Jessica AlbaBorn: April 28, 1981
Character: Sue Storm/Invisible Woman
Fantastic Appearances: Fantastic Four (2005); Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Susan Storm has come a long way over the years. As originally conceived, the Invisible Girl was a shy, reclining, perennially-endangered gal pal to FF patriarch Reed Richards. Though marginally ahead of their distinguished competition in the field of female heroes (DC had Wonder Woman and Supergirl, but they weren't strong properties at the time, and personality-wise, they were largely interchangeable with the male heroes), Marvel in the early days seemed reticent to give the ladies the kind of awesome power they easily gave to the gents.
Like her contemporary, Marvel Girl (a founding member of the X-Men), Invisible Girl could manipulate objects at a distance (Sue created "invisible force fields"), but you'd never find her relying on her fists in a knock-down, drag-out battle like the Thing. She seemed to exist only to be captured by the villains or to fill out a love triangle that included her stodgy boyfriend Reed and the dishy Sub-Mariner (well, as dishy as any guy who looks like Mr. Spock with an Eddy Munster haircut can be). Sue finally took the plunge, becoming Mrs. Fantastic in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965) - she and Reed made history as the first superhero couple to tie the knot. In Fantastic Four Annual #6 (November 1968), Reed and Sue were blessed with a child, Franklin, who (like his recent rip-off, Jack-Jack of The Incredibles) would turn out to possess godlike powers.
Writer/artist/character-renovation man John Byrne brought Sue out of the sexist Stone Age in which she'd languished for years by re-christening her the Invisible Woman during his tenure on Fantastic Four (though Byrne's feminist credentials are a bit shaky - his later run on Wonder Woman was a backward turn to cheesecake). Byrne's Sue was more assertive and confident, as much a leader of the team as her husband. It was during this period that fanboys started to notice that not only were Sue's powers quite formidable (when she worked up the will to use them), but also that she - particularly when drawn by Byrne - was something of a hottie. This was a shocking twist, since she'd always been Marvel's Madonna - a Super-Mom/Super-Wife, more in the tradition of Donna Reed or Florence Henderson - but it went hand-in-hand with her newfound strength of personality. It was a welcome change, and it brings us to the actress who brought Sue to life on the big screen - the gorgeous Jessica Alba.
The former Dark Angel is a beauty in the mold of Byrne's Sue, filling out those unstable molecules in ways Stan and Jack couldn't have dreamed possible. The first film missed few opportunities to highlight Alba's photogenic qualities - perhaps an irony for an Invisible Woman - but Jessica brings a lot more to Sue Storm than beauty and sex appeal. (But... y'know... she does bring those things... great big heaping loads of those things.) Ms. Alba also brings warmth, heart, likeability, and groundedness to Sue. She's the core of the movie's Fantastic Family, just as she is in the comics - if Reed is the left-brain of the team, Sue is the right.
When the team is forming before the TV cameras, and a reporter asks who the group's leader is, the decision is made quickly between the two of them. A glance is exchanged, and she passes the job to Reed. Yet in the comics, Sue Storm (later Sue Richards) has been the team's leader, and she's usually a lot better at it than her absent-minded boyfriend. (Hopefully, a sequel will give Alba's Sue a chance to share in the team's leadership.)
Alba's Invisible Woman is never a damsel to be rescued. If the first movie didn't give Sue a chance to shine as she sometimes does in the comics, it did at least give Sue a share of the heroics (she's easily one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel pantheon, and she can certainly hold her own against Doom, as in the film).
Jessica Alba is certainly capable of taking the role in a stronger direction. There's no doubt Ms. Alba was cast in this part - as she was cast as Nancy in Sin City - to bring in a demographic that's hoping she'll be much more visible than invisible. But Jessica Alba has a kindness and a strength that are suitable to a superheroine and a role model for young people, and these movies give her a chance to show that.
In terms of what we'd like to see for Jessica in future Fantastic forays... well, it might be nice to see Namor show up - a scarcely clothed, ripped hunk from the ocean depths who'd try to sweep her off her feet. It would confront Jessica's Sue and Ioan Gruffudd's Reed with a different kind of challenge than we're used to seeing in a superhero movie - and it's a storyline straight out of the classic comics. The Namor-Sue-Reed love triangle might bring in a whole new demographic - hot naked people don't exactly keep the audiences away in droves, after all.
It's not clear yet what Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer holds for Alba or Sue, beyond the obvious plot development of her marriage to Reed. Sue didn't play a particularly interesting part in the original Silver Surfer/Galactus story. She spent most of her time being frightened or worrying about Reed. That was a long time ago; the Invisible Girl is all grown up. Alba seems to have more to do here, but it's too soon to tell whether or not her character will have the screen time in this film to develop significantly. We hope she does. She's one of our favorite characters, on-screen and off.