Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Honk honk here comes the decency bus!"

If you've been around comics long enough, it'll be no surprise to you that John Byrne is known for - among other things - peppering his origin stories with what you might gently call "May-September" romances, but might more fairly refer to as "March-October" romances and in the case of his Elseworlds trilogy, Generations, a "The Triassic Period - Heat Death of the Universe" romance or two (and Batman banging his adopted grand-daughter, but they're both like four hundred years old at that point so ... okay?).

It's something he's done in the pages of the aforementioned Generations, Doom Patrol, Alpha Flight - all with young women (and I'm saying this to be polite) "Falling in love with and winning the hearts of" older men - and that hot mess Marvel:The Lost Generation, where the genders were, for once, reversed.

Most famous of all of them, though, is from the pages of Byrne's run on The Fantastic Four. Reed is in college, Sue is twelve. 

Weirder than Byrne's repeated trips to this creepy-ass ol' well has been the general reaction of comic fandom, or the lack thereof. Byrne's ardent fans defend the creative choices, naturally, and those largely disinterested in the fella's work tend to stop just shy of calling in Detective Munch. I never thought, though, I'd find anyone who'd be angry if Byrne's tendency to craft relationships between older men and younger - often legally underage - women were removed from canon.

In the latest issue of Fantastic Four:

"...and the new one certainly isn't an improvement..." he says, meaning "The one without the implied statutory rape".

Tom Brevoort - whom I get to admire more every day for everything except his fashion sense (which Little Rascal did you mug for that hat, Tom?) - warmed my heart by happily, if carefully, throwing John Byrne under a bus.

"...that sequence struck the both of us, in 21st century terms, as being more than a little bit creepy."

*slow clap*


Chris Wuchte said...

Even as a kid in the '80s I found that creepy. And it clearly contradicted what Lee & Kirby had already done (I recall Sue being younger than Reed in their version, but she certainly wasn't 12), so I'm not sure why anyone would be so tied to the Byrne version. I can't believe Marvel approved it to begin with. There's just no way to make that not seem weird.

Prankster said...

I've never been a big follower of Marvel continuity, and though there was clearly an age gap, I've always assumed that Reed was prematurely grey and that Sue was actually in her late 30s or even early 40s. But the more I learn about their past the more the evidence mounts up against this, even aside from the fact that pop culture would never allow a major female character of that age. Bleah.

Doc Nebula said...

Okay, nobody is a bigger hater of Byrne's non writing than I am, but y'all have lost your minds. So Sue was 12 the first time she ever saw the rather gawkishly rendered Reed, and conceived a huge crush on him. Byrne nowhere stated that Reed returned the feeling when she was that age; in fact, in the reprinted panel, he looks rather embarrassed by and uncomfortable with the attention.

Reed might have been 17 when he was a freshman at college; I was. Hell, given that Reed is a super genius, he might have been even younger. He certainly wouldn't have been very much older. And, yes, a college freshman shouldn't be dating a 12 year old, but Byrne didn't suggest that they were dating. He simply said, Reed was a college freshman, Sue was 12, Sue had a huge crush on him.

If we grant even a completely ridiculous age gap of 10 years (which would be ludicrous; Reed would never have waited until he was 22 to start college), well, so what? The two didn't start dating until Sue was an adult, and an age gap of 10 years (far more likely to be 5 or 6 years) isn't unheard of or particularly controversial.

My presumption is, they probably started dating around the time Sue was a sophomore in college. She would most likely have been 18 or 19; Reed could have been any age from 25 to 29. Certainly Reed would have been old enough to get teased as a 'cradle robber', Sue's friends might have made a few remarks about it, too... but so what? Both should have told them to shut up and mind their own business.

Again... nobody, not even Byrne, who is a terrible writer indeed, has ever said or even hinted that Reed had any kind of physical or romantic feelings for Sue when she was 12. To see this sequence as 'creepy' requires a special sort of paranoia and judgmentalism.

Now, you want creepy, read Heinlein's DOOR INTO SUMMER sometimes.

Calamity Jon said...

Achievement unlocked: Guy leaping through ridiculous hoops to justify the thing.

Unknown said...

I was reading through my dad's old comics, and I had the uncomfortable realization that girls my age were dating boys my cousin's age. Squick much? I never really knew the authors, because I focus more on the stories themselves, but I'm glad Im not the only one slightly weired out.

Also: Doc, if you hate the writer, why expend so much energy justifying the creep factor?

Mr. Preece said...

Doc Nebula is right. And the Marvel editor is wrong.

Nowhere can it be reasonably interpreted that Reed is "eyeing" anybody. Byrne's use of body language is 100% clear: Reed is completely uncomfortable with Sue's attention towards him.

Maybe you folks are too young to understand what Reed's finger pulling his collar means: it means he's reacting NEGATIVELY. (Just as Byrne's use of Sue's folded hands means she is enamored with him.) It's completely absurd to say Byrne is suggesting anything other than Reed AGREES with the inappropriateness of her infatuation.

Is this "weird?" OF COURSE it's weird! Girlhood crushes on older guys are ALWAYS weird. (This scene is quite close to George Lucas's subplot in American Graffiti where John (Paul La Mat) fends off the affections of a too-young girl, Carol (Mackenzie Phillips). I don't remember anyone accusing Lucas of being "creepy." Why? Because it's NORMAL for young girls to have crushes like that.)

It doesn't help that Byrne used a standard cartooning tactic of undersizing young people to convey they're youth. Sue would realistically be a foot taller, around his armpit or so, but would then look more like a young woman (which actually could imply a sexual component to her feelings and thereby be legitimately creepy).

Owl said...

every single person i have ever seen either using the "12 year old girl has a crush on a grown-ass man; later they have a relationship together and the fact that they have a relationship together is never at all controversial to anyone despite their history while she was a literal child and he was a grown-ass man" plot point OR defending its use was male. i have never seen a woman going "well i had a crush on a grown-ass man when i was twelve and now i fuck him every day and that is totally healthy." just men. makes the whole thing read like a male fantasy for ephebophiles tbh. harsh truth.

Tom said...

Gotta agree with Doc Nebula here on all counts. Byrne's story never implies that Reed was attracted to Sue when she was young, just that he'd met her in that context.

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