I like when comics do something right, and since I spend a lot of time writing about when comics do something wrong (which is unfortunately way too much of the time), I wanted to point out something from the most recent issue of Matt Fraction’s FF (#7) that I appreciated.
FF stands for “Future Foundation,” which is a temporary version of comics’ first family, the Fantastic Four (the real Fantastic Four are off on an interstellar interdimensional journey that was only supposed to last four minutes, but—big surprise—they haven’t come back yet). The Fantastic Four are often cited as the beginning of a new direction in American comics because its group of heroes were not only a form of family (I might call them “non-traditional” if it weren’t for the fact that most families don’t follow a blueprint of what is called “a traditional family”), but came along with all the tensions, dysfunctions and baggage that develop in the best of families. The Fantastic Four: The cold and distant father and husband, the meek and unseen mother and wife, the hot-headed and headstrong younger brother, the angry monstrous uncle, later joined by the sensitive hyperactive child.
I think that Rick Moody does a great job using the Fantastic Four as his central familial metaphor in The Ice Storm. It makes perfect sense, but the Fantastic Four is already its own metaphor. I highly recommend reading Unstable Molecules, which doubles down by turning the metaphor back on itself.
The current form of the Future Foundation (Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Ms. Thing, & Medusa) mostly administers the school of the same name. The school is attended by various mutant children, young clones of super-villains, evolved moloids (one of whom recently announced she is transgender), two Uhari (an aquatic race not to be confused with Namor’s Atlanteans), and Onome, a Wakandan child. [I am going to ignore for now that a gifted black African girl is considered such an anomaly that she is grouped with these strange creatures, but it bugs me]. This Waldorf school for little mutants and monsters forms the basis of its own kind of family, and the strength of this comic is the quirky characterization of these outcasts and outsiders, and their bond alternately fostered and fractured by any of the conflicts common to families.
What I love about the scene in the panel at the top is the contradiction it presents in the Wizard’s rhetoric. The Wizard is the leader of various formations of the Frightful Four, whose young clone Bentley-23 is a student at the Future Foundation, and whose fear of his own mortality has led him to decide that the family unit the way to survive and pass on one’s values. In true super-villain manner, his scheme to achieve this requires kidnapping, mind control and murder. Heh. If you think about it such a scheme does not veer too far from the methods of so-called reparative therapy.
I say, contradiction, because despite his call to a “heteronormative cisgendered classification of family,” the Wizard’s own attempt at family is as strange and non-traditional as the FF family he is trying to destroy—his son is his own clone, the “uncle” is Blastaar, a Baluurian from the Negative Zone, and his mind-controlled “wife” is Medusa of the race of Inhumans. It’s a joke. It’s a joke in the comics because such attempts to define “family” are a joke in real life. So-called traditional families are modeled after biological relations, but notions of such biological relations are socially constructed as well.
The very idea of a traditional family is a delusion. People (villains) fall back on this idea of “tradition” without considering how all families subvert those narratives of tradition. The only way such traditions can exist is through arbitrary boundaries of who can belong to a family and how. The only way such traditions can exist are through a history of ostracizing and eliding anyone who doesn’t fit the mold, or by forcing them to hide it. The only way such traditions exist through the repression of desires that are verboten to that vision, often by the very people enforcing that ban. All narratives cohere not only through what they include, but through what they exclude. Thus, for example, someone can only use the term “traditional marriage” by crafting a narrative of unchanging customs of marriage that last thousands of years ignoring dowries, kidnapping, rape, property laws, concubines, slavery, and so on and so on. The cisgendered two-parent traditional family ignores every grandparent, uncle/aunt, neighbor, godparent, cousin, adoption, fostering—and of course every set of queer parents who ever successfully (to the varying degrees that success can be measured in this endeavor) found themselves making a family. The very word “tradition” is a rhetorical trick, and not a very good one anymore. For someone who is supposed to possess “near superhuman levels of intelligence,” the Wizard should know better.