My son recently turned 6, and as a sign of his growing smarts, he managed to leverage his birthday for all it was worth. We're talking privileges galore: an extra story, a few more minutes on the trampoline before bed, an extra cookie after dinner, and so on. So successful was he, that our two-year-old has woken up nearly every morning for the last week announcing that it's her "bip-bay". It's not her birthday, of course, but she won't be deterred. She wants in on the good stuff too.
During his weeklong festivities (I seriously don't know how that happened) he came across one of my old comic books, buried deep in the recesses of our basement. Setting it in my lap, he announced that he wanted it read for his bedtime story. Because, you know, he was six, and six-year olds can read comic books. After quickly skimming the contents for anything too mature, even for a six-year old, I agreed. Six or thirty, what boy doesn't like The Fantastic Four, right?
The issue, published in 1991, was an anniversary special, and chronicled the Fantastic Four's greatest memories over their decades long career as a superhero team. In the middle of the comic was the image at the right. It's a wedding scene between Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) and the Invisible Woman (Susan Storm).
The caption reads:
"The Fantastic Four's many triumphs all pale in significance next to this, the most joyous day in their history, as Reed Richards and Susan Storm were joined together as man and wife---despite the best efforts of a legion of their enemies."
Look closely at the picture and you'll see a parson in the foreground reading from the Bible. There's The Thing in the front row blowing his nose, and Susan's younger brother Johnny smiling on (undoubtedly charged with lighting the unity candles). My geekish bona fides now firmly established, I'll spare you the naming of all the other characters.
But look once at Mr. Fantastic, the undisputed leader of the Fantastic Four. He's the one about to kiss his lovely bride. (And yes, I'm totally regretting that I wore a suit at my wedding when I could have worn a rocking blue jumpsuit. Why didn't I think of that?) Held up as a paragon of manly virtue in the comic, Mr. Fantastic commands the respect of heroes the world over and is counted an enemy by all the right people.
As we read the comic, I was struck with the reality that it wasn't so long ago that our pop-culture, and boys comic books of all things, reinforced the essential meaning and goodness of marriage. Despite that fact that Reed and Susan had saved America and the world multiple times over, this day, the writer's enjoin us, was their most joyous.
In those (mostly) pre-political marriage days, the inclusion of a wedding in the storyline wasn't about making a statement. It was simply the natural thing for a man and woman of Reed and Susan's character to do. The message may have been subtle, but it wasn't lost on me as a boy: this is what a man does. A man stands before God and those he loves best and makes a promise to a woman. He promises to faithfully love, serve, cherish, and protect her. He makes her his wife--not a side piece, bunk buddy, sugar or baby mama. He makes her his wife. And though all hell should break loose against them (and it will), he stays true to his promise. I call that fantastic.
My boys will have to search mighty hard to find that message in their comics today, but it's more pressing now than ever. Even so, there are brights spots. Something of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman remain. Take two recent children’s films, The Incredibles and Despicable Me 2, for example. (Spoiler alert!) Both films are imbued with a strong pro-marriage message. In the former, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible overcome enemies and mistrust to reinvigorate their flagging marriage. In Despicable Me 2, our protagonist and adoptive father Gru, overcomes enemies and his insecurities with the opposite sex to finally marry his female partner--much to the delight of his daughters who have been longing for a mother. To watch my sons smiling faces as a cartoon romance culminated not in an illicit tryst but in a wedding was worth more to me than the ticket price.
Let’s end this reminiscence on a note of hope. To quote Richard John Neuhaus, "There are no permanently lost causes because there are no permanently won causes." So carry on, friends of marriage. Despite enemies legion, carry on.