The Wedding Issue: Hulkling and Wiccan

Aside from “Who would win in a fight?”, no debate gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether or not superheroes should marry. In this special revival of their popular column, Rebecca Henely-Weiss and Kayleigh Hearn take a trip to today’s spinner racks and look at the most recent times comic companies took the plunge and got their characters hitched! Did we like the couple? Did we like the tuxes? And more importantly … will the marriage last? Today we look at the wedding of Hulkling and Wiccan.

The Couple: Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman
The Issues: Empyre #5 and Empyre Aftermath: Avengers #1
Published: August 12 and September 9, 2020
Today: So far so good … Hey! What are these ominous storm clouds on the horizon? Is this foreshadowing?

empyre: aftermath

Spoilers Ahead!

Rebecca: Hey, everyone. Gotta say, it’s a bit bittersweet to be back here. Kayleigh and I ended this column shortly after her wedding last year, and you don’t need me to describe how much things have changed since then. While not being able to hold traditional weddings is hardly the biggest tragedy in our world today — especially since those who do defy the warnings have sometimes found their Special Day has become a deadly superspreader event — I have to admit it’s sometimes been a bit sad to remember my wedding just a few years ago and imagine being faced with the prospect of either cancelling or severely reducing it due to COVID-19.

Still, this is a period of time where to stay safe but still live our lives we make do the best we can with what we have. Weddings may only be taking place over programs like Zoom and Google Hangout right now, lavish receptions with our families and friends becoming a dream that may not come true for months or years. But what better way to remember the warmth of marital bliss than with one of Marvel’s most beloved couples in recent years: Hulkling and Wiccan?

Kayleigh: Wow! It’s weird to write about weddings now! With my anniversary approaching, I must admit that this hasn’t been quite the first year of marriage my spouse and I anticipated, but I can’t imagine running this gauntlet with anyone else. We were tremendously lucky to celebrate our wedding with our friends and family in attendance, but there is a bittersweet heaviness to those memories now, knowing we won’t be together like that again for the foreseeable future. My wedding didn’t have a talking raccoon in a little suit, though. I would have liked a talking raccoon in a little suit.

empyre aftermath
“Call your folks, they’ll want the live feed” hits different now. Also, hi Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung!

Rebecca: I’ve never been a big Young Avengers fan. I read the original Allen Heinberg/Jim Cheung run and thought it had a lot of clever ideas for characters but didn’t make those characters incredibly distinct. So to me, Teddy Altman and Billy Kaplan have been cute but … not much more than that. I’m glad they exist as a functional, happy gay couple in the Marvel Universe but I never could love them the way a lot of fans clearly did. Despite that, I didn’t really want to go into this special edition of The Wedding Issue just feeling “meh,” so I read the beloved Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie run of Young Avengers as well as main Empyre storyline so I could go into this with a more positive attitude.

Speaking of which … wow, I never thought that weird Scarlet Witch/Vision and Mantis/Swordsman double wedding that we reviewed back in the third installation of this column would come back again for an inter-company crossover. Holy shit!

Kayleigh: I’m on-record calling the Young Avengers “narcs,” so no, I wasn’t a fan of their original run. (Look, if I had to pick a mid-aughts Marvel teen team book, I’m Team Runaways all the way.) The Young Avengers finally clicked for me when Gillen and McKelvie left their star-shaped mark on the team. As for Hulking and Wiccan, I’m trapped in that weird pocket dimension where I recognize how important it is that a gay couple is the center of a star-crossed, universe-saving love story, but I personally find them too pretty, too polished, and too perfect to be invested in them as characters. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of Hannibal in lockdown and have no idea what good, healthy relationships are anymore.

Rebecca: Hulking is a major figure in Empyre but also a pretty passive one. Having once been the victims of a genocide at the hands of the Kree (due to a contest run by the Skrulls), the plant-like alien race Cotati — headed up by “Swordsman” (a Cotati wearing the body of the former Avenger) and Quoi (his son with Mantis) — have waged war not only on their former, now allied oppressors but also all “animal” life on Earth and throughout the galaxy. Meanwhile, Hulkling — who has both Kree and Skrull ancestry — sits on the throne of the new alliance as Dorrek VIII. But the alliance is really run by Kl’rt, better known as the Super Skrull, and the Kree warrior Tanalth the Pursuer — who unbeknownst to everyone is actually Hulkling’s Skrull grandmother Emperess R’Kll.

In Empyre #4, as the Cotati invade Earth, Hulkling consents to potentially activating The Pyre — a device that will explode the sun and destroy the Earth — in an effort to stop the Cotati before they spread across the galaxy. After a skirmish, Hulking has the court magician remove Captain Marvel and the Human Torch from the Kree/Skrull Flagship … but she sends them to Billy Kaplan’s apartment. Wiccan reviews their memories and concludes that the Hulkling who ordered the Pyre activated “is not the man [he] married.”

The next issue opens with Billy narrating a flashback of how he and Teddy had a quick wedding in Las Vegas before Teddy ascended the throne (their Young Avengers allies were able to teleport to the ceremony last minute — you totally want friends like that). Wiccan uses the power of love — er, I mean, magic — to retrieve Hulking from the brig on the Flagship where he’d been locked away. The Dorrek VIII that ordered the Pyre activated was actually R’Kll — and Wiccan has to spirit Captain Marvel and the Human Torch to the sun to help set things right (which they do, with the help of the rest of Hulkling’s royal guard). The day is saved and the happy couple gets a grand royal wedding in space in Empyre Aftermath: Avengers #1, but an imprisoned R’Kll warns that Teddy may not always be able to play the peaceful ruler, and in an ominous future flash-forward in the last few pages, he admits she may have been right.

empyre #4
The “shock ending” to Empyre #4.

Kayleigh: Billy’s going to have one hell of a post for r/JUSTNOMIL. But I don’t think we can talk about modern comic book weddings without talking about the way they’re marketed. For the Big Two, superhero weddings mean big PR pushes–most infamously, Marvel and DC both leaked to major newspapers that two heavily-hyped weddings would not be happening, only weeks apart. That big Empyre #4 cliffhanger? The official solicitation for this issue promised a “shock ending,” which, in superhero-speak, usually means something catastrophic like a major character death. Something good happening to our heroes instead is a genuine twist. Though I was initially cynical about a same-sex wedding being sold as a “shock,” Al Ewing’s storytelling is sincere. This is a love story.

Rebecca: While these issues definitely don’t take place in a COVID-19 world (I guess for all our problems it’s good we’re not being invaded by sentient alien plants), this dual ceremony does feel appropriate for the new wedding landscape. Billy’s parents even have to watch a live feed of their Earth wedding! Speaking of which, I really dug that flashback. It’s cool to show a man proposing to another man in a scene that’s clearly meant to be post-coitus and have it be no big deal, and while I usually don’t get the appeal of Las Vegas weddings, Billy and Teddy keep their lighting-fast ceremony cute. I like the decorations with the flower garlands and the Pride flag in the background, and I also like how all of their friends are basically wearing stealth formal cosplay of their superhero uniforms. Sure, the grooms’ suits are nice, with the gray and white contrasting colors and the pink ties … but I got to give it up for Kate Bishop’s purple dress, Patriot wearing a blue suit with a red-and-white striped tie and star cufflinks/lapel pin and … well, just America Chavez’s everything (but that girl always looks good).

empyre #5

Kayleigh: It took seven years for Billy and Teddy to kiss on panel, so the fact that we’re now in a place where a sensual scene of them in bed can be casually dropped into the climax (yes) of a major Marvel crossover event is a big deal. Sometimes comics are good, actually! And whew, Valerio Schiti sure can draw some handsome men, dressed or undressed. (Teddy’s green freckles are especially cute.) The Young Avengers all look like they’re dressed for completely different events, which is a nice touch, given how short notice the Vegas wedding was. Speed looks exactly like Evan Peters as Quicksilver, and I love it.

Rebecca: The space wedding is pretty nice, too. It’s really cool and personally validating to me that almost all of the weddings we’ve covered contemporaneously on this column have been Jewish — and this one had a particularly beautiful chuppah with gold hangings. (I love that the SFX of Billy breaking the glass was in rainbow colors, too. Nice touch!) But what I also like about the space wedding is that the creative team invented a Kree/Skrull ceremony that named Billy the Prince Consort/Court Wizard. It’s not quite the same thing but it reminded me of the hint of alien wedding traditions in the Scott Free/Big Barda wedding — and I liked Billy’s joke about being like Merlin. It seems like Billy’s parents got to show up in person for this one, but of all the superheroes who came nobody wore reception clothes, though, which was a bit of a bummer. Except for Rocket Raccoon wearing a tux…

Kayleigh: Valerio Schiti does phenomenal work illustrating two very different weddings. The space ceremony is a lovely combination of terrestrial and extraterrestrial customs–there are the chuppah and gold hangings, as you mentioned, along with some eerily beautiful alien flowers. Schiti also makes some subtle, impressive choices with body language. Compare their “first” kisses and note that Billy and Teddy’s hand and arm placements switch when they embrace, mirroring each other. Marte Gracia’s warm, cosmic swirls of color also amplify the artwork, making it bright and bold and clear. As for the guests, I’m surprised that Billy’s family, particularly Scarlet Witch and Vision, aren’t a bigger focus, but considering that Aftermath #1 takes pains to remind us that Teddy’s entire family (minus one evil grandma) is dead, acknowledging Billy’s four parents and twin brother might have been rubbing it in. (Poor Speed really is the “And the rest!” of the family.)

empyre aftermath

Rebecca: I can’t say these issues rank among my favorites that we’ve covered. It’s hard to luxuriate in the happy couple when so many other things are going on — and while I did like Empyre in general, the main plotline did seem to hint at significant subplots occurring in other tie-in books a lot (some of which may not have even come out due to the pandemic) even for an inter-company crossover. (When I saw Spider-Man and Wolverine show up in their Fantastic Four variant uniforms I was just like, “You know what? I don’t care to research why they’re dressed like that. Moving on.”) We’ve unfortunately found a trend in covering the gay couples in this column where their ceremonies just get swallowed up in extraneous drama and this one is no exception. Still, I’m glad the “other stuff” in this case was the fate of the galaxy and not, like, another character’s heterosexual love triangle.

Kayleigh: Notice how we’re not even mentioning that someone smacks the shit out of Captain Marvel at the reception! But, yes, while I am an old cynical hag who wants to sit Billy and Teddy down and say, “Look, kids, go to college and fuck around first,” they do seem like very nice boys! Their scenes are very sensual and loving and romantic–they feel like an epic couple in a way that many pairings we’ve covered here haven’t. They’re made of stardust and dreamy sighs and hearts doodled in notebooks. And now that they’re reigning over a galactic empire, it’s time for them to take a bigger role in the Marvel Universe that’s long overdue.

Rebecca: I also like how, for better or worse, this does seem like a plot development that’s going to take Wiccan and Hulkling in a genuinely new and exciting direction. There’s always been a bit of a too clean and generic sheen to the characters (to the point where Gillen and McKelvie made Hulkling wonder if he was a figment of Wiccan’s imagination because he was the “too perfect” boyfriend), and while I don’t want to see the couple break up, I do wonder about the future storylines that might take them into a murkier, darker direction. I’m excited to see the Young Avengers grow up a bit.

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Kayleigh Hearn

Kayleigh Hearn

Still waiting for her Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters acceptance letter. Bylines also at Deadshirt, Ms-En-Scene, The MNT, PanelxPanel, and Talk Film Society.