Heroes Never Rust #35 by Sean Ironman
The Invisible Woman
Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules #2 switches focus from Reed Richards to Susan Sturm. We see that the four-issue miniseries takes place in one day, with this issue beginning with Reed’s phone call to Susan from last issue. We also get a little bit of superhero action with panels from the fictional Vapor Girl comic, which Susan’s younger brother, Johnny, read in the first issue. It opens with a short excerpt from Vapor Girl. The heroine is imprisoned by aliens and shot with an “atomic manipulator ray.” When the comic switches to Susan Sturm, she wakes on the couch and doesn’t recognize the room for a moment. “It’s an odd sensation waking up and feeling as if you are a stranger in your own home.” She goes about her tasks of preparing for her book club by reading the book and baking a coffee cake.
On the surface level, this issue could be seen as the typical story of a woman wanting more than being a housewife. But, this issue succeeds (and it’s the best of the miniseries) because Susan isn’t concerned with female rights. At no point, does she say or think anything about the treatment of women at the time. It’s there because it’s integral to the story, but she doesn’t vocalize that idea. Instead, Susan deals with a life she doesn’t want, and in the end comes to realize “I do not like my life and I want it to change.” By avoiding talking about feminism directly, the story gains in two different ways.
First, the story becomes relatable to anyone. Each of us, at times, has wanted more than the life we had. It’s why we learn things, go to school, get a new job. It’s why we pretty much do most things in life. So the story is able to become more universal.
Second, the story is able to get more specific, which, I know, may be confusing since I just said the story became more universal. But, remember, specificity breeds universality. The character doesn’t act as a mouthpiece for feminism. We get specifics about Susan’s life—her relationship with the neighborhood women, with her brother, with Reed. Today’s readers are smart enough to pick up on the feminist aspect of the story. We’ve seen that story a hundred times. But we haven’t seen Susan Sturm’s story before.
Instead of trying to be herself, Susan tries to be her mother, who died some years earlier. Susan does what her mother would have done. She takes part in a book club, even though she doesn’t like the other women. She deals with Reed’s uncaring attitude, even though there seems to be no love between the two. Other than the phone call, we get nothing more about their relationship. There isn’t anything more. Unstable Molecules is about people wanting more for their lives. They seek happiness in roles they think they should live in, and they all know deep down it won’t help. At one point, looking out at the neighbors Susan hates, she thinks, “I allow myself to hate them.” Allows herself to hate. She has trouble even allowing herself the freedom to feel.
In the end, I think one of the things this comic says is that it’s okay to hate, to be emotional. Throughout the issue, Susan doesn’t let herself feel. On the phone with Reed, she just accepts things the way they are. With Johnny, she does the same. She says nothing when Johnny tells her that he hates her. But by the end of the day, she can’t continue anymore. She breaks down on the couch, waiting for the dinner party to start. “I miss my mom. I do not like my life and I want it to change.” She takes no action this issue, but she’s reached an important moment. She’s come to terms with this not being the life she wants, and we’ll see by the end of the mini-series what she does to change things.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.