In 1961, when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee developed the Fantastic Four, inadvertently
they set off on one of the oddest adventures of feminism that had ever been written
in American fiction. For Kirby, this was not the first time that he had
developed a group like the Fantastic Four and as odd as it might sound,
had it not been for happenstance, The Fantastic Four might well had been
a DC title, with a little bit of luck and foresight. After all, Kirby
designed the Challengers of the Unknown in 1956, and Kirby, in previous
interviews had said that Challengers was the template for the Fantastic
Four. He credited Stan Lee with creating the number 4 on the uniforms
of the FF as his only major contribution to the creation of the
characters, when discussing the ongoing controversy between him and Lee
over who created the FF. The similarities can be easily enough drawn
between this Kirby creation at DC and the Fantastic Four.
By the time that Kirby jumped to Atlas/Marvel after contract and
creative disputes with National Periodicals, he took with him the
experience and template of the Challengers and created the Fantastic
Four on similar creative principles. The major difference between the
two creations was that with the Fantastic Four, the main characters were
family and with that the addition of girlfriend/future wife of Reed
Richards, Susan Storm. Having a women character put the FF on a
different and much more successful track.
In no way do I want to do an exhaustive side discussion of the treatment
of women in comics, but a quick pass of some points can be helpful. The
vast majority of the audience for comics have been prepubescent and
teen-age boys. The audience had subsets of young adults, college
students, and women, but despite efforts to target other audiences, for
most of comics history this had remained the case. As such, it became
an ethical dilemma as to how to treat women in comics.
Publishers wanted to make money. Staying employed was job number one
for any and all creative teams, and as such a few types of portrayals of
women in mainstream books began to emerge. There was the romantic
interest, heroine, damsel in distress and sex object. Some of the
earliest such portrayals included Olive Oyl, Krazy Kat, Tillie and
Phyllis Blossom. In most of these cases female character (well
Krazy Kat's gender is up to interpretation ) of the platinum age
consisted of women that were fiercely independent. Only Krazy Kat was a
love struck character passively bemoaning the love of Ingraz Mouse, and
that was largely a spoof. Tillie ran her own life and dragged the men
in her life into repeated troubles. Olive Oyl was a flapper princess
who took no backtalk from anyone. Phyllis Blossom was the most
traditional of these characters, but stood her ground and carved out her
life, setting the terms of engagement of Wally and Skeezix.
As comics moved into the gold age, two trends happened. First the
seminal event was the invention of Lois Lane in Action #1. Along with
Superman, Seigel and Shuster created a complex heroine equal to the man
of steel in almost every way. She was not only a storyliner in her own
right, but a heroine and career women, chief report at the Daily Star.
And then she was a damsel in distress, who wasn't opposed to showing a
bit of stocking now and then. Lois Lane wasn't created in a vacuum and
had several American movie and pop figures which it was models on,
particularly the movie character Torchy Blane. But combining damsel in
distress with career woman and heroine was perfected by Seigel and
Shuster, although later fudged a bit, and drifted from in the course of
nearly 80 years of monthly magazines in which the character appeared.
Despite the development of Lois Lane, and the later career women of
Carol Ferris, Jean Loring, and not to mention Diana Princesses of the
Amazons, no character that was developed was to break through and to
develop the fullness of womanhood, into adulthood. All these career
women would remain single, and motherless, which in retrospect was
aberrant. Successful adults form strong family units and have children.
Without forming families, we continue to live in a state of perpetual
Of course this condition was not just true of female character, but male
characters in comics similarly suffer from prolonged adolescence. Alan
Scott, Jay Garrick also remains single and unattached throughout the
Golden Age. As did Hal Jordan, Bruce Wayne, and most other prime heros
at both DC and Marvel. But this mold was broken with the Fantastic Four
and they trail blazed a new path of comics and superhero comics in
Susan Storm and the evolving role of women in comics
From the start, Susan Storm was an anomaly among the girlfriends and
women of comics. She was not just Reed Richards' girlfriend but
accompanied them onto the rocket in their origins store and gains powers
along with the team. And her bond to Reed was the lynchpin of the team
as Johnny was her brother, and Ben was Reed's friend. The bridge that
makes this team is Susan and Reed relationship. Johnny to Susan to Reed to Ben is the
emotional axis of the team. How the Fantastic Four would develop would
depend on the growth of the character of Sue Richards. And her
development was a plot narrative that would be returned to over and
over, getting a serious boost when in 1965 Stan and Jack decided it was
time for Sue and Reed to get married. Mind you, this never happened in
any previous comic book title that I am aware of. The marriage of Susan
and Reed was unfathomable in the relationship of say Clark and Lois, up
until that point. It was so essential to the vision of Marvel that just
about every current Marvel character up to that point, villain and hero,
makes a guest appearance in the magazine, which happens in Fantastic Four
From this point forward, Sue Richards becomes the most developed
character in the Marvel Universe, if not within all of comics. She is
emotionally enriched and lives through a remarkably real life for a
comic book character as she ages, abet slower than real time.
Sue Richards become a model for American womanhood that will last
generations. By issue 22, even before their marriage, Reed helps Susan
unlock more of her raw powers and extends her powers to include the
creation of force shields and invisible constructs.
The additional powers of Susan Storm was going to be needed to keep up
with the cosmos spanning adventures and villains that Kirby and Lee had
lined up for the FF. And from the very beginning they hinted that in
the end that Susan might be the most powerful of the Fantastic Four,
which is revisited and confirmed repeatedly throughout the Fantastic
In Fantastic Four she is kidnapped by the Sub-Mariner for whom she
ends up in a fending off Namor's affections for a good part of her life,
sometimes to the audiences amusement, and other times ending up more
villainous in nature. Two years after the marriage, she is the first
female protagonist in comics to become pregnant. She has a difficult
delivery and the safety of her baby becomes a major storyline in it's
own right. The child, Franklin, himself is a target for assault by
villains, and her marriage becomes full of strife over how to deal with
this threat and the resulting threat to the world of her son. Susan
even separates from her husband for a time because of this marital
strife. Everyone of these conditions are not just a break through in
the development of Susan Richards, but a breakthrough in comics history.
While true to life events carry on in the Fantastic Four unlike any
other comic in history, Susan continues to be the center of the drama.
After a reconciliation between Reed and Susan, they conceive another
child. This child is lost in the heart wrenching Fantastic Four #267
by John Byrnes. Later, Susan is pregnant again, supposedly with the
same child, and is show pregnant and carrying child through several
issues of volume three of the Fantastic Four.
Yet, through all this character development, Susan Richards status as
a superheroine is never placed on the back burner and her character
continues to develop. Although portrayed as caring mother, and although
she attempts to give normalcy to her children and family, The Invisible
Women answers the bell for all battles and adventures. In fact, he
professional development is marked by the same measure of growth as her
motherhood, and role in the family. None of the writers of the
Fantastic Four ever saw it fit to limit Sue Richards because of her role
as Matriarch of the Fantastic Four, a role that she increasingly grows
into over the 50 years of Fantastic Four scripts.
Eventually she becomes pregnant a second time. This time the
pregnancy goes bad, in an emotion storyline when the family comes
together to mourn the loss of the child. These real life events
continue to shape Susan Richards, almost as if she is a real person, and
not a fictional character. The helplessness of both her and the team
can be felt throughout the storyline and into the future
While early in her role as parent and wife she had been somewhat
timid and fearful in her manners and expressions in the face of cosmic
conflict, as she matures into a greater adulthood, she learns to shed
that demeanor and develop greater leadership and confidence in her
ability. While this transformation takes place, she taps more of her
power until it is generally recognized that she is the most powerful of
the Fantastic Four. Much of this transformation can be seen during the
Byrne years of the Fantastic Four (but not exclusively). After being
manipulated by Psyco-man, through FF #280 through FF #284, she confronts
her husband on tactics leads the emotional charge for vengeance. She
draws on the parallels of rape and violence against women as the
justification for vengeance.
I've spent most of my life following you into countless battles, risking
everything, everyone I love, to save the world one more time! Well this
time it is my turn!...
Women all over the world know the threat of physical assault. Many
spend their lives stymied by that single all-consuming fear. But no
living women has ever been assaulted as I have been.. physically I am
unscathed . But my innermost self... my soul.. what I want is vengeance.
And with that, the Fantastic Four turn aside concern for their children,
and concern for threats to the planet, in order to take on Susan
Richards search for vengeance that ends with a gruesome and permanent off stage ending
of the Psyco-man.
After FF #381, it seemed that Reed Richards was killed by Doctor Doom as
Dooms last desperate act before his death. Upon his death, Susan took
over the Fantastic Four and lead them until issue 407 when she finally
tracked Reed down in the past. She then nursed him back to mental
health despite troubles with Namor and being confronted with a somewhat
transformed Sue Richards who had spent months leading the FF. Not only
did she grow emotionally, but she further unleashed her powers to a
degree that startles and unsettles Reed.
The continued development of Susan Richard never ends. Towards the
end of the original Fantastic Four run, she uses her diplomatic skills,
her leadership, even her femininity with confidence and control in one
of the greatest chapters of her fictional career. She confronts a
hostile Namor, in his role as King of Atlantis, and an unknown civilization
that claims to be ancient Atlantians, vying for control of the Oceans
of the world and the title of Atlantis. This is a military standoff and
she gathers all the players unto the stage, and sets forward to come to
a peaceful resolution. She uses all her skills to obtain this, 4
decades of character development. In fact, she is the only character in
any fictional comic book universe who could be summoned for this complex
role, which beyond my ability to commend, is better to be sampled
yourself. This is snippets over 3 issues of Fantastic Four #584-#587.
Here we can see a full growth and development of a character into mature
adulthood, prepared to confront anything the world can offer her with
grace. And she succeeds in doing this without sacrificing her family,
in fact it is perhaps the opposite, that both she and her family grow
together in every respect.
The Current Controvery of the Handling of the Invisible Girl
The Susan Richards, Invisible Women, of today is the most developed
female character, perhaps in all of fiction. She has been a young women
in love who has followed her husband into the cosmos, earned a career,
explored the world, lost loved ones, had children, lost a child to a
difficult delivery, supported her family emotionally and substantially,
learned to be world class combatant, developed her physical assets,
extended her strengths and skills, experienced international fame,
practiced diplomacy, and faced every opposition and difficulty while
retaining her individuality and family. So the question come, why is
she so disliked by the feminist crowd and today's young women?
Seemingly Sue Richards is a role model for young women today, and
truthfully, has been designed to be so. She is a far greater example of
a modern woman than Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, neither of which until
very recently, experienced any significant motherhood or family life.
The experiences of other women in comics pales compared to Susan
Richards. Neither Jean Grey, or Storm, or Cat Women, or the Black
Canary, or the new Ms Marvel, or any of the standard bearers of the
feminist idea or women in comics comes even remotely close to the
complete experience and development of Susan Richards, who going into the
2020's might be looking at being a grandmother as the Queen of Marvel's
universe. What is it that is being asked for or expected?
It is hard to know what any individual posting on the internet is
actually motivated by. All you have is the flow of a thread and the
words on a printed page. You might also have a posting history.
Outside of that, everything else is guessing. A recent thread on a
comic book forum entered into the fray of Susan Richards and her role as
the Invisible Women. It started off with a complaint that, contrary to
the overwhelming evidence of development of this character over 50
years, that in this posters opinion, Susan hasn't been developed enough
as a character.
For me, what's really great about the kids being this much older is that Sue no longer has
to be anchored to the book. She can now guest appear in anything and even have a
solo/mini book without the "She can't because she has to look after the kids" excuse. She
can have her own adventures if she wants.
This sentiment was just not consistent with publishing history of the
character. Not only had the Invisible Girl over the years had many
guest appearances, but nobody at Marvel ever held the character back
from action because of parental responsibilities. That is what the
entire Agatha Harkness character was about. The Invisible Girl had been
used for generations where ever and when ever a writer or artist felt it
worth doing. This goes from the huge crossovers, to individual
Although that is not to say that there hadn't been times that Reed and
Sue hadn't taking time away from the Fantastic Four, because they had.
And Sue had taken some time to parent Franklin after she left Reed in
anger. But these storylines, while adding greatly to the development
and realism of the characters, were always short lived plot lines, and
usually initiated to bring change to the Fantastic Four line up in order
to prop up sales, or just to add variety. An example of this was the
substitution of Reed and Sue by Black Panther and Storm. Overall, the
Invisible Woman has appeared in over 5000 different Marvel issues. The
Fantastic Four only makes about 1000 such issues, so clearly the
character has gotten around the Marvel Universe. So then what is
driving the perception that Susan Richards is being held back by her
Every one of the characters in the Fantastic Four have been replaced on
the team for personal reasons, or apparent death. Quickly remembering,
Reed was replaced by Antman and the Black Panther. The Thing has been
replaced by She-Hulk, Johnny by Spider-man, and Susan by Crystal and
Medusa, and at one time Walt Simonson had the entire team replaced by
Thor, Spider-man, Wolverine and Ghostrider. Generally, within the
Fantastic Four, the power of the book is in the family, and the core of
the family is maintained by Susan Richards. It is more often that
characters come to guest star in the Fantastic Four than the FF is seen
in other groups or stories. Much of the Marvel Universe started in the
pages of the Fantastic Four, including the Inhumans, Galactus, the
Skrulls, Dr Doom, Namor (or at least introduced), Black Panther, the
Kree, the Silver Surfer, the Watchers, the Moleman, Diablo, Puppet
Master, Klaw, Annihilus and the entire Negative Zone, Hyperstorm,
Abraxas, Beyonder, Molecule Man, and Wyatt Wingfoot. The FF has a huge
cast in nearly any issue. Guest staring appearances would hardly seem
to be a complaint in of itself. So what is the crux of
Most comic book heroes live a prolonged adolescence. The characters
never settle down, rarely married, and having children has been limited
historically to the FF with recent additions of Superman and Wally West.
Instead, the common Superhero gallivants about their world fumbling
through romantic relationships, never seeing family unless there is a
plot twist to a story, rarely hold a full-time job, and wander from
trite emotional crisis to the next. And if we can get a large group of
eternal adolescents to develop a persecution complex (real or imagined)
running away or beating up on another set of such adolescents, even
better. This has been the essential plot of the X-men franchise for
thirty years. The number of titles where you have real character
development, that they grow into adults, marry, raise a family, and age
can be summed up as essentially the Fantastic Four and Spider-man, Gasoline Alley,
followed later by Superman. Adulthood is best measured by becoming
responsible for the someone else. Charles Xavier is an adult. Kitty
Pride, not so much. Wolverine... never. That is part of his charm.
Susan Richards, however is a real adult. That is getting harder and
harder for youngster to relate to.
So the thought is that since Susan's children are older, she can now
be more "developed". Really? More developed than a women who has
experienced both childbirth but also losing a child? More than a women
who has lived in a marriage and family and who left, only to return to
the man and family she loves? More so than a women who was the crush of
Prince Namor, and rejected him? More than a women who thought she lost
a husband and had to lead her team for nearly a year? More than a women
who has a special needs child, whose psychological abnormality is that
he can destroy the Universe (as if that problem will ever go away)?
More than a Women who had lost her brother as he defended her children
from a murderous horde? Really, what possible mid-life crisis could
drive Susan Richards from her family so that she can hang out and
"develop" with the Scarlet Witch? I mean if they need her to save the
world or for a bake sale for the New Avengers mansion, I'm sure she will
come. But there is no driving motivation for Susan to go on a walkabout
with other characters in the Marvel Universe, especially since most of
the suggested team-ups involve female characters. And that is gist of
the Susan Richards problem.
As complaints stack up, the issue clearly comes in the form that
Susan Richards is too domesticated, especially for those who have
radical feminist leanings.
I understand that character development isn't going to happen in every arc or run, especially in a team book. I'm just
saying that's it's been a really long time since she's had any. And having her outside of the FF more would give a new
side to the character, one that isn't reliant on trying to wrangle the other members. Basically, I want to know what Sue
is like outside of the family. What is her personality like when she's not reigning in the other members? Really delve
into who Sue Storm is because I see a lot of untapped potential with the character.
You can miss me with those antiquated gender roles. We’re not in the 17th, 18th, 19th and
early 20th centuries anymore. Women are allowed to be more than the spouse and mother
to the men’s children.
I am not conjuring up anything. The minute anyone says maybe Sue should go here or there, or maybe she should
have her own mini adventure. An argument about the kids always comes up. Every damn time. So don't say I'm
making this up.
The bolded is my point. They have given Sue nothing outside of being the wife and mother. The others have
personalities and aspirations outside of the family. Sue is anchored to the family to the point where she doesn't work
outside of it. And with Franklin and Val being old enough to not need her 24/7 she has no purpose. And that's where
the kid excuse comes into play.
The other three members cameo in other books often and have solo adventures while Sue does not. So do they not
love their family?
I'm not saying that she should dump the FF and join another team, but that she should have bigger presence in the
MU. No longer tied at the hip to Reed and the kids.
The excuses that always comes up is that she has to look after the kids or that her job is to be the Mom. Now that the
kids are much more independent that excuse no longer works. She can guest appear in anything and have a solo
adventure with that issue not coming up. The kids growing up is great for Sue as a character.
Aside from these quotes, there were others more blunt about "liberated
women", very aggressive and bluntly nasty to any idea that a character
could be a mother, and a wife and be at all interesting. You read this
and you have to wonder, as a society how did we get here? Despite
protestations, the underlined complaint is that as long as Sue Richards
is portrayed as a strong wife and mother, that it is impossible for her
to develop as a person, when the reality in life is just the opposite.
It is almost impossible to become a complete person without experiencing
parenthood, or to be healthy without a decent family.
So anxious is it for these individuals to ply their expression that
motherhood and family is in conflict with personal development, that
they blow past 50 years of publication history on the Invisible Women
and convolute there own opinions for facts.
It is really sad to read. Life is all about family. Family, your
spouse and your children, is what gets us through the thick and thin of
living. It is how we perpetuate not just our genetic stock, but
transport our culture, ethics, and wisdom from one generation to the
next. The love of a husband for his wife, and a wife for her children
is unmatched by any other human emotion and is the foundation for a
healthy emotional state. There is no substitute for it, and it makes
everything else in ones life seem small. Susan Storm is a hero, not
because of her adventures in the microverse. She is a hero because she
has experienced in this fiction fantastic adventures, with breathtaking
excitement, with her family. It sure beats Disney World.