She-Hulk isn’t exactly a working-class hero. As a high-powered attorney (albeit one now working in the somewhat dubious field of superhuman law), Jen Walters is the closest thing to a strictly white-collar superhero we’ve seen since Tony Stark drove his last Audi into the sunset.
The same can’t be said, however, for all her foes, and those who make it to the end of episode 3 will have spotted a group of muscular baddies wielding Asgardian construction equipment for weapons. This, dear readers, is the Wrecking Crew, Marvel’s premier team of semi-magically powered, wage-laborer-themed crooks and criminals. And their history in the comics, lifted by the She-Hulk series writers, is a journey through the working-class side of a superhero universe.
As their brief TV appearance suggests, the Crew’s time in the Marvel universe actually begins in Asgard, from which Loki had recently been banished and stripped of his powers due to some recent mischief. So he took up temporary residence in a Manhattan hotel room, and made a deal with the sorceress Karnilla to refuel with Asgardian energy.
Enter Dirk Garthwaite, a manual laborer turned two-bit robber, who picked that fortuitous moment to do what all of us dream of but few of us dare: steal Loki’s fabulous, fancy hat. Karnilla (incredibly) was fooled, and (even more incredibly) bestowed the power intended for Loki on Garthwaite’s trusty crowbar instead, granting the bearer incredible strength and justifying Garthwaite’s new codename: the Wrecker. Ever since, Garthwaite has been fond of declaring to anyone who will listen that he has “the power of Thor” — a statement that’s not strictly accurate, but one does not argue with a big dude holding a magic crowbar.
The Wrecker’s initial tussle with Thor through the streets and construction sites of Manhattan in 1968’s The Mighty Thor #148-151 is one of the best all-out brawls artist Jack Kirby ever produced with his pencil, though it probably wouldn’t have been enough to earn Garthwaite a permanent place in the Marvel universe. That honor came after he made a few friends.
A 1974 arc of The Defenders found Garthwaite staging a prison breakout along with three cronies from his cell block: bitter war veteran Henry Camp, farmhand and drifter Brian Calusky, and the wild card of the bunch, noted gamma physicist Eliot Franklin, questionably nicknamed the “Black Bruce Banner,” who had resorted to petty robbery to finance his brilliant experiments. When the trio gripped Garthwaite’s Crowbar of Nordic Power in a thunderstorm, they transformed into Bulldozer, Piledriver, and Thunderball, respectively. The Wrecking Crew was born.
Thunderball became the breakout star after that first outing, when the foursome tracked down a hidden gamma bomb Franklin had squirreled away years before. Their defeat in that escapade gave the squad its first connection to the Hulk side of the Marvel Universe, as Manhattan avoided obliteration only through some sweat-browed bomb diffusing from Bruce Banner, albeit with an assist from Defenders teammates Dr. Strange (last seen in the MCU causing unforeseen multidimensional consequences) and Luke Cage (last seen hanging around Netflix and lamenting his unjust cancellation).
Since then, the Wrecking Crew has been a fixture in the Marvel Universe, popping up to pummel any hero in need of a powerful thumping. Over the past few decades, they’ve repeatedly squared off against Thor, chilled with Titania and the Absorbing Man on Battleworld in the original Secret Wars crossover, and been mortifyingly defeated by a team-up of Spider-Man and his preposterous self-declared partner, the Amazing Frog-Man.
So it probably goes without saying that writers have often played the Wrecking Crew for comedy, what with the magic construction tools and all. But make no mistake: The team members are Thor-tier villains when they put their minds to it, and every so often a story makes that chillingly clear. None more so than writer Roger Stern and artists John Buscema and Tom Palmer’s famed Under Siege storyline from their 1980s run on The Avengers. In that arc, the Crew joined Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil to overrun and capture Avengers Mansion. In one truly harrowing sequence, the team delivers a near-fatal beating to the Avenger Hercules. Stilt-Man these guys are not.
Still, when they’re not being altogether menacing, it’s hard to deny that the Wrecking Crew guys have a certain charm. Partly it’s writers’ sheer willingness to just go for it when it comes to their silly construction worker gimmick. But it’s also the fact that, in the end, the Wrecking Crew really are a team; unlike cliched supervillain groups since time immemorial, perpetually undermining their own schemes through mutual betrayal, the crowbar-powered foursome trust each other and play to one another’s strengths in a way that can be oddly heartwarming. They’re the pros from Dover of Marvel bad guys: seasoned experts who just want to earn their keep and get home for dinner.
And since they’ve been around the block with just about every Marvel hero more than once, they’ve each had time to develop some quirks and character arcs of their own. In a slightly maudlin Spider-Man story, Wrecker is revealed to have been stealing for the sake of his beloved, ill mother. Bulldozer and Piledriver each made the Wrecking Crew a family affair by bringing in kids as extra Crew members at various points in the team’s history.
But it’s noted Ph.D. and ball-and-chain enthusiast Thunderball who’s followed the most interesting arc in recent years. After a series of fiascos in the service of New York crime boss The Hood, Dr. Franklin started rethinking his association with the old Crew. He eventually enlisted with the King of Wakanda during Ta-Nehisi Coates’ magnificent and too-often-overlooked run on Black Panther. When Franklin puts off Black Panther’s offer by repeating his old dismissive moniker “the Black Bruce Banner,” T’Challa replies simply: “You are Dr. Eliot Augustus Franklin.” It’s a typically subtle and quietly moving scene that rescues Franklin from an admittedly silly history and sets him on a new course of redemption.
So what does all this have to do with She-Hulk? Well, so far in the comics, not much. There’s the Banner connection between Dr. Franklin and the original-flavor Hulk, of course, and the one time She-Hulk got a glimpse of a teeny, tiny Wrecking Crew held in a miniaturized prison. But to the extent that Jen Walters shares a bond with Crew, it’s mostly one of general vibes. Like Walters, the Wrecking Crew are superhumans who know that a job’s a job; they’re not out to conquer the world or seek revenge on a hated enemy. They just want to break some walls, score some bucks, and call it a day. For a character like She-Hulk, who didn’t want a superhuman life in the first place, the attitude feels right at home.
And hey: Who doesn’t want to root for villains who won’t cross a picket line?