In the series premiere of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) looks directly at the audience. Staring into the camera, she informs the viewer that although she is in, in fact, a “Hulk,” and that this is going to be a “fun lawyer show.”
In a matter of seconds, Jen casually Hulk-smashes through the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s previously hard-set fourth wall, and then continues to go about her lawyer-Hulk business. While speaking to an audience is seemingly normal for Jen, it’s not quite normal for the MCU — yet.
In the comics, Marvel is no stranger to its characters breaking the barrier between character and reader. Starting with writer John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk comic in the late ‘80s, Jen not only breaks the fourth wall, but is keenly aware of the fact that she is in a comic book, using that knowledge to her advantage. In an attempt to get a leg up on the bad guys, she’ll often take control of the story, tearing through pages, skipping over plot points and interacting directly with Byrne, along with story editors and illustrators.
Up until this point, no other character has done it in the MCU, with the Avengers privately — and unknowingly — existing within their own Earth-616 universe for as long as we’ve seen them on the big screen. But She-Hulk’s fourth wall breach may have arrived at the perfect time. As announced by Kevin Feige prior to the start of Phase 4, these next MCU stages will be known as the “Multiverse Saga.”
We’ve already seen characters like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) interact with characters across different timelines and cinematic universes within Phase 4. This introduction of new universes goes hand-in-hand with the shattering of the fourth wall. When blurring the lines between universes, why shouldn’t that include our own? As the audience, our version of Earth does exist in the Marvel comics, known in the multiverse as Earth-1218.
And while Deadpool is famously known for already speaking directly to the Earth-1218 audience in both the comics and his films, the Ryan Reynolds character has yet to make his official MCU debut.
Jen’s relationship with the audience is also much different from Wade Wilson’s. It’s just that — a relationship. In breaking the fourth wall, Jen confides in the audience, sharing her innermost thoughts that she can’t express to the people around her. In the second episode, after losing track of a conversation with her new boss, Jen looks to the audience and says, “I’ll spend the rest of the year worrying about what I just said.” In doing so, she relates to the audience in a way that no hero has before.
She-Hulk has garnered comparison’s to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy Fleabag, in which Priest (Andrew Scott) eventually notices Jen’s (Waller-Bridge’s) habit of addressing the audience. She-Hulk viewers have noted the the first episode includes a split-second in which Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) might have seen her speak to the camera. While training her newfound Hulk abilities, Bruce claims that he’s fine with Jen returning to her normal life. “He doesn’t mean that,” Jen quips to the audience — a moment that sees Bruce make a confused face in her peripheral that could hint at something more.
Before She-Hulk, recent MCU characters have gotten pretty close to breaking the fourth wall. Most recently, Wanda Maximoff nearly broke the fourth wall in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, in which her character menacingly stared directly into the camera in a spooky sequence from director Sam Raimi. That’s not the first close-call for Scarlet Witch and the audience.
In WandaVision, Wanda lives within her own television show, thus creating a show within the show. While the WandaVision fourth wall breaks are in homage to sitcoms of the ‘90s and early 2000s like Malcolm in the Middle, The Office and Modern Family, WandaVision even goes so far as to title its seventh episode “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” As one of the most powerful beings in existence across all universes, the Scarlet Witch’s eventual shattering of the barrier would not be wholly unexpected.
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Baby Groot also has an unexpected run-in with the fourth wall, when he bumps into the camera during the first scene of the movie. Additionally, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes the occasional fourth wall break in the comics, a trait that certainly fits in with the God of Mischief’s nature. With the Asgardian currently stuck in a multiverse mix-up of his own following the season one finale of Loki, these recent fourth wall developments could see Loki as the next character to make the break.
Ruffalo also recently told THR at the She-Hulk Los Angeles premiere that “there’s not going to be another Avengers without [Maslany].” If Jennifer Walters does, in fact, make appearances in the upcoming Avengers films as Ruffalo predicts, then that means the fourth wall could shatter on a much larger scale than that of a 20-minute sitcom. With Deadpool on his way into the fray, and greater multiversal plots to come, Jen Walters could soon be joined by other characters who see the audience the way she does.
New episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law release on Disney+ every Thursday.