She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Lays Down the “Superhuman Law”

After a pause for Worldcon and winning a Hugo, I return to my episode by episode reviews of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. For my takes on previous episodes (well, just one so far) go here.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

When we last saw Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk, she was delivering her closing statement at a trial and was forced to hulk out, when the super-villainess Titania attacked the judge, the jury and the audience. Jen saved everybody and then continued to deliver her statement.

Episode 2 starts off with news reports about the uproar in the courthouse and the new superheroine in town. We also learn that Jen is an assistant district attorney and that Titania is a super-powered influencer who rampaged through the courthouse following a traffic court appointment, which explains the sudden attack out of nowhere. This is somewhat different from the comics, where Titania was a troubled girl from the wrong side of the tracks who gained superpowers to impress the local mean girl clique and eventually formed a professional and romantic partnership with the Absorbing Man.

The media insists on calling Jen She-Hulk, a name she dislikes, because it’s derivative of her cousin’s superhero name and also kind of stupid. She’s right, too, because a lot of superhero names are stupid and a female superheroes have names derived from their male counterparts, hence you get Batgirl and Batwoman (who are different characters), Supergirl, Spiderwoman, Ms. Marvel, Hawkgirl and of course She-Hulk. However, as Jen will quickly find out, superheroes also usually don’t have the control over naming themselves, once the media has come up with a name. Indeed, this point comes up repeatedly throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, e.g. Tony Stark pointing out that Iron Man is technically incorrect, because his suit is made from titanium.

Still, for better or worse, Jen is a celebrity now. When she and her paralegal/best friend Nikki head to a bar popular with lawyers, everybody demands to see She-Hulk, so Jen transforms, which has the advantage that she can drink a lot more than usual due to her sped up Hulk metabolism. The annoying mansplaining dude from the first episode is back as well and accuses Jen of acquiring superpowers due to nepotism and because she wants the attention. Never mind that Jen very much did not want any superpowers. Mansplaining dude then leaves, because he has spotted a “hot girl”. We feel sorry for that poor woman.

Next, Jen’s boss shows up at the bar. Clearly disturbed by her Hulk form, he asks her to transform back to normal, which Jen does and promptly gets hit by the full volume of alcohol she consumed, since she no longer has the sped up Hulk metabolism. However, Jen will certainly need the alcohol, because her boss has bad news for her. The trial was declared a mistrial, because Jen saving the jury from getting squashed by Titania would unfairly prejudice them in her favour. Jen replies that she could hardly let all of those people die, but her boss won’t have any of that. The district attorney’s office lost the trial, Jen and her abilities are a liability and so she’s fired.

We now get a montage of Jen applying for a new job in a succession of legal practices that start off with elegant furnishings and become progressively dingier. However, no one wants to hire her, because her abilities are too much of a distraction, a “sideshow” as the interviewer in the dingiest office – I imagine someone like the dodgy lawyer from Better Call Saul – puts it. Not even the worst sort of lawyer the US legal system has to offer wants to hire Jen.

Jen’s rendition of “It’s not easy being green” reminds me of Maud, my own version of the She-Hulk character, when I acquired a She-Hulk figure but had to make up my own story for her. For Maud also looses her job after turning big, green and muscular and finds that no one wants to hire her. I guess even at the age of 13 or 14, it was very obvious to me that women who deviate so starkly from the prevailing beauty ideal and particularly women who are taller and more muscular than most men, would have problems being accepted anywhere. The freakout that the usual toxic fanboys have whenever a muscular woman appears in a comic, film or TV show – see Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder or Teela in Masters of the Universe: Revelation – only proves this point. And of course, the usual toxic fanboys hate She-Hulk, too, both the show and the comic.

Jen’s situation also reminded me of another TV show about a female lawyer and one of the few lawyer shows I ever liked, the German show Danni Lowinski. Danni is not green nor can she hulk out, but she’s unabashaedly working class and lives in a council estate, i.e. she is the sort of person way too many people never expected to attend, let alone finish university. After graduating, Danni has problems finding a job, because she doesn’t have the right kind of background and is also older than the average university graduate, because she had to go to nightschool to get her college qualification. So she opens her own practice in the form of a fold-out table in the basement of a mall. Danni Lowinski was remarkably good and had a lot to say about the way the German educational system still fails talented kids from working class or immigrant backgrounds and came out during a time, when Sat 1 actually made good and innovative TV shows. I also totally want a Danni and Jen team-up now. I’d even throw in Liebling, Kreuzberg, another offbeat lawyer show, which I liked, only that Manfred Krug sadly is no longer with us.

Jen commisarates with her friend Nikki. Nikki suggests that Jen should maybe consider joining the Avengers, but Jen replies that superheroing is more narcissists, billionaires and adult orphans and that she has no idea whether the Avengers are even paid, let alone what benefits they get. It’s never fully spelled out in the movies, but it’s suggested that first SHIELD and then, following the demise of SHIELD, Tony Stark bankrolls the Avengers. Which of course begets the question of who finances the Avengers now that Tony is gone. Pepper?

As if things weren’t bad enough for Jen already, she has to go to a family dinner at her parents’ place and endure styling tips from her annoying aunt, her Mom’s attempts to fix her up with random men, her Dad asking questions about Hawkeye that Jen can’t answer, because she doesn’t know the man, her annoying cousin (clearly the lone idiot as well as non-Hulk in that generation of the family) celebrating that he has been promoted to manager at Best Buy, while Jen is unemployed. In short, it’s the typical family dinner from hell (is there any other kind?). Though Jen’s Dad, who seems genuinely supportive, also tells her that she’ll get through this and that this isn’t even the first time they had to deal with a Hulk in the family.

Next, we see Jen back at the lawyer bar, down and out and drinking the cheap stuff, because she can no longer afford the pricier drinks. Then, out of the blue, Jen is approached by one Mr. Holloway, the lawyer who represented the accused in the last trial Jen worked on, before Titania rudely interrupted it. Mr. Holloway tells Jen that he was impressed by her statement and that she would likely have won, if the whole thing hadn’t been declared a mistrial. He also offers Jen a job in his big and prestigious law firm.

This job comes with all the perks considered highly desirable in US office culture such as a corner office with almost ridiculously big windows – which I really hope have blinds, because otherwise it will got roastingly hot in there – and Jen gets to hire her own paralegal and can take Nikki along. There’s also a co-worker named Paul who welcomes Jen and Nikki with a gift basket, including where to find the best bathroom.

Now I have issues with office comedies (or office dramas), because I’ve never worked in that kind of office. When I was a kid in the early 1980s, there was a comedy called Büro, Büro (Office, Office) on West German TV, airing in the coveted early evening slot, where advertising was allowed and many kids were watching. In short, it was a terrible time slot for a comedy aimed at older adults. The intro of Büro, Büro is here BTW and isn’t that the most 1970s looking into ever).

I hated Büro, Büro, because I found it incomprehensible, unfunny and dull as dishwater, and pretty much everybody my age felt the same. My parents used to say that I would understand the show once I grew older, but I never did, because I simply never had that sort of job. Büro, Büro is an extreme example, but I have always had issues connecting with office-centered workplace comedies or dramas, because I have never had that kind of job and find office politics extremely weird and offputting. I did like Mad Men, but that was largely because of the retro 1960s setting and because I found the advertising industry stuff genuinely interesting. I still didn’t care about the office politics and I disliked the soap opera elements of who was sleeping with whom or cheating on whom even more. Most office-centered workplace comedies or dramas, however, don’t focus on what the company in question is actually doing (which might be interesting), but on the office politics and toxic co-worker stuff I don’t like.

Office comedies and dramas from the US are even stranger, because corporate culture is different. However, I’ve seen enough US films and TV shows to know that a corner office is a big deal – I guess because you have a nice view. I also know that there is a weird thing about bathrooms – in the beginning of Die Hard, there is a lengthy discussion of Holly getting the private bathroom that the coke sniffing guy wanted, though I don’t recall Holly having a corner officer – though I don’t quite get it or why anybody would need a map to the best bathroom. I mean, if you work in a school, you know to go to the teacher and not the student bathrooms, because the student bathrooms are usually an unholy mess. But if you’re working in an office with only adults, why would one bathroom be better or worse than another? Maybe the whole bathroom map thing is supposed to demonstrate that Paul, the friendly co-worker, is a bit of a dork. Or maybe it is some weird US office culture thing.

In short, Jen has landed what everybody would consider a dream job. There is only one catch – or rather two. The first is that Jen will work in the new superhuman law division, which is focussed on superbeings in legal trouble, and that Holloway expects her to come to work and go into court as She-Hulk, not Jen. Jen balks at this, because she feels that she has been hired more for her looks and superpowers than for her skills as a lawyer. And even if not, that’s how everybody else will see it. Besides, so she tells Nikki, she’ll need a whole new set of boring lawyer clothes, since She-Hulk tends to burst out of Jen’s clothes. “But if you take the job, you’ll have the money to afford a whole new wardrobe”, the ever practical Nikki replies.

The second catch is that the first case Jen is supposed to take is the parole hearing of Emil Blonsky a.k.a. the Abomination. Jen immediately points out that there is a massive conflict of interest here, because Blonsky tried to kill her cousin and laid waste to large swathes of Harlem in the process. However, Holloway assures Jen that Blonsky has signed a waiver acknowledging the potential conflict of interest. He also tells Jen that if she refuses to take Blonsky’s case, she can forget about the job.

So Jen goes to see Blonsky in one of those maximum security concrete prison fortresses with plexiglass walled cells that are a common trope in Hollywood thrillers, because they are cinematic, even though they make very little sense. The guards won’t let Jen enter the prison in her She-Hulk form and also tell her not to step too close to the plexiglass and that she needs to sign a waiver in case she gets hurt or killed, because the guards can’t protect her from the Abomination. Dudes, she’s a bloody Hulk. I’m pretty sure Jen can take care of herself, though I suspect the prison might be reduced to rubble in the process.

But as it is, it’s not the Abomination who’s sitting in the glass-walled cell, but Emil Blonsky in his human form, still played by Tim Roth who played him in The Incredible Hulk all the way back in 2008. I guess with both Thunderbolt Ross and Blonsky showing up in other Marvel movies, the 2008 Incredible Hulk is now considered Marvel Cinematic Universe canon, something which was debatable for a long time, because a) Bruce Banner is played by Edward Norton rather than Mark Ruffalo, and b) it’s one of the weakest Marvel movies, probably the weakest.

Blonsky tells Jen that he has reformed and won’t transform into the Abomination anymore and that he just wants to live a peaceful life in a quiet far away place with his seven soulmates he met via the prison pen pal program. Blonsky has also written letters too all his victims and sent them haiku he penned while in prison. Besides, Blonsky tells Jen that he isn’t really responsible for what happened to him, because he was just a soldier doing his job, when he was tasked by the US government in the form of Thunderbolt Ross to hunt down Bruce Banner and that the US government were the ones who injected him with an experimental super-soldier serum. Blonsky expected to become the next Captain America, but instead became the Abomination. The sad thing is that all this actually true. Blonsky was not told the truth about why he was sent to hunt down Bruce Banner and he wasn’t told the truth about the serum. He’s still not a very likable character, probably because Tim Roth specialises in playing unlikable people, but he is telling the truth here.

Jen is largely convinced that Blonsky has a point and that she can achieve parole for him, but she won’t take the job without first asking Bruce for his approval. Bruce, who is still in his mellow Professor Hulk persona, gives Jen his blessing and reveals that he was the recipient of one of Blonsky’s apology letters and haiku, which makes me wonder how Blonsky even found an address to mail the letter and haiku. After all, I’m pretty sure that Dr. Bruce Banner is not in the phone book.

So Jen goes to Holloway to inform him that she is accepting the job, when Holloway drops the bombshell. Blonsky has broken out of prison and turned back into the Abomination and was spotted taking part in an illegal fight club in Macau – all of which is a reference to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Of course, those of us who have seen that film know that Blonsky had a very good reason to leave the prison and become the Abomination again and that he even voluntarily returned to his cell.  That said, Blonsky – and Wong, who broke him out of prison – have just made Jen’s job a lot harder. Cue credits.

I should probably say something about the credits, which are drawn in the style of court reporter sketches and really nicely done. Plus, there is another mid-credits scene, where we see Jen’s family using her new-found Hulk powers to lift up cars and move heavy furniture and water tanks. Which rings true, because someone with super-strength would absolutely be asked to carry heavy stuff around all the time.

I’ve said several times before that the great strength of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in its variety and that it can take all sorts of genres and subgenres and add superheroes into the mix. Two episodes in, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law seems to be “plucky female lawyer show with superheroes” a.k.a. “Danni Lowinski with superpowers”, which certainly makes for an entertaining mix.

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