The Hulk has gone a long way since he first smashed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the newest episode of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) phones her famous Avenger cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), for advice about her new client: Emil Blonsky. Blonsky is better known as the Abomination (Tim Roth), and he was Hulk’s first nemesis from way back in the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk.
In a funny nod at Marvel’s history of recasting characters, She-Hulk acknowledges that Ruffalo wasn’t always the MCU’s Hulk. Minor spoilers ahead.
In the second episode of She-Hulk, Jennifer struggles with the ethics of legally representing the villainous Abomination. Bruce eases Jennifer’s concerns, letting her know that he and Emil have made amends. “That fight was so long ago,” Bruce says, “I’m a completely different person now. Literally.”
Thanks to Jennifer’s ability to break the fourth wall, Jennifer turns to the camera and makes a sarcastic “Ha.” Because she knows we know. And now we know the MCU knows. Everyone knows.
If you don’t know because you’re coming to the MCU later than most, or because you’ve forgotten some of its earliest films, then here’s a piece of trivia for you: The Hulk hasn’t always been played by Mark Ruffalo.
When the Hulk first appeared in the MCU in The Incredible Hulk he was a barbaric rage monster, not the “Smart Hulk” who kicks back on a Mexican beach. And he was played by Edward Norton, famous for movies like American History X, Fight Club, and Red Dragon.
It was in The Incredible Hulk when Bruce and Emil traded fisticuffs, leveling large chunks of Harlem in the process. After the movie’s release, contract negotiations between Edward Norton and Marvel broke down, and the role was recast with Mark Ruffalo. He made his MCU debut in 2012’s The Avengers, and it’s been Ruffalo who's Hulked out ever since.
Between the changing lead and the complex film rights, which are partially owned by Universal Pictures, The Incredible Hulk is something of a black sheep in the franchise. It isn’t available to stream on Disney+, for example, at least in the United States. Before last year’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings featured an Abomination cameo, the MCU’s references to The Incredible Hulk were few and far between.
What were those references? Well, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) returned from The Incredible Hulk to appear in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. The Hulkbuster in Avengers: Age of Ultron was codenamed “Veronica” as a nod to Bruce’s first love interest, Betty. The minor character of Roger (Martin Starr) later wound up in the MCU’s Spider-Man films as a clumsy high school teacher, and in The Avengers Mark Ruffalo declines Tony Stark’s invitation to New York because he “kind of broke Harlem.”
That last reference clarified that Ruffalo and Norton’s Banner are the same man in the same universe. But now, thanks to She-Hulk’s unique sense of humor, the MCU can finally laugh about the casting drama.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law streams new episodes Thursdays on Disney+.
INVERSE may receive a portion of sales if you subscribe to Disney+ through the link in this article.