She-Hulk isn’t exactly a working-class hero. As a very powerful lawyer (although she now works 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.
However, the same can’t be said for all of his enemies, and those who make it to the end of Episode 3 will have spotted a group of muscled bad guys wielding Asgardian construction materials for weapons. This, dear readers, is the Wrecking Crew, Marvel’s first team of semi-magical, wage earner-themed crooks and criminals. And their history in the comics, carried by the She-Hulk authors of series, is a journey through the working side of a universe of superheroes.
As their brief TV appearance suggests, the crew’s time in the Marvel Universe actually begins in Asgard, from where Loki had recently been banished and stripped of his powers due to recent mischief. So he took up temporary residence in a hotel room in Manhattan and struck a deal with the witch Karnilla to refuel with Asgardian energy.
Enter Dirk Garthwaite, a workman turned two-fingered thief, who has chosen this fortuitous moment to do what we all dream of but few of us dare: steal Loki’s fabulous and whimsical hat. Karnilla (incredibly) was tricked and (even more incredibly) bestowed the power intended for Loki on Garthwaite’s trusty crowbar instead, granting the wielder incredible strength and justifying Garthwaite’s new codename: the Wrecker . Since then, Garthwaite likes to declare to anyone who will listen that he has “the power of Thor” – a statement that is not strictly precise, but you don’t argue with a big guy holding a magic crowbar.
The Wrecker’s initial fight with Thor on the streets and construction sites of Manhattan in the 1968s The Mighty Thor #148-151 is one of the finest all-out brawl artists Jack Kirby has ever produced with his pencil, though that probably wouldn’t have been enough to earn Garthwaite a permanent place in the Marvel Universe. This honor came after he made a few friends.
A 1974 arc from The defenders found Garthwaite staging a prison break with three pals from his cell block: bitter war veteran Henry Camp, farmhand and vagrant Brian Calusky, and the group’s joker, noted gamma physicist Eliot Franklin, nicknamed so dubious the “Black Bruce Banner,” who had resorted to petty heists to fund his brilliant experiments. When the trio grabbed the Crowbar of Nordic Power from Garthwaite 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 that Franklin had hidden years before. Their defeat in this escapade gave the team their first connection to the Hulk side of the Marvel Universe, as Manhattan only avoided obliteration thanks to a sweatbomb released by Bruce Banner, albeit with the aid of Defenders teammates Dr. Strange (last seen in the MCU causing unintended multidimensional consequences) and Luke Cage (last seen around Netflix and lamenting its unfair cancellation).
Since then, the Wrecking Crew have been an integral part of the Marvel Universe, appearing to strike down any hero in need of a mighty blow. Over the past few decades, they’ve clashed against Thor several times, cooled off with Titania and the Absorbing Man on Battleworld in the original. Secret Wars crossover, and was mortally defeated by a team of Spider-Man and his absurd self-proclaimed partner, the Amazing Frog-Man.
So it probably goes without saying that writers have often played the Wrecking Crew for comedy, with the magic construction tools and all. But make no mistake: the team members are Thor-tier villains when they get down to it, and every once in a while a story makes it chillingly clear. None more than the writer Roger Stern and the famous artists John Buscema and Tom Palmer. Under Siege screenplay from their 1980s run on The Avengers. In this arc, the crew joined Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil to invade and capture Avengers Mansion. In a truly heartbreaking sequence, the team delivers a near-fatal beating to the Avenger Hercules. Stilt-Man these guys aren’t.
Still, when they’re not quite menacing, it’s hard to deny that the guys from Wrecking Crew have a certain charm. It’s partly the writers’ sheer will to go for it when it comes to their dumb construction worker gimmick. But it’s also the fact that in the end, the Wrecking Crew really is a team; unlike groups of clichéd supervillains since time immemorial, perpetually undermining their own plans through mutual betrayal, the crowbar-powered quartet trust and play off each other in ways that can be eerily comforting. They’re the Dover Pros of Marvel Villains: seasoned experts who just want to make a living and go 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 their own quirks and character arcs. In a slightly tearful Spider-Man story, Wrecker is revealed to have stolen for the sake of his beloved, ailing mother. Bulldozer and Piledriver have each made the Wrecking Crew a family affair by bringing in children as additional crew members at various times in the team’s history.
But he’s a noted Ph.D. and Thunderball ball and chain lover who’s followed the most interesting arc in years. After a series of fiascos serving New York crime boss The Hood, Dr. Franklin began to rethink his association with the former Crew. He finally enlisted with the King of Wakanda in the magnificent and too often overlooked run of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Black Panther. When Franklin defers Black Panther’s offer by repeating his former dismissive nickname “the Black Banner Bruce”, T’Challa simply replies, “You are Dr. Eliot Augustus Franklin.” It’s a typically subtle and quietly moving scene that saves Franklin from an admittedly stupid story and sets him on a new path to redemption.
So what does all of this have to do with She-Hulk? Well, so far in the comics, not much. There’s the original-flavored Dr. Franklin-Hulk Banner connection, of course, and the only time She-Hulk got a glimpse of a tiny Wrecking Crew being held in a miniaturized prison. But insofar as Jen Walters shares a connection with Crew, it’s mostly an overall vibe. Like Walters, the Wrecking Crew are superhumans who know that a job is a job; they are not out to take over the world or exact revenge on a hated enemy. They just want to break down walls, make money and stop there. 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 cheer on the bad guys who won’t cross a picket line?