It may seem like every installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whether TV episode or movie, comes with something to make fans go “Oooh, Easter egg!” But in its fifth episode, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law might have become the crowned monarch of Marvel Comics deep cuts.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a brave new world. The MCU just made a reference to Dakota North.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for She-Hulk episode 5.]
She-Hulk episode 5 learns into the sartorial difficulties of being a woman who can grow two feet of height and a few hundred pounds of muscle at will. But luckily Jen’s bestie/paralegal is already working on a solution, tracking down the secretive fashion designer Luke Jacobson — played by The Flight Attendant’s Griffin Matthews — who only designs battle gear for superheroes. But, with a little convincing, he agrees to take on the challenge of creating a transition wardrobe for Jen. Not “transition” from summer to fall, or day to night, but Jen to She-Hulk.
The answer to the question “Who designs and produces all these superheroes’ outfits?” is one that comics creators have answered frequently in creative ways. In Gotham City in the 2000s, there was the Tailor, a neutral player who dressed both hero and villain. In Marvel Comics, the Wasp is both a founding member of the Avengers and an internationally known fashion designer who also crafts superhero wear for her friends. And mutant culture has its own exclusive top designer, the four-armed Jumbo Carnation.
But Luke Jacobson? It’s a pull from the little-known Dakota North.
As Keith Silva wrote in a 2018 feature for the Comics Journal: “To say Dakota North was an outlier is a disservice to outliers.” The first issue of the series was published in June 1986, and its fifth and final installment came only eight months later. Written by Martha Thomases and drawn by Tony Salmons, both essentially newcomers to creating comics, it is a concept so unique in scope and bizarre in tone that really the only place for it to go was down in (glorious, fascinating) flames. Dakota North wasn’t even set within the Marvel Comics universe, though its lead, Dakota, would eventually appear in in-universe comics, guesting alongside characters like Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Power Pack.
Who is Dakota North? She’s the leather-jacket-wearing, quip-slinging, motorcycle-riding, butt-kicking, take-no-shit head and sole operational employee of, as Silva puts it, an “international private security agency specializing in cases of malfeasance within the fashion industry.” And Luke Jacobson was her first case.
Who is Luke Jacobson?
Well, he’s a fashion designer unknowingly caught up in some complicated corporate intrigue who’s getting threats of violence. He’s a dead ringer for Fabio, is generally useless, and dances to Donna Summer. He’s also constantly proposing marriage and expressing his love for Dakota — despite, or perhaps, in an editorial sense, because of what you’ve probably already gathered: He was absolutely supposed to be gay.
Writer Martha Thomases told Silva that Jacobson was based on “my friend, the fashion designer David Freelander, who died of AIDS in 1987. I had wanted the character to also be gay and HIV+, but [Marvel editor Larry Hama] said that wasn’t why people read comics. I suspect that, if the series had continued, we would have gone there.”
Thomases may have been hopeful, but Marvel Comics’ history of outright banning or otherwise downplaying queer characters would continue for quite a few years longer.
Of the only five issues of Dakota North, Luke appeared in only three, and never made it over to the main Marvel Universe. Will his She-Hulk: Attorney at Law incarnation inspire comics writers to rectify that? Goodness, I hope so.