Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #105

"The Return of the Wizard!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(February 1963)

Simple story this month, with the Wizard escaping from prison and challenging the Human Torch--the only foe who has ever defeated him--to a rematch. The Wizard holes up in his ultra-modern home with a bunch of new superweapons, and comes very close to defeating the Torch, but the Invisible Girl shows up to save him from the Wizard's trap. Of course, they're both captured, but they work together to escape and defeat the Wizard, sending him back to prison.

It doesn't really get more complicated than that, but there is something I found worth thinking about.

There's a lesson being taught to the younger reader about manhood, and it's not really all positive. See, when Johnny wants to rush to answer the Wizard's challenge ("My reputation is at stake!"), Sue tells him "Members of the Fantastic Four don't get into fights just to satisfy their pride!" She actually calls Reed and Ben for help, but when she does, Reed tells her "Johnny has to grow up and stand on his own two feet sometime! The Thing and I won't interfere in this!" The message is clear: men don't back away from a fight.

So are we meant to think that Sue is merely being overprotective? Because Johnny just sneaks out, anyway. And then she follows him to the Wizard's house and falls into a trap, which allows the Wizard to demand Johnny's surrender. So not only does she try to keep him from this challenge, but she also holds him back when she tries to interfere. And then, when they try to make a desperate escape, it's only Johnny's ingenuity that saves them; Sue gives in to despair and cries. And when this adventure's ended, Johnny laughs off Sue's concern with a quip.

So men don't run from a fight, and women are overprotective and, well... weak. When Sue raises concerns, Johnny doesn't listen to her--and later plays it off as no big deal--and Reed tells her more or less to butt out. When she tries to help Johnny, she gets them both captured and nearly killed. Everything she does is the wrong thing. Johnny has to save her.

Why is this element even here? Is it just so that Johnny has someone to rescue, upping the stakes? I hate to see Sue used in such a cliched way; she should be a hero in her own right, not just the voice of concern to be shushed and shown up.

It takes a little story with the Human Torch's only good solo villain so far and mars it. Because it's a potentially fun story that's harder to enjoy because of its ridiculous, dated gender stereotypes. It's a filler story in an era when other titles--like Fantastic Four--are adding real humanity and dimension.

Next time: Ant-Man spends a bunch of time in a car engine.

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