She-Hulk’s Jameela Jamil plays the hero’s rival and most venomous fan

They say every superhero gets the archenemy they deserve: the one who turns a dark mirror on their deepest motivations and forces them to wrestle with what makes them a hero in the first place. Batman has his Joker, master of disorder and chaos; Mister Fantastic has his Doctor Doom, his one intellectual equal. And She-Hulk, star of Marvel’s new Disney Plus series, She-Hulk: Lawyer? She gets a 7ft tall former cashier with big muscles, leotard and some mean shoulder spikes.

Yes, we’re talking about Jameela Jamil’s Titania, who slugged it out in a courtroom with Tatiana Maslany’s titular hero in the series premiere. Since she’s all but guaranteed to return before the end of the season, let’s examine how Mary “Skeeter” MacPherran rose from the ranks of Marvel Comics’ many to immortal fame … as She-Hulk’s most reliable thorn-in-the-side.

Doctor Doom transforms Titania from a mousy string bean into a super-powered beefcake in Secret Wars.
Image: Jim Shooter, Michael Zeck/Marvel Comics

First things first, for fans of Neil Gaimans Sandman and/or the finer works of William Shakespeare: The Titania in question is not The Faerie Queen from the hit Elizabethan comedy A midsummer night’s dream (although both characters have a memorable romantic relationship with a real ass). Rather, this Titania originated back in the slightly less picky pages of Marvel’s second crossover event, 1984’s Secret Wars.

In that series, written by Jim Shooter and designed by artist Mike Zeck, we first meet Mary “Skeeter” MacPherran, an unremarkable woman from Denver who was whisked away to the strange planet Battleworld (it’s a long story) who volunteers to to have Doctor Doom transform her into a super-powered blaster codenamed Titania, simply to fight with the assembled Marvel heroes.

In this first appearance, Titania’s background was only given a brief, effective outline: we know that she once had a reputation as a chatty, unremarkable nobody; we know she has something of an inferiority complex; and we know that these two things give her a chip on her shoulder big enough to start fights with anyone she meets. No sooner does Titania get her powers than she tears up Thor villain Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, because he looks “like the toughest man here” (more on Crusher later).

It wasn’t until 2004 She-Hulk series by writer Dan Slott and artists Juan Bobillo and Paul Pelletier that we learned the deeper background of MacPherran’s forceful personality. Titania grew up a skinny working-class kid, picked on by her more popular classmates at school, and found herself relegated to working a series of dead-end jobs. Her escape was to lose herself in stories of greater superheroes and villains, whom she idolized beyond reasonable limits – even pretending to be Spider-Woman to impress her friends.

Image: Dan Slott, Paul Pelletier/Marvel Comics

That makes Titania something of a mirror image of Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan, another Marvel character who grew up fanatically obsessed with (and determined to emulate) the feats of caped celebrities. The twist is that the uptight, self-loathing Titania never discriminated between whether those celebrities were good or evil. Only that being powerful enough to catapult yourself into fame and recognition was worth her respect.

It’s the dynamic that sets up the most important love-hate relationship in Titania’s career: her persistent, obsessive need to prove herself against She-Hulk, her muscular counterpart among the superhero set. Their first game in Secret Wars #7 ended uncertainly, but it was not enough. Titania would return time and time again to pick pointless fights with an increasingly annoyed Jen Walters, who took a faint interest in being chosen as MacPherson’s nemesis of choice.

It’s a strange, dysfunctional bond. Titania was never quite able to shake off the feelings of mediocrity from her childhood, and she needs to impress She-Hulk by proving she’s up to his standards. And the only way to do that is by proving she’s strong enough to pound her into cement. In that sense, she functions as a superheroic exaggeration of the most toxic elements of comic fandom itself, with her needy drive to get on the radar of a favorite celebrity expressed through a very specific and obnoxious demand to fight. In the 1989s Solo Avengers #14, a chastened Titania was forced to solemnly promise She-Hulk (on pain of defecation) to return to the prison and leave her alone – a promise that, unfortunately, MacPherran couldn’t quite keep.

By then, however, Titania had managed to find other constant relationship in her life, this for the better (although it is equally bizarre and dysfunctional in its own way). After their meet-cute fistfight on Battleworld, MacPherran and Crusher Creel found themselves falling head over heels for each other, returning to Earth as a crime-committing duo for the next few years. The romantic pairing has proven surprisingly durable over the decades, with each partner looking out for the other during their periodic attempts to reform. In a memorable and strangely touching case from Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz Mighty ThorCreel even sits down at a diner with Thor himself to convince him to scare Titania straight, to stop her from giving up her law-abiding life and returning to prison.

That, too, makes Titania a fascinating foil for Jen Walters. While She-Hulk has never made any apologies for her consistent, unabashed sexuality – keeping two steady girlfriends in each of her identities during her original 1970s run, hopping into bed with Avengers teammate Starfox in the 80s, and move through girlfriends faster than Elaine from Seinfeld in the 2000s – she’s rarely had a happy long-term relationship to call her own.

Indeed, it’s the stabilizing effect of the relationship that has led MacPherran to her latest twist in comic continuity, doing a full-on about-face alongside Creel as a member of the heroic Gamma Flight team. So while Titania would probably be the last to recognize it, she’s already managed to overcome her bad fandom by quietly finding a cure for her deep-seated self-loathing: a happy, weirdly functional love life.

She-Hulk and Titania Call a Truce – and Start an Informal Fight Club – on Marvel’s Stream She-Hulk miniseries.
Image: G. Willow Wilson, Roger Antonio/Marvel Comics

Based on the first episode of She-Hulk: Lawyer alone, it remains to be seen how much, if at all, the TV version of Titania will resemble her toxically obsessed comic counterpart. Jamil’s version of the character appears to be a social influence by trade, summoned to court for a traffic violation, and the actress has described her as someone who can “just annoy you to death” before even throwing a punch. It’s a clever nod, both to the media persona of Jamil himself (and thus potential fodder for She-Hulk’s famous fourth-wall-breaking habits), and to a modernized version of the way fans and celebrities interact in person and on their platforms.

Too bad she forgot to bring the shoulder spikes.

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