Sex in the Original Marvel Universe

In Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967), Mister Fantastic announced that his wife, the Invisible Girl, was pregnant, proving once and for all that the characters in the Marvel Universe did have sex. At that time, of course, comic book publishers were still under the draconian eye of the censorious Comics Code Authority, which forbade any depiction, or even mention, of sexual activity beyond innocuous kissing and hugging. Before the CCA relaxed its standards in 1971, mainstream publishers such as Marvel tended to avoid the issue altogether, although the stories’ subtext is often ripe with sex.

After 1971, sex began to creep into the stories in more obvious ways, beginning with the attempted rape of Cindy Jones in Sub-Mariner #48. Daredevil’s relationship with the Black Widow was clearly sexual from the very beginning, and was only moreso after they went to San Francisco and moved in together. When Misty Knight went undercover within Bushmaster’s criminal empire, in the pages of Iron Fist, it was clear having sex with the crimelord was part of the deal. Eventually, Doctor Strange’s disciple Clea was explicitly referred to as his lover. The love scene between Scott Summers and Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men #132 is a prime example. But the culmination was perhaps in Fantastic Four #254, when we actually saw a post-coital conversation between a half-dressed Mister Fantastic and a nude Invisible Girl, courtesy of the frequently oversexed John Byrne. The scene set up a later storyline dealing with pregnancy and miscarriage, leaving no doubt as to what had occurred. Within a few years we were treated to another storyline, introduced by Steve Englehart and John Buscema in Fantastic Four #306, which revealed that the second Ms. Marvel, Sharon Ventura, had actually been gang raped while held captive by a mad scientist and his degenerate henchmen. The trauma turned her into a man-hating psychopath, and even though the deed was never depicted, it was implied so strongly that there could be no mistaking the author’s intent. Modern-day comics are at times extremely graphic in their sexual content, as the Comics Code has largely been abandoned. See issues of Marvel’s Alias and Black Widow: Pale Little Spider for particularly egregious examples. However, sexual subtexts were often present even in the Silver Age stories of the 1960s.

Looking at the subtext of the published stories can be very suggestive, and even though they may not provide definitive evidence, the following observations are not any less valid. After all, it was often made clear that the comics we held in our hands were meant to be but a representation of what “actually” happened in the Marvel Universe. The conceit throughout the books was that these characters were not merely two-dimensional drawings, but lived in their own world as three-dimensional people, with lives that extended “behind the scenes.” In fact, the artifice of the comics themselves was occasionally played up. In Tales of Suspense #84, after some embarrassingly expository dialogue, Stan Lee added a footnote that read, “We know people don’t really talk this way... but we wanna bring any newcomer up to date!” Clearly, what appears on the page is not always meant to be taken as the gospel truth. So we may ask, what was “really” going on?

Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Girl

A favorite fan joke is speculating on whether Reed Richards can stretch ANY part of his body—nyuk, nyuk. Since he has been seen extending his fingers and neck as well as his arms and legs, it would seem likely that he can elongate his male organ as well. Also, especially early on, it was shown that whenever the Invisible Girl was startled or distracted sufficiently, she might “lose control” of her powers and become invisible without realizing it. We can assume, therefore, that in the throes of passion she might also fade from sight. The combination of these two factors presents a rather odd image indeed. Susan Storm was always presented as the ultimate “good girl,” and I think it is safe to assume she was saving herself for her wedding night, since it was made clear that she didn’t actually live in the Baxter Building until after she and Reed were married. Subsequently, Sue often complained that Reed didn’t “pay enough attention” to her when he was buried in research projects in his lab. There was a fair amount of friction in their relationship in the first few years after they became man and wife. It’s also important to remember that the couple was separated for quite some time, but eventually reconciled. We can assume, given the example from FF #254 above, that as their relationship improved, their sex life only got better and better.

Cyclops and Marvel Girl

When X-Men teammates Scott Summers and Jean Grey first had sex remains a bit hazy, though in the backup story in Classic X-Men #6, it is revealed that Jean was hoping for a night of passion on the pre-Christmas evening originally depicted in Uncanny X-Men #98, though it is unclear whether it was meant to imply she was about to lose her virginity. Clearly, their first time was at some point after X-Men #32, when the two teenage mutants first revealed their feelings for each other, and probably before Jean’s transformation into Phoenix in issue #101. Jean was always depicted as being rather virginal, so it may have been later rather than sooner, but it’s debatable. We should also remember that the X-Men turned out to be somewhat younger in the beginning than Stan Lee at first led us to believe. It most likely occurred at some point during the years X-Men was in reprints and the team was kept largely in the background, making only occasional guest-appearances in other titles. After Jean became Phoenix, she was much more hot-to-trot, and Scott seemed to have a hard time keeping up with her, as seen in Uncanny X-Men #132.

The Black Widow and Hawkeye

Sex was clearly the basis for the relationship between the sultry Soviet spy and the would-be hero, as Natasha even comments about how she has Hawkeye wrapped around her little finger when they plot against Iron Man in several issues of Tales of Suspense. In fact, the masked archer was so much under the spell of her feminine charms that he had to explicitly draw the line at treason against the United States. But even so, he went ahead with her plan to steal secrets from Stark Industries, a major contractor to the American military and intelligence agencies. After Natasha defected to the West, their relationship only became more strained. Eventually, they broke it off for good, but Hawkeye’s sexual jealousy led him into conflict with her new beau, Daredevil. One can hardly blame Hawkeye for having mixed feelings about his relationship with Natasha, who frequently played him for a fool, often ran hot and cold, and has gone on to dally with numerous other characters as well. For a detailed account of Natasha’s life, see my Black Widow chronology.

Iron Man

A seldom-discussed facet of Tony Stark’s character is that he suffered a period of enforced chastity lasting at least a couple of years, which must have been a bitter pill for this formerly high-living playboy. After the accident that led him to create the original Iron Man armor, he was forced to wear his metal chest plate 24 hours a day to keep his injured heart beating. Obviously, if he so much as danced with a woman, she was likely to rap on his chest with her knuckle—klang, klang—and say “what’s this?” Sex was totally out of the question, without risking his secret identity. In time, the brilliant inventor stripped down his life-support system to a form-fitting iron bodice that could be concealed under normal street clothes, but he still went to great lengths to hide his injury from even his closest friends. Salvation came in Tales of Suspense #84 when he was called to testify before a Congressional committee and collapsed into a coma. The doctor on the scene opened his shirt and discovered the metal chest plate, which was, however, clearly not the distinctive red and gold front of his Iron Man armor. Stark was hospitalized, and the secret of his injured heart was revealed to the world, but, with help of his right-hand man Happy Hogan, the fact that he was Iron Man remained undisclosed. After his recovery, Stark was shown, five issues later, making up for lost time by dating dozens of women. When he subsequently “disappeared,” an army of gorgeous girls descended on Stark Industries demanding to know what happened to him, as seen in Tales of Suspense #98. Each woman claimed Tony was her boyfriend, leading straight-laced S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell to muse that Stark’s promiscuous love life was “almost un-American.”

The Scarlet Witch and the Vision

One of the great unexplained mysteries of the Marvel Universe is why a beautiful, lively girl like the Scarlet Witch would choose to get married to an artificial man. If she found the Vision to be fascinating or exotic or even seductive, that would be one thing, but she actually married him. And he’s basically a glorified robot. His manner of speaking was variously described as “cold,” “emotionless,” even “sepulchral,” not the sort of thing that lights most girls’ fire. His eyes were shadowy pools of blackness that occasionally glistened with an eerie golden light, not exactly the stuff of romantic fantasies. He was stiff, formal, distant, plagued by doubts about the worth of his own existence, a being whose very brain patterns were copied from a real living man, Simon Williams. And despite all that, the Scarlet Witch married him, moved to the suburbs and tried to start a family. Why? What could have driven her to make such a bizarre choice of mate? I have some theories on the subject, but I’ll hold off until I present them in my Scarlet Witch Chronology, as they require some in-depth explanation.

Nick Fury and Val de La Fontaine

What is probably the first actual sex scene in a Marvel Universe comic was striking for many reasons, one being that it involved two middle-aged people. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, who had led the far-famed Howling Commandos during World War II, and his girlfriend, Contessa Valentina Allegra de La Fontaine, who sported a prominent white streak in her hair, got it on in a wordless, discreet, though very suggestive sequence by Jim Steranko, published in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (July 1968). Though both were, of course, extremely physically fit, and Val had a penchant for slinking around their airborne headquarters in skimpy outfits, they were no hot-blooded youngsters, but a mature unmarried couple enjoying a moment of physical intimacy. Truly groundbreaking, and all the sexier for it. The scene was replayed for laughs, years later, in Uncanny X-Men Annual #7, with an homage to Steranko’s innovative layouts provided by Michael Golden. This time Nick and Val were clearly shown to be naked.

Stan Lee’s stories during the 1960s frequently featured unrequited romantic longings on the part of his main characters, such as Thor’s forbidden desire for the mortal nurse Jane Foster; the frustrated love-triangle between Daredevil, Karen Page, and Foggy Nelson; Spider-Man’s tortuous relationships preceding his finding true love with Gwen Stacy; the star-crossed love affair of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross; and of course the physically-impossible love between the Thing and Alicia Masters. The ubiquity of this conceit may have been in part due to Stan’s proclivities as a writer, and perhaps partly because it was pretty safe territory where the Comics Code was concerned. The only two happy couples among his major characters, Reed and Sue of the Fantastic Four and Hank and Jan of the Avengers, kept their sex lives hidden in the bedroom to such an extent that one might almost think they were celibate. But little Franklin Richards was living proof that this was not the case. And we readers were left to imagine what went on behind closed doors.

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