Marvel Studios’ fourth Phase has been full of exciting new characters making their live-action debut, and tomorrow, Tatiana Maslany will join their ranks as the title character in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The Disney+ series marks a milestone in the 42-year history of Jennifer Walters, but it’s far from the first time a studio has tried to bring the Jade Giantess to life. From the very first time she tore through the page in 1980’s The Savage She-Hulk #1 – Stan Lee‘s last major contribution to the Marvel universe – it was clear Jen had the potential to be every bit as popular as her incredible cousin. Hollywood took note, and the first attempt at putting She-Hulk on camera came within a decade of her conception. Before fans sit down to watch Attorney at Law, it may be worth taking a journey back through time to discover how the series came to be.
The Death of the Incredible Hulk
From 1977 to 1982, the Columbia Broadcasting System (or CBS, to be less dramatic) aired a full 80 episodes of The Incredible Hulk. A dramatic interpretation of the Hulk story, the series starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner, a lonely physician on the run after exposure to Gamma radiation curses him with turning into a giant green rage monster whenever agitated. With very limited digital effects to rely on, bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno famously stepped in for Bixby whenever he transformed, and the overwhelming popularity of the duo is arguably responsible for the Hulk’s lasting influence on mainstream culture.
Following the end of the series, Bixby maintained his interest in playing Banner and pitched an exciting new concept to Columbia – a made-for-television sequel film that paired his character with Nicholas Hammond‘s Spider-Man, who previously headlined his own less-successful show from 1977 to 1979. The idea fell through pretty quickly, despite interest from all parties involved, and Bixby remained determined to make a live-action Marvel crossover happen. Years later, in 1988, this would result in The Incredible Hulk Returns, which paired Banner with Eric Allen Kramer‘s Thor. In concept, the film would act as a backdoor pilot for a Thor show on rival network NBC, although this never happened. Instead, another sequel movie would be made, titled The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, that featured the big muscle-bound meanie teaming with Daredevil, played by Rex Smith. Again, this was intended as a backdoor pilot, and again, it led to nothing but another Hulk film.
On the third try, according to Starlog Communications’ Comics Scene magazine, the writers intended to introduce a newer Marvel character to help carry the franchise forward. As of 1989, Bixby‘s last telefilm was planned to feature She-Hulk in all her green-skinned glory. Oddly enough, when it was ultimately released as The Death of the Incredible Hulk in 1990, there was no sign of Jennifer Walters to be found anywhere. It’s still unknown exactly why the heroine was booted from the production. Some reports, including another from Comics Scene, claim that Jen was abandoned in favor of a Black Widow team-up. Though Natasha Romanoff does not appear in Death, there is a Russian spy character named Jasmine (portrayed by Elizabeth Gracen) who plays a large role in the plot. There was a brief rumor that She-Hulk would be utilized in a possible fourth film, tentatively titled The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk, but production on that project stalled, and Bixby passed away tragically before it could be made. However, it wouldn’t be long before She-Hulk’s name was once again being batted around for television contention.
She-Hulk: Metamorphosis (ABC)
Only a year after she failed to debut in The Death of the Incredible Hulk, ABC reportedly began development on a stand-alone live-action series for She-Hulk. Nothing is really concretely known about the project, aside from the fact it was briefly publicized in 1990 as an upcoming venture from Marvel and New World Pictures. Unsubstantiated internet rumors suggested it may have been intended as a spin-off of CBS’ The Incredible Hulk, with Ferrigno and Bixby returning once more as supporting characters. Producer Jill Sherman Donner, who had worked extensively on the original show as a screenwriter, was attached to make the series happen. Gabrielle Reece, a volleyball player and fashion model, is rumored to have been cast as She-Hulk, while Baywatch actress Mitzi Kapture was supposedly on board as Jennifer Walters.
If the legend is true, ABC’s She-Hulk made it all the way to filming a pilot in 1991. The premiere episode is said to have revolved around Jen as an assistant district attorney, who is still haunted by the murder of her parents when she was a child. Hellbent on exposing a well-respected businessman as a secret criminal mastermind, presumably the one responsible for her family’s death, Walters is sent on a forced vacation to the Caribbean, where she bumps into Bixby‘s former physician. In this world, Jen and Dr. Banner are supposedly not related, and a romance is hinted at early on. Before anything can flourish between the two, however, a hitman shoots Jen for going after his businessman boss, and Banner makes the hard decision to give Walters some of his blood so she may survive. This results in Walters’ transformation into the Savage She-Hulk, who would not be as intelligent as her comic book counterpart. Instead, Reece‘s She-Hulk was rumored to be a lumbering monster much like Ferrigno.
Much of this was actually somewhat confirmed in the 2011 book You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry: A Hulk Companion, by Patrick A. Jankiewicz.* In his coverage of the Hulk’s history, Jankiewicz interviewed She-Hulk‘s Sherman Donner about the aforementioned pilot – which she had apparently titled “Metamorphosis.” The creative relayed much of the same information, and even revealed her version of She-Hulk was going to look radically different than the traditional design. Instead of being entirely green like her predecessor, Jen would have had golden skin with bright red hair and green eyes. Why? Sherman Donner explained:
I made her golden instead of green because green isn’t pretty. Changing her skin color made her seem more feminine, prettier and different than just making her green.Jill Sherman Donner
It’s not known exactly why the pilot was canned before it aired, but the same sources that spread the plot claim there was concern over the lead actress’s ability to hold her own series. ABC is said to have wanted the more well-known Melissa Gilbert for the part and cancelled the entire production when Kapture couldn’t be replaced. Another potential reasoning behind the show’s end was the lack of interest in more Hulk content after the last telefilm flopped in the ratings. That, combined with Bixby‘s eventual passing, ended up derailing all plans for the jolly giant at the time, and if ABC’s She-Hulk was truly supposed to be connected to Bixby‘s world, it could have simply been an unfortunate casualty of the franchise’s untimely demise. Of course, that is mostly conjecture, but the timing does help the theory make sense.
*Disclaimer: Information regarding You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry: A Hulk Companion came from secondhand sources (cited below) and was included for the sake of providing as much information as possible. The author has not read this book personally.
She-Hulk: The Movie
Once it became clear She-Hulk wasn’t going to appear on television anytime soon, New World Pictures decided to shift gears and begin development on a film adaptation instead. Much like the previous live-action attempt, most of the details surrounding the ill-fated production are a little fuzzy. Different sources have claimed a variety of details, most of which will at least be mentioned here, but there are only a few solid truths that are known to be 100% accurate. Firstly, most everyone can agree that B-movie director Larry Cohen was hired to helm the project sometime in the early-to-mid-1990’s. Some outlets have said that Cohen also wrote the script, while others say screenwriter Carl Gottlieb was commissioned in his place. Either way, the project never made it to filming, and nothing much is known about the hypothetical plot.
What is known for certain, and what is perhaps the most famous aspect of this doomed idea, is that actress Brigitte Nielsen was cast in the title role. Now-infamous publicity photos made their way online some time ago, originating from an article in an issue of Wizard Magazine, showing Nielsen as both Jennifer Walters and the mighty She-Hulk. At that point in the 90’s, the former Red Sonja star had made a name for herself as an action franchise lead. It’s been claimed in the past that the studio wasn’t confident She-Hulk would actually make it off the ground and hoped a photoshoot with someone of Nielsen‘s caliber would interest investors and get the project moving. Alas, the financial failures of the era’s other low-budget Marvel flicks (i.e. Captain America, The Punisher, and Howard the Duck) proved to be too damning and killed the film before lift-off.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Oddly enough, Larry Cohen‘s failed blockbuster would be the last major attempt at bringing She-Hulk to life until Marvel Studios announced it would make a Disney+ series – previously mentioned as being titled She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – in 2020. This was likely, in large part, due to Universal’s acquisition of the Hulk’s film distribution rights in the late 1990s, and their subsequent determination to focus on getting a Hulk movie correct for over a decade. With all eyes on Bruce Banner, it doesn’t seem Universal had much interest in Jen Walters.
Even when Marvel Studios were able to get its hands on the Hulk, it was for crossover films only, preventing the studio from developing a full-blown solo franchise for the character that could have resulted in She-Hulk making her MCU debut years earlier. Luckily, after a lengthy and mysterious behind-the-scenes battle, it would seem Marvel Studios was at least able to come away with the ability to produce a streaming series, and now fans all over the world will finally get to see Jen Walters hulk-out in live-action. With any luck, there won’t be a problem bringing her to the big screen going forward.
Note: If you liked this article, check out “Fish Out of Water: Every Failed Attempt at Bringing ‘Namor’ to Life”