Viva la Woman! This is not only Women’s History Month nationally, but a spotlight year for the female force behind Marvel comics. This includes characters and creators, from She-Hulk’s anniversary coming up this month to looking back at the first Bullpen heroines to a who’s who in the industry today.
As much as you or I might put on a knowing look when the idea of ‘girls reading comics’ comes up as a shocker, there are still some who consider the medium a Boys Only Club. The trick is, Women in Marvel is not a fanfare for the media, but for the comic reader. We’re actually advertising to ourselves as I don’t care if I have to call the book ‘Three Toed Sloth Comics’, just so long as fans see more Colleen Coover art. Putting out the press releases, interviews and exclusive art is to delight and tantalize the current comic reader about how diverse and talented our hobby is, not the Joe on the street.
Getting fans to think outside the box is definitely important, especially amongst the Marvel reading public. While some Distinguished Competitors might have Wonder Woman and leave it at that, Marvel characters have a different set of criteria to live up to (I know, the Big Two have different storytelling philosophies, film at 11…). Heroines might be marketed under the ‘grrl’ heading this month, sexy, powerful and dominant, it’s the human element that really makes the Women of Marvel. No matter how vivacious, strong or important any character is, from Captain America to Nico Minoru, they all remind us of the fantastic, mighty or spectacular parts of us, We see ourselves in the pages of our comics and that makes these stories personal, that anyone could find themselves in similar situations, girl or boy, super-powered or not.
Sometimes the fight isn’t with Galactus, it’s with our hearts. Peter Parker is going to be my first example of the struggle between being a hero and staying true to your loves and losses. In fact, he’s pretty bad at it in the long run; Peter Parker’s love for his Aunt May caused him to make a choice that fans still haven’t forgiven him for to this day. Our family and loved ones weigh heavy on our hearts, more than the pressures of cosmic powers, so let’s look at the heart of one of Marvel’s favorite sweethearts. Put your hair up, grab a box of bon-bons and let’s talk affairs and triangles like they do on the E! network!
First on my list of the lovelorn of Marvel is none other than Mrs. Susan Richards: saddled with a love interest from the test rocket get-go, she came from an era where a girl wasn’t really there unless she was a love interest for a nearby hero. After four years, she married her Mr. Fantastic, faults and all, and reinforced her family with her own kids; despite leaves of absence, fights and delays, it’s never really the Fantastic Four without her. Susan Richards is the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four but doesn’t everyone deserve a second option? A window to what could have been, a road less traveled? In the fourth issue of the book as a whole, as Johnny rediscovers the Sub-Mariner of legend and said Sub-Mariner declares war on the surface world (yeah, comics moved a lot faster back in the day), Namor turns to Sue and swears to leave humanity alone if she would promise to be his bride. Now this is some action right out of those inescapable bodice-ripping romance novels: She was a woman committed to her friends and family! He was a brash sea-king of immense power! Together, they would toe the line between flirtation and using one another, their passion as understated as the magma under the earth’s crust!
But no matter the dreamy notion of being swept off one’s feet by passionate and muscular royalty, Susan Richards has remained that. Susan Richards, wife, mother, hero. She didn’t choose this job; she’s a circumstantial hero who happened to be there when the FF got bombarded with cosmic rays. Her husband is far from perfect, but she loves him through his faults and frustrating devotion to his work. She helped raise her brother, she’s had two extraordinary children, she is the best public face the team has as far as level-headedness and some presentation of empathy, but yet here is this other road untaken. This powerful monarch who would not only give her a throne at his side but perhaps an altar to her beauty and grace. In a way, it’s kind of a reward for all of her responsibility; the fact that Namor leaves himself as an option to her just makes her choice to remain with Reed and the boys far stronger. She wouldn’t fall for Namor completely, it’s not in her nature and she’s far too aware of her responsibilities to let go for some fantasy romance. But where as some trapped housewives, passion-seekers or at-heart romantics troll the aisles at the bookstore for the latest Fabio cover to lose themselves in a lavish romance and a bubble bath, Sue’s got the whole genre waiting for her under the sea.
So it’s fun to dream or tease or hint at the idea she might sneak off to Atlantis, to play the fantasy out in her head and dream of being a beloved and near-worshiped queen. But at the end of the day, she’s still putting Franklin to bed, making her lists of appointments and slipping into bed with Reed because she made that choice. She loves him above all those fantasy notions and the life that could have been. It’s not that Namor doesn’t excite her, it’s that she doesn’t crave excitement. It’s a sweet taste from time to time but one cannot live on chocolate.
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