Monday, May 19, 2014

Two Super-Heroes Walk Into A Bar...

During one of the points in time when Ben Grimm was cured of being the Thing (this particular cure being the result of overexposure to the Hulk's gamma radiation), the Fantastic Four had no choice but to fill his position on the team with another super-powered member. Their choice was Luke Cage, "Power Man"; and even though Ben's cure seemed to be permanent, he was still somewhat perturbed at not only how quickly he'd been replaced, but also how smoothly Cage seemed to be fitting into his spot. All too suddenly, Ben Grimm was no longer living a hero's life, and was forced to face that life as a person who had no claim to being part of the Fantastic Four.

A lot of this was in Ben's head, of course; no one on the team had cast him aside personally, nor did Ben mean any less to them. Nevertheless, he stewed about it--which brings us to a kind of story-within-a-story by writer Roy Thomas, where we find Ben in a dump of a bar about to drown his sorrows--and thinking about an existence that, up until recently, he'd always wanted to be rid of:

Now, take one disgruntled Ben Grimm, who's still preoccupied with being the formidable Thing; put him in a joint where the *ahem* clientele is rowdy and likely willing to throw a punch at the drop of a hat; then introduce "Annabelle," who's used to being catered to but obviously doesn't know when to leave well enough alone.

Given that both of these individuals are proud, and neither appreciate being ignored, how do you think Annabelle is going to react to Ben's blunt words to her? Will she (a) apologize and be on her way, (b) graciously ask the bartender to get Ben another beer, and then withdraw--or (c) take offense and proceed to get back a little of her own by siccing a random bruiser on Ben?

Gosh, tough call...

Yes, it looks like your instincts were dead-on--(c) it is.  Wilbur has taken Annabelle's bait like a true sap, and calls Ben out loud and clear. Ben, for his part, spots something of a kindred (if less reined-in) temperament, and attempts to face the guy, bruiser to bruiser--not throwing the first punch, but not backing down, either. But for Wilbur, things have gone too far (which, let's be honest, was probably the case when Annabelle first beckoned):

Were Ben still the Thing and facing a super-powered foe, perhaps his roundhouse punch would settle matters; but to everyone else in this bar, Ben is just one guy, who's clobbered one of their friends. And given how wound up they are anyway, they need little incentive to tear into Ben. On the other hand, the whole point of Thomas's scene is that Ben is finding it hard to divorce himself from his life in the FF as the Thing--a life sensational by any standard, and still prevalent enough in his mind to kick in old safeguards:

Yet while this is obviously not the Thing, we're still dealing with Ben Grimm, a man who's going to react to being thrown out of a bar in only one way:

(Heh--check out how Annabelle has the nerve to be surprised at what she's put in motion!)

Ben, now in his element, lives again as the Thing, if only in flashbacks brought to life by the moves of his opponents:

Again, Ben means no less to his friends in the FF--and so, realizing what's probably eating at him, they've apparently come to offer an ear to bend. (Though, honestly, I can't remember these three ever sharing a beer together, can you?) Fortunately, they've arrived at just the right time to even the odds here, and then some:

Wow, is Annabelle trying to stir up more trouble here? Or just trying to latch onto the hottest meal ticket? In any event, look at how nicely Thomas caps this side-story:

Artist Rich Buckler, who's worked quite well with Thomas on both Fantastic Four and The Avengers, does an impressive job here of establishing the atmosphere of this bar to coincide with Ben's general mood (or vice versa). Nobody seems very upbeat at this bar; even Annabelle's attitude is primed to take advantage of or otherwise get a rise out of someone. As for Ben, he's every bit the brawler that you'd think Ben Grimm would be as Ben Grimm--almost looking like he's back in his old neighborhood, while his body language definitely gives the impression that he's got a lot on his mind. It was a fine segment to give focus to Ben's state of mind--and this time, without Ben being distracted by Alicia's concerns with his human form, we get to see Ben finally deal with the possibility of life as Ben Grimm on a more personal level.

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