Saturday, May 10, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #10 - The Thing

Character: The Thing (Benjamin J. Grimm)

Creators: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

First appearance: The Fantastic Four #1

First comic I read he appeared in: It's either The Thing #33 or West Coast Avengers #6. That's right, not Ben hanging with the FF. It's either him getting pummeled by a bunch of superstrong lady wrestlers that think he murdered one of them, or him getting dragged into a trip to Mystical Cat People Land by that blasted Hawkeye.

Definitive writer(s): It'd have to be Lee and Kirby, though I've read basically none of their run. Everyone else is just riffing off their work, right? But if we're going with someone whose stuff I've actually read, it's probably Walt Simonson. Ben's not an idiot, but he's still a bit of an oaf, so he can be the butt of jokes, but still get good lines and beat up bad guys.

Definitive artist: I figured it would be John Byrne, or maybe Andrea DiVito, but when I picture him in my mind, it's usually Mike Wieringo's version. He gave Ben this bent-knee stance that made his lower body look really short, and his arms really long (like there on the left) because his shoulders would slope down quite a bit, and that's the image I see a lot. Maybe I like to think of him as always carrying a heavy load.

Favorite moment or story: I thought about the big fight with Doom in Fantastic Four #40, but looking back over it, I don't like that Reed forces Ben to become the Thing again. I originally saw the story play out in the '90s cartoon (in the episode "And A Blind Man Shall Lead Them") and Ben made his own decision to become the Thing again and save the team. He wasn't happy about it, nearly killed Doom because of it, but he made the choice to save his friends. So to avoid citing another cartoon, let's use his fight with the Champion in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7.

What I like about him: Well let's be honest: Who doesn't like the Thing? He's the ever-lovin', blue-eyed idol o' millions! Everyone wants him on their teams. The FF, the Avengers. Heck, Hawkeye about drove Ben around the bend trying to get him on the West Coasters back in the day. The Thing is one of those characters who I don't feel the need to keep really close tabs on (I've never bought Fantastic Four regularly), but I'm always glad to see him show up, and to know he's part of the Marvel U. He's got a cool look, with the jigsaw quality of his rocky shell, the three fingers, the big, rocky brow ridge, and he's a pretty hard character to write badly. Have him complain a little while he helps Reed, bicker with Johnny, mouth off to Doom. He's not going to be easily impressed or frightened, and maybe he's even a little rude, but he'll apologize if you call him on it.

He's not the strongest hero, not the smartest, but he might be the toughest. He's a little gruff, but he's usually a big softy, really. I mean, think if it had been Wolverine or the Hulk getting pie-in-the-face presents from the Yancy Street Gang all those years (though I guess it was really Johnny pretending they were from the YSG). There wouldn't be a Yancy Street Gang, either because they're all dead, or because there wasn't a Yancy Street any longer. Ben's a lot of bluster, but he doesn't really want to hurt people. Just wants to protect those important to him.

And some of it is I feel bad for him, because Ben got the raw deal. He was the only one who didn't want to take the rocket up, and only did it because Sue called him a coward. I wonder if Lee and Kirby meant that as a lesson to their young readers about not letting yourself be pressured into doing something you think is stupid. At any rate, the others all come home with powers, but still look the same. Ben gets turned into an orange rock monster. The Marvel Universe usually punishes arrogance, but for some reason, unlike with Stark or Doom, Reed was able to shunt his backlash onto Ben. He was angry about that for a long time, and justifiably so, not aided by the fact Reed was constantly belittling him in the early days (allegedly to spur Ben on by challenging him, Reed apparently not familiar with the concept of 'positive reinforcement').

By the time I'd saw Ben Grimm in the comics, he seemed pretty acclimated to his life as the Thing. It wasn't always smooth - those two books I listed as my first exposure, he's away from the FF because of his stay on the Beyonder's world, and because Alicia hooked up with the Johnny. Ben can be petulant at times, and I kind of excuse it because it seems like the universe kicked him in the teeth pretty good once already, anything further is just being mean. But eventually, Ben is able to adjust, find something new to hold onto. Sometimes it's wrestling, sometimes it's taking someone under his wing, or taking a security job at Project PEGASUS. During Civil War, he went to France for awhile and fought alongside some heroes there. When he was just about join the West Coast Avengers and started to change further, he ended up living with the Mole Man for awhile. He's an adaptable guy, not merely a survivor, but a character who can settle into almost any situation and make it work.

And it's because he's constant, a rock, if you will. He always has that kindness under the tough talk, the gruffness, and the temper. He's willing to stop and listen, and if someone's in need, he's willing to help. Even if he's beat up, even if he doesn't totally understand what's going on or how to fix things, he's going to try. And for the Thing, trying means he keeps going until he drops. Then he gets up and keeps going some more. I like that, it's a quality I like to think I have going for me, that I don't quit until the job is finished, and he's sort of an exemplar of that.

It might be easy to let that sort of determination make him unpleasant to be around, where he becomes short with people as he's single-mindedly focused on finishing something, but he doesn't. He's quite affable (something I'm not so much). Maybe it's the grousing he does while he's saving the day. He looks like one of Kirby's sci-fi horror monsters, something the imbeciles of the Marvel Universe would pursue with torches and pitchforks (right up until they got a good look at him), but he gets along with almost everybody. Like I said, who doesn't like the Thing? Jerks, that's who. No really, I'm pretty sure the only people in the Marvel Universe who don't like him are either villains, or heroes that are big jerks. I feel like Emma Frost doesn't care for him, probably thinks him a lout, but well, Emma's kind of a jerk (and she dates Scott Summers, so her ability to judge character is crap anyway). I think Namor at least respects him a little, but if not, well, Namor's a huge jerk. But the characters who aren't jerks, they all like Ben Grimm. They know they can count on him, they know he's trustworthy (really important if you're gonna play poker with him), stalwart, funny when he wants to be, has seen so much weird stuff working alongside Stretcho nothing much fazes him, and for the most part, knows when he should and should not start punching things without needing to be told (excepting those rare occasion Doom shows up not looking for trouble, but Ben takes a swing as soon as he sees him because better safe than sorry with Doom).

He's the lovable tough guy with the heart that won't quit, and that's why he's a favorite.


SallyP said...

He's my favorite member of the Fantastic Four. Reed has to be the least.

CalvinPitt said...

That's how I'd rank them, too.