They say that every superhero gets the arch nemesis they deserve: the one who turns a dark mirror on their deepest motivations and forces them to grapple with what makes them a hero to begin with. Batman has his Joker, champion of disorder and chaos; Mister Fantastic has his Doctor Doom, his one true intellectual equal. And She-Hulk, star of Marvel’s new Disney Plus series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law? She gets a 7-foot-tall former checkout clerk with big muscles, a leotard, and some wicked 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 show’s premiere. As 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 the Marvel Comics many to gain immortal fame… as She-Hulk’s most reliable thorn-in-her-side.
First things first, for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and/or the finer works of William Shakespeare: Titania in question is not the Faerie Queen from the hit Elizabethan comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream (though, as it happens, both characters have a memorable romantic relationship with a real ass). Rather, this Titania has her origins back in the slightly less discerning pages of Marvel’s second-ever 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 Denver woman whisked away to the strange planet of Battleworld (it’s a long story) who volunteers to allow Doctor Doom to transform her into a superpowered bruiser codenamed Titania, simply for the purpose of tussling with the assembled Marvel heroes.
In this initial appearance, Titania’s background was given only a brief, efficient sketch: We know that she once had a reputation as a shrimpy, unremarkable nobody; we know that 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 gain her powers than she roughs 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’s She-Hulk series by writer Dan Slott and artists Juan Bobillo and Paul Pelletier that we learned the deeper background of MacPherran’s punchy personality. Titania grew up a scrawny, working-class kid, picked on by her more popular classmates in school, and found herself relegated to working a series of dead-end jobs. Her escape was to lose herself in stories of larger-than-life superheroes and villains, whom she idolized beyond reasonable limits — even to the point of pretending to be Spider-Woman to impress her friends.
That makes Titania something of a mirror image to Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan, another Marvel character who grew up fannishly obsessed with (and determined to emulate) the feats of caped celebrities. The twist is that the put-upon, self-loathing Titania never discriminated between whether those celebrities were good or evil. Simply being powerful enough to punch your way into fame and recognition was worth her esteem.
That’s the dynamic that sets up the key love-hate relationship of Titania’s career: her persistent, obsessive need to prove herself against She-Hulk, her muscled counterpart among the superhero set. Their first tussle in Secret Wars #7 ended inconclusively, but it wasn’t enough. Titania would be back time and again to pick pointless fights with an increasingly exasperated Jen Walters, who took a dim interest in having been selected as MacPherson’s nemesis of choice.
It’s an odd, dysfunctional bond. Titania was never quite able to shake off her childhood sense of mediocrity, and she needs to impress She-Hulk by proving she’s up to her standards. And the only way to do that is by proving that she’s strong enough to pound her into cement. In that sense, she acts as a superheroic exaggeration of the most toxic elements of comic book fandom itself, with its needy drive to make it onto the radar of a fave celebrity, expressed through a very specific and obnoxious demand to fight. By the time of 1989’s Solo Avengers #14, a chastened Titania was forced to solemnly promise She-Hulk (on pain of thrashing) to go back to jail and leave her alone — a vow which, alas, MacPherran couldn’t quite keep.
By then, however, Titania had managed to find the other constant relationship in her life, this one for the better (even if equally bizarre and dysfunctional in its own way). After their meet-cute fist fight on Battleworld, MacPherran and Crusher Creel found themselves falling head over heels for one another, returning to Earth as a crime-committing duo for the next few years. That romantic pairing has proved surprisingly durable across the decades, with each partner looking out for the other during their periodic attempts to reform. In one memorable and oddly moving instance from Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz’s Mighty Thor, Creel even sits down at a diner with Thor himself to convince him to scare Titania straight, to stop her from giving up the law-abiding life and returning to prison.
That, too, makes Titania a fascinating foil for Jen Walters. While She-Hulk has never made any excuses for her consistent, unashamed sexuality — keeping two steady boyfriends in each of her identities during her original 1970s series, hopping into bed with her Avengers teammate Starfox in the ’80s, and moving through boyfriends faster than Elaine from Seinfeld in the 2000s — she has rarely had a happy long-term relationship to call her own.
Indeed, it’s the steadying effect of that relationship that has led MacPherran to her latest twist in comic continuity, making a full-on face-turn 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 to her deep-seated self-loathing: a happy, weirdly functional love life.
Based on the first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law alone, It remains to be seen how much, if at all, the televised version of Titania will resemble her toxically obsessed comic counterpart. Jamil’s version of the character appears to be a social influencer by trade, called in to court for a traffic violation, and the actress has described her as someone who could “just annoy you to death” before she even throws a punch. That’s a clever wink, both at the media persona of Jamil herself (and thus potential fodder for She-Hulk’s famous fourth-wall-breaking habits), and at a modernized version of the way fans and celebrities interact in person and on their platforms.
Just a shame she forgot to bring the shoulder spikes.