Bruce Banner Begins

If you think about it, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Nuclear bombs emit gamma radiation anyway. There’s nothing special about that.

And the gamma bomb has never been shown to function as a neutron bomb does: does not preserve infrastructure while killing people, so it can’t be that

And anyway what good is it to have a bomb that just puts out shitloads of gamma radiation? What’s the purpose of that? How is that militarily useful?

And why oh WHY is the one-and-only “secret formula” to building a gamma bomb sitting in Banner’s residence taped to the underside of a chair or something? Atomic bomb projects in the Cold War were many things, but “solo projects” weren’t one of them…poor old Igor should not have had to ransack Banner’s place to find his big secret; he should’ve been able to find out all he needed to know just by being a top scientist on the project for a number of years, right?

And why on EARTH does Igor fail to stop the countdown when Banner goes running out onto the test grounds to save Rick Jones? Doesn’t Igor still need Banner alive, if he wants to winkle out the gamma-bomb secret? Isn’t this what Igor’s been sent there to do? For that matter, why is it possible for Igor to simply refrain from halting the countdown? Would you organize your top-secret military installation so that there’s just one button in a room with one guy that can abort the nuclear test? Where are all the other people? Why doesn’t Banner halt the countdown himself? Why doesn’t anyone freak out when they see a man running out into the test grounds? What in heaven’s name is wrong with these people?

It doesn’t really need explaining, Bloggers; it’s just comics, after all.

But here’s my take on it regardless.

We begin with Igor. You know, for a spy he’s got a pretty shit cover, wouldn’t you say? “Hi, my name’s Igor, please let me into your top-secret nuclear facility during the height of Red paranoia.” But then if you think about it for a minute or two, it seems that Igor must not be your typical “spy”, right? Assistant to Bruce Banner is a reasonably elevated position, after all…because here is a guy who apparently got snapped up by the Army straight out of college: no published papers after his Ph.D thesis, no patent applications, living on isolated bases out in the desert, with a limitless supply of money and material to be a super-genius with, but no penthouse apartments and no Nobel Prizes. Have you seen the stuff Banner started making after he became the Hulk, by the way? It’s, uh…

Pretty weird!

And there are not exactly a ton of people in white coats poring all over it. I don’t even think Ross allows tours of the Banner Archive anymore, do you? Last time he did, we got the Abomination out of it. So no wonder that the only guy he lets monkey around with the machines in there is a dude whose training is in psychiatry! It’s probably just too dangerous to let anyone with a degree in physics or engineering so much as take a look at. All Banner’s stuff does is alter human biology in a really scary and totally unpredictable way, if you use it wrong…and no one knows how to use it right. Plus, it’s all definitely 100% lock-stock-and-barrel Property of the U.S. Army…oh, what’s that, SHIELD Director, you’d like to get some Bannertech for your fancy new helicarrier? That’s nice. I hear Tony Stark’s listed in the phone book and Who’s Who. Oh! And apparently Reed Richards — you’ve heard of him — lives in the middle of Manhattan, with an address and a doorman and an appointment book and everything.  You should call him up, I think you two have a lot in common. Well, ‘bye now. Have fun dealing with those wonderful ethical scientists of yours, y’hear? AND WE NEVER HAD THIS CONVERSATION, YOU’VE NEVER HEARD THE NAME “BRUCE BANNER”, IS THAT CLEAR.

Plus…

Banner is still on the payroll, isn’t he? Whenever he’s not the Hulk, he goes right back to his lab, making more freaked-out body-horror machines for Uncle Sam. Hey: even after all this time, Banner’s still an Army man! They bought him, and he’s gonna stay bought!

So why would they turn his work over to other people?

When that doubtless was not the deal. Let’s think about Igor for a minute; why is he there? Does General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross seem to you like the sort of guy who would allow a Russkie onto his top-secret Cold War base? Yet Igor is with Banner, and perhaps that makes the difference: the Army has one supergenius who’s all their own, that they don’t have to share, so you can imagine they try pretty hard to keep him happy. Hmm, I wonder what Banner’s Ph.D thesis was on, you know?

I wonder where he met Igor?

Let’s say it was when he was still in school. Maybe Igor was a fellow student. Maybe he was a visiting professor. And maybe Igor saw some of Banner’s work and realized this kid was onto something potentially earthshaking. Maybe he tried to take him under his wing, or otherwise befriend him. Maybe these were his orders. And maybe he thought he was succeeding. maybe they developed a good working relationship. Maybe Igor thought he and Banner really were gradually becoming friends.

But Banner doesn’t have friends.

Consider Banner the “milksop”: why does Ross put up with him? Because he has to. Why does Banner make Ross so apoplectic with rage? Because Banner is the most passive-aggressive little fucker you’ve ever met in your life, and Ross can’t win against him even one time. “A damn Russkie, on my base?!” “I’m sorry, General, but…that’s just the way I want it, you see. I have to be allowed to do my work.” Ross wants to fight, but Banner barely even sees the need to tell him he doesn’t have the time. Banner is King Shit around here, and everybody simply has to do what he says. A big control room full of people? No, General…I don’t think we’ll have that. I can handle it all just fine by myself from this console. Thanks for stopping by, I’m happy to take time away from my valuable work to keep you informed about how best to assist me. However, in the future perhaps it’d be more efficient if I just sent you a memo telling you how things are going to be? And you can even sign it, if you like.

Why does Betty Ross like Bruce Banner?

Because he can mess up her father without breaking a sweat. He can tie him in knots while cleaning his glasses, without so much as raising his voice. Ross is right about Banner, folks, you know what I mean? And his daughter’s just as right. And as for Igor…

Well, call it Stockholm Syndrome in reverse. Igor is spending all this time trying to crack Banner’s icy exterior, and nothing works. He bakes him a birthday cake. Banner leaves it on the table and says “well, it’s getting late, perhaps you’d better get your coat.” He offers help with calculations. Banner reluctantly gives him the ones an undergrad could do. He fetches coffee. He picks up dry-cleaning. He’s a world-class scientist in his own right, and he’s picking up dry-cleaning, and he’s the closest thing Banner has to a friend and he’s busting his ass trying to get close to him, and every time he thinks he’s making progress Banner says something or does something that shows he’s just a cold fucking bastard who can’t be reached. Igor’s getting so frustrated that he isn’t even following orders anymore, God help him he’s gotten to the point where he’s actually desperate for Banner to like him, and he just can’t make it happen no matter what he does. Because Banner is cold. Banner is dry. Banner isn’t human, he’s a robot or something! A robot designed only for extreme passive-aggresssive fucking-with-people. You walk into a room with that guy, and it’s like being in airless space, freezing to death. When Banner is in a room with you, there are fewer people in the room than there would be if you were there by yourself. Social relationships bend into uncomfortable shapes under the force of Banner’s antisocial gravity. No one can say anything right. Everything’s a disaster. And Banner doesn’t care.

Why didn’t Banner halt the countdown himself?

Because Igor is his flunky. Banner doesn’t push buttons; that’s what Igor is for.

So why doesn’t Igor halt the countdown?

You know, he should. He really should. His superiors would want him to; in fact they would threaten him with the most dire punishment for not doing so. And maybe tomorrow Banner will crack. Maybe he’ll ask for advice about the General’s daughter. Igor really thought maybe that was a break in the clouds, you know? Banner would be so hopeless at a romantic relationship, that for once he really would need Igor’s help…and then the shoe would be on the other foot. Igor could make Banner dependent on him, for advice about the lovely young Miss Ross. Where else, after all, could Banner go?

But it didn’t happen. Banner screwed up with Betty constantly, and the doe-eyed dimwit didn’t notice, didn’t care, why it actually seemed only to increase her ardour for this coldest of all possible cold fish. How could Banner get so lucky? Why wasn’t anything hard for him, why did he never get his comeuppance? Why didn’t he ever, not once, turn to Igor? Yet…there was always the possibility that tomorrow would see a breakthrough…some chink in Banner’s emotional armour simply had to appear eventually…and in many senses it was still an ideal set-up, Banner kept everything but everything about the gamma bomb project so compartmentalized that Igor was actually a hundred miles ahead of any other person who would possibly want to know how to build a gamma bomb, just by virtue of being almost close…

Almost close…

So, there was always tomorrow, wasn’t there?

For his mission?

And yet…

In his heart, Igor knew that tomorrow would be the same as today, which was already the same as yesterday only worse. As all these days were. Knowing the man, one knew that there was no imaginable tomorrow on which Banner would suddenly become a person it was possible to make progress with, or even around. How many times had Igor dreamed of just running away in the night, leaving Banner behind him forever, getting revenge by having a good life, enjoying the treasure of simple daily experience that Banner valued so little it seemed he couldn’t even perceive it? Igor could go somewhere tropical and luxuriate by the sea. Get drunk with new friends, gamble and win at the roulette wheel to their excited cheers, so much backslapping that the space between his shoulderblades became sore with it. He could meet a girl, too: spend long languid evenings on the beach with her, talking of the stars in the sky. She would look at him with those same stars reflected in a deep, black, peaceful gaze…he could tell her of the work he once did, the life he once had, and she would understand. As porpoises leapt in the darkness beyond the reef, he would move closer to her, their two shadows becoming one on the silver moonlit sands…and he would send Banner a picture from their wedding, with no note.

Or.

He would not push the button.

Banner would not have told him to push the button. Better: Banner would have told him most definitely not to push the button. Everybody knew what Banner was like.

Banner was the only reason he was here. Anyone else, Ross would’ve overridden: “a Russkie, on my base?” And quite rightly, too:  Igor might as well have showed up at the gates wearing a T-shirt saying “Hello My Name Is Russian Spy.”  Banner was the only reason, he was the only reason, that Igor was here. And Banner was the reason, the only reason

…That he couldn’t get away.

And so the button doesn’t get pushed. And Banner stops living. And Igor is free.

Or, no…

Wait.

That isn’t what happens.

That isn’t what happens at all. Somehow Banner survives. For the love of all that’s holy, why does nothing ever happen to this man? Well, Igor will have a lot of time in Leavenworth to think about it, I guess…but from our more exalted perspective, we can see that he’s actually missed something important. Because somehow Banner does crack on that day, doesn’t he? Out onto the test grounds he runs, to rescue Rick Jones. Why does he do it?

What’s changed in him?

We’ll probably never know; one second later, the surface of the Sun touches down on the flats, and he’s changed again, and can never go back. Igor should’ve waited. But Igor just couldn’t wait anymore, don’t you see? And at least…at least

The Americans don’t have the gamma bomb.

Whatever a “gamma bomb” is, and maybe only Igor could have told us, for years upon years. Banner, of course, never touched the Bomb again…perhaps he received an insight, on that day, that told him there was more to his research than anyone had yet imagined? Today in the Marvel Universe, apparently the U.S. Government stockpiles gamma bombs in tiny little towns in the Unfortunate States…but you know, I find it a bit hard to believe this. I don’t believe this. Because no one has yet managed to explain to me just what a gamma bomb is

So let me tell you what I think it is.

It’s a nuclear bomb, that doesn’t require nuclear fuel.

A strange idea, eh?

But it fits the facts well enough, I think…and it goes a long way to supplying a rationale for Banner’s employment by the Army. Well, would anyone else look on a theory of nuclear reactions without nuclear fuel — not even hydrogen! — as anything other than a big hole in the ocean to pour money into? But to the U.S. Army, at the height of the Cold War, even the chance of making a bomb without uranium would be worth any investment. I must confess that Warren Ellis’ Planetary comes to mind, here…the bomb, you see, isn’t really a “bomb” at all. More like a lattice: an array. A bunch of copper and platinum, twisted in a way just so, that when the right thing is done to it at the right time something happens to spacetime. Perhaps it gets “pinched”, or “squeezed”? I read someplace that the word “zillion” is just a generic term for “any number greater than a centillion” — which is pretty cool, isn’t it? — and “gamma” is the same sort of thing, really: “any frequency higher than that of an X-ray”. So there’s no real “top” to the range of “gamma”, unless it is one set by the structure of spacetime itself…

And there probably is such a “top” to that range, actually, but this is comics so why don’t we say that the gamma bomb exceeds that energetic limit anyway? Yes: a pulse of gamma radiation — just gamma radiation, just light! — so intense that it runs over its own physical limits and creates an actual physical shockwave. Creates heat, creates sound, creates a mushroom cloud, creates all these waste products we associate with an uncontrolled fission or fusion reaction! But there’s really nothing “nuclear” about it, at least not in the primary stage: it’s just an electromagnetic event.

So…you know what the Army likes about this?

You could mass-produce it. Out of a few tons of copper and platinum. No uranium mines, no Livermore lab required! You wouldn’t even need radiation suits to work on it! All you’d need is a blueprint. And it isn’t just about bombs, or at least the device’s potential is greater than bombs, because think of all the things we use radioactive materials for in our world, that we could make easier and cheaper with a Bannertech substitute! Though naturally there are national security issues here: if all you needed to make a bomb was a blueprint, then one thing you could never do is let people get their hands on that blueprint

But of course, there isn’t a blueprint. What Banner was doing is something no one understood at the time: building a giant thing the size of an apartment building according to some really specific plan he extracted from a technical elaboration of a theory he never revealed to anyone. In his Ph.D thesis, what the Army and Igor both noticed, there’s a purely theoretical sketch of the wringing of “nuclear” power from empty space…but that’s all there is, and all there ought to ever have been. Behind the locked doors of the Banner Archive at Hulkbuster Base, watched over by Thunderbolt Ross on direct Presidential authority, there’s everything Banner made with the blueprint, but the blueprint’s now forever only in his head, and the stuff he’s making isn’t just “medical instrumentation that doesn’t require isotopes”, it’s a wholly new application of radiative emissions to tissues…and, I think it’s fair to say that none of it is finished? But no new gamma bombs are even started, in there, so as much as mass-produced “gamma bombs” could’ve enabled them to win the arms race at a canter, it’s hard to see how the Army could’ve made any…I mean, if they didn’t have a blueprint, they would at least had to’ve had a model…a prototype?

Well…

There is one of those, actually. Though where it is I couldn’t tell you…but I know who it was made by. For there was another interested reader of the famous Ph.D thesis named Eliot Franklin, who went on to earn both his Ph.D and his nickname (“the black Bruce Banner”) by showing how to take Banner’s by-now-known-of apartment-block-sized gamma bomb array, and reduce it to the size of a canteloupe. But clever Dr. Franklin, reconstructing the gamma bomb without the aid of any blueprint and without even access to Banner’s own developed theory — just what was in the thesis! — is not an Army man, and he damn well was going to have the penthouse and the patents…

Though it must be said: he was probably taking his life in his hands by trying it. Dude, really, you’re going to patent the design for a handheld nuclear bomb anyone can make with parts from Radio Shack? Do you really want the Patent Office having that kind of geopolitical power? Somewhere a particularly shady branch of the CIA was coming up with rather messy contingency plans, before Dr. Franklin had so much as adjusted his tassel…

But it didn’t happen, because Richmond Enterprises stepped in, and we could theorize to an interesting extent about just what was going on there exactly…but we won’t, because all I really mean to show is that: if the gamma bomb uses nuclear material, then Dr. Franklin’s miniaturization of it doesn’t really make any sense, and boy oh boy would it be dangerous to handle if it did. So, perhaps this speaks to the plausibility of my little theory about it?

PERHAPS!

But I still don’t believe that the U.S. government mass-produced gamma bombs, even if they did get their hands on Franklin’s prototype (or what was left of it once Bruce Banner got done messing with it)…and you know why?

Because Franklin’s prototype came fifteen years too late (forty years, if you believe the Sliding Timescale) — by the time they had it in hand, the Arms Race could no longer be won, you see? If it ever could have been in the first place. Mass-produced bombs, well that’s just dandy, but once you have enough bombs to kill everyone on Earth ten times over, you might think of making new bombs but would there be much point in making hundreds of thousands of them?

At that point, the absurdity approaches Catch-22 levels. How could you even maintain your commitment to the arms race at all, if your next logical step is to increase the number of nuclear bombs by a thousandfold, like in a single calendar year? You couldn’t. That’d be crazy. Even the Army’s not that crazy! So you wouldn’t do it. You just wouldn’t.

You wouldn’t…

…Although, if you did, and obviously you wouldn’t but if you did, and if before someone stopped you and tore the lettuce off your epaulets you had made, I dunno, like a run of twenty thousand bombs or something…then the logical thing to do would be to smash them all, but if they’d cost money to make, then the money would need accounting for, so…

…Maybe the Army would be crazy enough to save them?

So I take it back: I guess I do believe there’s some stockpiling that went on.

But hopefully all those bombs are nice and exploded now. Well, if you think about it…

I guess the Leader doesn’t want anybody going hog-wild with Bannertech either?

So he and Ross are on the same page on that one, probably.

And now if you will excuse me, Bloggers, for some reason I am suddenly keenly conscious of the fact that I may have mislaid my life around here somewhere. Oh, for Christ’s sake where is it…

I am always putting it down and then forgetting where I left it!

Maybe I left it outside…

Yes, I’ll check there.

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11 responses to “Bruce Banner Begins

  1. So this should go hand-in-hand with the idea that Ross isn’t Ahab but Prospero…and this all came out of an email discussion with Harvey Jerkwater, so I should remember to thank him for the idea-bouncing. I might’ve bounced some ideas with Justin as well, I think? But Harvey’s responsible for the part you don’t get to see, where Tony Stark becomes Minister Of Defense or whatever they call it in the States, and comes to Hulkbuster Base with a shit-eating grin on his face, absolutely convinced that he’s gonna get his eyes and hands all over the Banner Archive at long last…

    And Ross says no, and passes Tony the red phone, and the President yells at him for a while..

    And that’s where it starts, and hmm, now that I think of it, it’s really not a bad little plot…kinda got a little Hitchcock-by-way-of-B-movie feel to it…

  2. We’d call Tony the Secretary of Defense ’round here…

    We did talk about the insanity of the setup for Hulk #1 way back when I was still doing a blog and I had a big plan to do like a dozen posts of Communists of the Marvel Universe. (I had half of one about Sin-Cong and the Commissar all written…!) Anyway, since then, I sort of crystalized my thoughts about the Hulk origin, because the one bit of fan-fiction I think I could almost bring myself to write today would be that Strangelovesque black comedy retelling of Incredible Hulk #1. I even figured out what I think a gamma bomb was supposed to do in my story, and that is NOTHING IN PARTICULAR.

    See, I became enamored of this idea that Banner works with the military because, ironically, the Army gives him more freedom and leeway than academia would, because they just want those new weapons SO BAD. They’ll give him as much money as he asks for to conduct his research, and they aren’t going to make him publish or do peer review or do all of those other things Banner can’t be bothered to do. So Banner makes his pitch to the military: “I’m studying gamma radiation, and I’m sure I can use it to build you a bomb.”

    Now, the secret of Banner’s gamma radiation is this: it isn’t gamma radiation. He doesn’t really know what it is; it’s got all these weird, inconsistent properties that don’t make any sense, and for that reason he MUST figure it out. He doesn’t care at all that there might not be any practical application, he just NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND what this stuff is, and that’s going to take resources he doesn’t have because he’s not Reed Richards. (If Bruce Banner had been a millionaire’s son too, things might have been very different.)

    And so Banner sells the military on TOTAL HORSESHIT. He calls it “gamma radiation,” because it’s something people will have heard about but probably won’t really know what it is. And Banner just bluffs them with it: “Just imagine the military application of a bomb with an output of pure gamma radiation,” and he dazzles them with a few diagrams and formulae (which also might as well just be total nonsense) on a markerboard, and none of this is making any sense to the military brass, but, you know, “If Bruce Banner is saying we need a gamma bomb, then we damn well better HAVE a gamma bomb”! And Banner’s probably engendered some goodwill with some preliminary projects he’s done for them – things we haven’t even heard about today, you know? So they cut him a check and build him a base.

    And Igor: I think his deal is that he’s a rogue eccentric, he’s Johnny Depp from Once Upon a Time in Mexico. He’s been in deep cover a long time, half working under orders from Moscow and half working under his own conception of what his orders SHOULD be. Maybe he assigns HIMSELF to Banner and the gamma bomb project, and the Kremlin’s thinking, “Well, if this all goes sour, we’ve got no qualms about totally cutting this asshole loose; let’s just see what happens, I guess.” Igor’s a bluffer too: he goes right up to the US Army with the name “Igor Drenkov” and doesn’t blink – and the military’s like, “Well, look, if he was a spy, even if he was a TERRIBLE spy, he’d at least pretend he was from Poland or even Latveria or something.”

    So Igor is too emotionally invested in this like we talked about, and there’s probably times he’s just wanted to garrote this guy in his sleep just to be done with him, but I think what ultimately makes him crack is that he’s the only one who suspects the real truth of what Banner’s done: that he’s built an insanely powerful weapon JUST TO SEE WHAT IT WOULD DO. And this totally breaks Igor, realizing that this isn’t about politics or “us vs. them” like he assumed it was; this is a man who is prepared to introduce the doomsday weapon of all doomsday weapons into the world purely because it was the most expedient way to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity.

    And perhaps that’s part of the reason he’s so desperate to see Banner’s notes, because he doesn’t want to believe it: “TELL me you have some kind of prediction in mind. TELL me you’re not just going to detonate this bomb and see what happens, you MANIAC.” Screw the mission, this guy is too dangerous to exist.

    But you asked why it is that Bruce goes out to get Rick Jones, why he’s so worked up, and I think maybe seeing a kid on the range is what – too little, too late – makes Bruce realize that he is doing an insane thing. That this isn’t just a laboratory, it’s the world, and it’s all gone too far. That’s what makes Igor detonating the bomb trying to kill Banner so bitterly ironic: Igor didn’t have to do anything because Banner would have come in shaken to the core, “My God, what have I been doing?” and shut down Gamma Base HIMSELF.

    Well, I like it. Fans complain about Marvel scientists being such bad scientists, but I think those are features and not bugs. Hank Pym, right? How does one guy invent insect-telepathy AND size-changing AND Ultron? Hank Pym idolizes Reed Richards and Bruce Banner like they were rock stars; he wants so bad to BE them. He’s the writer who wants to be Hemingway but just gives himself a drinking problem and a dozen half-finished novels, he’s the musician who thinks he would gladly accept Brian Wilson’s mental health issues if it meant he could write “Good Vibrations.”

    And Reed Richards…actually, having a kid gave me a HUGE, unexpected insight into Reed Richards and why sometimes in the 60s and 70s he was a colossal dick, but maybe I’ll come back to that another time.

  3. Ooooh, that does explain why Banner ran out onto the testing grounds! And it’s pretty neat and tidy that the reason he went to the military is because they weren’t so likely to subject his work to a fine-tooth comb…

    Damn, I think I miss that “Great Communists Of The MU” series…

    And is it that you’ve turned into Reed Richards from early FF, or that the kid has?

  4. And if we don’t want to go quite so far as to say “Banner’s heart grew three sizes that day,” we can at least say it introduces something Banner’s not used to, and that’s CONSEQUENCES. He’s been acting like this whole thing is one giant laboratory with every condition controlled, and then Rick Jones and his damn harmonica are out there on the test range somehow, and it suddenly hits him, “Oh my God, I built something that’s going to kill somebody, and it’ll be used to kill more people – but oh wait, it won’t, because the Army is going to realize the minute that thing goes off that I totally hoodwinked them and that this thing cost way too much and doesn’t do much more than an ordinary A-bomb would except spray this weird radiation that I don’t even understand and – holy crap, how did I not realize this until now?”

    But Reed Richards. It’s not really that either my son or I have turned into Reed; I’d hate to have my theory read into too much, and anyway Liam is perhaps more like…a tiny Bizarro? He looks kind of like me, and he tries to act kind of like me, but he doesn’t QUITE get how the rules work here, and even when he has the best of intentions, the results can still be disastrous…! But I was trying to reconcile some of the Richardsdickery that occurs between FF #1-200, and I realized:

    Reed Richards is a guy who never expected to have a family.

    Here’s the son of successful people, a child prodigy, a genius as a young man, a guy who’s dedicated to his work. Not that he’d ever be a pure academic; he’s got too much passion for adventure, too much zeal for knowledge. In another life, Reed would have grown up to become a two-fisted scientist — Doc Savage or Buckaroo Banzai. He’d have close friends. He might still have gotten married, but to someone like Claremont’s creation Alyssa Moy (and as much as I, like all right-thinking individuals, have little time for Claremont’s FF, he was on to something here): someone who can keep up with him, but who has her own projects she throws herself into, someone who’d demand just as much space and freedom from Reed as he would from her. I can’t imagine Reed ever thought he’d have children; there’s just no time for it, you know? So Alyssa’s what Reed thinks his ideal woman would be like, right?

    Then one day, he’s reintroduced to Sue Storm as an adult, and everything’s changed. She’s down-to-earth, a little shy, nothing at all like Reed’s other girlfriends. (Do you think Reed Richards ever had to contend with a rival for someone’s affections before Namor came along? Or even if he did, do you think he ever FOUGHT for anybody before Sue?) He’s fallen in love with the last person he’d ever expect to, and something about her makes it so that he can’t compartmentalize anymore, he can’t just go “Work first, then personal stuff.” And that leads into my personal fix for why Reed took Sue and Johnny along on his spaceflight: the purpose of the rocket always was Space Travel for the Common Man. Work and Life can’t be separate anymore; he builds a rocket for the express purpose of taking his three best friends in the whole world on an adventure with him. (This theory has all sorts of problems, of course, but I like it anyway.)

    Okay, now, fast forward however many years it’s been, and he’s married with two kids. And he’s a superhero.

    And he wouldn’t want it any other way, you understand! But he can’t say that he can’t IMAGINE it any other way, because he had. He feels so incredibly lucky to have stumbled into this unexpected life, but you have to imagine there’s some days he wakes up, takes a look around and goes, “Whoa.”

    So I think that’s why, in the back half of the Lee-Kirby run, Sue’s practically written out, and not just because she’s pregnant for some of the time. It’s because Reed’s basically kicked her off the team! The minute they get married, he’s no longer devising new ways for Sue to use and expand her powers. It’s always, “No, Sue, you have to remain here! It’s too dangerous!” And that’s why he and Sue send Franklin off to live with Agatha Harkness, and why Reed tries to shut down Franklin’s powers. He doesn’t know how to deal with this family stuff – it’s the one thing he’s not preternaturally gifted at – so for the first two decades of FF (and it comes back a bit after Sue has her miscarriage!), he has this whole overprotective bag that quite naturally pushes everyone away from him, and the metaplot is “Reed Richards gradually learns how to trust his family.”

    But this is really just part of my whole thing about trying to reconcile the somewhat cringey attitudes toward women in Stan Lee’s stuff to the 21st century: Sue’s not crying over that hate-mail because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s got self-esteem issues, and Reed’s not bossing his wife around because that’s what strong men do, it’s because he’s got control issues.

  5. Oh my goodness, Justin, that works REALLY well! Just the idea that Reed ends up fighting the near-godlike Namor, over Sue — not over Lara Croft! — not over Wonder Woman! — must’ve messed with his mind, given his life a weird shimmer of unreality even over and above the weird things the cosmic rays did to him. As I’ve said before, I loathe the anti-intellectual’s view of Reed that was put about by Millar and Bendis and Straczynski, but I’m not averse to him being a bit of a fish out of water, and since I also dislike the “Family First, Not First Family” construction of the FF (it’s really the other way around!) I like him being this kind of a fish — “Reed Richards learns to trust his family” is really a marvellous lens to view FF comics through, I think! And Sue can have self-esteem issues and Reed can have control issues without it having to go all John Byrne, because it just means they’re both freaked-out, they’re both afraid that the things they’re turning into are things they won’t be any good at. Alyssa Moy would’ve been the greatest hands-off, low-maintenance girlfriend/wife imaginable for Reed Richards…distracted, a little aloof, a supergenius with an entire life of her own, non-judgemental and without significant emotional demands…but Sue’s not that, she’s a regular human person and not a female Doc Savage, and…

    You know, maybe I owe Chris Claremont an apology…

  6. You really don’t owe him one. I totally loved the idea of Alyssa Moy, and maybe there was one or two other good ideas in there somewhere, but those were balanced by several dozen bad ideas in his run. I wonder if Claremont “lost it” (which is such a bullshit criticism, I hate to deploy it) somewhere along the line, or if comic readers all just sort of collectively decided they were done with him (but then why does the old stuff still read so well?)

    Speaking of Alyssa Moy, I checked out her Wikipedia page, and it said that Reed once proposed to her but she insisted that they had a duty to humanity to spread their genes around, and Reed apparently bought this; it didn’t have an issue citation, but damn if that doesn’t sound like a Millar idea. Don’t you want to ask Millar what his deal is with the way he characterizes intelligent people? There’s a very specific thing he does — it’s not just pure anti-intellectualism, because you get the sense that Millar thinks it WOULD be really cool to be so smart, and that you’d be so irretrievably weird but it would make you KIND OF INTERESTING.

    And hey, on the subject of Namor, I wonder what it is he sees in her. I mean, Reed you figure didn’t fall instantly in love with her (I mean the second time, if first meeting her when she was a child is still in canon) and that it was sort of a gradual attraction. But Namor just instantly falls for her, and that passion waxes and wanes depending on how much of a dick he’s being written as that month, but it never seems to go away. Is it just that Sue’s the only person who ever said no to him or what?

  7. She reminds him of Betty Dean!

    He’s never gotten over Betty Dean!

    Huh, I wouldn’t’ve either, you know?

    I myself kind of hated Alyssa Moy, because…you know, the whole Lara Croft thing. Leave us not forget this was the run that presented the two-fisted D.A. of New York named Dick “Law And Order” Wolf…as Claremont’s career moves along I think you do see a certain weariness set in, some going-through of the motions, the tendency to use crutches and a perhaps-unconscious gravitation towards the twee. I hasten to add that I think that eventually he does get past this, he doesn’t just burn out! He starts over again from a lot closer to the foot of the mountain after his star dims somewhat, and I think starts to pay more attention again to his skills instead of his…er, his charismatic talents, and after FF is over it’s a lot easier to remember why he was so good in the Seventies and Eighties. Nevertheless, for a while there even Dr. Strange was uttering tough, tight-lipped, subjectless sentences like “Tried my best. Wasn’t enough. Never is”, and when topicality was shoved into a book it was a bit less of “what if she’d called me a nigger-lover, Stevie?!” and a bit more of “Dad, he’s safe! DEREK JETER’S SAFE!!”…and in this respect Lara-Freakin’-Croft was honestly a bit too much for me. Also “Alyssa Moy” sounds like it’s from something, doesn’t it?

    Just can’t figure out what it is…

    Anyway he definitely falls first, before he rises again. I don’t know if “he’s lost it” is ever really fair criticism, but you do see lots of people in different arts-type jobs trying a late-career renascence on and just not making it over the mountain, so I think “he’s lost touch with it” might be okay to say…I guess it was a couple years ago now, Jackson Browne came on The Colbert Report to promote his new album and the song he sang was really pretty shocking to me, I thought it was a total collapse, no one under a certain age will get this but it was a bit Kris Kristofferson On The Tonight Show to me…and then a week or so later I guess, it was Yusuf Islam coming on with a new record and his song was fantastic, really fresh. Which I did not expect at all, you know? I would’ve expected Jackson Browne to still be great and Cat Stevens to have lost contact with his old magic, but instead as far as I could see it was exactly the other way around…

    But I don’t think anyone has to stay out of touch with whatever their Thing is, whether they’re doing something old or something new…unless, as seems to be the case with John Byrne, they want to stay out of touch with it. I quite liked Claremont’s engagement with the Morrison-era X-universe, for example, though Excalibur is something I’ve never had much time for…it showed he could roll with the punches and make adaptations and get back in the game, and for someone whose portfolio is crammed with so much great old beloved stuff, you know…it was good to see.

    Millar, though…never had much of a “this is my good stuff” portfolio to show, did he? His anti-intellectualism, I suspect, is of a piece with his so-called “leftie-ness” — that thing Mort Sahl said, about how there are all these conservatives who were just raised to believe they were liberals, and to them liberalism just happens to be about law and order and keeping the streets safe for God-fearing folk, and hippies are pathetic and the free market is great and you may not have agreed with Thatcher’s policies but you have to respect what she did for women in politics…The Ultimates starts out like something you could read as a critique of George W.’s America, but I think it doesn’t take very long at all before the irony drains out and it goes a bit “Hippie Thor is such a loser, Ultimate Bruce Banner is a fuckin’ faggot, militarism is cool and I loved Ender’s Game”…all kinds of dark distasteful shit you could tolerate as pointed commentary from a smart guy with a nasty sense of humour starts to look quite a bit more like stuff that’s pretending to be ironic and intelligent so no one will ask it to apologize for being cynical…the key sign of which, I think, is the “ha ha, you didn’t get it” defence. So I don’t think George W.’s America is under fire in Millar’s Ultimates, I think it’s rather a case of Millar coming to bury Caesar and not to praise him, for Brutus is an honourable man? I think maybe Millar is a bit of a political imbecile, really…

    And I think that weird engagement/detachment thing is quite alive in his anti-intellectualism. It’s cool that you kind of have to fear Reed Richards, you know? Like, WHOA, this guy is so smart he could blow up the world and he wouldn’t even care, now that is badass! So his Reed is like your Bruce, really. Oh my goodness, only at least your Bruce is human! “Dear Susan, you know how uncomfortable I am with expressing emotion, but after you left me I cried for precisely nine minutes and forty-six seconds.” In 1234, Morrison made Sue worried that Reed wasn’t just a genius but was somewhere on the autistic spectrum, then (thank goodness!) defused that as a concern…but you get the feeling Millar digs the idea of people with Asperger’s being “dangerous”, that much like Byrne thought the Scarlet Witch was a pervert for settling down with “a toaster” Millar wants everybody to see that there are normals and non-normals, and the non-normals better knuckle under if they want to get any noblesse oblige out of the evolutionarily-privileged. Reed’s acquiescence to just whatever in Civil War made it pretty clear that you can be okay with the military-industrial complex (otherwise known as “society”) if you make yourself a useful tool…but even fucking CAPTAIN AMERICA, if he’s not willing to serve some sort of “greater good”, is doomed to go off the rails ethically and so can enjoy no justification for his…?

    AAARGGH, MILLAR. He’s basically a Charles Dickens character, it’s incredibly hard to unpack him in just a sentence or two or a hundred…his worldview appears to me so warped by prejudice that if he was American he’d probably be on Fox News as their “token liberal”, riding indefatigably on his white horse to the aid of the powerful. “As a liberal myself, I’m sick of unions”, he might say, perhaps?

    He irks me.

  8. Hey, I had more thoughts last week, but I ended up going to a comic con in Chicago, and I was not only able to complete my 1963s and fill in some of the cracks in my Byrne FF run, but they had the complete Unstable Molecules! I’ll have to get on that.

    Anyway, I bet your Fox News Millar is right on. “I’m all for _____, BUT…” Morrison says things that, you know, I disagree with or that I think are naïve or whatever, but one at least gets the sense that Morrison’s thought it through and has arrived at a conclusion that is at odds with my own. Millar, though; he seems INTERESTED in politics, or maybe he’s interested in being a political guy, but he doesn’t know or care to know much beyond, like, what you would read in Rolling Stone’s political coverage or something. And I don’t to be all that knowledgeable about politics by any means! But I also don’t have this image of myself as some kind of plugged-into-the-zeitgeist sort of dude, and that’s how I suspect Millar sees himself. Because he writes The Ultimates and Civil War and Red Son, and they assert themselves as “Hey, this is about politics, this is about The World We Live In Today,” but politics is really more like just the SETTING of these stories. You can’t claim you’re writing satire if you don’t actually take a position, can you? And Millar never does; the political stuff is just so he can say, “Look how dangerous and subversive I’m being with superheroes” while really just telling more superhero stories. I really enjoyed Red Son, but it’s funny how it’s really just Millar’s version of All-Star Superman and that the whole Elseworlds thing is just the excuse to tell it.

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