In my Silver Age rereading I’m finding Jean Loring is one of my favorite love interests. It’s not that her love affair with Ray “the Atom” Palmer is particularly intense or dramatic — it’s the opposite. But that’s a plus for me.
By the standards of female characters of the day, Jean’s quite remarkable. She’s introduced in Showcase #34 as a newly minted lawyer who “breezed through law school in two years.” While she and Ray are a couple, she’s adamant they don’t marry until they have their respective careers in law and science established. Jean clearly intends to work after their marriage and in one story implies she might keep working after they become parents.
That was common in the real world, but it was unusual in fiction back in that era. Annoyingly some fans even today think Jean was a horrible bitch for refusing Ray’s proposals. I can’t see why; her reasons are valid and it’s quite obviously Not Yet rather than No. It’s also obvious she does love him. As witness a moment in Atom #16, “Fate of the Flattened-Out Atom.”
Early on in the story, Ray shows up for a date with Jean after spending the past week working overtime on his crimefighting. When he arrives at Jean’s house Ray sits down and promptly falls asleep. Jean neither nags him as Iris West would nor stamps her foot a la the Wasp. She can see he’s worked himself to exhaustion so she tells him not only to go home but to consider taking some days off. He agrees, holes up in the country — and then the trouble starts, of course (the cover is typical for the series in showing a peril tailored to Atom’s tiny size).
Like I said, the lack of drama is quite pleasant. Jean’s considerate, she’s not being a doormat and she’s not holding a canceled date against him. Most girlfriends in the Silver Age didn’t come off that well.
By contrast Sub-Mariner’s future fiancee, Lady Dorma, is all about the drama. She’s Stan Lee writing at his most sexist, defaulting to the assumption that women are just slaves of their emotions, putting their feelings ahead of trivialities such as logic, loyalty or, well, anything. She may be my least favorite love interest of the Silver Age.
In Fantastic Four #33, Dorma shows up at the Baxter Building to ask the FF’s help. Attuma, a barbarian undersea warlord, has besieged Atlantis; when Dorma told Namor how worried she was about him, he told her to shut up about that mushy stuff. Possibly he was pining for Sue, possibly he meant “Not while I’m fighting off an invasion.” but it was certainly curtly phrased. That does not, however, excuse Dorma’s reaction.
Her response to Namor’s rejection is to betray the realm. Using her authority as Atlantean nobility she orders a guard post relocated, then alerts Attuma to where the city walls are now vulnerable. In return for her help, she tells the FF, Attuma totally pinky-swore not to touch a hair on Namor’s head. But Oh Noes, the big meanie lied (how could she possibly have seen that one coming?). Pleeeze, won’t you mighty heroes save my not-quite-boyfriend?
As Attuma would be a worse threat to the surface than Namor, the team agrees. Their underwater adventure is certainly fun. But Dorma selling out the city for her hurt feelings is still nitwitted and treasonous; apparently as long as Namor lives, she’s fine with thousands of Atlanteans dying in a barbarian invasion. Compared to her, Karen Page was Xena.
Namor should probably have exiled Dorma but that would eliminate her as a recurring character. Instead the story ends with Namor proclaiming No Harm, No Foul — after all, he totally gets how love can make you do crazy things. Great way to protect your realm, Subby!
And sure enough, once Namor gets his own series in Tales to Astonish (a few months into 1965) Dorma shows she hasn’t learned anything. Namor hurts her fee-fees so she betrays him to Krang. That puts Namor in danger so she rushes to save him. Rinse, repeat.
Eventually, after Namor declares his love for her, she stabilizes, but it’s hard to believe their relationship ever got to that point.
#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Gil Kane, Kane, Jack Kirby and Gene Colan.