In which the blogger continues TooBusyThinking's four-part look at the Fantastic Four, which began here and continued here;
Sue Storm's character would be the most radically transformed. Such was the magnitude of the change that her original personality would be almost entirely forgotten. Though certainly no 21st century feminist icon, she was at first an admirably focused and doughty team-member, impassively impressive even when conscripted as the FF's first-choice hostage. Perhaps something of this came from her creator’s relative lack of interest. Notably less likely to be rewarded with word or thought balloons, and possessed of the least visually compelling super-power in the book, there was a tendency to use her almost as a supporting player. When the men of the FF travelled back in time in the comic's fifth issue, for example, she was left behind in 1962 as a prisoner of Doctor Doom. It wouldn't be the only time that she was so conspicuously sidelined. Yet that very lack of attention may well have resulted in her remaining relatively free of Stan Lee's typically misogynistic flourishes. Though Kirby was more likely to use her face as a vehicle for doubt and distress, he would also depict her as calm, determined and purposeful. The result of this mixture of Lee's disregard and Kirby's respect and restraint was at moments strikingly impressive. Taciturnity fused with self-possession and fortitude, and the regrettably named Invisible Girl would radiate courageousness and ingenuity. When imprisoned by the the Army, her thoughts revealed a phlegmatic, determined nature;
"So, they don't think we can escape? They think our powers aren't strong enough... Well, they may be right... .... but I doubt it!"
For all that she was portrayed as the least effective and impressive fighter of the four of them, she was undoubtedly a super-woman of substance. At times, as when her skills at covert investigation came into play, she was anything but a fifth wheel. Committed to supporting Reed Richards in (nearly) every possible circumstance, she was swift to defend him from criticism while striving to protecting him from disappointment. Both comrade and matriarch, she struggled to maintain a unified front while comforting the disaffected. It was, as we've discussed, an impossible task. With Richards disconnected from the everyday management of the team's relationships, the responsibility to maintain order as well as good-feeling devolved onto her. Echoes of the inequities of a woman's double-shift in an isolated nuclear family emanated from the page, and yet at first, the character herself retained her dignity. Constantly juggling a host of roles which no-one could be expected to fulfil, she struggled to be mother and lover, sergeant and super-woman, society woman and social icon. By the standards of the age's dominant culture, she was the women who had everything, and it was that which constantly threatened to undermine her exhaustive and exhausting efforts.As with each of the team, there was a considerable distance between impression and reality. On the surface of things, Sue was Reed's rock, and yet she'd hidden a photograph of the Sub-Mariner away while carrying a substantial torch for the King Of Atlantis. That the moral and practical bedrock of the team was simultaneously longing for the arms of a charismatic super-villain was a masterstroke on Lee and Kirby's part. If living with Richards in the Baxter Building was a provocative business, then her fascination for a hostile undersea monarch who "wasn't even human" was downright shocking. It revealed a character who was sacrificing her life for one man and his causes while secretly longing for everything that he wasn't. Forever striving to sublimate herself to Reed's principles and ambitions, she was also longing for escape to a more carefree and expressive existence. (It would later be shown that she'd ached to be an actor.) The woman who, when captured by Doctor Doom, presented an entirely unruffled front while promising that her jailer would "live to regret defying the Fantastic Four", was also a profoundly unhappy individual. The frequent explosions of conflict between the FF's members could cut through her reserve and reduce her to desperation and the brink of tears. Once again, the strength of the set-up left her not as subservient homemaker or faithless betrayer, but as both of them and all at the same time. That Lee treated her dilemma at first with such sympathy is to his credit, although the triangular affair would forever tilt towards a conventional and disappointingly passionless conclusion. An affair with the machismo-sodden Sub-Mariner would have been highly unlikely to be a fair and equal one. Yet as a taboo-shattering experience, it may well have pointed the way towards a future based on satisfying her own needs rather than choosing between two extreme forms of traditional masculinity.
At moments, a far more carefree and unrestrained Sue Storm would manifest herself, though typically it would be far away from Pogo Planes and super-science labs and extraordinary teammates. Slurping down what was presumably someone else's milk-shake without making herself visible, and shocking a fellow diner, was just one of these impromptu and mischievous act.. Outraged by a bystander's mockery of The Thing, she even kicked a stranger to the ground while sneering;
Perhaps she and her brother weren't from such different social backgrounds after all, and perhaps the conventional and staid Sue Storm that tended to be featured had been a later self-invention.
It's in these moments of playful spontaneity that Sue Storm appears the happiest. Sadly, there's never once a suggestion of ease and intimacy - let alone joy - in her relationship with Redd Richards. Without immediate threat of her suffering some terrible fate, Richards struggles to express the slightest fondness. By the same token, she's hardly more vocal or physical in return. Theirs is a chilly and formal affair that never promises anything but more of the same. Though constantly worried that Richards efforts might fail and his feelings be hurt, she's never shown laughing in his presence, or even once touching him. That she only ever speaks out against him once in public during these first few months suggests not contentedness, but a deeply repressed sense of alienation. (With Richards enchanted by the science informing Kurrgo's monstrous robot, she- at last - shouts "Reed! This is no time to study new gadgets!") Closer to his mother than his lover in so many worrying ways, the strain of being Richards' fulltime advocate, organiser and nurse must generate an appalling strain.
As with the others, Sue Storms' presence in the Fantastic Four appears idyllic while truthfully being anything but. If the team is the one place where she can share her life with both Johnny and Reed, it's also the space in which her partner and her brother are constantly at loggerheads. If the Baxter Building allows her to express concern and support to Ben, he's also a furious and perhaps psychotically damaged man who dearly loves her. Worse yet, it was ultimately her words which drove him into space and the ruination of his life. Though Lee never has her mention her responsibility for Grimm's fate, it's impossible to believe that she is isn't guilty aware of it on one level or another.
In so many ways, it's guilt that appears to have kept the original take on the Invisible Girl in the ranks of the Fantastic Four, and the consequence is a life that makes Sue Storm anything but happy.
With time, Lee and Kirby not only scaled-back Sue Storm's moments of stoical competency. Blighting the potential of their own creation, they overwhelmingly increased the degree of her personal weaknesses. The result was the removal of the greater part of the character's appeal and potential. The woman who'd once calmly told a threatening Thing to "save your breath for the climb, gruesome!" would be swiftly reconstructed as the team's hysterically unsure fifth wheel. As early as the book's sixth issue, Sue Storm was the only character present in space to "almost" pass out due to a lack of oxygen. From then on, Lee's scripts would become more and more stepped in traditionally malecentric markers of a compliant and depressingly dependent personality. For all her occasional pluckiness, the Invisible Girl was becoming a model of vulnerable womanhood to protect rather than a equal member of the team. In A Visit With The Fantastic Four, she was shown shattered by the letters of children who'd complained about her apparently lackluster contributions to the FF. One month after that and the very sight of the Hulk on film frightened her into unwittingly becoming invisible. The woman who'd regularly faced down a furious Thing and challenged a host of super-villains was no longer able to cope with the moving image of a distant threat. Even worse was to follow, as the evidence emerged of her partner's contemptuous and patronising opinion of her worth;
Sue Storm: "Looks as though I’ll be going along for the ride (to find the Hulk)! I’m not sure how I can help!”
General Ross: “Harrummph! Miss Storm, a pretty young lady can always be of help - just by keeping the men's morale up!"
Reed Richards: "That's the way we feel about Sue, General."
Within the space of just over a year, Sue Storm's relationship to the pseudo-family of the Fantastic Four had almost entirely changed. As Lee slipped further and further into his habit of presenting women as largely subservient and inadequate bit players, the contradictions that had made her so compelling drained away. Even when single-handedly battling Doctor Doom to a standstill in FF#17, Sue Storm would credit all of her success to Richards' allegedly magnificent abilities;
"... don't forget that I was taught Judo by one of the world's greatest experts: Reed Richards! And in my book, anything you can do, Mister Fantastic can do better!"
No longer even a person so much as an expression of Richards' mental and physical accomplishments, the Invisible Girl was disappearing into the purest and least edifying of gender stereotypes. As she did so, the pseudo-family that had once been both trap and beguiling ideal become her all-consuming sanctuary and reason d'etre. Holy and devoted matrimony would arrive in the Fantastic Four pages, and with it went the book's capacity to debate many of age's tensions. Less a comment on the period's dominant values than an unambiguous expression in their favour, Sue Storm had become a perfect pod person.