How She-Hulk Smashed the Fourth Wall (Before Deadpool)

It’s no secret the Hulks are some of the strongest super heroes in the Marvel universe. Empowered by gamma radiation and rage, Bruce Banner, his cousin Jennifer Walters, and even Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross have been known to cause some serious seismic shifts when they smash their foes. But the most incredible feat of all, an ability so few Marvel characters possess, might just be the strength and self-awareness to destroy the proverbial fourth wall. Exhibit A: She-Hulk.

The fourth wall is a concept in writing and theater that describes the unspoken barrier between the characters being observed and the observer. It’s what separates fact from fiction. Rarely can a character look outside of their own story and recognize that they are fictional, aware of parts of their world that usually only the audience can see. It’s a head-scratcher for sure, but can create some incredible, memorable moments when used correctly.

Ahead of her upcoming streaming series, let’s settle in with the sensational She-Hulk and learn a bit more about her time as Marvel’s first fourth wall breaker! (Yeah. Sorry, Deadpool.)


Is She-Hulk a Fourth Wall Breaker?

Created by Stan Lee in 1980’s The Savage She-Hulk #1, Jennifer Walters was introduced as the mild-mannered cousin of Bruce Banner. She received a dose of gamma power when Banner performed an emergency blood transfusion to save her after a gunshot wound. The result of this secondhand dose allowed her to retain her intelligence and personality while hulked out, although she was still fueled by rage.

It wasn’t until her second series in 1989, titled The Sensational She-Hulk, that she began to break the barriers between herself and the readership — and she started on the book’s cover! This series, by John Byrne, is famous for having Jennifer threaten to destroy fans’ X-Men comics if they didn’t read her new series.

While it’s not exactly explained how or why she has this ability, this series marked a consistent tonal shift from a somewhat serious character to the perky, sassy super heroine with hair as large as her personality. Sometimes called “comic awareness,” Shulkie’s knowledge of her own narrative has gotten her out of fights (via a quick exit through the advertisements page) or into fights with her writer and editor when she didn’t like the way things were going. The Sensational She-Hulk helped to establish and demolish comic book physics like never before.

Admissible Evidence

In Dan Slott’s time writing the character in the mid 2000s, the fourth wall breaking ability was entirely downplayed. In fact, it was explained as Jennifer Walters authorizing comic book adaptations of herself within the Marvel universe, creating a sort of story-in-story that actually serves as legal evidence in a Marvel court of law. These official accounts of She-Hulk’s adventures function as true record thanks to the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval up through 2001.

Some guidebooks to Marvel’s super heroes still list this power as one of She-Hulk’s recorded abilities, suggesting she keeps it contained as a secret between her and the readers. After all, would anyone else in the Marvel universe believe her?


Sensational Scenes of Comic Awareness

She-Hulk’s unique power has been used to comedic effect in a number of applications. In some cases, such as during her fight with the bell-themed Doctor Bong, Jennifer laments her lack of a more compelling foe.

When written into a corner, She-Hulk has also used pages to her own benefit. Using her strength and fourth wall-breaking abilities, she tears her way through a Big Bucks Comix advertising page within her story (which itself is a parody of actual Marvel comic ads).

She also famously used this ability to tear through blank pages to get back to the main storyline.

Less commonly, Jennifer Walters has even gotten into fights with her editor Renée Witterstaetter and writer John Byrne over plot developments. In one instance, she threw Byrne out a window.

Cover Story Controversy

While often humorous, this occasionally lead to some off-color moments of sexualization by the author and talk of “marketing gimmicks” such as in the case of the infamous “jump rope cover” of The Sensational She-Hulk #40. She-Hulk called it, “Beyond the pale,” while saying Marvel would do anything to get more readers on her book.

Byrne himself has often noted he is aware of his controversial nature as a writer, and even had She-Hulk comment on this on the cover of The Sensational She-Hulk #34, itself a parody of a Vanity Fair cover featuring a pregnant Demi Moore. “It’s not fair to accuse me of vanity! I just thrive on controversy!” Here, the fourth wall breaking is used as a mouthpiece for the writer to directly address criticisms of his work, for better or worse.

While the vast history of this beloved character isn’t entirely consistent with these few moments, it’s important to recognize that fans do still strongly associate these flirtatious and scandalous moments with Jennifer Walters. Outside of Byrne’s time with the character, She-Hulk rarely behaves like this across her 40+ year publication history.


Did She-Hulk Break the Fourth Wall Before Deadpool?

Many fans might be shocked to learn the Merc with a Mouth wasn’t the first fourth wall breaker in Marvel comics — not by a long shot! When originally created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, this antiheroic icon-to-be played it pretty straight.

Deadpool was introduced in 1991, a whole two years after The Sensational She-Hulk hit the stands, but he didn’t start taking down the fourth wall until issue #28 in 1997, by Joe Kelly and Pete Woods. Here, he addressed not seeing villain Bullseye since “Issue Sixteen” and his powers of self-awareness only grew from there. The level of comic awareness seen in current Deadpool depictions also has the added dimension of the character’s unique film history, knocking down even more fourth walls as fast as they can be set up.

While Wade Wilson’s elements of parody and perception might be the most famous example of the comedic potential in this power, it certainly wasn’t an original intention behind the character’s debut. And while the power has since faded out of She-Hulk’s usual repertoire, she certainly paved the way for this to occur. But don’t worry, Deadpool — she’s not gonna sue.


Will She-Hulk Break the Fourth Wall on Disney+?

The short answer: We don’t know yet! Fans are eager to find out more about Tatiana Maslany’s MCU debut in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, especially when it comes to which sensational series will serve as the main source material. Marvel Studios has yet to properly do that sort of fourth wall breakage in their own projects, though fans got a hint of Scarlet Witch looking directly at the camera in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And with live-action Deadpool now under the umbrella, it’s safe to say that wall is coming down sooner than later.

During the first official clips of She-Hulk as well as the main trailer, there were two moments fans spotted that seemed to toy with audience expectations: The first was a television legal ad in the style of the 1970s Hulk show starring Lou Ferrigno. She looks into the camera and says, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” The second was a moment in which a friend says, “Jen, you’re a story now,” and She-Hulk appears to look away from her phone, directly towards the camera with a shocked expression.

This latter instance could be a very direct reference to She-Hulk’s awareness that she’s in a television series, but it might be too big of a leap for Marvel to make so suddenly — even if the Jade Giantess is capable of jumping hundreds of feet into the air. Trailers only show us a small tease of any given scene, so we don’t have the full context yet. Either way, Jen will be a sensational new story for fans to enjoy! What do you think we’ll see?


What’s Next?

Whether or not we see this power arise in the current comics or the upcoming streaming series, it’s important to recognize Jennifer Walters as the true trailblazer she is. The fourth wall is a powerful storytelling structure that very few have been capable of breaking. Only time will tell how the Marvel Cinematic Universe chooses to incorporate this ability — whether with She-Hulk or Deadpool’s debut under the Disney banner.

What is your favorite She-Hulk story? Keep the conversation going over at our official Facebook Group by visiting side.show/geekgroup. Thanks for reading and as always, don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!