She-Hulk Episode 1 explains why only certain people can become Hulks
The following contains spoilers for She-Hulk: Lawyer Season 1, episode 1, “A Normal Amount of Rage”, streaming on Disney+.
Comic book stories are science fiction, especially when the hero’s origin involves a scientific concept. Today everything is “nano-” or “quantum-” with the science of science fiction, but back then it was good old radiation that did the trick. In She-Hulk: LawyerIn the series premiere, the storytellers use both old and new sci-fi justifications to explain why not everyone can become the Hulk.
Science fiction storytellers have to decide how scientifically accurate they want to be. Some shows like The extent are strict in their adherence to the laws of physics. Other franchises like star wars just replace “magic” with “science”. Marvel Comics has always played its stories in the middle of these two divisions. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Hulk all owe their superpowers to radiation, but how it affects them isn’t even scientifically accurate. Since the world now knows that exposure to intense amounts of radiation is nothing but deadly, She-Hulk: Lawyer gives us a new science fiction syllogism to explain it.
back in The Avengers, Mark Ruffalo’s first Hulkish outing, Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark told Bruce “one big gamma exposure should have killed you”. Banner responds with disdain to the idea that the Hulk saved his life. It’s a beautiful feeling, but not a great science. When The savage She-Hulk debuted in the 1970s, she got her powers from a blood transfusion after a car accident. She-Hulk: Lawyer honors this origin – although instead of a deliberate move to save his life, this transfer of gamma blood is accidental. In the previous scene, Bruce explains how to heal his End of Game wound his arm with a device that keeps him in human form. In the crash, the device is damaged before its blood mixes with that of her cousin as she attempts to save his life.
In the 1970s, knowledge of hematology was not as extensive. Again, given what is known about radiation, gamma irradiated blood would not give someone powers…just a painful death. The real cutting-edge biology today, however, is the study of genetics. So when Smart Hulk tells Jen that she’s absorbed a lethal dose of gamma radiation, she freaks out like anyone else. The moment is played for laughs, as Bruce goes on to explain why she (and he) are big, green, and powerful instead of super-dead. “You and I,” he explains, “share a rare combination of genetic factors that allow us to synthesize gamma radiation into something else.” In this case, “something else” means “sci-fi magic.”
Smart Hulk goes on to describe that Jen’s blood is able to synthesize gamma radiation differently than his own. It is one of the main ways She-Hulk: Lawyer highlights how Jen is a superior Hulk to Bruce. The how of this fact isn’t really important to the story, but the “science” is there to help explain why. It’s lucky that Bruce and Jen didn’t die from gamma ray exposure, and equally lucky that Jen’s “rare genetic factors” work so much better than Bruce’s.
It explains why not every crazy person in the MCU is out there blasting themselves with gamma radiation to become unstoppable monsters of rage. Still, because anything can happen in a comic book world, Bruce destroys Jen’s blood samples just in case there’s “a million percent chance” someone could use it to give themselves this kind of powers. For the fussy viewer, this may not be a satisfying answer, but it is a more rigorous answer than is usually given in these stories. Remember, Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon became Electro after falling into a vat of electric eels. Using just the right amount of scientific fuzziness, She-Hulk: Lawyer provides vindication of the main character’s powers for all viewers except those who refuse to accept any form of fictional madness in their superhero stories.
The decision to keep the ability to turn into the Hulk rare is a good idea in the MCU. There may be others who can synthesize gamma in a similar fashion, such as Emil Blonsky or Tim Roth’s Amadeus Cho, whenever it is cast, but this keeps the special power. It’s a satisfying enough answer to the question of who can become the Hulk without getting too bogged down in technobabble sci-fi.
See if anyone else Hulks comes out in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law which launches new episodes Thursday on Disney+.