Marvel’s First Family has made it to the 1970s. After the first issue of Fantastic Four: Life Story introduced the team in a story spanning the ‘60s, this issue jumps to the next decade and a time of political and personal transformation.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Fantastic Four: Life Story #2!
The Life Story concept — which imagines Marvel’s heroes as if they aged in real time — usually takes a few issues to get going. I loved Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley’s Spider-Man: Life Story, which inaugurated the idea, but found its later issues more creatively ambitious than its first.
For Silver Age characters like Spidey and the Fantastic Four, the issue set in the ‘60s often treads too closely to what was in the original stories. The sequel issues are where the creative team can make its statement on the source material more effectively.
That expectation definitely proves true for this second issue, which focuses on Sue Storm and her relationship to the team. Writer Mark Russell tracks Sue’s political awakening against the backdrop of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and the rise of second-wave feminism.
These ideas fuel the story, but never gain enough traction beyond surface-level references. Russell shows Sue protesting for women’s rights and getting her copy of the The Feminine Mystique signed by Betty Friedan, but her character also drifts out of focus when the story zooms in on the burgeoning friendship between Reed Richards and a young Victor Von Doom.
Russell has more than a few story threads to juggle — involving Black Panther and the looming threat of Galactus — so it makes sense that he cannot have Sue in every panel. To get around this problem, he lets her absence itself be a plot point. I don’t hate this idea and certainly there is precedent to her power set being a metaphor for her diminished status on the team. The terrific comics critic Sara Century has described Sue’s Silver Age appearances as running headlong into her “feelings of uselessness.”
“Letters columns of the time were often filled with fans calling for the removal of Sue,” Century wrote in 2019. Creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee eventually addressed the issue on page, but the reaction from her teammates elided their own culpability. “The male characters assure Sue that she’s not inadequate, but they really slide around on that point themselves,” Century wrote, “and typically treat her as a lesser being, constantly in need of saving.”
This history is crucial to Russell’s presentation of Sue and, in a few standout ways, he attempts to subvert it. Johnny says he “idolized” her while growing up — a recognition of her role as his de facto parent — and, in a brilliant sequence at the United Nations headquarters, she uses Captain America’s shield to defeat Doom.
Sue is given the marquee moments in this issue and her voice fills the narrative captions. But Reed’s drive to prepare the Earth for Galactus’s arrival and his cursed friendship with Doom give this issue its momentum. Sue is a witness to those stories but is intentionally sidelined from them. At one point, Reed neglects to tell her about an invitation to meet other superheroes. “I didn’t think you’d want to go,” he says.
“Well, the next time you know what I’m thinking…let me in on the secret!” she replies.
These scenes effectively position Sue in a more sympathetic way — and, certainly, Reed more negatively — than the original source material. Unlike the first issue of Fantastic Four: Life Story, which mangled Ben Grimm’s origin in a way I did not feel was useful to the story, the changes Russell makes here are necessary. I just wish the story did not require her to be so noticeably absent, especially when a key plot point involves her rejecting Reed’s dismissive attitude and embracing a political consciousness.
Sue believes in using their gifts to fix the world. Reed wants to save it. Those ideas sound compatible, but are not necessarily the same thing. His monomaniacal focus on Galactus comes at the expense of being a decent partner and father, let alone a human being in touch with the inequities and injustices of the world. Russell positions Sue in contrast to this point of view, but Reed is still the star around which this story revolves.
That was true in the last issue, when Ben had a more prominent role, and I assume it will remain the same as Russell shifts the viewpoint to Johnny and, perhaps, Reed and Sue’s children.
This second issue exceeded my expectations by telling a more focused story on Sue that, even if not entirely successful, introduced a more complex perspective into this Reed-dominant story. Here’s hoping the next issues expand on that promising development.
Some other, scattered thoughts on the issue:
- Artist Sean Izaakse and colorist Nolan Woodard give the comic a classic feel, reminiscent of something Terry Dodson might draw. The effect works for me, though I wonder if these issues would benefit from a period-specific approach that highlights the comics style of each decade.
- Russell’s period-specific references continue to be a delight. I especially loved a scene of Johnny visiting one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-ins for Peace. (Marvel must not have had permission to use their images, so the celebrity couple is only seen in shadow.)
- Seeing Black Panther and Namor in this issue reminded me of how many Marvel mainstays have had their origin in Lee and Kirby’s original Fantastic Four run: Doom, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, the Skrulls and the Kree…etc. (Namor, of course, first appeared in the Golden Age, but was revived in the 1960s.)
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