She-Hulk: Ceremony #1-2
Issue(s): She-Hulk: Ceremony #1, She-Hulk: Ceremony #2
Before i go further into this, it's worth a reminder that we only get glimpses into the behind the scenes stuff, so it's never 100% clear what's accurate. For example, here's what Dwayne McDuffie has said about this series:
First I had it, then I didn't. Mere days after selling Marvel Damage Control, Robin Chaplik (the real one, not the one from Blood Syndicate) and I sold a romantic comedy She-Hulk ongoing series to Marvel. John Byrne, just returning from his high-profile DC stint revamping Superman, was told he could do any book he wanted. Incredibly, he wanted She-Hulk. Given the choice between a couple of unknowns and the hottest guy in the business, Marvel thought about it for nearly two tenths of a second, then gave the book to John, as well they should have. Our material was adapted into the She-Hulk: Ceremony bookshelf series. We were told to take the jokes out. We mostly did.
By contrast, Byrne has said that he was convinced by Mark Gruenwald to take the series. I'm going to reprint this longish quote which i found on the Scott Tipton's Comics 101 site but which originally came from a 1998 AOL message board:
Here's that razor scene (i should say that this one panel is how it ended up in the book, which wasn't necessarily how it was described in the plot document that Byrne was reacting to):
This is a great contrast between the two creators, Byrne and McDuffie. Byrne is coming at this from a very continuity-minded perspective while McDuffie, fresh off of writing Damage Control, is doing an "if she's invulnerable, how can she shave her legs?" gag. I think the idea that she's a bimbo is overstating it. I agree that she probably would have gotten Mr. Fantastic to find her a solution by now, but at the same time it's not like she keeps trying and failing to shave the same patch of skin over and over again. She's shaving her legs and they break a lot, so she goes through a bag of disposable razors a day, or whatever. More to the point, it's a gag. I don't think it's the funniest gag, and i think these sort of 'poking fun of comic impossibilities' type of jokes seem cheap when you can think of an easy in-universe explanation for how they're not a problem. But it's nothing to get upset about, even understanding that it wasn't really the reason that Byrne left the book.
I actually think Byrne's complaints about Wyatt's background are much more on point, but it's worth noting that they actually did more to address those complaints than Byrne thinks. Here is the opening panel in issue #1.
So you can see that they did address the oil-rich issue. But they did so by immediately getting rid of it. And that does confirm Byrne's charge of this story being a shoehorn, which i also agree with. She-Hulk has always been a very blunt, direct character that is very much upfront about her feelings. But in order for this story to go through the standard rom-com tropes, we'll see her suddenly becoming very shy and unable to express herself. Worse, though, is the depiction of Wyatt and his tribe. I guess this wasn't originally a shoehorn, since it was obviously written with the idea that Wyatt was Native American. But it's the most generic depiction of Native Americans possible, full of the mystical bullshit that Wyatt had managed to dodge to date. And when Byrne pointed out problems with the depiction based on past stories about Wyatt and his tribe, the characters were nonetheless shoehorned into the roles that were written for them.
I also think it's funny how Byrne and DeFalco have very different interpretations of what was wrong with the Jim Shooter era. You would almost think DeFalco would agree with Byrne that the problem was that Shooter sided with the editors over the writers, because DeFalco had a lot of problems as a writer while he was writing Amazing Spider-Man when Christopher Priest was the editor, and Shooter backed Priest (or, by Priest's telling, Shooter was actually telling Priest what to do). But maybe DeFalco thought of himself as an Editor even then (since he was, also). Here is a relevant quote from Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story:
Incentive checks were growing for writers, artists, and now editors, many of whom were enjoying a renewed sense of power now that Shooter had departed. There were still, occasionally, conflicts over control of characters: Steve Englehart was fired from West Coast Avengers (for refusing to include Iron Man in the title); months later, he was fired from Fantastic Four (for refusing to include Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl) and Silver Surfer. Englehart claimed that DeFalco was instituting a "plan to end innovation across the line". DeFalco said he was just backing his editors.
I know i'm going through a lot of Sturm und Drang for what is ultimately a disposable story. But that's my final point before i get into the actual summary: it really is a disposable story. At best it's cutesy and forgettable, at worst it's offensive to Native Americans and cutesy and forgettable. Either way, Marvel had no business putting this out in a prestige format style. This is an old complaint at this point; i've had the same problems with Marvel's Graphic Novel line, for example. But it raises an interesting point. DeFalco's goal is that editors be caretakers, protecting the legacy of the characters and the Marvel line. But isn't putting out a disposable story with weak characterization and which the writer of the character's regular series had problems with the opposite of being a caretaker? This is more like brand dilution (not just for the character; also for the prestige format). For all his crank, Byrne seems like the better caretaker here. A story like this, if it had developed far enough that Marvel needed to recoup its costs, should have been dumped into Marvel Fanfare.
Ok, finally, plot summary time. A woman named Rain Falling West comes home from her work at the factory near the Keewazi Indian Reservation to find her grandma disappearing.
Grandma, real name Roberta Elk Step, is taken to a corporate business desk in the sky to get a warning from a corrupt businessman named Carlton.
We'll find that those are souls that he's munching on. For now he's talking about an ancient Indian prophesy that he intends to fulfill. He wants a magic basket that Roberta has already sent away.
Meanwhile, She-Hulk is feeling lonely and depressed (thanks in part to a television show brought to her by Carlton Industries, which turns out to not be a plot point as far as i can see). She's decided she needs a man, or at least a baby.
She goes for a walk and finds herself outside an abortion clinic where a protestor has planted a bomb inside a safe. She-Hulk runs in and it turns out that her old friend Mavis works at the clinic.
She doesn't get to the bomb in time to get rid of it, but takes the brunt of the explosion and holds the building together until everyone can escape. Then she bursts out and gives the bomber a piece of her mind, which doesn't include a strong opinion on abortion itself.
She later reconnects with Mavis, and that's when all the "I want a baby" stuff comes out.
When she gets home she finds that she's been sent the basket. Carlton shows up and tries to convince her to give it to him (we'll learn that he's not allowed to buy it or forcefully take it).
Based on She-Hulk's conversation with Mavis, she's decided to reach out to Wyatt. They're officially broken up at this point, and it occurs to me that i'm not sure where that happened. I know that in Fantastic Four #293-295, there was a question of whether they were officially dating, and the answer came back that they weren't but they did care for each other. So maybe that's the answer. Wyatt continued to hang around the FF until Fantastic Four #301, which didn't have him officially departing, but that's the last we've seen of him until this series.
It's said here that he's going to law school ("it seemed like a good idea at the time"), but he goes back to Four Freedoms Plaza to get ready for his date.
Wyatt is apparently gigantic, towering over the Thing.
Jen gets ready for their meeting too, changing into a bunch of different outfits before settling on something, and this is also where the leg shaving scene happens.
Now here's where we get into She-Hulk's personality. You can see the narration capsules talking about how she's a strong woman, and so she's going to tell Wyatt how she feels about him.
But here's what comes out.
Perfectly normal for a generic character in a romantic comedy situation. For She-Hulk, well, it could happen, but it's not how i see the character behaving. It's definitely diluting her typical blunt personality. Or maybe providing nuance to it, if you prefer, but this is really the only side of She-Hulk we see in this story. Replace She-Hulk with any other character and this could have run the same way.
Here is the Thing and Johnny Storm's reaction to that.
The Thing convinces Wyatt that he and She-Hulk make a good couple, and he should go after her and tell her how he really feels about her. He does, and when he arrives we see more of the back and forth with the narration panel.
When Wyatt sees that She-Hulk has the basket, which was his mother's engagement present to his father, he thinks she deliberately sought it out and that it proves that she loves him too. So he proposes to her and she accepts.
The next day, though, she brings the basket to a museum to learn about it, and she's attacked by an Indian spirit demon summoned by one of Carlton's minions, Mickey Souris. Mickey is acting against orders in an attempt to prove himself.
While She-Hulk fights that, the Wasp is setting up for an impromptu bridal shower at her apartment.
When Carlton finds out what Mickey is up to, he puts a stop to the fight, and the demon disappears. She-Hulk arrives at the apartment too late for the bridal shower, and Janet and Mavis help her get ready in time for her plane ride to Oklahoma.
On the plane, She-Hulk interacts directly with the narration panels, which is probably just her interrupting her own internal monologue, but it feels like a weak version of the fourth wall breaking Byrne is doing on the regular series.
When they arrive at the reservation, Grandma learns that they are engaged and she says that they've "confused things". That's our clue that this series isn't going to end in marriage.
At dinner, Grandma tells Wyatt (not for the first time) how he's destined to be a bigwig medicine man. He's not interested...
...but that night he has weird dreams.
The above is all from issue #1, and there are some parts that are interesting if not necessarily great. But it really starts dragging with issue #2 which fully gets into the mystical plot with this Carlton guy.
Carlton steals Wyatt's soul...
...and She-Hulk bargains it back by giving away the basket. The basket turns the little soul discs into butterflies that fly back to their owners, which is a cool little thing but not really relevant to anything (but i'll note that whenever Satana used to steal someone's soul it also looked like a butterfly).
Convinced that magic is real (hey, welcome to the Marvel universe, buddy), Wyatt agrees to go train to be the medicine man that his grandmother always wanted him to be. Meanwhile, Carlton uses the power of the magic basket to gain control over the reservation lands, legally taking ownership of it and sending in a construction crew to dig up the precious metals that it apparently contained. The tribe was smart enough to produce oil from the land but i guess they just gave up when the oil ran out.
She-Hulk fights the construction workers...
...and eventually the military is sent in with the understanding that She-Hulk is out of control like her cousin.
Being pushed out of their homes causes some of the Kewazi to give up. This one looks like he's slit his wrists.
Carlton has supplied the army with some high tech gear.
While She-Hulk is fighting a losing battle, Wyatt Wingfoot returns from his training. Guys, this is Wyatt Wingfoot. He was originally introduced as a guy that the coach at Johnny Storm's college wanted to recruit for the football team. Over the years he's helped the Fantastic Four by punching people in the face.
Grandma also gives up and dies when she finds out that Carlton has taken over their land.
In the final mystic battle...
...it turns out that She-Hulk is Wyatt's "spirit guide". So she lends her soul to his or whatever and they defeat Carlton.
In the end they decide not to get married because the bond they felt was really the mystical connection that they mistook for love because they were lonely.
Ugh, pretty bad. As i read it initially, there were some parts i liked. McDuffie is a decent scripter, even if i think he's completely missed She-Hulk's voice. And June Brigman's art is nice at times, stiff at other times. If i had read this as a couple issues of Marvel Fanfare, i would have given it a quick review and not thought about it too much. But because of its impact on Byrne's She-Hulk run, i wanted to go into more of the details of the series, and the more i think about it, the worse it seems to me.
One more thing to notice. It's not so obvious when you read through it, but going through it again to do the summary, the fact that this was originally developed for a regular series kind of shows through in the sense that the parts are kind of compartmentalized. You go from the abortion clinic sequence to the rom-com stuff and then deeply into the Native American mystic stuff. And there's really no tie-backs. It ends pretty abruptly with She-Hulk and Wyatt deciding they're not really in love. We don't see Jen's friend Mavis at all in book two (or ever again). I assume she would have been a supporting character if this were an ongoing series. I think a decent job was done converting the original script to this format, but there are still artifacts of the original format.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The elephant in the room regarding placement is the Thing (Hey, whadd'ya mean by dat?). He is in his classic rocky form. We're in a period where the Thing has been in his mutated pineapple form, and then changed back into regular Ben Grimm. By the time the Thing is really back in his rocky form, Tigra has been shrunk by Henry Pym, and she appears in this story (full-sized, ofc). The Thing also appears in his classic rocky form during Atlantis Attacks, and it turns out that he's using the exo-skeleton that replicates his Thing powers. That seems fine for Atlantis Attacks, but it's harder to buy the idea that he'd be walking around the house and chatting with Wyatt in the suit. Certainly we could come up with a reason for this; he's breaking it in, i guess. There's also the fact that Monica Rambeau is looking "healthy again", obviously intended to be after her powerloss-related emaciation (which we still see evidence of in Avengers #305, but which is gone by the time of her 1989 one-shot). I'd also argue that the furniture where She-Hulk is eating ice cream and watching television at the beginning of issue #1 does not look it belongs in an apartment on loan from Janet Van Dyne (She-Hulk moves into one of the Wasp's apartments in the regular series, issue #2). Janet's apartment is seen later in this issue - it's where the bridal shower is being held - but there's no reason that couldn't be the apartment that Janet is actually living in at the time since she's seen there the whole time, even while She-Hulk isn't there. Based on all the behind-the-scenes stuff i discussed, it also seems like there must be a reference to this series in a later issue of the main She-Hulk series, but since that's a fourth-wall breaking series, the reference may not be all that relevant (i.e., Shulkie may be reacting to the release of the comic, not the actual events).
The MCP fits this in after Avengers #305-310 (for the Thing, too, making it between FF #333 and Atlantis Attacks), before Avengers #47-49 (when Tigra gets shrunk), and between She-Hulk #5-6. And that seems fine if you can accept that Ben Grimm is walking around in his exo-skeleton.
Alternatively, it seems to me that this could fit back in 1987, right around Avengers #280, and between Fantastic Four #304-305, while the Thing is the Thing but the FF are living in Four Freedoms Plaza (and Johnny is married, since his marriage is referenced here, and back from his honeymoon). Captain Marvel's health could then be related to her experience fighting her way out of the Darkforce Dimension during the Masters of Evil Attack, or just a recent cold. I'm tentatively placing it there until i get through the rest of the regular Byrne She-Hulk issues and see if anything contradicts that placement (i've skimmed them and don't see anything but i'll want to do a more careful reading); if so i'll go with the MCP placement.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (7): showCaptain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Mickey Souris, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, Thing, Tigra, Wasp, Wyatt Wingfoot
Mickey Souris is later the main antagonist in the second Damage Control series. He's an allusion to Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice- Souris means mouse.
Posted by: Michael | October 10, 2014 7:49 PM
The irony is Byrne himself had a tendency to shoehorn characters into plots that made no sense, as evidenced by his WCA run.
Posted by: Michael | October 10, 2014 8:48 PM
Well, i'd say there's a difference. There's no doubt that Byrne deliberately crafted his WCA story specifically for the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, with thought put into how he saw the histories of the characters. You and i both don't agree with his interpretations, so i agree it's "shoehorning" in the sense that he's forcing the characters to fit those interpretations and disregarding what he doesn't like. But what Byrne means here by a shoehorn story is taking a generic plot and stuffing any character into it. Aside from the fact that she has a Native American boyfriend, there's nothing about the plot that made it specific to She-Hulk. It arguably could have been any female character.
Thanks for the correction on when it's revealed the exoskeleton is being used in Atlantis Attacks. I kind of suspect the reason the Thing is his classic rocky self both here and there is because the original directive for Englehart included resetting the Thing in addition to bringing Reed and Sue back, but it didn't work out that way as Englehart subverted the stories.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 11, 2014 12:43 AM
The DeFalco era seems to play very fast-and-loose with chronology, at least around 1989. I suspect the one panel with Monica was made in order to be easily customizable. Mavis and Monica look sufficiently alike that the art of future issues could be adjusted for either to fulfill the same supporting character role, depending on the fortunes of the day.
It is interesting how uncertain both She-Hulk and Wyatt are about what they feel about each other. In a sense it is refreshingly realistic, and reminds me of Daredevil and Black Widow.
It was probably intentional, since even Jennifer herself later acknowledges that it was quite a blunder, but her choice of words towards Wyatt was inconsiderate on the extreme. Asking anyone to be a surrogate father just like that, with no context, is in essence telling that your feelings about him are all over the place and more than a bit contradictory.
Jennifer comes out of this looking a lot more insecure than what we expect from past portrayals. Likewise, Wyatt has never been anywhere near this uncertain or immature.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 11, 2014 10:57 AM
As much as I find Shooter a total sleazeball I have to admit and not begrudingly that I think Marvel Comics entered a second Golden Age under his rule.
Posted by: david banes | January 26, 2015 1:25 AM
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