“I don’t think she would be She-Hulk without it.”
'She-Hulk' writer and director: Breaking fourth wall was "quintessential"
'She-Hulk: Attorney At Law' writer Jessica Gao and director Kat Coiro unpack the importance of She-Hulk's self-aware nature.
She-Hulk is far from the first superhero to break the fourth wall. She won’t be the last either. But to the writers and directors of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, She-Hulk breaking the wall is as quintessential and necessary as Spider-Man crawling on it.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law pays homage to writer and artist John Byrne’s legendary comic book series The Sensational She-Hulk by letting Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) address viewers directly. She-Hulk did it in her comics, and now she’s doing it in the MCU.
But She-Hulk has a lot of competition if she wants to stand out. Everyone from Marty Kaan in House of Lies to Elliot in Mr. Robot to Marvel’s own Deadpool have turned to the camera to address viewers. Fleabag made such innovative use of the narrative device that simply having self-aware characters doesn’t feel fresh anymore. How do you break the fourth wall these days when other shows have already demolished it?
But the creators behind She-Hulk still felt Jennifer Walters needed to smash a few bricks. Showrunner Jessica Gao tells Inverse it was Sensational She-Hulk, which introduced She-Hulk’s power to address the reader, that made her “fall in love” with the character.
“For me, John Byrne’s run in the comics was the iconic run of She-Hulk,” Gao tells Inverse. “Anyone who’s read comics knows he’s the one who introduced the fourth wall breaking and meta, self-aware nature of She-Hulk.”
In a 2019 interview with Syfy Wire, Byrne said it didn’t take much to give Jennifer one of her most unique abilities. “When [Marvel editor] Mark Gruenwald was talking to me about doing a new She-Hulk book, he said, ‘Find a way to make it different. I took the subway home and on the way I thought, she knows she’s in a comic book.”
This not only let She-Hulk stand out from other Marvel titles, but also let Byrne show off a sense of humor. In the first issue, She-Hulk tells readers to buy her book or else she’ll “rip up all your X-Men.”
In another famous case, Byrne drew a provocative cover for Sensational She-Hulk #43 where Jennifer says, “I’ve got to do something to sell this book!” One issue later, Jennifer is bundled up in winter coats and claiming “the powers that be say I’ve been pushing it on my past few covers.”
But the She-Hulk team is also aware that it’s much more common to break the fourth wall in 2022 than it was when Byrne was writing and illustrating She-Hulk in the ’90s. What used to be fresh is now a little overcooked.
It’s not that She-Hulk simply broke the fourth wall, it’s that she was a commentary on the comic book industry too. In issue #43, She-Hulk (drawn by Byrne) shamelessly uses her sex appeal to sell her comic.
But in the following issue, Jennifer is forced to cover up, based on the grievances of Marvel corporate. All of this was a playful jab at the censorship standards of the day.
She-Hulk’s presence as a self-aware protagonist even included roping in John Byrne himself for a storyline.
Director and producer Kat Coiro, who oversaw the majority of She-Hulk’s first season, doesn’t mind being compared to a show that does it impressively.
“I would never complain about being compared to Fleabag,” Coiro tells Inverse. “I think it’s a fantastic show that features a complicated, imperfect woman, which we haven’t had enough of until this era. I hope She-Hulk becomes that, that new type of show that features real, complicated women.”
But Coiro thinks She-Hulk has her own take to distinguish herself from Fleabag, Deadpool, and Ferris Bueller. “It has to do with being aware of the narrative put upon you, and taking control,” Coiro says. “So often in film and media, women are along for the ride. They’re not driving the story. Part of Jennifer Walters’ story is realizing that someone else’s hand is on the wheel, and she wants to control how she gets to where she gets.”
Gao says breaking the fourth wall with She-Hulk is “quintessential” and “a foundational part of who this character is.” Even if a lot of other characters are doing it now, that won’t stop She-Hulk from continuing to do it her way.
“There’s no world where I see a She-Hulk show without using that part of her,” Gao says. “It’s one of the top things I associate with She-Hulk. I don’t think she would be She-Hulk without it.”
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law streams new episodes Thursdays on Disney+.