Reed and Johnny

Reading a couple of TPBs of Ultimate Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes got me thinking about how Johnny and Reed are portrayed now vs. when they debuted.
First, the material: Ultimate Fantastic Four is the FF for Marvel’s “Ultimates” universe (like the Earth Two version of the regular MU). In Crossover and Frightful, the main threat is a rather dull alternate universe version of the Ultimate FF (where a bodysnatching virus has taken over everyone—after watching so many bodysnatching films for Screen Enemies of the American Way, it would have to be brilliant to impress me and well, it’s not). There’s also a rather disappointing version of the Sub-Mariner (take away the regal arrogance and he’s a dull, cocky jerk)—though author Mark Millar’s handling of the team itself is pretty good.
World’s Greatest Heroes was a Canadian cartoon that ran for a while on one of the cartoon channels, but not the whole series; I’ve watched some more on Netflix, though they don’t appear to have the whole thing either. It’s easily the best FF cartoon to date (which ain’t saying much) and entertaining in its own right, with guest stars including Ant Man, Iron Man and the Hulk.
Now, the characterization. In the Silver Age FF, Reed, despite being a genius, was very much a man of action. He’s a WW II veteran of the OSS, and willing to risk his life and his friends’ in order to launch a rocket into space illegally (“We can’t wait for official clearance—the conditions are right!”) and gain an edge on “the Reds” in the space race (very much a ripped-from-the-headlines premise at the time). He’s also passionately in love with Sue, probably more than vice versa (she spent much of the first few years torn between Reed and the Sub-Mariner).
The Reed in both the ‘toon and the Ultimates is much more geeky and less action oriented, much more a conventional brain; he’s good at team tactics, but it’s hard to imagine him serving in the field in a war (I believe more recent retcons in the main MU have his military service in a tech role of some sort). In both, he’s not at all romantic, following the stereotype of the brain who’s largely clueless about women.
Johnny Storm comes off even worse. In both (I should note that since I’ve only read the two volumes of Ultimate FF, I may be wrong on the series as a whole, but I don’t think so) his personality can be summed up as: Jerk. He’s shallow, dumb, horny and more prone to get the FF into trouble than out of it.
Silver-Age Johnny could be a jerk, but no worse than the Thing (I’m speaking of the Fantastic Four book here—I never followed the Human Torch solo series in Strange Tales).
I can’t help thinking that, as with Reed, we’re seeing the shift from a 1960s stereotype to a modern one. In the sixties, Johnny’s big passion was cars: Building them, rebuilding them, repairing them, racing them. It was a time when the teen hot-rodder was one of the standard teenage images (just listen to some Beach Boys songs). Not that this image implies intelligence, but it did give him a trait that distinguished him from the rest of the quartet.
Today, of course, that stereotype is gone. The stereotype for teenage/young adult guys is, well, dumb, shallow jerk. And so that’s what we get to make him stand out.
A shame. The Torch deserves better.

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