, as such she is already in conflict with some of the Avengers roster. We already know Wong isn’t too impressed with her, and it’s not unreasonable to see Doctor Strange in the mix in future shows/movies. Thanks to the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnesswe know that Stephen Strange’s faith in “the system” was greatly diminished – in a parallel universe he saw an overlord body called The Illuminati kill their version of Strange and then lie to the world about it, making a literal statue of the man they murdered in cold blood (he was seen as too unstable).
Many of the comic book storylines discussed here were written in the mid to late 2000s, and that was the height of legal dramas like Boston Legal and Ally McBeal, both created by David E. Kelley whose scriptwriting at this time was heavily influenced by irony, sarcasm, and breaking the fourth wall. As a result, She-Hulk comics were also influenced by these qualities. It’s an intriguing mix of tones and themes, and Marvel really has their job done.
Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based freelance writer and journalist currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.