I’m not the wisest in the ways of love, but I know one cornerstone of a good relationship is stability. Relationships require people to rely upon each other, a healthy level of dependence that not only nurtures and sustains feelings, but ultimately transforms two lives into some sort of super-functioning unit.
Unfortunately, the super-hero world isn’t known for stability.
Characters are killed off and resurrected annually. Enemies become comrades and good guys go bad. Heroes change their costumes and monikers faster than a speeding bullet, with some going as far as taking on the roles of other heroes entirely. One day you’re Dr. Doom, the next you’re Iron Man, amirite?
Yet throughout Marvel history, one thing has remained (for the most part, 98%) unchanged: Reed Richards loves Sue Storm, and vice-versa.
Sure, there’s an evil Reed from another dimension and Sue has had dalliances with other super hero teams, but as far as their relationship, their devotion to one another has always been something consistent to the comics and a boon to the characters.
Because let’s face it: Sue Storm is the best thing Reed Richards has going for him. Being the smartest man in the world is pretty great, and the ability to get snacks without leaving your seat or being able to stretch above crowds at concerts is pretty sweet, but Mr. Fantastic is a doof. His inventions and theories are constant sources of drama that threaten his friends, his family, and THE WORLD, and other times his genius can be used as a writing device which quickly, and at times unfairly, solves plot problems. If a real person operated on Reed’s level they would be borderline unrelatable. Powers don’t make heroes timeless, empathy for characters does, and Reed is at his most empathetic as a family man, and we’d never be able to explore that within the character without Sue.
And why Sue has stuck with him is beyond me.
Since the first Fantastic Four issue in 1961, Sue has tolerated the aloof Mr. Fantastic, rebuking the royal advances of both Victor Von Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, before Reed finally musters the nerve to put a ring on it. While it may have been difficult for a female character like Sue to have a certain level of agency within her character at that point in time of history, even the most recent appearances of Sue Storm see her devoted not just to Reed, but the family for which she has fought so hard to protect and keep together. Whenever Reed is at the personal brink, or he’s brought the world right up to it, it’s always Sue with pleads of love and family that pulls everything safely back together.
Both the X-Men and the Avengers have disbanded and disassembled more than a few times, and while several popular heroes have taken roles on the FF, the core roster is cemented, and that’s because the FF are family first. And they’re family first because of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. In the wonderful retrospective graphic novel, Marvels, artist Alex Ross reimagines a scene from the infamous Fantastic Four Annual #3, the wedding of Sue Storm and Reed Richards. Ross’s drawing puts Sue and Reed in a church, all their super-powered friends are in attendance and they’re all in uniform. It’s kind of a silly, (especially because, like, wouldn’t Tony Stark at least show up in a tux?) but there’s also something really special about it.
I mentioned earlier how empathy in comics is key, and very few artists can get a super-hero sentiment the way Ross can. In that portrait of the Richards/Storm wedding, all the characters are facing and applauding Sue and Reed as they kiss. It’s one of the best illustrations of how at the core of comic books, there are real feelings. In a way, I think Ross’s drawing perfectly shows how the Marvel Universe as we know it was built on characters who not only share geography or unusual clothes, but characters who have relationships with each other, and sometimes they fight each other, and other times they come together in times of need. In other words, Marvel is built on family.
I miss the Fantastic Four. I think the world can use the stability of Reed, Sue, and Marvel’s first family. In three movies, no one has been able to capture the family essence that makes the Fantastic Four so distinct from other books and integral to the spirit of the Marvel Universe. I mean, there are a lot of things wrong with those movies, but one is the perpetual reductive writing of Sue Storm being a hot nerd wish-fulfillment for the blustery and awkward Reed. It would seem to me an interesting point of conversation for the Marvel Universe if they utilized a powerful female character who chooses to stay by her family in spite of more tantalizing roles, like headlining her own book or being a member of the Avengers. In fact, the whole presence of a group of characters who are at odds with one another, yet use their different means of problem-solving to come together for the greater good should be the kind of messaging inside our super hero stories, now more than ever.
There’s been a lot of changes in the MCU over the last two years, and with all the improvements Marvel’s been making to its cast of characters and creative staff, I have no doubt that a new Fantastic Four book will be forthcoming, and in a world that’s ever changing, I hope one thing remains constant: namely, the love of a rubber man for an invisible woman.