Jennifer Walters, formerly known as the Incredible She-Hulk, has been struggling ever since the end of the events of Marvel’s Civil War II. At the beginning of the event, Walters is knocked unconscious in a battle royal between a passel of various superheroes and Thanos, the mad Titan; she spends the rest of the event in a coma, sometimes being visited by former teammates, but otherwise missing in action. Although she makes it out of Civil War II alive and with a new solo series (entitled simply, Hulk), it’s clear she’s been changed for the worse.
We see her trauma in the major life changes she decides to make at the start of her new series; she now remains in her human form, forswears crime-fighting, and returns to her legal practice. Whereas she used to remain in her She-Hulk form as both civilian and superhero, that body now brings with it traumatic memories of her last fight. Even thinking about what happened (and the family and colleagues she has lost) causes her to break out in a sweat and double over in pain. She also appears to be separating herself from the people she knew in her superhero life. When Patsy Walker, aka HellCat, texts her to see how she is, Jennifer doesn’t respond. When she leaves work, we see her lock herself away in her apartment alone.
Based on the Mayo Clinic’s helpful website and her own behavior, it appears that Jennifer now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include recurrent, intrusive, memories of the traumatic event (check); avoidance of talking about the event or to anyone related to it (check); changes in emotional reactions, including irritability, overwhelming guilt, shame, or anxiety (check); and negative changes in thinking and mood, including difficulty in maintaining close relationships and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities (double-check). Jennifer is plagued by thoughts she cannot control, has cut herself off from the superhero world she once loved, and is anxious and irritable due to this trauma. It certainly looks like PTSD.
Attempting to juggle PTSD and any job is hard enough; trying to do that within a licensed profession is a different ball of wax altogether. Attorney licensure is regulated by the bar of each state. In New York, where Jennifer practices, the appellate division of the supreme court for each geographic division of New York (called “departments”) determines whether a person “possesses the character and general fitness requisite” to practice as an attorney in the first place; they also determine whether to sanction or disbar an attorney from practice. NY CLS Jud §90.
Attorney discipline generally happens through a court case filed by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (DDC) in the department where the attorney practices law. New York law provides that whenever the DDC petitions the “court to determine whether an attorney is incapacitated from continuing to practice law by reason of physical or mental infirmity or illness […] this court may take or direct such action as it deems necessary or proper to determine whether the attorney is so incapacitated, including examination of the attorney by such qualified experts as this court shall designate.” 22 NYCRR §603.16(b)(1).
The appellate division is “authorized to censure, suspend from practice or remove from office any attorney and counsellor-at-law admitted to practice who is guilty of professional misconduct, malpractice, fraud, deceit, crime or misdemeanor, or any conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and the appellate division of the supreme court is hereby authorized to revoke such admission for any misrepresentation or suppression of any information in connection with the application for admission to practice.” NY CLS Jud §90(2).
There’s no allegation that Jennifer lied or hid any information when she became an attorney (she did not gain her powers or experience mental illness until well after she was already licensed, and it appears that her She-Hulk alter-ego has been common knowledge since then). There’s also nothing to suggest that she has engaged in any fraud, deceit, crime, misdemeanor, or any conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (think: lying to police or blackmailing clients).
The concern for Jennifer lies with the specter of professional misconduct and malpractice. There are not many New York state attorney disciplinary cases involving mental health issues that have reached the appeal stage, and many of the ones that exist seem to purposefully shroud their details to protect the attorneys’ privacy. The few details we have, however, are illuminating: they are either cases where the diseases themselves have made the attorneys incapable of performing legal work (because they were removed from reality, as the attorneys in In re Cohen, 92 AD 2d 139 (1983), In re Colp, 185 AD 2d 43 (1993), and In re Dickson, 196 AD 2d 399 (1994), were) or they are cases where the effort of dealing with the mental illness made it impossible for the attorneys to keep up with their work. This second category of case includes In re Guran, 126 AD 2d 216 (1987), (where the attorney was too mentally disordered to prepare for his own disbarment hearing); In re Jordon, 202 AD 2d 141 (1994), (where the attorney’s severe, chronic, depression and resulting mental fragility caused her to engage in unspecified misconduct); and In re Rochlin, 100 AD 2d 263 (1984), (another severe depression case where the attorney lied to clients and fabricated legal documents because he could no longer keep up with his work).
As everyone knows Jennifer Walters used to be the She-Hulk, it seems unlikely that a psychiatrist interviewing her would think she’d had a break from reality when she talks about the fantastical cause of her pain. With the severity of her panic attacks and the physical manifestations of her stress, however, it seems possible that Jennifer’s trauma may lead to her neglecting her work and engaging in bad behavior to try to keep up. If so, a petition by the DDC and a court order could force her into a psychiatric evaluation and a pause from her life as a lawyer.
Without her superhero or professional identities, who would Jennifer Walters even be? If she’s unwilling or unable to treat her PTSD, we may just find out.