As our story opens, it's just another ordinary day at the Baxter Building: Susan Richards is out shopping for new additions to the Wig Room, Johnny Storm is off on his date with seventies supervixen Susan Anton, and Ben Grimm and Reed Richards are doing what they do best: verbally sparring! (No, folks, this ain't the Friday Night Fights portion...just you wait!):
All panels in this post are from Marvel Two-in-One #50 (April 1979),
written and pencilled by John Byrne, inks by Joe Sinnott
Reed is once again trying to cure Ben of his rock-star life by turning him back from the Thing into just plain Grimm. Again? But that trick never works! Reed explains it all for you using his PowerPoint slides, allowing John Byrne to show off with his Thing timeline: the evolution of Ben Grimm from the early dinosaur-hide Thing drawn by Jack Kirby in FF #1 to modern-day. Whoa, change-y! (Can you identify the various issues of Fantastic Four Mister Byrne is referring to in each of his drawings? And can you find the blonde-haired Latina in each one of those issues?):
Mr. Fantastic's latest Thing-Be-Gone magic potion doesn't work, howeverBen's evolution as the Thing has just gone on for far too long. Displaying the quick-thinking wit we all love Aunt Petunia's li'l nephew Benjy for, the Thing decides to steal the keys to Doctor Doom's Time Machine (seriously, Reed, put The Club on that thing, for Pete's sake!) and heads back to the future! Oh, no, wait...he's going forward into the past!...back to administer the potion to his past self in the first few weeks after his transformation! Whoa, there's all sortsa wacky shenanigans with the time-space continuum about to happen, ain't there! (Hey, why are you crying up there on the moon, Uatu?...I'm sure things will all sort themselves out!) Incidently, note Jaunty John's clever positioning of the Thing's paw to cover up the date he's going to. We all know that FF #1 was published in '61, and MTIO #50 was published in '79. But at the time in the Marvel Universe only about seven years had passed between point A and point B, and Byrne cleverly does the only thing you should do with addressing the passage of years in the Marvel Universe: ignore it:
What happens next happens fast, and can be pretty much summed up this way: Ben Grimm '79 meets Ben Grimm '61:
Do they throw a tea party? They do not:
And fight and fight and fight!
Fight fight fight!
Fight fight fight!
The Benjy and Benjy Show...oh wait, sorry, I went off on a tangent there.
As everybody knows, the seventies always beat the sixties! The big orange guy beats the slightly smaller big orange guy! John Byrne beats Jack Kirby...hey, wait a second, Mister Byrne...that's kinda arrogant, ain't it? Anyway, let's all ask the musical question: what time is it?:
Older Ben beats young Ben and pours the serum down his craggy gullet, causing the sixty-one model to revert to human form.
Hooray! That means when Ben gets back to present times he'll be smooth and squishy instead of...dagnabbit!:
Reed explains that Ben didn't change history, he simply created an alternative universe that is now forever without The Thing...in this universe, he remains The Thing. If I were Reed, I woulda whalloped him across the nose with a rolled-up copy of What If? to teach him the lesson of chronogical-spatial cause-and-effect. Ben would see the effect of his actions some time later in the sequel: Marvel Two-in-One #100 showed the catastrophes that befell a World Without a Thing. (Short version: Galactus wins.)
With several pages of orange-punchin' action and that final haymaker that blasts young Ben right off the page, there's no doubt that this story brings the power to Friday Night Fights. And far as I'm concerned, it's also one of the most fun comics ever: an early test-run for John Byrne's groundbreaking yet "back to the basics" FF and especially The Thing. (Byrne even regressed The Thing back to that early dinosaur-hide form for several issues before Franklin magicked him back.) Despite Byrne Thing beating Kirby Thing, it's a wonderfully reverent homage to the power and energy of Jack's designs, complete with the trademark "embittered monster" dialogue of the young Grimm ("Bah!") It's probably the best way to do a fanboy homage to old stories: utterly accessible to new readers picking up the character the first time (this book was one of my first exposures to my favorite comic book superhero character) and to longtime fans who would appreciate the references and tips of the hat to Stan 'n' Jack's mighty creation. (There's even an Iron Fist reference for modern fans!) It's a fairly simple storyreally not much more than an extended fight scene with three, count 'em, three full page splashes...and yet we don't feel cheated at the story. I love this comic. Say what you will about John Byrne's crackpot public persona today, but you can't deny his love and care for the grand history of Marvel resulted in more than a few wonderfully entertaining sagas.
And by the way...how cool is Mister Grimm? Well, were you or I faced with the prospect of remaining a monstrous pile of craggy orange rocks for the rest of our lives, we'd rant and tantrum and smash a few things. Ben Grimm, on the other hand?...coolly lights up a cheroot and cracks a joke comparing himself to a Hollywood sex symbol:
Now you know...yet another reason why Ben Grimm totally rocks.