Sunday 9 January 2011

The Fantastic Four. An age in comics.

Fantastic Four #82, the Inhumans
Reader, can you spot what it is in this issue that
proves one of these characters is clinically
Working out the ages of characters in comic books is a fraught business at the best  times. How for instance could Superman have been having adventures as an adult in the 1940s when, ten years later, he was having adventures as Superboy?

Mostly, for the sake of my sanity, I avoid such matters but the issue's been thrown in my face by my recent re-reading of a whole bunch of 1960s' Fantastic Four stories.

It comes down to the events of Fantastic Four #82 which throw a spanner and a half into the strip's already straining chronological cogs.

To work out the ages of the Fantastic Four, I suppose we have to start with Dr Doom. Thanks to his origin story in Fantastic Four Annual #2, we get a good look at his early life and career but the thing that strikes you is that nowhere is there any mention of the Second World War.

This is odd.

We know Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were old enough to be involved in the War because Reed Richards turned up in an issue of Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos. As, according to Doom's origin, everyone in Latveria seems to be called Boris and wears lederhosen, I think we can assume that Latveria's meant to be slap-bang next to Germany where - as we all know from reading any Jack Kirby drawn comic - everyone's called Boris and wears lederhosen. It seems unlikely that people in Latveria therefore could have failed to have noticed a World War going on in their own backyard.

This lack of a mention of the War implies Doom left Latveria and went to America to study before it broke out. This means the youngest he could have been in 1939, when hostilities erupted, was 18.

Now, we also know from that tale that Reed Richards started university on the very same day, as did Ben Grimm, which presumably makes them the same age as Dr Doom. This means that, in 1961 when the Fantastic Four made their debut, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm would've been at least forty. The Human Torch in those early stories is old enough to mess around with cars but not yet attend university, which I assume makes him around 17.

Now, we're led to believe from the start that the Invisible Girl's older than her brother.

But how much older?

In one of the early issues, Reed says that she and he were childhood sweethearts, which suggests they're the same sort of age as each other and therefore she's around forty. This makes her at least 23 years older than her brother.


It's a bit unlikely but not impossible.

But then Crystal of the Inhumans comes along. As she's his girlfriend and is portrayed as being a bit on the impetuous side, logically she's around the same age as the Human Torch who's now old enough to attend university and so should be 18.

The trouble is, in Fantastic Four issue #81, when she applies to join the FF in place of the pregnant but forty-odd year old Sue Storm, she says, "I'm no younger than Sue herself was -- when your team was first formed!" So, that makes Crystal in her forties and her boyfriend the Torch in his late teens.

The problem is that one issue later we're told Crystal's still a minor. This means that, one, the Human Torch is carrying on with an underage girl and, two, that Sue Storm was a minor when we first met her and her forty year old boyfriend. Not only that it means that when Reed Richards was fifteen, his "childhood sweetheart" was minus ten, making her a figment of his imagination.

Is that what this is all about? Is this like that Russell Crowe movie A Beautiful Mind where it turns out that hardly anyone the hero knows actually exists?

Suddenly it all makes sense. What are the chances that Galactus exists? A fifty-foot tall planet-eating alien who just happens to land on Reed Richards' roof? What are the chances that Reed Richards has been to the moon and met a fifty foot tall alien called the Watcher, shortly after fighting super-powered apes? What are the chances that, in his apartment, Reed Richards has built a gateway to a whole other universe called the Negative Zone?

There's no chance.

Clearly Reed Richards is a man beyond sanity. A man who spends his days on his own in an empty skyscraper, talking to himself, lost in imaginary adventures.

And if not for Fantastic Four #82, we'd never have known about it.


Kid said...

Calm down, Steve. It's only a comic. Details in comics have always been elastic to accommodate whatever bit of retroactive continuity the writers wish to include in a character's history. If, however, Reed was involved in the latter stages of the war when he was 17 (he lied about his age because he looked older as a result of a hard paper-round), he would only be about 37 at the time of the FF's flight into space. So let's say Susie was 34 - which means that she was Reed's "girlfriend" when she was 12 and him 15. Obviously it was a chaste relationship which only ever involved holding hands and feeling awkward.

Steve said...

But there's always the problem of Crystal revealing that Sue was a minor when she joined the Fantastic Four. Plus, if Reed was 17 in 1942, that'd make him 14 in 1939 which is the latest date that he and Dr Doom could realistically have started university.

Frankly, it's making my head hurt. I've spent my entire life trying to work out how it was that the Daleks that William Hartnell first met couldn't move outside their city but the earlier Daleks that Tom Baker met could. And now this. Frankly, it's all too much for me. I'm starting to wonder if any of it's even real.

Kid said...

Regarding Dr. Who, I'm still trying to work out who Davros is. If it differs from the origin in TV Century 21 then it's not real - whoever wrote it.

Maybe Crystal meant Sue was a MINER - we never did learn what she did for a living before joining the FF. Your worries are over - it was a typo.

Kid A said...

Right, I remember that whole unfortunate bit where Sue contracts emphysema and Reed, Johnny, and Ben must travel to the Negative Zone to get the cure from Blastaar. I know Byrne later ret-conned it to be due to Sue's underage smoking, but the mining gig always rang truer for me.

Doug said...

Nice post, Steve -- I, too, am always fascinated by the ages of characters, and just how quickly/slowly Marvel Time moves.

That being said, I find myself appalled at modern versions of my heroes where the flashbacks show them using cellphones, texting, listening to CDs, etc.

Just stuck in the Bronze Age, I guess.



Steve said...

Just as long as they haven't retconned out Iron Man's Space Age transistors.