WTF? Wednesday: Longsuffering Sue

Saying that Sue Storm has come a long way since the pre-feminist era is like saying Joan Rivers has had a little work done. While the portrayal of female characters was sketchy across the board in decades past, Sue was practically her own category. We know her today as an incredibly powerful heroine, a leader, and the most impressive working mom in comics, but the road to respect was paved with a whole lot of insults and condescension. The source was usually her husband, Reed Richards.

It was so bad that I’ve often wondered whether Stan Lee and Jack Kirby intended to make Reed a chauvinist tool. Geniuses often fail in their personal lives, and when it came to marriage, the World’s Smartest Man was a dick. However, his chronic disrespect of Sue is so beyond the pale that it’s hilarious by 21st Century standards. Need examples? We’ve got examples, ladies and gents.

Every man knows that a shopping spree and a night on the town make up for things like being completely uninterested in what his wife has to say. Vigorous kissing not only leads to sex, but also keeps your old lady from yappin’ too much. A win-win!

Lady, I’m wearing panties and matching tights. Please don’t undermine my masculinity further by being all clingy and … caring.

Even though I’ve got powers and wear the same damn costume as everyone else, I’m really just riding shotgun. Thank goodness I’m pretty! Sure, the sexual harassment is a drag, but that’s a necessary occupational hazard when you’re keeping everyone’s spirits up. It beats thinking.

Again with the talking! Sue, no one likes a chatterbox, especially after a long day of saving the world and kicking Dr. Doom’s skirt-covered ass. And for God’s sake, have a little pride and clean up this joint. It’s the least you can do.

OK, this just makes me want to punch Ben in the mouth. Not that he’d feel it.

This is why women can’t have nice things. Looks like Reed’s gonna be polishing his own test tubes for quite a while. Yuk, yuk! I’ll be here all night, folks.

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28 thoughts on “WTF? Wednesday: Longsuffering Sue

  1. All the cracks about Sue running her mouth are killing me. Glad I haven’t started drinking my coffee yet. I’d have been wearing it by the second panel. Typical guy thing with Ben though. Start to sound like you’re finally getting it, then finish off with a statement so ignorant you’ve relegated yourself to the back seat of the little bus for the rest of the conversation.

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    • Careful there! It’s not the Ben is indulging in a typical guy thing anymore that Sue is acting like a typical girl! It’s not typical anything except typical ignorance and typical self-absorbtion which is present in people independent of their ethnic background, culture, nationality, sex or gender.

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  2. Craig, I’m glad you got a kick out of this. Believe me, my jaw dropped many times when I unearthed these little gems. I knew they had a complicated relationship, but who knew Reed was such an ass?!

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  3. Maybe it’s the fact that I went to college during the dark days of the extremist political correctness movement, but that thorough brain cleansing I received during my 5 year stay at the good ol’ U of Maine stuck with me. Comments like that still make me cringe, although I can feel perfectly comfortable laughing at some of the more absurd statements now.

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  4. Wow. Just…wow. Honestly, I had no idea this was that bad in comics back in the day.
    Like you, Cderosby, I’m glad I wasn’t drinking also otherwise my monitor here at work would have gotten a bath. The guy on the other side of the cube wall is definitely wondering what I am loudly gaping over with hysterical laughter and awe.

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  5. All I can say is HOLY CRAP!!
    Did she ever put up with a lot of jank from her husband, brother and rock brain.
    She is one of the most powerful in the Marvel universe and she gets guff like that from the men in her life!??
    No wonder you had that drawing where she was putting the moves on that other guy!
    :D

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  6. “A pretty young lady can ALWAYS be of help–just by keeping the men’s morale up!”
    “That’s just the way WE feel about Sue, general!”

    Um… does that “we” include the Human Torch? You know, her brother? Ngh.

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  7. The 60s/70s Sue put up with a lot of nonsense. Of course, subsequent writers have given her a much larger role and better character development. Namor even takes Reed to task in an issue of the Illuminati miniseries, saying, “She will not leave you. I have tried to get her to leave you, but she will not.” He proceeds to tell Reed that he’s shut her in a tower from right after they got their powers until now, like she was some fairy tale princess, and that if he doesn’t get with the program and realize she needs respect, not protection, the Sub-Mariner will be there to pick up the pieces.

    She actually does leave him during the whole Civil War crossover, after finding out some of the ridiculously amoral stuff he’s done without consulting or even telling her. They later go on a leave of absence from the FF to try to put the pieces of their marriage back together, leading to a fight where the Wingless Wizard tries to use her as a hostage, and she renders the front of his chest invisible and threatens to create a force bubble in his left ventricle, causing a heart attack. He faints out of sheer terror. New Sue don’t take no flack.

    Of course, there is a simple, two word explanation for why Sue puts up with the long hours in the lab, idiotic comments, and general condescension: Stretching. Powers. “Once you’ve gone Reed, no one else has what you need.” ‘Nuff said.

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  8. I remember the Reed-Sue misogyny was played up rather strongly in the film version. She was presented as the head of a (presumably) leading edge genetics lab (and should, therefore, properly be referred to as Dr. Storm) yet, goodness. I was having difficulty with the suspension of belief factor. One simply does not get a PhD and become a principle investigator in a major lab while remaining such a spineless pushover. The characterization dynamic felt simply gratuitous and contrived rather than meaningful or insightful.

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  9. For a long time Sue was the lamest superhero going, coming out with lines like, “Johnny, I don’t care you’re trying to stop Galactus – just be sure you don’t muss my hair!” or, “Oh, no, the invading hordes of a million worlds’ll see me without my make-up on – I must turn invisible!”

    But she could also be a real whore! “I know Reed’s got a beautiful pipe, but Namor’s got cute little wings on his ankles – and a huge bulge in his trunks!” or, “I know Reed’s a good man, but maybe Doctor Doom’d be finally able to shed his armour of evil if only someone’d just rub some oil on his nuts!”

    It’s easy, with hindsight, to see her as some intentional parody by Lee and Kirby, but I honestly think that was how women looked to most men back then. Put it this way, I’d be surprised if Stan Lee didn’t subscribe to Playboy.

    But just to be fair to Reed and the boys, many Sue style remarks, (e.g., “Yes, Ben, dear, I know Dragon Man’s pounding your face into the wall – but that’s no excuse to leave grubby marks all over it!”), are still to be heard to this day coming from the mouths of mothers from that period talking down to their middle-aged offspring like they’re moronic kids in a way they’d never dream of addressing their grandchildren.

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  10. Ha, The Irredeemable Shag brought me here, what a great name.

    I think it might be unfair to label Jack and Stan together as far as wanting to make Reed a chauvanistic tool.

    Take the fifth pic down, the one with Sue talking about house-cleaning and Reed telling her to do it quietly. You need to remember Stan and Jack were working under the Marvel Method – plot, pencils, script. If you take the context of the panels round about that one, it actually seems a bit out of kilter. I’ve seen the artwork without the speech bubbles too and it makes more sense if you imagine Sue is giving the boys a hard time for sitting on their fat arses. That, I think, is what Kirby was going for. But then Stan came in when he had the finished art and laid the script down and, to me, it looks like he changed what Kirby was going for.

    And of course when John Byrne took over he had a great scene where Sue pointed out that she saved the entire team one of the first times they took on Doctor Doom, so Stan and Jack did give her some cool stuff to do.

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  11. Why focus on the early ’60’s? By the ’80’s she was downright scarey… let it go, those comics reflected the times and the readers, which were mostly young boys. You could also focus on how ‘white’ comics were, too… but things were much improved within a few years, it was a period of serious growth.

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    • Is there something wrong with talking about it? From your reply it seems like you’re the one who can’t let go, you’re even making excuses for the sexism (and what’s with the jump to racism like talking about sexism makes you panic or something?). It’s not like the author of this post was calling for revolution or something.

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      • Nope, didn’t make excuses, it just isn’t news that sexism was worse then. The jump to racism (as you put it) was to demonstrate that human rights overall were sadly lacking – again, no surprise. And how does it seem that I can’t let go? All I was saying was that the early ’60’s is a small sample, and you KNOW what to expect. Try not to shoot from the hip.

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  12. It’s just funny to look at from a modern perspective, and it’s comical precisely because times and attitudes have changed so much. I wonder how the comics of today will look to people in 50 years.

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  13. It’s good we can laugh about this now! Because these cracks from Reed are hilarious! When I was re-reading old Kirby/Lee issues as an adult, it blew my mind that they would even print this stuff. From a historical perspective, Reed was a man of his times. Women had only achieved voting rights (through their own heroic efforts against an oppressive system) about 40 years earlier.

    Although I miss Reed the manly man sometimes, Sue is greatly improved in John Byrne’s stories, coming into own as a force to be reckoned with. We also like her in Ultimate FF where she was a brilliant scientist in her own right, and the equal or better of any of the men in a jam.

    Wait… What’s that?…. Honey, be quiet! Can’t you see I’m interpolating the inter-dimensional framulator right now! Sheesh! Go vacuum!

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