Friday, September 17, 2010


FF #81 takes the step that the FANTASTIC FOUR feature had been building toward for some time: the near-total marginalization of team-member Sue "Invisible Girl" Richards and her replacement by the Human Torch's girlfriend, Crystal of the Inhumans. Arguably Sue had become more problematic for Lee and Kirby once she was a married woman, and even more so once she became pregnant. Sue had given birth several months previous to FF #81, and there had been no talk of a replacement. When Crystal volunteers to take Sue's place, Mister Fantastic does agree that Sue can't possibly continue as a team-member, though he's not so sure that Crystal's up to the job.

Marvel heroines of the 1960s get a lot of bad raps, some deserved, some not. Trina Robbins railed against the impotence of heroines who could only "pose and point," a la the Wasp and the Scarlet Witch (though SW was far from being a weakling, even in her early appearances). But to my recollection Robbins said nothing about Crystal, who, even before joining the FF, showed unprecedented levels of power for a Marvel heroine: summoning up whirlwinds, earthquake-shocks and other elemental phenomena. She was Storm back when Storm wasn't even a gleam in her creator's eye.

The story is simple: oldtimey villain the Wizard attacks the FF, and though the three seasoned heroes hold their own, Lee and Kirby bend over backwards to give Crystal the glory of knocking the jizz outta the Wiz. He does escape, but he serves his purpose in that Mr. Fantastic apologizes for having doubted Crystal's heroic potential, and signs her up.

Admittedly, Crystal doesn't remain a team-member all that long, being slowly phased out in fewer than 20 issues in favor of Sue's return, though she does return for a few tales, like the action-packed FF #100, where the fantastic five fight countless dopplegangers of their old enemies.

Still, though Crystal was never quite as front-and-center a character after this, and though a lot of female comics-fans forget her, she may have delivered the first really memorable female/male asskicking for the publisher known as Marvel Comics.

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