She-Hulk Saw Its Nastiest Critics Coming

Warning: spoilers ahead for "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" episode 9.

The "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" finale unmasked Todd Phelps (Jon Bass) as the villainous Hulk King, the creator of Intelligencia — the online community of disenfranchised men dedicated to hating Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), aka She-Hulk. What, you ask, is the root cause for this all-encompassing, fiery hatred? Because she's powerful and she's a woman. How dare she exist! Frankly, it's such an over-simplified and deeply stupid motivation that it would be unbelievable and cringe-worthy in most stories — yet, it is so personal to Marvel's recent history that it's kind of a brilliant twist. The writers of "She-Hulk" saw its nastiest, most misogynistic critics coming, and responded by literally making them the show's "bad guys."

One of the over-arching plot threads in the premiere season of "She-Hulk" was the emergence of an online hate community, Intelligencia, comprised of angry men who want to "take down" Jennifer Walters. This is fuelled by claims of her entitlement, bad attitude, or simply not "deserving" her powers — the implication being that the "true" Hulk is male, and by existing in the public sphere, Jen is somehow taking something away from these people. Blatant internet sexism at its finest. This culminates in Jen being publicly humiliated at what should have been a high point in her career: receiving a professional award designed to empower women in the industry. 

The "Female Lawyer of the Year" award is itself problematic, and the show doesn't shy away from that — but Intelligencia using a stolen sex tape to shame and degrade Jen Walters is a much more realistic tactic than we usually see from Marvel villains. There's no moral ambiguity here: A bunch of online misogynists released private, sexual images of a woman for the sole purpose of demeaning her.    

She-Hulk acknowledges the past and moves forward

"She-Hulk" has attracted the ire of Marvel's most toxic fans. Everything from She-Hulk twerking to Jen Walters smashing Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has fuelled really poisonous detractors, mainly online in forums and on social media (just like the Intelligencia users! Wink wink). Predicting this backlash, "She-Hulk" opted to acknowledge, rather than try to avoid (and therefore accommodate) the misogyny, effectively holding up a mirror to reveal just how ugly this fringe minority of the fandom can be. Obviously, the show was written and filmed far in advance of the show's premiere; it's more than a little sad just how accurate its predictions proved to be.

Unless you are blissfully ignorant of the whole internet thing, chances are you've run into one of the many high-profile Marvel-stan controversies over the years — whether it's fans (mostly men) being angry with Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson for being "too woke" when she asked for more representation among film critics, or losing their minds over acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese daring to share his opinion that the MCU cinema. The fact that Scorsese had to clarify his thoughts on Marvel after the fact speaks to just how loud these voices are. It's a level of anger and hatred that is, admittedly, frightening.

I think it's interesting that Hulk King turned out to be Todd Phelps, who made several attempts to woo She-Hulk. For all of his hate, there's a hint that deep down, he's desperate for her approval and affection. The problem is, people like Todd see "females" as lesser beings, whose only useful purpose is providing gratification to men. He doesn't see Jen — or any other woman — as an equal and is furious when her own autonomy and confidence challenge his preconceived notions of gender roles. 

The hero(ine) Marvel needs

Admittedly, the Disney+ series has departed significantly from the established Marvel formula, but it's done so in a way that is refreshing and, honestly, pretty faithful to the original 1980s "She-Hulk" comics. Adaptation — especially with major franchises — is hard. People want the stories to be familiar, but not too familiar or else it feels stale and derivative. Change too much, however, and you can rub people the wrong way. 

This is the crossroads the MCU is at post-Infinity Saga. The Russo Brothers did something pretty remarkable with "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," and in the process, they brought a long-running (and much loved) film franchise to a satisfying climax. Where we go from here will determine the viability of the IP long-term. Now is the time to start breaking away from the status quo. We want to honor the existing fictional works, but we also want to see something new. 

In my heart of hearts, I believe the die-hard Marvel fans — the ones who love the universe and maybe even read the comics — outnumber the toxic parts of the fandom. And I don't think most people who love these movies have so much hatred for women. "She-Hulk" did Marvel-lovers a huge service in calling out this segment of the fans. Hopefully, it will be renewed for season 2 so the Disney+ series can continue to forge a new path for Marvel TV series