“Make no attempt to find Susan Richards or her child… for I assure you they are no longer your concern…“
The three members of the Fantastic Four who were in Tibet return to find a distraught Reed clutching a court summons. His wife is suing for divorce. Ben and Johnny decide to find Sue and discuss the matter with her. Along the way to the friends she has been staying with, Namor the Sub-Mariner springs out of a lake and tells them to stop looking for her. They fight and once Namor has gained the upper hand, he flies away. Johnny and Ben continue to the Landers (misprinted in this issue as “Linders”) and are led to understand that Namor has abducted Sue and Franklin. They rush back to New York to tell Reed who snaps out of his catatonic stupor and sets about hunting down Namor. The FF pursue him to his underwater kingdom and begin their assault. Sue, who is indeed with Namor, stops the fighting, telling the FF that she is in love with Namor and she will not be returning with them.
A straightforward and comparatively well-written issue, coming out of the last few stories. After six issues (six months of real time), we are finally seeing the main character conflict at the heart of the Fantastic Four being addressed. Sue left Reed all the way back in issue 130, and although she has been drawn back into their sphere, she has done no meaningful acts away from the group until now. But that feels rather natural. Sue is out of the super-heroic lifestyle and is now moving at the pace of life. The divorce notice does come at a surprise, but certainly not a conceit. It has been some time and Reed has not reached out to Sue, even indirectly, not to apologize, not to explain… not for any reason. He has been shutting down to the extent where he is now sitting missions out. All of this is believable and portrayed with fairly light touches.
Also believable are Ben and Johnny’s actions and reactions. No one would want to get directly involved in a marital dispute of this sort, although naturally they have been discussing it amongst themselves. But at this gesture of finality, it’s time for what has been unsaid to be said and Johny and Ben both go out for bridge-building, fence-mending, or even just closure — even they are not sure what. Johnny’s resolution in the last issue about judging Reed less harshly still holds, but his first loyalty is to his sister. Ben, along the way to see Sue, is now being forced to think through his own loyalties, and we see that they are in flux. The family is coming apart and we are witnessing some very realistic emotional processing.
Less realistic are Namor’s actions. Johnny and Ben have no idea where Sue is yet he leaps out and tells them that she’s with her and that they shouldn’t come after him. It’s hard to imagine what else they would do except exactly that, but Namor (in the Silver and Bronze ages, at least) is not a complex thinker. Quick to anger and slow to forgive, loud, brash, and headstrong — it’s hard to see what attracts Sue to him, at least through his actions in this issue. Sue does have a history of attraction towards him in the early Lee/Kirby era (seen most sharply in issue 9 and issue 14), but the affair was more notable by its complete lack of tension than otherwise. Namor and Sue just don’t make sense. All the reasons for her attraction are superficial — his physical appearance, his personal power, and, at times, his money, are not sufficiently meaningful.
That said… this is the sort of thing that happens. Relationships don’t make sense, and as a rebound, Namor makes more than many others, partially for those superficial reasons, but also because he has always had an open door for Sue. He doesn’t have to be the perfect man for her — he only has to be available. And we feel for Reed in his sudden and manic burst of energy in going after Namor. He’s become a man at the end of his resources, a brilliant genius who has given up thinking his actions through, not just after the trauma of losing his wife, but also shooting his son. He confronts Namor not with a plan or an invention, but with clenched fists and violence. And he’s in the worst frame of mind to hear the news from his own wife that she’s in love with another man.