TIME Pop Culture

The She-Hulk Scandal Explained: “Porn Star” Comment Has Fans Angry

Marvel Comics

...and you won't like them when they're angry

She-Hulk isn’t exactly the most famous comic-book character out there, but her name has been popping up on blogs and Twitter in the last few days — largely from people who are Hulk-level angry. So what has fans up in (giant, green) arms?

How it started: On an episode of the podcast Scriptnotes that was published on May 20, a panel of superhero screenwriters played a game of trying to come with reboot ideas for random comics characters, as in ‘elderly Spider-Man’ or ‘Seth Rogen as Spider-Man.’ Then, Captain America scribe Christopher Markus drew The Hulk, which brought the conversation around to the topic of She-Hulk. At that point, host Craig Mazin and guest David S. Goyer — a writer of the upcoming and super-buzzy Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — got into a conversation about the reason for the character’s existence. When Mazin posited that she was just there to provide titillation for young male Hulk fans, Goyer took it a step further.

His theory, he said, was that She-Hulk was created by a man for male readers as an extension of a power fantasy: boys who felt powerless fantasized about Hulk-ing out and beating up their enemies; She-Hulk was “the chick you could f-ck if you were Hulk” — or that the reader could, taking Hulk as a stand-in — and essentially a “giant, green porn star.” The conversation also included a discussion of She-Hulk’s body size, over the question of whether her muscles make her “chunky” or if she’s just got “enormous boobs.”

Wait, who’s She-Hulk? A less-famous extension of the Hulk franchise, She-Hulk is the alter-ego of Jennifer Susan Walters. She was introduced in 1980, in the Marvel comic Savage She-Hulk #1. As Jennifer, she was a timid lawyer and a cousin of Bruce Banner (who’s the original Hulk, for the uninformed). She was wounded in mob crossfire and, to save her life, she got a blood transfusion from her cousin — which turned her into She-Hulk. As She-Hulk, she’s more confident than she was before she got green, and taller, but she’s still smart. She eventually joined the Avengers and the Fantastic Four teams; in a later storyline, she was further exposed to radiation, and thus stuck as She-Hulk semi-permanently. Even so, she continued to work as a lawyer. You’d probably rather be her than be Bruce Banner.

Why fans are angry: Though She-Hulk doesn’t exactly get a free pass from female comics fans — as the gurus on the subject over at The Mary Sue point out, tacking “she-” onto the beginning of a nickname isn’t exactly the most woman-friendly naming convention — her depiction in comics is generally miles away from “giant, green porn star.” For one thing, Walters and Banner are cousins, so She-Hulk being “the chick you could f-ck if you were Hulk” is already gross. On a deeper level, his comments have been seen as stripping away She-Hulk’s power. Ironically, in a conversation that includes Mazin critiquing the idea of creating a female character for the sake of male fans as sexist, Goyer’s interpretation of her backstory pushes into that sexist mold the rare character who didn’t already belong there.

Why it matters: As Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post put it, Goyer is a “dominant voice” defining what today’s superheroes look like so it’s noteworthy that he sees a “feminist hero” character — “an expression of how terrific it would be not to have to censor yourself, to be allowed to be angry without some man declaring you unladylike” — as a mere sex object. Furthermore, as NPR’s Linda Holmes points out, it’s not hard to see where Goyer’s ideas come from given stereotypes about comics readers and female characters, and his embrace of the stereotype implies that he’s not interested in appealing to people who want to break away from it.

What the experts say: Stan Lee, who co-created She-Hulk, thinks Goyer missed the mark. He has said that he never saw her as a love interest for Hulk and that her brains were the most important characteristic.

What happens now: Goyer hasn’t commented on the uproar, but She-Hulk fans are eager to point those upset by his comments in a different direction — to She-Hulk herself.

The current series of She-Hulk comics, by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido, launched in February to rave reviews.

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