Or – “Verily, Milady. It Doth Ring The Clobbering Hour…”
Every comic book is somebody’s first comic book, and sometimes your personal concept of a character can be defined by the first time you interact with them. Thus it is for me with the Fantastic Four, as the first interaction I ever had with any of them was an issue that perfectly defines The Thing, even 25 years later…
THE THING #7
Writer: John Byrne
Penciler: Ron Wilson/John Byrne
Inker: Hilary Barta
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Rick Parker/Clem Robins
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.50)
Previously, in The Thing: Benjamin J. Grimm was a normal kid from New York, a local boy who made good as a hotshot fighter pilot in the war. (Which war changes, but in the original stories, it was Dubya Dubya Two.) When he grew up, he fell into the orbit of Reed Richards, a brilliant mind who convinced Ben to accompany him in an unauthorized rocket launch wherein cosmic rays changed both of their lives forever. Even transformed into a monstrous rocky form, Ben keeps his charisma and sense of humor to become of of the most beloved figures in the Marvel Universe. But what happens when even his mighty strength may not be enough? Our story begins as Ben visits his injured girlfriend Alicia Masters, hospitalized in a previous issue…
What are the strange things that Ben refers to? I dunno exactly, but it should be noted that soon afterwards he quits the team and is replaced by She-Hulk. The visit to Alicia sets the scene perfectly, showing us Ben’s inner turmoil, his feeling of displacement and alienation, as well as his use of self-deprecating humor to blow off the seriousness of his ennui. In short, it’s a perfect thumbnail sketch of the Thing when he’s not busy beating somebody’s brains in. And speaking of beatings, things get more actiony when Ben encounters a bank robbery in progress and decides to play hero…
Goody… Two-Shoes. He don’t drink, he don’t smoke, what does he do? Subtle innuendos, mostly, and also kicking $#!+ hard with his Atomic Boots. As the most respected hero in the Marvel Universe falls, the Swedish Dynamo smiles and announces, “Dis vhere Goody takes over de town!” I have always loved that particular moment, as the goon-of-the-month gets the better of Ben and strides away confidently, especially given that Mr. Two-Shoes is barely Marvel Team-Up caliber as a villain. Of course, Ben gets up from that first kick, thinking, “Nobody who looks THAT dumb can hit THAT hard.” Heading in for a second try, Ben once again underestimates Goody Two-Shoes. (Can you blame him?)
And right here is where my impression of the Thing comes from, as Goody leaps up for the dropkick, then pounds him into the ground (literally.) Goody beats him from pillar to post, even leaping off the Empire State Building and doing an old-school Super Mario Brothers ground-pound and leaving the FF’s strongman in an eight-foot deep crater, only to have The Thing keep getting up and challenging him again. It’s a strong moment for Grimm as a character, even though he’s facing a lunatic who looks like the Big Boy, and it is where I get my belief that The Thing will always get back up and keep swinging, no matter how hard you hit him. Goody over-confidently takes another shot at Ben, but makes the mistake of angering The Thing with a cheap shot. (The art doesn’t make it 100% clear, but it looks like the big Swede kicks our hero right in his little Benjy.) And that’s the moment where Ben STOPS holding back…
“Ya hear that, world?” cries the triumphant hero. “I WON!” The story makes it quite clear that The Thing’s own sense of honor kept him from unloading on Goody Two-Shoes, but that nothing could keep him down, no matter how hard the villain hit him. It’s a pretty cool moment, especially given the fact that the villain wasn’t nearly as goofy as his name and gimmick would have you think… or was he?
The second story in the issue takes the drama of the first half, and turns it on its head, as Ben Grimm takes a quiet afternoon to read… The Thing #7? In the Marvel Universe, you may recall, it has long been a conceit that the Fantastic Four licensed their adventures to Marvel Comics, and Stan & Jack used to draw their Marvel U selves into the book often. In this case, Ben reads the story of Goody Two-Shoes, and heads to Marvel’s New York office with a bone to pick…
There’s some awesome stuff in this short tale, including John Byrne poking fun at his own superstar status, as Assistant Editor Ann Nocenti and penciler Ron Wilson look on. This issue was one of the legendary Assistant Editor’s Month issues, wherein the regular editing team was all out of town for San Diego Comicon, and Marvel did a number of cute gimmicks and joke stories, including the legendary Franklin Richards/Aunt May issue of Marvel Team-Up. It turns out that the regular editor is lucky to be out of town, as Ben takes umbrage at being told that his life isn’t always worthy of headline status…
Heh. They say dying is easy, comedy is hard, and comics that are supposed to be funny often prove the adage, but this four-page story is actually funny on a number of levels, and allows Byrne to poke fun at himself and his co-workers while playing some pretty sophisticated meta-statements as well. The essence of the Thing will always involve some wise-cracking and fun alongside the tragedy, at least for me, and his best stories almost always seem to have a bit of humor in them. This issue introduced me to the FF for the first time, and served as a lovely gateway to Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four, which led me to the classic Lee/Kirby run. The Thing #7 has a couple of rough edges (as would befit a character as craggy as Ben) but overall it’s one of my favorite introductions to any character ever, earning a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What first-impression stories made the best impression on you?