Saturday, February 22, 2014

To Love, Honor, And Destroy!

When writer Roy Thomas decided to lead Reed and Sue Richards down the road of marital discord not long after he took over the reins of Fantastic Four, the door was certainly wide open enough to do so. Up until then, the closest the two ever had to even a spat was this little scene:

It was always a fine line to walk with Sue, where the FF's creator and scripter, Stan Lee, was concerned. In Lee's eyes, a woman's role in a super-powered equation was a brave one, but primarily as a supporter of the men--which was especially the case if there was a romantic relationship going on. It was one heck of a balancing act. Both Sue and the Wasp had to go into action with their respective teams--but their frailty and uncertainty were always distinctive from the men, and they were almost always seen as vulnerable to danger.

In Sue's case, her role in the background of Reed's shadow seemed cemented. And while Lee would occasionally let her fume at it, she would ultimately (and quickly) snap back to "normal" (i.e., what was normal for Lee):

(You know, Sue, if we're picking nits, that costume would indicate that you're one of those "do-gooders" you're steamed about, wouldn't it? Though right now you're not coming across as all that dedicated.)

Under Lee's tenure, Sue had her assertive moments, though they were few, far between, and somewhat "assertive-lite." But those moments were practically nonexistent when Reed began those famous scenes of leaving her behind on missions, where Sue's objections were shut down almost immediately. First, Lee used the excuse of her pregnancy:

And then, once the baby was born, her motherhood became the anchor around her ankle:

There was even this incredible scene, where Sue appears to have stopped making any objections entirely, and the reader is virtually asked to simply accept it as "the new normal":

Even Franklin being safely off-site with a governess didn't seem to help Sue's status in Lee's Reed's eyes:

So we can see that Thomas was given a lot of ground to work with--not only in terms of raising Sue's profile, but also in using Sue's newfound assertiveness to add drama to Reed's relationship with her. After all, it wouldn't make sense for Reed to just roll over here--he's had this dynamic with Sue for a long time, as both his wife and as a member of his team. To date, those two aspects have pretty much amounted to the same thing. But, in only Thomas's second issue aboard the title, that begins to change.

With the hectic life the FF lead, and so many distractions available, Thomas doesn't have to be concerned with this "Richards disassembled" plot seeming to readers like it came out of nowhere and was happening overnight; and, with Reed and Sue having such a long and deeply-felt relationship, with its "Sue darling" and "Reed darling" exclamations practically littering the pages, no one is really expecting their marriage to take any turn for the worse. And so Thomas only has to insert a few key scenes to reach his goal. Shortly, we've gone from yet another argument on being left behind:

To apparent disinterest in important family matters:

Until, before you know it, Sue walks out the door, with Reed practically pushing her through it.

It was a pleasant surprise from Thomas--who could have easily had Reed's reaction be one of shock and ultimately sadness, but instead has him more firmly than ever taking the stance that Sue has her priorities mixed up and that she's dead wrong on this issue.

And it all took less than five issues.

It would be a much longer road back for the Richards, and things were going to get worse before they got better. Thomas would hand the whole thing over to Gerry Conway to continue, who would mine this high drama for well over a year before it was resolved. But in the climactic scene, I wonder if he might have missed Thomas's point:

Um... did anyone catch where Reed said he was sorry?


Kid said...

Thanks for all those pretty piccies of the superb Susan Storm. (I refuse to recognise her marriage to Reed.) She was one of my first-ever 'girlfriends'. I'm still keeping an eye out for a look-alike of her today.

Anonymous said...

The simpering Sue of the Lee era was certainly no feminist icon! Wasn't the Sub Mariner part of a plot to bring Reed and Sue back together. I love the idea that the FF borrowed a missile from NASA - shouldn't it be the other way around considering Reed was building galaxy-crossing spaceships before NASA had even got to the moon!

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I think Lee and Kirby may have gotten their wires crossed on that missile. It was clearly the same missile which the FF keep in their building's missile silo; but the story centered on the first manned flight to the moon, and I suppose Lee didn't want to draw attention to the fact that (as you allude) Reed could have gotten the astronauts there with far less work and sacrifice than going through the NASA program. Ergo, Lee wanted to give the impression that, when it comes to space-worthy rockets, someone as brilliant and resourceful as Reed still needs to ask a favor of NASA from time to time.

Kid, your timing is a little off--you should have come a'courting for Sue before Namor made the scene and fixed everything! ;)

Anonymous said...

I always thought Reed Richards was kind of a dick.

Kid said...

Alas, CF, I was only a boy at the time.

Anonymous said...

Based upon the fan letters published in Fantastic Four #152 and the Bullpen's response, most readers seemed to blame Sue Storm for the marital split. One letter even called for Sue to be killed off!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the many lovely clips of Sue Storm, some of the very best available anywhere online by the way!

Iain said...

Just think years later they'd do that malice storyline and Sue would never be the same woman again, problem is they had to totally flip her character the other direction seems there is no happy medium for her.

Anonymous said...

The Thing, smoking fags?

Comicsfan said...

Maybe Ben prefers to enjoy his usual stogie after dinner, Anon; at any rate, I can't see how those fingers keep a regular cigarette intact long enough to light it!