Weird Comics History – That Time the Invisible Woman Got a Mullet
Fantastic Four #258 (September, 1983) – Fantastic Four #287 (February, 1986)
A Saga by John Byrne with a little help from his fans
Here’s something a little bit different for your Sunday — dusting off the ol’ Weird Comics History brand, and chatting up a bit of… well, weird comics history. It’s nothing Earth-shattering, and you probably won’t actually learn anything today — but, I thought it would be fun to pop in on a happening from the early-mid 1980s that — does get a bit of chatter, but that chatter is more about the destination than the journey.
There are some notable instances in comics history in which the fans of the funnybooks get a “say” (or at least the perception of a say) as to certain story beats, team makeups, or what have you. Sometimes these decisions leave a long-lasting impact… other times, it’s barely a blip. This one transcends all’a that. This is bigger than any “comic book story”. This is an event which actually changed society as a whole. Now, you can keep your Jason Todd 900 numbers, and your Hellfire Gala X-Men Votes — because this, my friends, is far more important than any of that. This is all about the time the comic fans held the very fate of Sue Richards…’s hair in their hands.
But first, a little backstory. As I’ve said time and again, my first exposure to many of the (non-X) Marvel Superheroes was via the Marvel Universe trading card sets. Back in the long ago, I never saw myself as a “Marvel Fan” — I was an X-Men fan. Didn’t have time for the Avengers, Fantastic Four… heck, I’d only pop in on Spidey every now and again. So, all of my (vast) Marvel knowledge came from what was written on the back of these cards. And, since these facts were among the first things I learned… well, I think my brain kinda prioritized them as being the most important bits… even to this very day!
Let’s take a look at the Invisible Woman’s card from Marvel Universe, Series I (1990):
The “Didja Know” boxes on the bottom of these cards included some of the neatest information — nothing all that important, but something different than the usual “Name/Rank/Serial Number”. Looking at Sue’s, hers is all about how she changes up her hairstyle pretty often. At the time, I didn’t have much of a frame of reference to back that up. I only knew the Sue who was currently on the racks. I certainly wasn’t dipping into the back-issue bins for old issues of Fantastic Four — what do I look like, some sort of comic book fan?! It was just a bit of info that I dumped into my mental archives, and never really thought of again.
Fast-forward to a handful of years later, and Heroes Return was the big thing in comics. I’ll admit, I got sucked in — and, for the most part, I stuck. Curiosity, too much disposable income, as well as too little common sense and self control led to me, for the first time ever, regularly buying books outside the X-Line. And, being something of a rabid completionist, I started dipping my toe into the back issue bins… looking for “classics” (ie. 80s-90s books that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg) to add to my collection. This was just barely post-boom — 1997 or so, when the back-issue bins were still the home of books that’d put you thru college and pay off your mortgage. What I’m trying to say here is, they were still demanding decently high prices.
Though, there were books that appeared to be immune. Books like Excalibur, Alpha Flight, and… Fantastic Four. I’m sure there were others, but — these three were among those on my “backfill list”, so they stand out. I began to amass quite an impressive (to me, anyway) collection of FF… going all the way back to the, sorta-kinda mythical Byrne run. As a young comics enthusiast in the early 90s, I’d hear tell of the “glory days” of the 80s. Walt Simonson’s Thor, Chris Claremont on X-Men (duh), Mark Gruenwald on Cap… and, of course, John Byrne’s Fantastic Four. Any time I was able to grab an ish… any ish… from one of these runs, I felt as though I was holding a piece of history. Yes, I do tend to overromanticize things… why do you ask?
It was an especially great day when I happened into the very first issue of the Byrne FF run. It was in a dollar bin, of all places… and, I guess it’s safe to say that the back-issue bonanza “worm” had turned. Shops, at least those in my neck of the woods, were in what felt like “liquidation mode”, just get ’em gone. A great time for collectors like me… but, maybe not the greatest sign in the strength of the industry (and the retailer arm of).
Now, I say all of that – so I might say this. Cracking open that first Byrne issue, which I have covered here on the site — in the then-novel (for me) and inaugural “Marvel May” article, in 2020. Within the first few pages, we see Sue Storm getting her hair done at a fru-fru salon. Here’s a snip (no pun intended) from that piece:
When I wrote about this issue, I commented that this was a “very Byrne-y scene” to include… and we’ll talk more about that in just a bit. First though, it was in seeing this scene that I recalled that silly li’l “Didja Know?” box on the trading card. And, being the more “seasoned” comics enthusiast that I was at the time, I suddenly realized that — yeah, Sue does change her look an awful lot. More so than most comic book characters (well, intentionally anyway — we’re not talking editorial oversight or lack of artist consistency here). I can appreciate that as a character beat… and, as such, I enjoy seeing scenes like this play out on-panel — or, at the very least, get mentioned on-panel. I’m also a very big fan of the concept of “style sheets”, as in — if you’re drawing such-and-such book, here’s what the character(s) LOOK LIKE. Nowadays, there are certain characters who’s “look” can’t stay consistent from panel to panel, much less issue to issue — I’ll spare y’all the cute “*cough*” sound effect, and just say – Carol Danvers.
To explain my “very Byrne-y scene” comment — well, being a fella who often gets lost in the weeds of the comics hobby… and, tries to look for patterns… or really anything “noteworthy” that I might be able to dig into and discuss, I couldn’t help but notice that JB has had some of female cast members drastically change their looks when he hopped onto a title/franchise. Here are just a couple of the noteworthiest examples (in my opinion):
Despite looking like they could be twin-sisters, or – ya know, the same person — this is Lois Lane and the Scarlet Witch. I suppose we might say they’ve got “RBF”… Resting Byrne Face. And, hey, I love JB’s work — but, even Marvel has acknowledged RBF.
Where was I? Oh yeah, John Byrne designing “new looks” for characters under his purview. I may be projecting, but his adherence to and appreciation for how certain characters are supposed to look really comes through in his work. If he makes a change to attempt to update them to current-year, or if the character faces some sort of internal crisis — those changes feel organic. A character like Sue Storm… who, as the trading card said, often changes up how she looks, doesn’t really need much reason.
However, since that is part of her character — mebbe JB can have a bit of fun shaking up her look a bit. Mebbe he might even reach out to the readership to get some of their thoughts on how Sue oughta be brought into the mid-80s? Enter: Sue’s Coiffure Contest. In the Fantastic Four Fan Page (Letters Page) from Fantastic Four #258 (September, 1983), Byrne makes the following announcement:
FF #258 also includes that scene where it’s revealed that the Dr. Doom who Arcade lit a match on over in Uncanny X-Men #146 (June, 1981) was a Doombot. So, the Coiffure Contest and JB being a bit precious! In retrospect, this is a far more important issue than I initially thought — I’d better slab the thing ASAP! Anyway, I guess that goofy haircut Milo gave her during Byrne’s “Back to Basics” wasn’t one of her faves. It’s worth noting, at this point in the comic, Sue’s taken to wearing a “very unglamorous” brown wig, as part of an attempt at having a secret identity (Susan Benjamin). Hmm, if Sue thinks that look is unglamorous… well, just you wait!
It’s worth noting here, that Sue “Benjamin” Storm was pregnant with her and Reed’s second child at this point — and, there were rumblings in the letters pages (and in the comics themselves) that she was about to undergo some sort of “coming of age” — shedding the Invisible Girl name, becoming the Invisible Woman (though, the Letters Pages seemed more keen on her going by “Mrs. Fantastic”). Speaking of “changes”, hatchi matchi… here’s a look at the Fantastic Four Fan Page from FF #263 (February, 1984):
It’s announced here that, within the first few months of this contest, Marvel has received 528 entries! Good grief — though, it’s worth noting that a grip of those entries were requesting that Sue revisit some looks from the past. We get some “honorable mentions” listed here — which, if I were a real comics historian, and not just a fake-ass one, I’d have probably made some effort to tracking down some of these folks for comment.
Some of the parameters of the contest are better laid out here — the winning style has to be: a) practical, b) attractive, c) suitable to Sue, and d) not too painful to have to draw a few dozen times per issue. Well, I’m guessing this disqualifies like nine outta every ten entries right there! John Byrne does take the time to render a couple of the suggested looks here — these are apparently the two that have gotten the most votes. They’re not going to win, for a variety of reasons — but, the people have spoken — further proving that old Stan Lee quote “Don’t ever give the fans what they think they want” true. I can actually see Sue wearing the look on the left — though, it does look like it’d be a pain in the ass to draw. The mohawk though? C’mahhhhn. I’m sure JB had fun with this though.
Issue #263 was the official END of the contest — as in, quit sending us yer stuff.
Fantastic Four #266 (May, 1984) sees Sue hanging out at the wig shop — looking for a more glamorous hair-hat. Worth noting, that her own hair looks a lot different than it has in these last several issues — so, you might’ve assumed that this scene right here was the “big reveal” of the Coiffure Contest Winner! But… no such luck, Chuck. This is just a stop-gap hairdo on our way to something so tragic that FEMA may have to be called in.
Here’s a look at Sue from Fantastic Four #268 (July, 1984) — a storyline that is much more important than the silly Coiffure Contest — however, since we’re talking about the silly Coiffure Contest, I gotta show it. Um, what was that I was saying about Byrne being consistent with character appearances? This is literally the third hairstyle Sue’s had… in as many issues. Ehh, let’s just blame Secret Wars. Yeah, I know she wasn’t there… but, we’ll blame it anyway.
The following issue features Sue with some very long hair… the lengths of which I don’t think we’ve ever seen her wear.
This issue, Fantastic Four #269 (August, 1984) is also very notable for our contest… as, the WINNER is announced! Well, sorta. Ya see, whoever sent in this winning style… neglected to include a note with their drawing! And, I mean… in hindsight… I guess it’d make sense that nobody would wanna take credit for this thing. Well, “clear” credit anyway — the did sign the piece… and, as far as Marvel can make out they’ve got a last name of Mayes… and a first name of… well, somethin’. Their best guesses are Tyron, Byron, or just-plain Ron. So, if you’re reading this Mr. (or Ms.) Mayes — reach out. That is, of course, if Ty-By-Ron Mayes isn’t just another name for John Byrne. From the Fan Page:
So, you might be wondering… how long are we going to have to wait in order to SEE the winning Coiffure? Well, just a couple of issues, actually. Fantastic Four #271 (October, 1984) opens with the gut-punch that is… Sue’s Mullet.
Happy Birthday, indeed. Gotta wonder if JB used Florence Henderson as a point of reference for this one… Sue’s lookin’ very Carol Brady here.
Sue’s bad decision isn’t the only notable bit about this issue — it also marks the shift in the letters page from the Fantastic Four Fan Page to the Fantastic Forum. The letters page has been busily taking JB to task for murdering characters left and right… and thus, Byrne challenged the readership to send in their thoughts on who they would kill (in the book, natch) if they could. Apparently this got quite the response… however, not near as many replies as the Coiffure Contest!
Now, for such a popular and engaging contest, you’d assume that the letters pages for the next several issues might be full of reactions to this dramatic change in appearance for Sue, right? Well… notsomuch. This change of appearance isn’t even commented on once in the Fantastic Forum… and heck, far as I can tell, Reed doesn’t even compliment her on her new look. I mean, this might be a case of “If you have nothing nice to say…” but still. Weird that something that had a bit of pomp and circumstance doesn’t get any play on-panel.
So, how long was Sue bemulleted anyway? It’s funny, looking back, memory being what it is, it feels like the Sue-mullet era lasted for like… several years. It wasn’t quite that long, however… though it was around for some pretty memorable little ditties, like the time Sue became the Hatemonger’s sidekick-of-sorts, Malice.
Which also gave us this little sequence…
It was also while mulleted that Sue changed her name from Invisible Girl to Invisible Woman.
Sue was mud-flapped during the Return of Jean Grey!
And, in the very next issue — in a “very Byrne-y scene”, Sue finally gets turned back into a normal human – on-panel.
Sue’s Mullet: Fantastic Four #271 (October, 1984) – Fantastic Four #287 (February, 1986). Sixteen months of style — and probably one of the sillier things I’ve spent any amount of time researching and writing about. If you’re still reading at this point, I humbly thank you for joining me on this odd little adventure.