She-Hulk shows how Marvel can fix its biggest tone problem
Its full embrace of the easygoing sitcom format raises a question: Who else in the MCU can have fun?
It actually matters that Jennifer Walters said the words “standalone wedding episode.”
No one on Earth could have guessed that, well over a decade after Iron Man hit theaters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe would expand to streaming and produce an easygoing hang show like She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. And while it’s true the writing needs to be refined if She-Hulk is going to be worthy of sharing space with the best sitcoms, it has the self-awareness to know its parameters and still have fun.
But She-Hulk is raising the question of who gets to have fun. Fans aggrieved over She-Hulk are prone to forget what her comics were about. The John Byrne run that She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is spiritually adapting had the same ridiculous “modern woman lampoons the zeitgeist” energy for which the show has received flak. In Byrne’s day, it was aerobics. Today, it’s twerking with Meghan Thee Stallion. Comics aren’t always so serious. Where do you think the word “comics” came from?
She-Hulk isn’t the only hero to have had fun in her stories, but the current execution of her series makes us wonder about the rest of the MCU. What other characters deserve a sitcom like She-Hulk, and which ones are actually suited for it?
While She-Hulk has comics to inspire its tone, other major Marvel characters like Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men have all had comics that ranged from the deadly serious to seriously hilarious. One of the funniest moments in modern superhero comics was in Mark Waid’s Daredevil, when Matt Murdock went to a Christmas party — amid accusations he was Daredevil — with a bright sweater that read, “I’M NOT DAREDEVIL.”
Yet MCU fans are insistent that Daredevil maintains the same dark tone he’s had for years. No matter how long it’s been since Frank Miller’s comics were published, which inspired both a movie and three seasons of a TV show, Daredevil fans are apparently unwilling to entertain anything that isn’t reverent to that tone. (And so apparently, is the MCU, at least if the Born Again subtitle of the Disney+ revival is anything to go by.)
The Fantastic Four, whose stories have been comparatively lighter than Daredevil’s, also have epic adventures set in the cosmos. But they’re a wealthy and dysfunctional family who live in a Manhattan high-rise. When the Fantastic Four aren’t gallivanting around space, Johnny Storm is pranking The Thing. The team is almost tailor-made for an episodic sitcom under the Marvel Studios banner. Yet the MCU is giving them the big-budget movie treatment, which implies an Avengers-esque tone that will be fun but also weighted with gravitas.
We don’t necessarily need a Daredevil sitcom, but I’m still puzzled by Marvel’s assignment of tone and genre to its characters. It’s similar to asking which Marvel characters deserve movies and which TV shows. Why did Moon Knight get a show and not a two-hour origin movie? Why did Black Widow get a movie to close her story while Hawkeye received closure on streaming? Why does She-Hulk get a sitcom, but not the Fantastic Four?
There are financial and logistical aspects to consider, sure. The disappointing CGI of She-Hulk has proved arduous for a TV show with a single superpowered character, so it’s hard to imagine a show pulling it off with a team of four.
But She-Hulk is proving that Marvel can work in the sitcom sandbox, and with the right material it might even do something sensational. Comedy doesn’t have to begin and end at She-Hulk. But if it does, at least we can say it’s been fun.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law streams new episodes Thursdays on Disney+.