T is for The Thing
First appearing in 1961’s Fantastic Four 1, Benjamin J Grimm, the idol o’millions and everlovin’ blue eyed Thing was the first great character produced by Marvel Comics under the editorial and authorial stewardship of Stan Lee. His greatness is such that with the exception of Spider-Man who debued in the next year, The Thing is one of the most quintessentionally Marvel characters of all. DC couldn’t have come up with him and have few characters that match up. The most obvious thing about him is the tragedy. Gaining super-powers did not make anything in his life better, but destroyed the life he had. He lost his looks, his ability to do his job easily and his ability to be one of the crowd. His best friend cost him his humanity and instead of trying to wreak his revenge on the world that treats him with fear and derision, he became a greater hero. He jokes about himself as the idol o’millions and lets be honest, he’s not wrong.
I could wax lyrical about the Thing all day, but I thought about just listing 5 of the best things about him.
1: His life is an inspirational metaphor for dealing with depression.
Bare with me on this, he suffered a trauma. This stayed with him for such a long time, making his frustrated and angry with himself and the world. He struggled to see himself properly and was prone to bouts of sadness and low moods. Bit by bit, he got better at dealing with his Thing-ness, he was never that happy with it, but was dealing with it and used it to show greater empathy for others.
2: He is one of the few Jewish super heroes.
Not a very trumpeted facet of the character, but it is one. Representation in media matters, I am quite lucky that much of the Marvel Universe falls into demographics that relate to me directly, but it’s arrogant to thing that this is the way it should be. Everyone should have a character that they can relate to.
3: He is a one man catchphrase factory.
“What a revoltin’ development”
“Aunt Petunia’s favourite nephew”
“Ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing”
And of course my personal favourite.
“It’s Clobberin’ Time!”
4: He’s the heart of the FF
Reed’s in charge, Johnny is the spirit of adventure, Sue is the backbone holding it together, but it’s Ben that’s the heart of that team. A group that visits the universe and beyond needs someone to keep them grounded and that is Ben.
5: He knows everyone.
From his 100 issue run on Marvel Two in One, to his amazing number of guest appearances, time as a wrestler, as a motorcycle rider, time as an Avenger (West Coast and New) and his frequent poker nights at Avengers Mansion, it feels like everyone is a friend of his, or can call upon him if needed. He’s the best friend you can ask for and who doesn’t either want to be that guy, or have that guy in your corner.
T is for Thunderstrike
Starting in August 1993, Thunderstrike was a spin-off from The Mighty Thor starring one of Thor’s supporting characters Eric Masterson. As an attempt to make Thor a more traditional super hero comic again, Eric was introduced as a sort of secret identity to Thor. Eric would find out that Thor was needed, tap his walking stick to the floor and would be replaced by Thor. For a little while in the early 90’s Thor was missing and Eric had the powers of Thor, but his own mind and personality. As most replacement heroes, he was replaced by the original, but was given the mace Thunderstrike to replace Mjolnir, because the world still needs heroes. With both a powered Eric and a returned Thor around, a second title was launched to give Eric his own shot at stardom. The creative team from the Eric as Thor era (Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz followed the character and had a two year run.
I liked Eric, he was a struggling architect, a father and a guy in over his head. He went from being an injured man, to sharing his body with an asgardian to joining the Avengers and his series was pretty good, eschewing the usual XTREME!!! excesses of the era to deliver a solid story about a god of thunder, who was a bit more of an everyman. He was even billed as the ‘Everyman Avenger’. The series met it’s end as Eric did in issue 24 and it makes the series a nice self contained whole that can be read as a curio of that era, whilst still being enjoyable now. It is worth giving a go, much like Eric himself.
T is for Team Ups
Since the Golden Age, heroes have been able to meet one another. From the Justice Society, to the World’s Finest, from the All Winners Squad and Namor and the Human Torch’s on again/off again bromance, there have always been team ups. Why have they been so popular?
The cynical reason is that they offer a look at a character whose comic you aren’t reading, but might be convinced too. They can showcase a lesser known or regarded character to test the waters before a big push or keep a character in print to maintain IP and copyright. It’s been good business in comics for over 70 years to have a shared universe of some description to entice the readers to spend more by buying new titles. From a creative point of view it’s a good way to showcase characters and produce new story ideas by putting two people who have very different ways and ideas in the same place to see what happens. It’s also been used more than once to settle stories that cancellations have made unfinishable in their own titles. It’s also a way for creators to work on characters that they have always wanted to. Someone out there is a fan of Woodgod, since there won’t be a Woodgod ongoing or mini-series, then all you can do get them to team up with the Thing and tell that story. They are often weird and whacky, like The Thing and Ghost Rider being part of a modern retelling of the 1st Christmas story, I am not making that up, it was an issue of Marvel Two in One.
As a reader, it’s mostly a way of reading characters that you wouldn’t normally read and getting more heroes per £ than you would normally. Team ups can be short term one of stories, or develop into something else, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Green Arrow and Green Lantern, or Captain America and Falcon, the last two pairings headlined their own books for a while. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and the Thing have all had a team up title and all four titles have had some pretty fun stories, some pretty bad stories and some really silly ones (Spider-Man once teamed up with the cast of Saturday Night Live) and each of these stories has something that makes them worth a read. The team up story may be a bit of a dying art form, but it had give me several hours of entertainment and produced some rather excellent comics. Marvel Team Up has had a revival as did Marvel Two in One as well as Brave and the Bold. We all want to see our heroes together, especially in combinations that we don’t expect.
What team ups are your favourites internet people?
T is for Tippy-Toes
Next time: 1987