Monday, August 6, 2012

Reed Richards, what the hell is wrong with you?

He's a red-blooded heterosexual male, that's what, you filthy degenerate atheistic Commie pinko red!  Just when you're convinced Reed Richards is nothing but an unfeeling computer on legs, thinking of nothing but the square root of the Einstein Theory and the co-efficient of the hypotenuse, it turns out at heart he's all man, right?  That's one interpretation, certainly valid.

However, look again, please.  What we're seeing is the comic book embodiment of that peculiarly American cognitive dissonance where we're obsessed with sex and tumescence-inducing imagery, yet puritanical and filled with shame and anxiety over it.  Indeed, proving himself quintessentially American in this regard, Richards uses this fabulous device to manifest his girlfriend Sue Storm as a sex object, but-- ambivalent due to his lifetime's conditioning in the laboratory of Protestantism-- cannot fully unleash his id and therefore timidly clothes her fantasy image in a very modest (also hideous) green one-piece swimsuit.  And what appear to be matching metal slippers.  What a contradictory imago his classically suppressed libido draws forth!  How fearful he is of the sexual woman, a woman's sexuality, even one he makes up in his mind!

Still, within the rigors of the Comic Code, what this splash page to Fantastic Four #27 (June, 1964) proves is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were wise enough even in those pre-Internet days to understand there is virtually no new technology that can't be used for pornography, even by squares like Richards.  Prescient in a way.  Pure pop genius.  I'm reminded of this each time I check Google search terms that bring up When Comic Books Ruled the Earth and the leading one for the day is either of the phrases "Batgirl boobs" or "Cassandra Cain nude."

While Sue quite justifiably protests* even this fairly mild invasion of her privacy-- shades of the various "leaked" nude scandals that currently play out almost weekly online--  the boys aren't ready to put away their new toy.  Let's hook Ben Grimm up the machine and see what happens--

Oh, that poor guy!  

Note how Richards wisely refuses the hormonally-addled teen Johnny Storm (his powers incongruously activated despite the ostensibly safe domestic environment, heat amd burning both signifiers not only of arousal but of danger-- caution, don't touch, hot!) access to his incredible sex fantasy image-maker-- no doubt aware of the pimply carnal imagery that would result, and, once seen, never be un-seen-- and sticks the device on Ben's head only to have his friend conjure up a hallucinatory menace that threatens to destroy the new invention itself.  Ben, his powerful rocky form a monstrous mockery of American manhood-- as a former USAF test pilot, astronaut and college athlete perhaps a satirical comment on America's chest-thumpingly uber-masculine patriotism and over-weening pride in our Cold War martial prowess as a sublimation of our more prurient urges similarly suggested by Stanley Kubrick's dark comedy masterpiece Dr. Strangelove-- can't even summon as Richards did the mildly suggestive form of his own lover in a swimsuit.  Instead, his thoughts turn immediately to threat and violence.  Only by forming a symbolic bed for his friend to collapse onto can Richards prevent disaster, the loss of his prototype.

The type of bed symbolized depends on our reading of the Thing's pose.  Is it infantile, as if he's a baby waiting for his diapers to be changed?  In this case, Richards provides a comforting crib.  Or, continuing our linkage of this sequence to the underlying sexual repression/phobias/concerns of the American male psyche, is he spreading his legs for penetration, for intercourse, in which case Richards is providing him with a marital bed, in parody or gender inversion of a wedding night ritual?  Does this mean the imaginary "pineapple" Dr. Doom-- himself a stern father-figure which further suggests something deeply Oedipal-- throws at the Thing is phallic, or is it vaginal?

What is it the Thing truly fears, which only the embrace of his friend can relieve?  What is it the men of the United States feared most in 1964 (the year of the long-haired Beatles and the dawn of the Sexual Revolution) and possibly to this day, as evidenced by certain anti-feminist screeds so full of castration/feminization anxiety they tell more about their authors' psyches than they do the supposed goals of the movement they purport to criticize?  And doesn't he look silly with that damned thing on his head?

*Remember when Marvel used to pretend the FF were real and Stan and Jack were just transcribing their adventures?  As violated as Sue feels by Reed in this story, imagine how a real woman would feel knowing Marvel sometimes has her illustrated by an artist who literally traces pornography, frequently causing her not to look energetic or adventuresome but blatantly orgasmic.


Gary Chapin said...

Okay, you are back at the top of your form. That was GREAT!

Joel Bryan said...

Thank you! Your comment really makes me happy. I'm hoping to have more of this kind of stuff to post when I get back from Tokyo next Monday!