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Was the Easter Egg in ‘She-Hulk’s First Episode Setting Up [SPOILER]?

the hulk

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is now streaming on Disney Plus, and the new Marvel series promises to show a lighter side of the superhero world. This 9-episode legal comedy follows Bruce Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters (or She-Hulk), as she juggles the life of a superhero with her career as a lawyer (plus some romance thrown into the mix). However, rumors on the Internet, along with a surprising Easter egg in the first episode, have fans wondering if the series is setting up a Hulk solo outing—specifically an adaptation of World War Hulk.

Is there any truth to the rumors? What is World War Hulk, anyway? Read on to find out!

What is World War Hulk?

To understand the events of World War Hulk, the Marvel comics storyline that ran from May to November 2007, you have to go back to the prequel, Planet Hulk. In Planet Hulk, which consisted of Incredible Hulk #95-102, the Illuminati banishes Hulk from Earth after he attacks Las Vegas in a fit of gamma-induced rage. The spacecraft they put him in veers off course and falls through a wormhole onto the planet Sakaar, where Hulk is taken into slavery and forced to become a gladiator. (Sound familiar? That’s right—elements of Planet Hulk were incorporated into Thor: Ragnarok.)

Hulk eventually takes over Sakaar and marries a woman named Caiera. However, Caiera and their unborn child both die—when the ship that originally brought Hulk to Sakaar explodes. Hulk heads back to Earth to get revenge, kicking off the events of World War Hulk.

World War Hulk ran for 13 issues in 2007 and was written by Greg Pak and penciled by Jon Romita Jr. In a frenzy of grief and anger, Hulk picks off virtually every superhero team on Earth. He defeats Black Bolt on the moon, crashes the Xavier Institute to smash up the X-Men, and lays waste to Manhattan as he fights the Mighty Avengers, the Young Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Gamma Corps, and every individual superhero who tries to stop him. He doesn’t kill them, though. He just forces them to become gladiators and fight for his amusement.

World War Hulk eventually ends with the Hulk reverting to his Bruce Banner form, and being imprisoned in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility deep underground.

Whew. Got all that? Good. So, could we see a World War Hulk movie in the MCU?

How likely is a World War Hulk movie?

First, let’s look at what we’ve learned so far in She-Hulk.

At the end of the Infinity Saga, Bruce seems to have undergone permanent changes. First, thanks to 18 months of working in the lab, he achieves equilibrium between his two forms, resulting in Smart Hulk (sometimes called Professor Hulk). Bruce doesn’t seem to have any interest in going back to his previous two selves, saying that he’s combined “the best of both worlds.” Secondly, Bruce’s arm is injured when he undoes Thanos’s snap, and it seems like his mobility is permanently limited, putting an end to his superhero days.

In just one episode, She-Hulk has undone both of those changes. While Bruce and Jen are on their road trip, Bruce, now in human form, explains that he’s started wearing an electronic inhibitor to keep from hulking out. After Jen becomes a hulk, Bruce explains that he used the healing factor in her blood to heal his arm. Now that an inhibitor is an option, Bruce’s character has effectively been reset to his pre-Endgame self, even if he’s in Smart Hulk form at the end of She-Hulk episode 1.

What this all means (for a possible World War Hulk movie) is that, while it’s very hard to imagine Smart Hulk going on a revenge-fueled rampage, you can kind of get there now that Bruce is back to hulking out against his will (or, at least, he presumably will be if he makes another inhibitor).

There’s one more clue in the first episode of She-Hulk that could point to World War Hulk. The reason Bruce and Jen crash their car is that a spaceship descends in front of them, blocking the road. Bruce recognizes the ship as Sakaarian, says that they’re probably trying to send him a message, and tells Jen he’ll need to sort it out later. Marvel is definitely setting up some kind of reckoning with the Hulk’s time on Sakaar.

But will that reckoning be an adaptation of World War Hulk? Will it be a Hulk solo outing at all? Unfortunately, licensing issues make the question very tricky.

Why we haven’t gotten more Hulk movies

The Hulk looks sad with his arm in a sling at Tony Stark's funeral in Avengers: Endgame

The first Hulk movie, just called Hulk, was a notorious flop. It was made by Universal Pictures, so—like Fox’s X-Men movies and Sony’s pre-Tom Holland Spider-Man movies—it wasn’t part of the MCU.

In 2006, though, Marvel Studios renegotiated the rights to the Hulk with Universal so that they could make 2008’s The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton. This movie was in the MCU, and Edward Norton’s Hulk is the same character as Mark Ruffalo’s, but the movie still did pretty poorly. It’s considered one of the MCU’s weakest outings.

Although it’s not clear why Marvel and Universal haven’t made more Hulk movies since then, the combination of two failed efforts and the minefield of licensing negotiations are two likely culprits. Ruffalo’s Hulk has been a mainstay of the MCU ever since 2012’s The Avengers, but he’s always been relegated to a supporting or ensemble role.

However, Ruffalo himself has gone on the record saying that he’d love to star in his own Hulk film. At the She-Hulk world premiere on August 15, he said that “anytime [Marvel] wants to do it, I’m here.”

Does that mean a Hulk movie is happening? Maybe—or maybe Ruffalo is just stressing that he’s always been down for a Hulk film, and the ball remains in Marvel’s court. After all, back in 2017, Ruffalo seemed pretty pessimistic about the prospects of a Hulk sequel, telling Variety that, “a standalone Hulk movie will never happen.”

There’s still reason to hope, though. With Planet Hulk already having been adapted in Ragnarok, that Sakaarian spaceship dredging up Hulk’s unfinished business, and a whopping twelve secret Marvel projects on the docket over the next four years, World War Hulk in the MCU may be on the way.

(featured image: Marvel)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at