The Importance of Alyssa Moy

By | Thursday, March 31, 2022 2 comments
Alyssa Moy is a comparitively minor character in the Fantastic Four mythos. A creation of Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca, she was introduced in 1998 (nearly forty years after the FF first appeared) as an old acquaintence of Mr. Fantastic's. In the 20-some years since then, she's made only about 30 appearances or so. That's not nothing, obviously, but she's not exactly a main player in the book either.

The backstory that she was given was that she and Reed knew each other in college. (Bit of continuity issue there, though. I'll talk to that in a bit.) She's presented very much as a (pre-Crystal Dynamics) Lara Croft type. Beyond the basic costume design (seen here) she is an active adventurer often in search of ancient artifacts; acrobatic, almost recklessly daring, intelligent, flirtatious, independent, and somewhat unconcerned with whatever the local laws might prevent her from doing. All of the pre-FF #1 stories they've shown so far has the pair galavanting around the globe, conducting themselves very much like a pulpy Indiana Jones/Lara Croft team-up. The intent, I suspect, was to then put Reed in a decidedly more active role for some pre-FF period of his life, where he would've gained experiences beyond the classroom. He had been established as having earned four college degrees by the time he was 18. That doesn't happen unless you're spending most of your time with your nose buried in books. Having Alyssa there is essentially the impetus for Reed doing something beyond pure research.

That seems to be a decent enough reason for Alyssa to be added to the story. I mean, we've got this dedicated genius bookworm and he suddenly develops the chutzpah to steal a rocket out from under the military and launch into space himself with his best friend, his fiancée, and her kid brother? And then, once they land, he immediately thinks, "Let's be super-powered adventurers!" It works well enough in the original story, but after learning more about Reed over the subsequent years, particularly his childhood and teen years, this seems a bit odd. There was clearly some shift in his character after he first met Ben, but before their famous rocket flight. The addition of Alyssa to that period gives a pretty reasonable explanation of why Reed might have grown out of his bookworm habits a bit.

But that's not why Alyssa Moy is important!

Let me first address a minor continutity problem. Not an insurmountable one, certainly, but there is a bit of wonkiness with the timing that circles around why Alyssa is important.

When Alyssa is first introduced, in Fantastic Four vol. 3 #5, she clearly knows Reed and a glimpse at their pre-FF history is shared. But Ben, who is with Reed at the time, has never met Alyssa before. Reed also notes that the adventure he had with her was after his days in the army. Good so far. A minor problem arises, however, in Before the FF: Reed Richards. The main story itself is fine, but in it, Reed and Alyssa run into (a pre-armored) Victor von Doom. When Doom comes across the pair, he sarcastically refers to it as a "college reunion." While he could theoretically be talking only about himself and Reed, he later refers to Alyssa as "your former college sweetheart," suggesting he was personally aware -- at least nominally -- of Reed's social life in college. Furthermore, when Alyssa hears Doom ranting about how he believes Reed sabotaged the college experiment that ruined his face, she quietly notes, "That's not how I remember it!" This strongly points to Alyssa, Reed, and Doom all attending college together. But if that were the case, why didn't Ben know her? Reed and Ben met on literally their first day, and remained friends throughout. For Reed to have never introduced Alyssa to Ben seems unlikely at best.

In a flashback in Fantastic Four #555, we see Reed and Alyssa on a date, but it's noted to be at the University of Vienna. While Alyssa's dialogue suggests that they have yet to kiss, the summary preface text for the issue cites her as "Reed's old college girlfriend." Though not explicit, this could be easily read as their first date before they went on to many more. Now, assuming Reed attended Vienna after graduating ESU, this would resolve how Reed could've dated Alyssa without Ben having ever met her, but it throws a wrinkle into the indication that Alyssa and Doom had met in college. Because even if you say that Doom himself might have gone to Vienna after getting kicked out of ESU and was already there when Reed started, Alyssa's "not how I remember it" comment doesn't quite work now. Unfortunately, Alyssa's comment would have to be interpretted as "That's not how I remember you telling it to me, Reed!" which does work, although it's not exactly seamless. Although if Doom was indeed at Vienna and he ran into Reed and Alyssa at some point, that would give Reed reason to relay the story of Doom's experiment.

OK, so why does the specific continuity of all this make Alyssa important?

This is important because Reed met Sue Storm while he was at ESU. The woman who was his fiancée in Fantastic Four #1 and is canonically several years Reed's junior. Most historical references put the age difference at around ten years, seemingly without considering the pedopheliac implications that retroactively suggests. Marvel's tried just glossing over the age difference entirely for most of their history, and I've seen some unofficial sources (notably Wikipedia) try to lessen that gap outright, simply claiming Sue was much older than anything in the comics actually states, or even implies for that matter. Regardless, it strongly suggests that Reed as an adult in his 20s had a romantic interest in a minor which, by any social standards we've had in the US since 1961, is creepy and disturbing at best. However, putting Alyssa Moy into the mix removes the... awkwardness of having Reed and Sue as a couple prior to her age of consent.

What we now have is Reed and Ben starting ESU when Reed is 18. They live in the dorms on campus for their first year, where they meet each other and Victor von Doom. In their second year, Reed meets Sue when he rents a room from her aunt. (This is all the same as before so far.) Reed graduates and joins the army. Presumably, given that Reed earned four degrees before he attended ESU, his degree there only took a year and a half to two years, making him 19 or 20. While his original service in the 1940s would've been about three years, the sliding timescale of the Marvel Universe would mean he now served in the late 1990s, so his active duty contract could have been as short as two years. He would have still had military obligations after that, and that could explain how/why he worked with them on a variety of projects prior to FF #1. (See Fantastic Four #271, The Marvels, Conspiracy, etc.) So at 22 or 23, Reed and Alyssa, having met each other either shortly before or during Reed's time in the army, have the 10-week road trip mentioned in FF v3 #5 before enrolling at the University of Vienna, where Doom already happens to be a student. Reed spends another 2-ish years in Vienna before graduating and moving on to Columbia University, where he meets up (canonically) with Sue again. This puts Reed in the 25-year-old range and Sue at either 17 or 18, making her around 10 or 11 when they first met while Reed was at ESU.

(As an aside, John Byrne's original script for Thing #2 came up for auction last year. In it, he expressly notes that Sue was 12 when Reed and Ben were at school together. That specific detail didn't make it into the published comic, and instead only alludes to Sue being a "young girl." The age reference was likely excised from the final because it could be read as promoting pedophelia, but interestingly Byrne's original script does a better job of expressly noting Sue's feelings for Reed are not mutual than what was published. The published comic leaves things quite ambiguous and Reed's reaction could easily be read as embarassment for having romantic feelings for someone that he knows is legally too young for him. This sequence is one of the ones that's ultimately ended up actively fueling questions about how old Reed and Sue were when they started dating.)

Now what's interesting is that this new history with Alyssa doesn't overtly change any of the continuity established before she was introduced. As I said, most of the historical references in the comics put about a ten year gap between Reed and Sue ("about" because they've always been a bit cagey about Sue's actual age in published stories) so this keeps in line with those assertions. But what this does do is put a different spin on previous references to Reed's earlier love life. Take, for instance, this sequence from Fantastic Four #11...
The original implication was that Reed was pining for Sue while he was in the army, and Sue was worried for Reed's safety. But note that Reed only refers to "the girl I left behind" which can now refer to Alyssa, and it would make sense that the two immediately get together after Reed's service. And Sue's comment about those memories being painful can refer to her jealousy over Alyssa being Reed's girlfriend before her. Ben even expressly notes in FF #555 that Sue felt (at least at some point) like she was just a rebound after Alyssa. Reed's follow-up here reassuring Sue that he was talking about her can then be read as something of a cover-up or back-tracking as Reed realizes talking about one of his exes in front of his fiancée is maybe not a great idea.

("Since we were kids" doesn't pose any problems as far as I'm concerned. Sue was obviously a child regardless and, speaking as an adult myself, 18 years old is still very much what I would consider part of my childhood. Lee was forty himself when he wrote that, and likely saw 18 the same way.)

This new reading is obviously not what Stan Lee originally intended when he scripted that back in the day. But, as I said, I don't think he really put any thought into the extended implications of the age difference between Reed and Sue. So while Alyssa's introduction into Reed's backstory is very much a bit of retroactive continuity and was likely just thrown in as a bit of fun (the first two flashbacks with her in them are basically throw-away references with no real story or substance; just "Look! Reed had an adventurous life before the FF!") but creators soon realized that she could be used to clean up some long-standing ugliness in Reed's history. He couldn't having been pining after an 11-year-old girl if he was actively dating (and proposed to, according to FF #513!) a woman his own age.

Mr. Fantastic is the first hero of and, in many ways, considered the elder statesman of the Marvel Universe. While the notion of heroes with feet of clay is part and parcel of the Marvel Universe, having one of its pre-eminent figures even perceived as an unrepentant pedophile is a bridge too far. As I said, for many years, Marvel as a company largely tried to brush this under the rug as as unintetional side-effect of the early fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach Lee took in the early '60s. Why no one ever just flat-out retconned their first meeting to many years later, I don't know. (It's not like the point came up all that often to begin with.) But the introduction of Alyssa Moy does an excellent job of keeping the existing continuity intact, but still serves to remove the suggestion that Reed was in an inappropriate relationship with a pre-adolescent girl while he was in college. I'm fairly sure that's not why Alyssa was introduced to begin with, but kudos to the various creators who've been able to pick up on her potential to sneakily address a problem that no ones's ever really liked talking about to begin with!
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Matt K said...

Okay most of this is just cherry-picking out of a pig's breakfast of irreconcilable continuity contradictions (to mangle metaphors). But, those two panels; I have to congratulate you on one for-the-ages find, there. :-)

I honestly thought about going through a whole litany of all the times they alluded to Reed knowing Sue when she wasn't even a teenager, but A) that'd take a huge amount of effort for a pretty minimal payoff even from a continuity cop perspective -- most of the instances to my recollection are really vague -- and B) it would distract from the overall point of focusing on Alyssa Moy. I figure hitting the first instance of the problem (FF #11) and one of the most significant/borderline explicit instances (Thing #2) would be sufficient for making my point.