A roughly chronological record of Reed Richards' more problematic exchanges. A product of his time? A flawed human being? Just a jerk?
In some of these, Reed is also terrible to other team members – remember, these are people he considers his closest family. Of course, we can (and do) all get annoyed by family, but really. Is this a case of the writers falling into the "he's a misunderstood alpha genius" trope?
I have not been assiduous on logging what issues these images came from, though they are all from Lee and Kirby's initial (and generally awesome) run on Fantastic Four. Feel free to correct citations in the comments.
First, there's an attempt by Reed to infantilize Sue, under the guise of "testing". This is especially problematic in that the relationship between a coach and an athlete, or a master and a student (and so on), is one of the latter recognizing the authority of the former, but in a specific domain. That is, there is an exchange: a consensual and usually temporary restructuring of the power structure between two people.
If this sounds a bit kinky, it's because that's also the basis for well designed power play such as BDSM. Which, if you look at the first four panels in the model of Kate Willaert's awesome Kirby Without Words Tumblr, you might reasonably assume is going on between Reed and Sue (any comparisons with Inspector Clouseau and Cato -- well, I was going to say you're on your own with that, but in that case the interaction is right there in the text: Cato is literally a servant and Clouseau has a standing order for the random attacks; I wonder if this was a contemporary influence on Stan and Jack).
But though what we see with Reed and Sue may be to some degree them playing previously agreed to roles (in which case I'll moderate my first paragraph), the sixth panel, which presumably shows Sue alone to express genuine thoughts, reinforces that Reed is a bad coach/trainer/dom, and that his outburst in the fifth panel, and by induction his tone throughout, is not consensual play. Or at least, that Reed is a poor coach (or dom): no safe word, and he blows up (again, taking the sixth panel as genuine) when Sue fights back – in fact, fights him off.
Here's where the infantilization becomes, clearly, the mission, and not the consequence, of Reed's action. (Though what he sees as "your way" is beyond me. Any guesses?)
In fact, the fact we see Sue training herself (and note that he has to sneak through a door she closed for this purpose) being a prompt for Reed to swoop in and "train" her "better", is perhaps an encapsulation of his view of their relationship: he knows better, he does not need consent. Because, you know. Women.
The key to Reed's tone and actions here may be that for once, he's the one facing a loss of agency. A more powerful male (I mean, look at that awesome hat and shoulder scallops!) disrupts Reed's plans, and in front of his wife, to boot. Reed can couch his desires in concern for a relative innocent, though at least an equivalent motivator for him is his intellectual authority, his knowing-it-all. Perhaps we should give him some slack for being motivated by the desire to help someone (and we shouldn't lose sight of that globally), but as is usual for this period, Reed exhibits displaced hostility as a way to shore up his eroding authority – I'm not seeing a better way to understand his words in panel 2.
Note that in panel 3, he does accede, but has to get the "for now" dig in, though I'm not sure if that's not directed at Sue, as a way of punishing her for siding against him (while she is the one who is listening to the argument for saving Triton as a goal that does not put her ego at stake).
And then there's the last panel on the page.
We can just chalk up the "girl" to the times, though there is again the infintalization.
What's interesting about panel 5 is the coding of "hero" as "someone who puts his important work ahead of his own needs" coming out as, well, you see. Jeff and Graeme at Wait, What? have discussed this in length on their Baxter Building episodes, better than I can.
I love how Jack draws the faces in the first panel. And this is a time that though his face alone completely conveys sadness, regret, and a desire to achieve something that may never be achieved, the words dovetail perfectly (if... dramatically!).
The Reed/Sue interaction here seems to be: Reed leaves a door open, Sue walks in (which, her fault for presuming she can), Reed ignores her and she nearly gets fried by his inattentive actions, Reed lashes out. I can't know how the Marvel Method of creation went in this case, but Jack doesn't draw Sue as "pussyfooting" in; she's not invisible, or in a Kirby-ish creeping pose, and Stan has her announcing her presence. Even with words in bold..?!!
But what's most interesting is how this follows the classic cycle of violence: he attacks her, then apologizes, then it begins again. But we're beginning to see Sue not taking it. Perhaps it's a maturation on the Stan and Jack's part, or feedback they've gotten, or trying a new schtick, or an artifact of Sue moving from "girl" to "wife" (though we've seen Reed not especially valuing that term).
I suppose this is as good a time as any to remember that this is supposed to be a Grand Romance in the Marvel canon, with two people who are meant for each other, who by force of will alone create family.
I'm not sure what to say about the ploy that equates motivation with "fighting back". Though Reed's words in panel 2 do seem to be in line with the "great men are alpha gruff" or zero-sum style of management.
"As leader of this temperamental team, I've got to do my job – no matter what!" Well, that's an interesting justification, along the lines of "I'm yelling because you're yelling". I'll go out on a limb and see the most hopeful thing about this is perhaps Stan and Jack perhaps, at some level, seeing that Nick Fury's style of motivating commandos in war only gets you so far in a peacetime family. Though Reed's recognition of his own snapping in panel 2 is couched in the context of "we've all been doing this"; an odd passive justification that perhaps conflicts with the first line I quoted above.