Pipeline #1006: Blast from the Past: The Thing

Dan Slott is a Marvel writer in every sense of the phrase. Besides guiding the flagship 'Amazing [...]

The Thing Playing Poker

Dan Slott is a Marvel writer in every sense of the phrase. Besides guiding the flagship "Amazing Spider-Man" title for something like eight years now, his knowledge of every possible corner of the Universe seems deep and proud. He likes that stuff. He isn't trying to hide it or reframe it as something it was never meant to be. He's a darn good superhero comic writer, with a good sense of humor.

Nowhere did that come out better than the "She-Hulk" series he wrote for 30+ issues a decade ago. He presented a legal point of view on the Marvel Universe unlike any other there, bringing back forgotten chestnuts and making cogent legal analyses of the craziest events in a shared superhero universe. It would be worth going back for a reread on that again someday soon, but not today.

Today, I want to talk about a shorter-lived series Slott did at the same time. "The Thing" only made it to issue #8. It wasn't quite as crazy as "She-Hulk." But it did use Slott's knowledge of the Marvel Universe to its advantage, featuring a bevy of guest stars and situations that only the Marvel Universe could play home to. In many ways, it felt like a back to basics series, with a slight twist thanks to the on-going storyline concurrently in the main "Fantastic Four" title.

At the time, Benjamin Grimm had come into a crazy amount of money. I think this was either during the Dwayne McDuffie or Joe M. Straczynski run on "Fantastic Four," just past the Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo era we all loved so much. Slott uses that as the character trait he wants to focus in on for the series. What happens to the poor kid from the streets when suddenly he has enough money to fix everything? What happens to that same guy who has a lousy self-image to begin with thanks to his rocky monstrous hide? Money doesn't solve everything, and can, in fact, exacerbate the personal issues of an otherwise well-meaning man. Ask so many unsuccessful lottery winners.

(I'd be more than willing to give it a try, though. Lottery commission: Call me!)

It's a lesson Sue Storm, in particular, wants to teach Ben. She uses her kids to do it in issue #4. Making up an excuse to need Thing to watch her kids, she sets him up to learn from the kids that their fun comes from not having everything. Grimm, of course, babysits the kids by taking them to the track, offering to place bets for them, or buying them anything at the toy store.

The Thing #1 cover

Grimm starts the series dating a rising starlet from Hollywood, who he's never comfortable with. He knows she's not that good an actress, and his own insecurities lead to self-doubts about the relationship. But he has money now and this is what you're supposed to do with it, right?

When she sets out to save herself at his expense in the first storyline, that romance comes to a crashing halt, leading Thing back to Alicia Masters -- who's already in a relationship with someone who seems to be about the most perfect man for her ever. (Sadly, the series ended before we could get to his story and why he's wrong for her. Because, of course he's wrong for her. He's TOO perfect. And he's not Benjamin Grimm.)

Grimm also effectively travels back to his past (metaphorically), repaying an old debt to Mr. Sheckerberg, whose pawn store he works at on weekends. That leads, of course, to the much-publicized eighth issue, where we learn that Grimm is, in fact, Jewish. For a character who seems so patterned after Jack Kirby, it's a fitting tribute. Grimm makes his bar mitzvah in that eighth issue, thanks to a nice combination of Jewish law and Marvel continuity. It's downright clever, in fact. It's the exact kind of thing that made "She-Hulk" so much fun under Slott.

Thing literally travels back in time in issue #7, to give Alicia the best birthday present he could think of -- a visit to the creation of the Venus De Milo. Alicia protests that there's basically no way that could work out cleanly, and is quickly proven right when they run into Hercules, who attempts to defend the beautiful lady from the monstrous orange beast. Masters takes it in stride, predicting every beat of their fight in a hilarious way.

The best visual from the whole series, though, happens starting with the fourth issue, where Thing basically adopts Lockjaw. Yes, the Inhumans' dog. The sight of Thing walking this overgrown dog through the city streets is just awesome.

This overview, I'm afraid, leaves out a lot of the fun details from the series, like the time a gang of oversized robot Hulks fights a gang of oversized robot Things. Or the Superhero Poker Tournament that features all sorts of cheating in superpowered but subtle ways. Or Squirrel Girl's appearance to help defeat the Bi-Beast with her squirrel friends.

And, possibly, the greatest final panel in a short-lived comics history. Here, I'll show you that one:

Last panel from The Thing

The art through issue #5 was by Andrew DiVito, who has an unflashy style that does a great job with establishing locations and characters' relations to them. There are lots of backgrounds in the book, and solid panel to panel storytelling. It doesn't feel like he was taking any shortcuts at all in this series. There's a lot of "stuff" on the pages here. An Italian artist, his style does retain the echoes of a lot of European sequential storytelling, which might be why I like it so much.

Kieron Dwyer handled the last three issues of the series, when DiVito went on to work on some "Annihilation" titles. It's a big artistic shift. Dwyer is more cartoony. He does a great job at selling the humor, though. DiVito's art felt more like the stoic straight men getting laugh lines, while Dwyer's characters acted a little more broadly to get some of those laughs. Alicia's body language and facial expressions in the seventh issue are high points in his three issue run.

The one thing that links together the two artists is the colorist, Laura Villari. Her style doesn't shift from one artist to another, and it's all a bit overwhelming. Everything gets a texture or an effect. Alicia Master's face looks like it's always breaking into a rash from too much blush. Even the ground the characters walk on has that patchy Photoshop filter effect. Pages feel too heavy from all the extra work done with the colors. When Thing's rocky exterior is textured in front of the concrete wall with its texture, on top of a crook whose skin goes from white highlights to pink shadows on every muscle, it gets a bit tiring.

The eight issues of "The Thing" are available digitally at Comixology today. There was a trade paperback, "The Thing: Idol of Millions", that's out of print today.

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