Nerd factor: Sensational Casting
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Decades ago, when superhero properties were guaranteed to be neither all that plentiful nor particularly all that good, fans lived in fear of casting rumors and news. That decision to put the right actor in the right part would always tell you if the producers “got it” or not. It was almost a relief if a good actor was named.
We tend to forget, for example, that twelve years ago most of the world did not really know who Iron Man was. The selection of Robert Downey, Jr. to play the brash but troubled billionaire inventor in high tech armor was a signal to all the comic book readers that these new Marvel Studios movies were going to be in the right zone after all.
A similar thing happened for me recently when I learned that Tatiana Maslany had been cast as She-Hulk for the upcoming Disney+ series. To see the properness of this choice, it’s necessary to know a bit about the character and the performer.
Back in the late 1970s, Marvel was trying to pursue two goals. First, it wanted to try to bring in more female readers. Second, and alas probably just as if not a bit more importantly, the company was also trying to plug up some perceived holes in their rights to character names. This is why we got Spider-Woman in 1977. Marvel did not want some other publisher grabbing up the rights to make something so perilously close to their corporate mascot, Spider-Man.
In 1980, when lawyer Jen Walters was saved from a fatal gunshot by an emergency blood transfusion from her infamous cousin Bruce Banner, she soon found herself transforming as well into a giant green superhero. The title called her The Savage She-Hulk, but from the outset she was not as destructive as her male cousin. Rather, she retained her intelligence and became if anything more assertive and aggressive in her jade giantess persona. The book ran for a few years and was cancelled after its 25th issue.
She-Hulk did not disappear though. Instead, she joined the Avengers, bringing a bit of California Girl excitement to the NYC team. Later, she became part of the Fantastic Four when the Thing took an extended leave. She-Hulk would also star in several volumes of her own comic over the years (my favorite was always The Sensational She-Hulk).
In all that time, a fascinating sense of She-Hulk began to emerge. She-Hulk was just fun. That’s not to say she did not take her superhero-ing seriously. She is a tremendously effective combatant and her sharp legal mind gives her an edge in the courtroom that many crimefighters simply do not have. However, She-Hulk is also somehow both at home in LA and NYC, making her the ultimate urbanite.
Tatiana Maslany is perfect for this role. Maslany is best known to sci-fi fans as the many protagonists of Orphan Black, a brilliant story about a secretive cloning program. As the star of this show, Maslany created a number of different characters, playing them each with such distinctiveness that it was entirely possible to forget that she was in each role when the characters appeared on screen together. That later bit of camera trickery is what also makes Maslany perfect for this part because on the show she worked extensively with special effects systems to create seamless versions of scenes where she shared the screen with herself. She will be perfect for the kind of motion capture performance that makes the She-Hulk so sensational.
One last thought—everybody keeps saying that Tatiana Maslany is too small to play She-Hulk. Did anybody say that Mark Ruffalo was smaller than the Hulk?