Mr. Fantastic is a sexist jerk. Or, at least, he was. Back in the 1960s when the Fantastic Four debuted, the Invisible Girl was not only written as the perpetual third wheel to the "real" heroes -- which was unironically turned into a plot point in FF #11 -- but Mr. Fantastic was regularly given dialogue that was emotionally abusive towards her as if that was just the way husbands were supposed to talk to their wives. Actual dialogue written for Mr. Fantastic...
"Stop sounding like a wife and find me that gun, lady!"
"Wives should be kissed -- and not heard!"
"I'll explain later, woman! Just do as I say!"
"Just like a woman!! Everything I do is for your own good, but you're too scatterbrained and emotional to realize it!"
But, as the broader story of the Fantastic Four is one of a continuous narrative, with unbroken continuity for the past half century, those uglier parts of the character remain in his background. Now, it's easy enough for modern writers to simply ignore those elements and carry on as if Reed and Sue's relationship is now pretty much exactly as it's always been. Probably not the healthiest approach in real life, but it works well enough in fiction.
For the record, too, it wasn't just Mr. Fantastic being misogenistic; it was pretty common for all male characters to act this way. In most cases of fiction, though, those characters are eternally relegated to their time period. No one has written sequels to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or A Clockwork Orange so Randle McMurphy and Alexander the Large are expressly products of the early 1960s. But many comic book characters have been in constant publication since then and, despite their earlier origins, are often seen as products of modern society.
So how do we, as readers, address this kind of thing? People are reading those old stories for the first time all the time thanks to a healthy reprint program; do they convey the type of social messages we collectively want to express? Of course not, but since the characters continue to this day, they can be seen as contemporary expressions.
I don't think it's enough to just say, "Well, those stories were written ages ago, and that kind of thing was more acceptable then." While that is a true enough statement, it seems to me that we should carry that thought a step further. We need to say WHY this kind of thinking was wrong; how it demeaned and subjucated women to a lesser status so that they would be conditioned to accept a minimal role in society relative to the men in power. How lip service to equality was underminded by continual belittlement. How it's taken decades of pointing out just how unequal that is to even get as far as we have. How there are still people who have these out-dated opinions, and how they're expressed in a more subtle fashion today.
These old comics can be a lot of fun, but there's a big opportunity for education there as well. Education that a lot of adults could use, too!
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