Greetings from the Odinson,
We are all familiar with the Rock Star Character, right? If not, check out my column When is a Shared Universe too much of a Shared Universe? where I define the concept.
Believe it or not, once upon a time, Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, Benjamin J. Grimm a.k.a. the Thing, was the Rock Star of comics. As the ever-lovin’ muscle for Marvel’s First Family, the Thing and the Fantastic Four launched the Marvel Age of comics and was the backbone of the Marvel Universe for decades. But lately, not only is Ben Grimm far from the days of his Rock Star status, he is barely even a note in the current state of the Marvel Universe.
This has left the Odinson asking the question:
Whatever Happened to the Idol of Millions?
The Man, the Monster (1961-1974) – Ben Grimm grew up in poverty on Yancy Street in New York City, but with a football scholarship, he was able to escape the mean streets of his youth. At Empire State University he befriended Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom, two men that would go on to have great influence over his life for years to come. After college, Ben joined the military and became an ace pilot. These harrowing adventures are explored in the pages of Captain Savage and Before Fantastic 4: Ben Grimm and Logan. Years later, Reed Richards would call in a favor from his old college buddy, a favor that would change the course of Ben Grimm’s life forever.
We all know the story of how four brave would be astronauts, while rocketing into outer space, were bombarded by strange cosmic rays and physically transformed into the super heroes known as the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards could now stretch and became Mr. Fantastic. His lover, Susan Storm could now turn invisible and became the Invisible Girl. Her brother, Johnny Storm, could burst into flames and fly and became the Human Torch. Unfortunately, Ben drew the short straw and was transformed into the monstrous Thing.
The Idol of Millions (1974-1983) – For years, Ben Grimm struggled with his disfigurement. Sure, with his monstrous strength and durability, he was able to help the Fantastic Four explore the multiverse and save the world a few dozen times, but as the Thing, his rocky exterior caused normal people to react to him with revulsion, distrust, and ultimately fear. Benjamin fell into a deep state of depression over his physical appearance, but that all began to change. First, with the love of his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters (more on that at another time), and second with the acceptance by mankind as a hero. Saving the world a few dozen times tends to do that. NOTE: The Odinson will soon be doing a Character Spotlight on Alicia Masters, one of the most interesting supporting cast members in comics.
The Thing’s everyman persona and the pathos endured by being a man stuck in the body of a monster really endured the character to comic book fans of the time. From the mid-70s to the mid-80s, the Thing’s popularity was so high in fact that he became too big for just the Fantastic Four series alone. He got his own team-up series titled Marvel Two-in-One and even starred in his very own solo Saturday morning cartoon. “Thing Ring do your thing!”
Marvel Two-in-One was arguably the height of Thing’s popularity. It featured adventures all across the landscape of the Marvel U and allowed Benjy to interact with everyone from Spider-Man to Thor, Power Man and Iron Fist to Doctor Strange, and even Hyperion to ROM. This series was truly Ben Grimm at his very best and allowed his everyman, Blue Collar personality to shine through and juxtapose with the out-of-this-world events and characters he would encounter. It allowed the readers a window into the amazing spectacle that is the Marvel Universe.
This series peaked with the seminal Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7. This fantastic moment in Marvel History, which introduces the world to the Elder of the Universe known as the Champion, was not only one of the best Thing stories ever told, but it should be on every Must Read list of every comic fan worth their salt.
Rivalry with the Hulk (1963-Present) – Ali and Frazier. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Coke and Pepsi. Benjy’s long running rivalry with Bruce Banner’s monstrous alter ego ranks right up there with the best rivalries in history. I go into great detail about this in my column series Great Rivalries in Comics History. Almost since the very beginning fans have been debating who is stronger? Who would win in a fight? Who is the mightiest monster at Marvel Comics? And, it all started way back in 1963’s Fantastic Four #12.
This is a rivalry that has so many great moments that to list them all is a column all its own. So, the Odinson will narrow it down to three of his favorite times these two titans have clashed. Fantastic Four #25-26 where the FF have been laid low and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are on their way, but the only one left standing to stop the Hulk from demolishing the city is the Thing. As the battle escalates, the Hulk’s limitless strength begins to take its toll on our hero, but, like Rocky, Ben Grimm goes the distance and holds out long enough for backup to arrive. In the pages of The Big Change, another Jim Starlin classic, the fate of the universe rest in the monstrous hands of these two erstwhile sparing partners. Can Hulk and Thing stop beating each other up long enough to save the cosmos? And, in the 2-part tale from Fantastic Four #320 and Incredible Hulk #350, Doctor Doom manipulates a brawl between a super charged Ben Grimm and a depowered Grey Hulk. In the first round, the newly super charged Thing makes short work of his old rival. However, in the final round, the cunning Grey Goliath reminds ole Benjy that he never could beat the Hulk in a fight.
Hands down, one of the funniest moments in the history of the Thing/Hulk rivalry happened in the pages of the Silver Surfer tale Down to Earth. While the FF (or Fantastic Three in this case) help Norrin Radd track down a mysterious signal, Ben Grimm suddenly hears an all too familiar voice that just ruins his day as the Hulk say, “Come on, Ben…don’t make me kick your butt in front of all your friends.”
From Battleworld to Wrestling (1984-1986) – Now we come to the moment when the E! True Hollywood Story would say “…and then his life took a strange turn.” In the aftermath of the original Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, all the heroes and villains that participated in the Beyonder’s challenge had returned home to Earth, all of them except Ben Grimm. The Thing remained behind because for some reason, on Battleworld, Ben discovered he had the ability to transform back and forth between his monster and human forms at will, and he wanted to discover the reasons behind it. This sojourn was chronicled in the pages of Rocky Grimm, Space Ranger.
After this cosmic adventure concluded, Ben Grimm finally returned to Earth, but he discovered many things had changed in his absence. His girlfriend, Alicia Masters, was now shacked up with the Human Torch (more on that at another time) and he had been amply replaced in the ranks of the Fantastic Four by She-Hulk. So now, for the first time since becoming the Thing, Ben Grimm wandered the earth without the support of the woman he loved and his family. This led him to a very strange destination.
Ben Grimm’s long lonely road led him to the doorstep of professional wrestling! As a member of Unlimited Class Wrestling, an organization that featured super powered contestants battling it out in the squared circle, the Thing faced the savage might of Gator, has a chance at revenge against the Beyonder, stars in the Devil Dinosaur Movie, and befriends Vance Astro. Two things of note to come out of this chapter in Ben’s life are the emergence of two new heroes. D-Murphy started out as Ben’s very first wrestling opponent and went on to become Demolition Man, a much beloved supporting cast member for Captain America. Ben also met Sharon Ventura, a startling new Ms. Marvel, the same heroine that would one day become the She-Thing and, next to Alicia Masters, the love of Ben Grimm’s life.
From Guardian of the Galaxy to Agent of Shield (1996-Present) – For the next twenty years, from Reborn to Return, House of M to Civil War, the New FF to the Future Foundation, Ben Grimm’s story, as well as that of the Fantastic Four, has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Until we reach the aftermath of the present day Secret Wars which leaves Marvel’s First Family split and separated for the foreseeable future. With Reed, Sue and the kids off-world exploring the new multiverse and Johnny hanging out with the Inhumans these days, Ben has been left all alone to wander this world, a forgotten hero. For a time, Ben hopped across the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy as their resident pilot, but that came to an end when the spacefaring heroes were Grounded during the events of Civil War II.
These days, the former Idol of Millions pays the bills as an Agent of SHIELD. This former pillar of the Marvel Universe now walks lonely streets and haunts dark bars, reminiscing about the good ole days when he was an A-List hero. Sadly, the closest thing he has to a friend is Victor Von Doom, the Infamous Iron Man. Even though Doom seems reformed these days and determined to show the world he can be the greatest hero it has ever seen, Ben still can’t forget the hundreds of times ole Victor tried to punch his clock. And now, the Maker, the evil Reed Richards from the defunct Ultimate Universe, is trying to manipulate Ben into killing Victor.
What does the future hold? One can only hope there’s a Fantastic Four reunion in the cards.
Wolverine. Deadpool. Harley Quinn. Believe it, or not, once upon a time the Thing was just as popular and every bit the Rock Star these names are, but now, he is barely an afterthought in the pantheon of Marvel Heroes. He used to be an A-List Hero. Now, he’s an errand boy for SHIELD. How did it come to this for our ever-lovin’, blue-eyed hero?
What happened to the Idol of Millions?
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: The Odinson has written a book. It is my love letter to the slasher genre of the 1980s. For those interested, there are still a handful of FREE copies available to read online. Just follow this link – The Survivors: A Glen Haven Tale.