Monday, August 27, 2012

My Enemy Is My Friend

If there's one story in Fantastic Four that's been overdone, it's having one of its members turn against the team. And no member of the FF has been the victim of that more than Ben Grimm, "the Thing"--probably because he strikes a balance between being a very deadly foe, but not so deadly that he can't be out-maneuvered. After all, if it were the Human Torch who turned bad, he could just incinerate the team. And while Mr. Fantastic or the Invisible Woman would have to work at it, neither really visually convey the menace needed to sell the concept. But have the rampaging Thing coming after you, and you've got a story.

This has played out in a number of different ways, but each time almost always involves some outside force at work. After all, Ben's been pissed at the team before, but it never gets to the point of wanting to murder them--so some way has to be found to get him there, while making sure he can be brought back to be a part of the FF again. Ergo, some villain or other device has to infiltrate and manipulate his mind.

One such story arc where this was done was the classic FF #68-71, where Reed calls in Dr. Santini, a famous scientist, to assist with his latest attempt to cure the Thing. Unknown to Reed, Dr. Santini has been replaced by the mad Thinker, who sabotages the treatment and turns the Thing into a deadly weapon to be used against the FF. It's one of the FF's most desperate battles. Sue is pregnant, and is in no shape for battle; Johnny and Reed engage the Thing in the city; and to top things off, the Thinker releases a deadly android to finish off the FF when they're at their lowest ebb. And when things end, the battle has been so deadly that Reed all but disbands the team.

Writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby are at their peak at this point in Fantastic Four. Lee's admitted style is to basically outline the story and give it to Kirby; Kirby then draws the entire thing, and returns it to Lee who then scripts it. Since Kirby has cut loose in this issue, it's incumbent on Lee to match the pacing and excitement with a script which brings to life the life-or-death battle that the FF engage in. The result is an amazing 4-issue story that shows just why this is Marvel's most celebrated silver age team:

And how curious: it takes four action-packed issues for the FF to deal with the Thinker, yet a new threat from the Silver Surfer is dealt with in just the pages of the next issue. That should certainly prop up the Thinker's ego.

Check out the circumstances in Fantastic Four when the Thing turned against the FF:

Fantastic Four #s 41-43
Bitter and angry at having to become the Thing against his will in order to save the FF and the world from Dr. Doom, Ben walks out on the team and falls prey to the Frightful Four. The Wizard then uses his Id machine on Ben, turning him into a weapon to use against the FF in order to defeat them once and for all.
Fantastic Four #s 68-71
Optimistic about a cure for his condition created by a specialist called in by Reed, Ben instead falls victim to a scheme by the mad Thinker to use him to destroy the FF while he plunders Richards' secrets.
Fantastic Four #s 111-112
Side-effects from a machine used to turn the Thing back to his human form warp Ben's mind to the point where he turns against the FF and looks out for number one.
Fantastic Four #167
Over-exposure to the Hulk's gamma radiation affects Ben's mind, making him team up with the Hulk to battle the FF.
Fantastic Four #266
Karisma, wearing radioactive make-up which enslaves the male mind (yes, you read that right), uses Ben to attack the Invisible Girl while she makes her escape after robbing an armored car.

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