Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This Hero Denied!

For all of the times Ben Grimm has turned against the Fantastic Four, there was one tale which explored the possibility of the Thing rejecting the concept of becoming part of the team from its conception. After all, if you returned from that fateful space flight as a craggy monster, and reached the point of lashing out in a fit of rage at those who had made the flight with you, it stands to reason that you might reject joining them in common cause, and instead abandon them as well as the rest of the human race in a fit of bitterness and frustration.

So when a flare gun is fired into the New York sky that serves to summon the members of that flight to their first task as a team, history is made in a much different way than what we remember:

And this time, the threat comes not from a mysterious, unfamiliar source, but from an all-too-familiar presence from the recent past:

And so begins the career of these three adventurers--to help mankind, as they'd originally set out to do. But in their baptism of fire, they would do so by having to take down one of their own.

This What If story, written by Roger Stern (though of course narrated by the Watcher), takes its cue from the aftermath of the space flight where Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm recover from the crash of their ship on the Earth that you and I are familiar with. In this case, the point of diversion takes place when three of the crew members come to realize that their new power carries great responsibility toward the human race; yet the fourth member, afflicted with a monstrous appearance for the rest of his life, rejects the proposal to band together to help mankind.

This time, the narrative as dictated by the Watcher does not name this budding team--and with the Thing carving a swath of destruction as he trudges east, it doesn't appear likely that there will be a band of heroes called the "Fantastic Four." Nor will it be the last such twist that Stern crams into this story.

Eventually, the Thing arrives in New York City. To his credit, Ben realizes that he must find a way to control his outbursts of rage, and to that end he intends to see out Reed for his help. But a chance meeting with Alicia Masters results in a hostile reception by the public, causing Ben to become the rampaging monster that people take him for.

It's here that Stern makes the Thing the catalyst for a string of developments which effectively deprive this Earth of the presence of super-heroes. Peter Parker flees the scene of carnage, which causes him to miss the science exhibit where he's bitten by a radioactive spider. The cab that Donald Blake is riding to the airport in must detour, causing him to miss his vacation flight to Norway and consequently his discovery of the gnarled stick that would transform him into Thor. (We should also assume that the Stone Men of Saturn, lacking any resistance, will soon successfully land their invasion force.) In addition, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have been conscripted by the Army to develop a weapon which will stop the Thing, thereby avoiding their own accidents which would result in the creation of Iron Man and the incredible Hulk:

Before the Army can continue its assault, and to give Stark's machine the time it needs to build power, Reed and his partners attempt to stop the Thing on their own--a move which convinces Ben that he cannot count on these people to help him.

Finally, "Thunderbolt" Ross orders the weapon fired, with disastrous results (you were expecting otherwise from the two men who gave us the Freak and the Hulk?):

But the repercussions of firing the cosmic cannon extend beyond its effects on the Thing, as Stern takes the opportunity to purge this Earth of the Fantastic Four, as well (heck, he's already totalled the Baxter Building--why not?):

In spite of the Watcher's misgivings about Earth's future, with a powerhouse like the Thing walking around it's doubtful humanity has anything to worry about--assuming that Ben comes to his senses (and comes out of self-exile) and at last embraces the role of a hero.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ben did accept his terrible deformity a bit too easily in FF #1 - the other three must have been so glad it didn't happen to one of them (especially Sue).

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