Wednesday, December 9, 2015

This Monster Forever!


During the evolution of the Fantastic Four while the mag was being written and drawn, respectively, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there were many occasions where Reed Richards had attempted to cure the Thing of his monstrous condition and return him to his human form of Ben Grimm. At best, Reed was able to achieve only a temporary success with his friend, with the reversion often lasting no more than a few minutes before the Thing would reappear. Yet, as we've recently seen, there might actually be one person who would take at least small comfort from that otherwise disappointing news--Alicia Masters, whom we all know became enamored with the Thing but, strangely enough, feels less strongly for this person in his human form.

If we were to take a guess at what caused such conflicting feelings within Alicia toward what must be considered the same man, we could speculate that her stronger feelings toward the Thing were the result of the Thing being the one she first encountered when her step-father, the Puppet Master, began to battle the FF--the one whom she first began to know with her intuitive sense of touch, at the point when she felt an unspoken desire to be free of her step-father's schemes and supervision and become her own person. We know upon reflection that Ben and the Thing were basically on the scene at about the same point in time, as far as Alicia was concerned; nevertheless, it's the Thing who left the strongest impression on her, simply by being first on the scene and, consequently, in her thoughts. We can only wonder if the outcome would have been different had Reed exercised his attempt at a cure on the Thing before the summons came from the Puppet Master, so that it would have been Ben who arrived at the Puppet Master's studio to be met by Alicia--would Alicia's feelings have imprinted on the human form of Ben, instead?

It seems fitting, then, to in a sense force Alicia's hand and have her face down the issue when there's no choice but to do so--and that moment finally comes six years later (our time), when Reed at last fulfills his promise to Ben and discovers a permanent cure for him. It's a long-awaited moment for Ben, surely, but also for FF readers, who are greeted with a splash-page banner that will finally have its day:




We'll get to the repercussions of this momentous turning point in the life of the Thing soon enough; but we shouldn't hopscotch over the moment itself, as much as it means to both Ben and to Reed. For Ben, his misgivings upon hearing Reed's news are understandable, since he's been down this path before and he's clearly still the Thing. Yet as much as our focus is on Ben, Reed must also command our interest, since his efforts have now gone beyond trial and error and it's time for him to make this attempt count. And this scene is indeed different, with Reed convinced that he'll succeed; yet he still has a scientist's caution, along with that ever-present feeling one has before any fateful experiment--hope.

But this time, he indeed hits the mark.





Unfortunately, before these three can celebrate further, the Wizard attacks, and the absence of the Thing in the fight is telling. The Torch comes through for the team in the end; but Ben is insistent on Reed modifying his procedure so that he can have the ability to change to the Thing when needed. It's then that Reed must tell him of the condition for the experiment's success.



That final scene sets up the events of the following issue, where Ben must understandably meet with Alicia and let her know about his change, so that he can assess her feelings before making any further decision on the matter--though that's not really how the following story proceeds. To Ben, his change back to human form is a done deal, with Alicia being the only factor truly uppermost in his mind. Currently, he has the luxury of a little breathing room, without the burden of a foe's attack to take the decision out of his hands. That doesn't mean we won't see any FF action in this next issue; but the splash page of the story offers its own drama that waits for resolution.



For a change, it's almost a pleasure to see the human Ben Grimm navigate his way through a Fantastic Four story, since Ben is just as much a part of the team's career and history as he was in his powerful form as the Thing. And while we can't give Alicia similar status, we can at least acknowledge that the relationship these two have established has played a large role in the book, and certainly in terms of the Thing's growth as a character.

On his way to see Alicia, however, Lee introduces a new element into the equation regarding Ben and his steadfast feelings for Alicia. We were of course expecting a certain amount of awkward behavior from Alicia regarding the Thing's recent transformation--but now there appears to be more to Ben's concern beyond how Alicia will reconcile her feelings for the Thing.



No matter how writer Stan Lee attempts to justify the presence of the Wizard's confiscated wonder gloves on this trip, we can probably all agree on the fact that it makes absolutely no sense for Ben to box them up and take them with him just on impulse. Artist Jack Kirby, on the other hand, might have come up with the thought of, say, Ben bringing them along in order to drop them by police headquarters later that day for impoundment, though Lee obviously hasn't taken the handoff.

Lee has, however, given us food for thought on another matter--that of Ben now exhibiting virtually the same worries as Alicia, in that he now wonders if he'll have the same feelings he had for her while he was the Thing. He seems to put aside this train of thought when he finally meets with Alicia--but it's an odd development for Lee to throw in at the last minute like this.

Meanwhile, this story's foe is waiting in the wings--or, in this case, in the crate, as the police are in the process of impounding equipment from the hideout of the mad Thinker, and find an object that definitely isn't ready to be tagged.





We won't have long to wait to discover the source of this signal the android is attempting to home in on; but for now, it's finally time to look in on Alicia and Ben, who are lunching at a restaurant during what might well be an uncomfortable reunion for both of them. It's too bad Kirby didn't make provision for the delivery of Ben's news upon picking Alicia up at her residence; the initial look on her face and her body language would have been very interesting, particularly upon finding out from Ben that his state is now permanent. But the follow-up scene at the restaurant they lunch at is revealing enough--especially for Ben, who discovers that Alicia's familiar touch now speaks volumes.



You probably couldn't help but notice how quickly Alicia side-stepped Ben's point that he was still the same person despite his appearance. She really needs to come clean on this, doesn't she? Regrettably, she's not going to have the time to reach a decision on it--because our android friend thinks he's found the signal he's been trying to pick up, and this couple is going to have to skip dessert.



Without the Thing's strength, Ben is going to find himself at a loss as to how to handle this bruiser, who's been tossing cars around on the streets outside and isn't even out of breath. But the man is still a hero, whatever the circumstances--especially when the stakes are unexpectedly raised, and Alicia becomes the android's target. There is no Fantastic Four going into pitched battle in these scenes--but you probably won't even miss them, because Kirby makes Ben's stand against this foe one for the record books.








Finally, Ben's time runs out, and his decision on whether or not to reclaim his life as the Thing is indeed forced on him. The Wizard's gloves--present for no other reason, thanks to Lee--will be the key; but aside from that, note how convenient Alicia's fainting spell happens to be for the moment, as she is no longer conscious for the story to either show her attempting to argue with Ben's decision to revert to the Thing or, on a more disturbing note, have Ben realize that her objections sound unconvincing. You might also be thinking how odd it is that Ben hasn't thought of using the gloves' built-in weaponry against the android, before resorting to a drastic decision which will bring back the Thing permanently--but with the Wizard retaining possession of their control stud, the gloves are useless in that respect.

So the moment comes--and the android is out for the count before he can say "Thinker."



(Those wonder gloves sure pack a wallop of an energy surge for being inert, huh?)


All that's left is the wrap-up, with the Torch getting the news of the disturbance at the restaurant and blazing to the site. He arrives too late in Ben's case, of course--but all's well that ends well, at least on the surface.




Ben has dealt with such disappointment before; but the story stands out in the respect that there is now no hope of the Thing ever becoming human again, and the realization is palpable in his final expression. As for Alicia, practically nothing changes for this character, unfortunately. We can assume she'll console Ben, and their relationship will continue as it has all this time--only now, Ben will have to live with the uncertainty of why her feelings for the Thing are unwavering, yet become a topic to be avoided when confronted by the fact that somewhere beneath that craggy orange shell is an all-too-human man named Ben Grimm.

The Thing gets the type of cure he wanted--but at what cost?

Fantastic Four #79
(with scenes from #78)

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek

5 comments:

Rick said...

As Jack had been plotting these stories for years, and being disillusioned with Marvel in general and Lee and Goodman in particular, I'm led to believe he was just going through the motions. No new villains to speak of, no new characters introduced, just a steady parade of androids and robots.

Anonymous said...

Not only will this framerstamin' thingamageegie turn ya' human again, it'll comb, trim, and part yer hair!
No extra charge.
M.P.

Comicsfan said...

You know Reed, M.P.--he probably threw that in just because it occurred to him at the last minute! (On the other hand, maybe Ben's hair looked like that before he was originally transformed?)

George Chambers said...

"The fabulous FF's forensic Mr. Fantastic"? Forensic?? Wow, Stan was really reaching for the alliterative epithets, huh?

Comicsfan said...

I tripped over that one, too, George!

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