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Following Shang-Chi, How Will Disney+'s She-Hulk Handle The Mystery Surrounding Mark Ruffalo's Hulk?

Mark Ruffalo as Smart Hulk in Avengers: Endgame
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Due to the legal complications concerning his film rights, Bruce Banner/The Hulk only solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, but he nonetheless remains an important character in this superhero franchise. In fact, we briefly reunited with the character a few months back in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, only he didn’t look the same as he did when we left off with him in Avengers: Endgame. Mark Ruffalo is next set to appear as Bruce in Disney+’s She-Hulk, and as part of Disney+ Day, we got a quick look at Ruffalo’s character in the Marvel series opposite Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters.

Naturally it was expected that She-Hulk would address the mystery surrounding Bruce Banner’s appearance, but it’s still hard to get a read on what the show has in store for the character. Before going further, it’s important to remember that in the five-year gap between Avengers: Endgame’s opening sequence (i.e. just a few weeks after Thanos eliminated half of all life in the universe) and the rest of the movie, Bruce found a way to merge his personality and intellect into Hulk’s body. At the time, it seemed like Bruce was permanently stuck in Smart Hulk form, but then Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings threw a wrench into the works.

Where We Left Off With Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk In Shang-Chi

Mark Ruffalo with arm in sling in Shang-Chi movie

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The end of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ mid-credits scene saw the eponymous protagonist and his friend Katy being summoned by Wong to come with him to the Sanctum Sanctorum, with the movie’s mid-credits scene revealing that he was specifically interested in the powerful rings Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu/The Mandarin, gave him before he died. Bruce Banner and Carol Danvers hologram conferenced called in, and they group soon discovered the rings were acting as a beacon. More importantly though, rather than appearing as Smart Hulk, Bruce was back to looking like a regular human.

Although Bruce Banner’s arm being in a sling indicated that this scene took place not too long after Avengers: Endgame, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings viewers were left stumped over why Bruce was back to looking like his original, non-green self. Fortunately, we now have a little context for this plot twist, namely that he’s not permanently stuck as a human, with the She-Hulk footage shared Friday showing him as Smart Hulk. And yet, we remain in the dark about why Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce has been shifting forms again. Well, as is often the case with MCU stories, the answer is likely connected to the comic book source material.

How Hulk And She-Hulk Are Tied Together In The Comics

She-Hulk artwork

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Introduced in 1980’s The Savage She-Hulk #1, Jennifer Walters is a lawyer who was shot and needed a blood transfusion. The only person nearby with her blood type was her cousin Bruce Banner, and while the transfusion did indeed save her life, Bruce’s irradiated blood and Jennifer’s own anger worked in tandem to turn her into She-Hulk. Along with the traditional super strength, regeneration and other special abilities, Jennifer also keeps most of her personality in She-Hulk form, albeit being more confident and assertive.

While we only caught a brief glimpse of Tatiana Maslany’s She-Hulk form in the Disney+ footage, it was enough to confirm that she’ll have the same kind of physique that her comic book counterpart does (though it appears she won’t be quite as tall). That said, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce tells Jennifer that her transformations are “triggered by anger and fear.” So even though Maslany’s Jennifer could keep her personality as She-Hulk like her comic book counterpart and Smart Hulk, it sounds like during the series, she’ll have trouble controlling turning into her larger green self. But assuming the blood transfusion of her origin is being kept intact in the MCU, what if it had an adverse reaction for Bruce Banner too?

What’s In Store For Hulk in Disney+’s She-Hulk?

Smart Hulk wearing glasses in She-Hulk series

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

In the comics, Bruce Banner giving Jennifer Walters his blood wasn’t problematic on his end, but it’s entirely possible that’s not the case in the MCU. Perhaps the blood transfusion took place shortly before Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ mid-credits scene and forced Bruce back into human form. By the time the She-Hulk series begins, Bruce has recovered enough to become Smart Hulk again, but he may have more difficulty turning into Smart Hulk, requiring him and his cousin to train together. 

This also provides appropriate foundation for why this is a She-Hulk story first and foremost rather than a Hulk one. That’s not to say we won’t see Mark Ruffalo’s Green Goliath throw some punches here and there, but the purpose of this project is to introduce Jennifer Walters into the MCU and set her up as one of this franchise’s strongest heroes. If Bruce can’t control his Hulk transformations anymore, then now is the time for Jennifer to get a handle on her own abilities and step in to deal with villains like Tim Roth’s Abomination and Jameela Jamil’s Titania.

I’d like to think that by the end of She-Hulk, Bruce Banner will have fully recovered, because while his days turning into the classic rage monster the public knows him best as seem like they’re gone for good, there’s still enough steam in Smart Hulk for him to keep going past one movie and one Disney+ show. After all, with the multiverse opened up and all sorts of cosmic threats lurking around the corner, it’d be great to see his superhero career going while Jennifer Walters’ is just beginning. However, it’s entirely possible that the events of She-Hulk will result in Bruce permanently losing his Hulk abilities. If the MCU really want to throw fans a curveball, maybe he’ll even be killed off. Whatever’s in store for the character, fingers crossed that She-Hulk effectively continues his narrative arc in the midst of propping up his cousin.

She-Hulk will premiere on Disney+ sometime in 2022, with this season (there’s no word yet on if this series will score a sophomore season or not) consisting of 10 30-minute episodes. Don’t forget to look through our article detailing other major Marvel announcements from Disney+ Day.

Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.