Among the many big revelations of the first episode of She-Hulk: Lawyer comes the revelation that while Bruce Banner was relaxing in Mexico after Blip in order to find himself and unite his warring halves, he and Tony Stark built an outdoor bar together. To commemorate this moment spent together, their initials are engraved in the wood. It’s a small detail in a larger conversation, but it’s a small nod to a friendship that was once a huge part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom – and got a little lost along the way.
Once upon a time, MCU fans dreamed of a world where the Avengers hung out and loved each other. Novel, right? But back in 2012, right after the first Avengers movie, the idea of all of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes getting together and living in a tower like cold roommates was incredibly popular. The gang played video games together. Clint was living in the air vents, for some reason. Thor was obsessed with Pop-Tarts. It was a simpler time.
One of the big hallmarks of this era was ‘Science Bros’ – what fans called the relationship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Sometimes it was romantic (although it’s usually dubbed “Science Boyfriends” or “Science Husbands”). But sometimes it was just the platonic relationship between the two smarter Avengers as they dabbled in technology or joked about science experiments. The friendship began in the first Avengers movie, when the two bonded over the more technical aspects of foiling Loki’s villainous plan – and solidified when Tony didn’t tiptoe around Bruce, who still couldn’t control his Hulk side at this point. It was one of the clearest friendships of that early Avengers era (besides Clint and Natasha, my beloved ones <3), and the whole framing of iron man 3 ended up being Tony telling Bruce a story. It was so iconic that even Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo recognized it and played along.
Sadly, subsequent MCU films have cast aside this fan-favorite relationship. Not necessarily because the two characters were no longer friends, but because the MCU turned into a juggernaut of a million moving parts and characters that needed to be strategically placed like chess pieces in order to kick off the next plot point. Which was good and good for those who were excited about the new big bad guy on the horizon. But for fans who enjoyed the unexpected friendships between these unlikely heroes – who wanted a full shawarma lunch scene after the Battle of New York – the MCU started to feel missing. The heroes barely got along, and even when the movies focused on the more emotional parts of being a superhero, the next one came along and completely undermined what had happened.
Clint had a random family in the second Avengers movie, and Natasha had a completely unexpected crush on Bruce (at least She-Hulk recognized how weird that piece was). Tony Stark ditched the suit after iron man 3, then immediately picked it up for a few more movies. And perhaps the most frustrating, having spent all Captain America: The Winter Soldier searching for his best friend Bucky Barnes and then going against international law, Steve Rogers decided to travel back in time and live an entire life without Bucky, although he consciously knew that while raising a family with Peggy in this timeline, Bucky was being tortured by Soviet agents. Fans realized that the MCU was never going to be about this group of friends who were there for each other.
In a post-End of Game MCU, Future Science Bros Bond Can’t Happen Because Tony Stark Is Dead. But this small recognition is Something, a little reminder that once upon a time, the Avengers really got along and loved each other on screen. And apparently they still got along and loved each other, but in the background and off screen, we were told years after some of them died. Perhaps with more room to breathe on Disney Plus, we’ll finally see more of that emotional connection that fans latched onto in the first place. Or perhaps those moments will continue to be referenced after the fact, in initials carved into a wooden bar and a shared memory of happier times.