There are some iconic characters whose iconic status acts as a double-edged sword. Being iconic helps give them staying power. Only a handful of characters are iconic enough to remain relevant for extended periods, especially when their relevance extends all the way back to the Kennedy Administration.
With that staying power, however, comes often baggage, circumstance, and complications. For much of her history, Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards has been defined by her role in Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. She’s not just the cute blond on a team of superheroes. She’s a wife, a mother, and a sister. She frequently acts as the anchor that holds the Fantastic Four together, as a family.
It’s a role that has helped make her iconic, but it has also limited her opportunities to explore stories outside that family role. It certainly didn’t help that she, Reed, and her children were MIA from Marvel’s comic book universe for an extended period, which may or may not have had something to do with movie rights.
Even with those complications, Sue is one of those characters who has always had the potential to be something more than her iconic role on a famous superhero team. With “Invisible Woman #1,” Mark Waid and Mattia de Iulis finally take a chance at realizing that potential. At a time when the Fantastic Four are still recovering from years of negligence and a historically bad movie, the timing couldn’t be better.
This isn’t just another story about Sue holding her family together. It’s not about her trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a sister, and a superhero. Waid and de Iulis put Sue in a position to show that she can be iconic in her own right without sacrificing what makes her so vital to her family.
The premise of “Invisible Woman #1” is fairly simple. It establishes that there was a time in the past when Sue explored other types of superhero activities on top of her role with the Fantastic Four. One of those activities involved espionage on behalf of SHIELD. In the world of Marvel superheroes, it’s basically the equivalent of taking the night shift at a grocery store.
She was good at it too. She could get the job done and, unlike other trigger-happy SHIELD agents, she could do it without much bloodshed. It nicely reflects the loving, compassionate nature that makes her the lynch-pin of the Fantastic Four. It also shows that she can be tough and cunning when she needs to be.
It’s a side of Sue that hasn’t been explored much, but one that still reflects the greatest strength of her character. She’ll never be as cunning as Black Widow or as stoic as Nick Fury, but she’ll find a way to get the job done and she’ll make an impression on those who work with her. Even before she became a mom, she embodied that motherly love that many find comforting.
It’s because Sue did this job her own endearing way that she gets pulled back into the world of espionage. In many respects, the timing couldn’t be better. Waid builds on the recent developments with her family that have been unfolding in the current Fantastic Four comics under Dan Slott, which I highly recommend. She’s still the same mother figure she has always been, but her family is evolving.
Her children are growing up. One of her closest friends is married now. Her brother is always doing his own thing. Waid even explores how someone like her deals with the changing nature of her family. It makes diving back into the shady world of espionage feel like a golden opportunity and Sue embraces it.
It also helps that the stakes aren’t so high that the entire multiverse is in jeopardy. Whereas the Fantastic Four will routinely prevent reality from falling apart, this particular mission involves saving the lives of imprisoned students and a captured agent that she once worked with. The world isn’t at stake, but it feels personal for Sue and that’s all the motivation she needs.
It’s both refreshing and overdue, seeing a character like Sue take on a challenge that’s far different from cosmic, psychedelic adventures that often involve shape-shifting aliens and hostile planet-eaters. She does so while never deviating from what makes her so endearing, as a member of the Fantastic Four. Waid’s past history with the Fantastic Four helps make “Invisible Woman #1” feel like a perfect extension of an iconic character.
The pace of the story is slow and steady, but it never drags. It sets up plenty of intriguing elements, some of which are hinted at in the final pages. There’s a great deal of introspection, which makes sense for a character who has been subject to many upheavals in the world around her. It helps reaffirm why she’s so iconic in the first place.
Sue Richards will always be defined by her role in the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #1” proves that she still has room to grow. She can still be a mom, a husband, a sister, and a superhero. She can also be a spy on the side and not fall into the same trap as every female spy in a Jame Bond movie.
Both Sue Richards and the Fantastic Four have a long way to go in terms of recovering from the setbacks incurred by bad movies and vindictive CEOs. While it may be a while before they show up in the MCU, a book like “Invisible Woman #1” feels like a small step in that process.
It’s been a while since anyone has been able to say it with a straight face, but the future of the Fantastic Four looks genuinely fantastic.