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She-Hulk's Relationship With The Hulk Explained

Disney+ may be keeping things secretive when it comes to "She-Hulk," but that doesn't mean fans aren't already bursting with excitement. While those unfamiliar with the character may be a bit surprised that She-Hulk (and her non-green alter-ego, Jennifer Walters) is getting her own television series, but true believers know it is long overdue. She-Hulk has been kicking around for over four decades in the comic book world, long ago became a fan-favorite — and yes, there is far more to her than just being the "female" Hulk. 

At the same time, though, there would be no She-Hulk without the Incredible Hulk. In fact, she is, in her own unique way, tied to not just one, but two different Hulks. Plus, there's everything that they share in common — and that goes beyond that emerald skin. They've both been Avengers, Defenders, and served on a host of other teams. They've both saved countless lives and rampaged through more than a few cities.

She-Hulk stepped out of Bruce Banner's shadow long ago, but they never stray too far apart. In the end, the two Hulks always find their way back to each other — sometimes as friends, sometimes reluctant foes. But why is that? What beats at the heart of She-Hulk and the Hulk's relationship? Read on for a breakdown of Marvel's meanest, greenest, inextricably linked characters. 

She-Hulk or Bust

She-Hulk was, it turns out, created by Stan Lee in 1980 pretty much entirely to beat "The Incredible Hulk" television show to the punch. As Nerdist explains, at the time, Universal was licensing "The Six Million Dollar" man from its creator, author Martin Caidin. They wanted to do a spin-off, so they created "The Bionic Woman." But spinoff of his creation or not, they created her before author Caidin did, which meant they owned all the rights.

Universal was also producing the hit Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno series, so Marvel had reason to worry they'd similarly create their own female Hulk. Lee, who co-created the Hulk with Jack Kirby, quickly whipped up She-Hulk in 1980, with Marvel rushing her out the door before Universal could even think to create one of their own. The "Incredible Hulk" aired its last episode two years later, having never touched Jennifer, She-Hulk, or any other Hulk version.

Jennifer, who in her own '80s comics series "The Sensational She-Hulk" often broke the fourth wall by addressing readers and acknowledging that she was a comic book character, seemed to be aware of her special connection to the Hulk incarnation brought to life by bodybuilder Ferrigno. In issue #57, for instance, when the comic book Hulk attempts to calm her down from a rampage, she tells him to shut it before she slaps "the living Lou Ferrigno outta you!" Her cousin has no clue who she's talking about.

A Life or Death Situation

While She-Hulk's creation is very much related to television's Hulk, she, herself is not. That Hulk, after all is named David Banner. The one in the comic books is Bruce Banner, the cousin to She-Hulk's non-green skinned identity, lawyer Jennifer Walters. Marvel first told She-Hulk's origin in 1980's "The Savage She-Hulk" #1.

Jennifer's dad is a Los Angeles County Sheriff, and she was shot by crime boss Nicholas Trask after he'd clashed with her father. Bruce happened to be in town visiting, and was the only one available with his cousin's blood type, so he gave it for an emergency transfusion. The problem is that his blood was flooded with gamma radiation, the key element that turns him into Hulk. It keeps Jennifer alive long enough to get her to the hospital, where Trask's goons attempt to finish her off. That ticks her off Jennifer that she transforms into She-Hulk — and wipes the floor with the mobsters.

After that, the gamma radiation made itself comfortable in her body, and She-Hulk would become a staple of the Marvel Universe. She wasn't as powerful as her cousin, but she was more in control of herself, even if her transformations were similarly initially caused by anger. Once she got her powers, neither Jennifer, nor Marvel ever looked back. A comic book created in haste was popular enough to run 25 issues before it was cancelled, and after her initial origin, she never needed the Hulk to return to help carry it.

An Overdue (and Unnecessary) Apology

The Hulk, for a time, maintained mild-mannered Bruce's intelligence, and set about convincing the world that he wasn't a monster. The Avengers lent a hand here and there in his comic, before Bruce asked for their help in taking on the Leader. He wasn't quite as effective at smashing as he used to be when the Hulk just rampaged against his enemies.

She-Hulk is a part of the Avengers by then, and it's in those issues in 1983, starting in "The Incredible Hulk" #282 that we finally see the two cousins come together and bond. It's the first real time they interact since Bruce saved Jennifer three years earlier. Banner offers his first apology for turning his cousin into a monster; the accident that changed him was of his own doing, but Jennifer had been completely innocent in her own Hulk-ification.

Jennifer, though, insists she couldn't be happier as She-Hulk. It empowers her and allows her to help others. Neither of them, she tells her cousin, are monsters — something he should understand, now that he is free from the Hulk's near-mindless rage. Bruce had already left by the time Jennifer first transformed into She-Hulk, and the two hadn't crossed paths since. These issues — as the cousins reconnect, support each other, and take on the Leader to save the Avengers — establish a bond that readers never really got to see in that first, rushed issue.

The Best of Friends

After their 1983 encounter, Jennifer and Bruce went their separate ways. They both joined up again in 1984's "Secret Wars" maxi-series, but so did countless other heroes, and the two didn't really interact much. 

Marvel put the duo back together again for 1986's "The Incredible Hulk" #316. Bruce and the Hulk had been split apart, and Banner's soon-to-be-wife, Betty Ross, called Jennifer as "his only living relative." Bruce's mind shut down after the separation and the doc had a special treatment that could pull him back to reality ... or push him further into catatonia. Jennifer has to decide if it's worth it.

It's the first time she meets Betty, but she admits she knows all about her. Bruce has mentioned her "only in every letter he ever wrote me." She talks about how they aren't just cousins, but the closest of friends, even if they don't see each other for years at a time. It pushes their relationship closer than before, while also acknowledging Marvel's tendency to keep them separated for years. After agonizing over the choice, Jennifer decides to go ahead with the treatment. Bruce wakes up.

A few issues later, the untethered Hulk is rampaging and Jennifer feels that, cousin or not, they share a kinship. She tries talking him down, but when Hulk throws the first punch, she declares he needs to die. He is eventually re-merged with Bruce, and the cousins go their separate ways for a few years once more.

Creating Traditions

Eventually, She-Hulk got her own book again, this time called "The Sensational She-Hulk." This was where she took a turn for the meta, breaking the fourth wall and leaning into the humor.  Chugging along for 60 issues, while Bruce kept going strong in his own series, the two Hulks didn't really encounter each again much, until her book began to wind down.

In 1993's issue #57, She-Hulk goes savage and starts to rampage, so Bruce journeys out to Los Angeles to calm her down. When that fails, he resorts to "Hulk smash!" In the end, she reverts to human form and the two repeat the blood transfusion to turn her back into the She-Hulk she used to be. It's more or less the beginning of a tradition that ends with the two of them duking it out any time one loses control.

The following month, she would visit her cousin in his book, "The Incredible Hulk" #412. At the end of the issue, she starts talking to the comic book audience, which is the usual schtick in her own series. Bruce, though, looks concerned, tells her there's no one there, and asks her to calm down. Her meta references are no longer a joke, it seems, and he's worried about her sanity. She-Hulk's series ran for 3 more issues, and as her issue over in "The Incredible Hulk" signaled, her meta days were mostly over and she went back to being your standard superhero.

Two Broken Savages

Cut loose from her humorous series, Jennifer would bounce around the Marvel universe for a bit before rejoining the Avengers. 

All was going well, until she would begin losing control of her transformations, tearing poor Vision apart. He's ultimately fine because, you know, he's a robot, and everything turns out to be the Scarlet Witch's fault. But Jennifer runs off, afraid of hurting people, as She-Hulk now fears that she's as savage as Hulk once was.

During the four-part "The Search for She-Hulk" starting in "The Avengers" #72, the super team finds her in Bone, Idaho, but don't have much luck calming her down — until Bruce shows up. He talks to her, giving a beautiful speech about how close they were as kids. Even in her savage mode, Jennifer knows how much she loves "Banner" for making her She-Hulk. But in the end, it doesn't work — because in the end, you can do so much talking with a Hulk.

Hawkeye decides Bruce needs to go away and the Hulk needs to come out, so he shoots him. Except, intelligent Hulk is long gone, so he and She-Hulk rampage with a knock-down drag-out fight that nearly levels Bone. By the time Jack-of-Hearts manages to stop them and revert She-Hulk to normal, there's not much left. Bruce runs off before she wakes up, and the media blames him for Bone's destruction. Jennifer tearfully goes along with it, wondering how her cousin deals with the guilt such destruction causes.

The Unreachable Hulk

Next came "World War Hulk," a legendary storyline that crossed over all of Marvel, as an out-of-control Hulk would take on the entire world — and win. he was then sent into space by the Iluminati (Iron Man, Reed Richards, Namor, Black Bolt, Professor X, and Doctor Strange), after the majority decided he was too dangerous to stay on Earth.

While gone, She-Hulk essentially takes his place back home, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with the Hulkbusters to take on her cousin's foes. It had taken some time to get her confidence back after Bone, but finally, she seems to be thriving once more. Then Hulk returns to Earth. He'd made a life, of sorts, on the planet Sakaar, leading a revolution and marrying the alien queen Caeira. But then the ship that had brought him to Sakaar exploded, killing Caeira, and he is back on Earth to file a grievance with the Iluminati as only his big green fists could.

She-Hulk and her Hulkbusters are some of the first to try to stop him as he tears through Manhattan. She's sure that so long as Bruce is in there, she'll get through to him. He is, but her words fall on deaf ears. He pounds her into the ground, and as she realizes it's not just Hulk, but Bruce who's raging this time, her last words as the fighting moves on is "God help us..." Hulk is finally defeated, of course, but the cousins' relationship takes another Hulk-sized blow. 

Seeing Red

After Hulk's defeat, Hercules took over "The Incredible" comic, while the Red Hulk took over as the Hulk in, well, 2008's "Hulk." Even though Bruce had pounded her into the ground, family was still family, and She-Hulk wanted to know what happened to her cousin and who this Red Hulk was. Bruce was supposed to be in a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment facility after "World War Hulk," but was instead shipped to a top-secret "Gamma Base." He broke free from time to time and clashed with Red Hulk, but he never remained free long enough to reclaim his comic book.  

That would change in "The Incredible Hulk" #600, when Jennifer teams up with a reporter (who brings along Peter Parker to act as a photographer) to infiltrate the Gamma Base and find out who the Red Hulk really is. They discover that the base is run by General Ross, MODOK, and the evil supervillain group the Intelligencia, who are using it to create gamma super soldiers. They'd already turned Bruce's longtime friend Rick Jones into the gamma powered A-Bomb, and Red Hulk turns out to be General Ross himself. 

Jennifer's efforts break her cousin free ... but Red Hulk drains him of his gamma radiation, preventing him from ever turning into the Hulk ever again (or a few issues, whichever comes first). Still, thanks to her efforts, Bruce finally reclaims his own magazine, taking it back from #601 forward.

Hulk Family Bonding

Once free, Bruce would begin bonding with his half-alien, half-human, half-Hulk son (not three-halves — it just depends on if he's Hulking out or not) and rescuing his back-from-the-dead ex-wife Betty Ross (AKA Red She-Hulk). 

By "The Incredible Hulks" #612, Banner decides to gather all of his Gamma family together: She-Hulk, Skaar, Red She-Hulk, A-Bomb, Savage She-Hulk (his daughter, Lyra, from another universe) and Korg, one of his pals from planet Sakaar. The "s" stays on the end of the comic book's name, and fans are finally treated to Jen and Bruce interacting as a family.

The storylines of this era would fill an entire page on their own — they fight everyone from Hulk's rogue son, Hiro-Kala, to Zeus and the Chaos King — but as great as it might have been to see Jennifer and Bruce together, She-Hulk was most definitely along for her cousin's ride. The run would conclude 23 issues later with a magic wishing well (it's a bit more complicated than that since, as with everything Hulk, it would go horribly awry). 

Ultimately, the Hulk gave his family their greatest wishes, allowing them to be able to finally switch between forms at will. He then runs off into the sunset with Betty, and Jennifer goes her own way. She serves on a replacement Fantastic Four, joins the Mighty Avengers, and becomes a member and eventually the leader of the all-female A-Force.

The Respect She Deserves

The Hulk, folks may not realize, has multiple personalities. There's Bruce, the out of control "Savage" Hulk, the intelligent "Merged" Hulk, the grey Hulk, Joe Fixit, the evil Devil Hulk, and a few others sprinkled in here and there. They all consider themselves individuals, but none take it so far as "Doc Green," who first emerged when exposed to Iron Man's Extremis virus. He was strong, smart, hated being called both "Bruce" and "Hulk," and he decided it was time to de-power all gamma-mutates.

So, that's what he does. He forcibly de-powered everyone across multiple tales — Red Hulk, the Leader, Rick Jones, Skaar, Betty Ross — stopping when he got to She-Hulk in 2015's "Hulk" #16. He gives the last injection of the "cure" to his cousin, should she ever need to stop him. Doc has already decided to stop taking Extremis before he truly grows out of control, and that means he won't be around for much longer.

Before he goes, though, he has one last talk with She-Hulk. Jennifer, he explains, was the only one to have benefitted from the gamma arms race that began with him. "You were always the best of us," he says. "You're a lawyer, an Avenger, a member of Reed's team." When she offers some heartfelt advice, he adds: "You're even the wisest of us." Doc Green then leaves to fix the damage he's caused while he still can — and the two part ways, miraculously this time,  without a fight.

The Weight of the World

That touching way the two cousins parted would only make the next part of their saga all the more tragic. As a second superhuman civil war breaks out, She-Hulk would be put in a coma when the A-Force fought Thanos. Waking up in "Civil War II" #4, Captain Marvel tells Jennifer that Hawkeye killed her cousin ... and got away with it.

After the war ends, she takes over the Hulk's comic and drops the "she" in her name: when 2016's "Hulk" begins, she's the only one left. It's a far cry from her jokey meta days in the early '90s. Now, she deals with the trauma of Bruce's death, and battles through her own anger and PTSD. Much like her cousin's Joe Fixit persona, Jennifer's Hulk form is now grey, but stronger and harder to control. Before, Jennifer spent most of her time as She-Hulk, now she stays human as much as possible.

Eventually, of course, the Hulk is reborn, then dies again, then is reborn again. It turns out, he's immortal. 

Jennifer goes back to the green-hued She-Hulk and has some more adventures with the Avengers. In 2020's "The Immortal She-Hulk," we learn that she is  also immortal. But all the fights, her cousin's deaths, and her deaths have taken their toll and left her traumatized. She-Hulk's free-spirit isn't quite as free as it once was. Now, it seems like she's finally caught up to her cousin in the worst way possible, battling with internal demons as she's also battling the bad guys.