Friday, April 27, 2007

Ben Grimm Totally Rocks! #15/Friday Night Fights, Round 7/Most Fun Comics Ever #2

Marvel Two-in-One #50Marvel Triple Action! It's not merely the title of a 1970s reprint series from Marvel, it's also the sheer force and the powerhouse that is tonight's post! Because this little stuffed bull is going to pull off a triple—that's right, folks, not a mere puny mild-mannered post that fits one category of comics fandom, not even a tricky double spanning a twin range of interests and obsessions among those of us who are four-color fans, but watch and gape in amazement as at no point do my hooves leave my hands while I present to you a sheer megalith of a tri-cornered post that spans the globe to bring you the constant variety of comics! In other words, sit back, grab yourself a frosty root beer, and prepare to be hammered between the eyes with the triple threat of a new edition of Ben Grimm Totally Rocks, a little stuffed bull's entry into tonight's seventh round of Bahlactus's Friday Night Fights, and One of the Most Fun Comics Ever! Can you stand it, true believer? Can you stand it as we flip open the cover of Marvel Two-in-One #50 in which The Thing battles...The Thing!

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!):
MTIO #50 panel
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?):
MTIO #50 panel


Mr. Fantastic's latest Thing-Be-Gone magic potion doesn't work, however—Ben'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:
MTIO #50 panel


What happens next happens fast, and can be pretty much summed up this way: Ben Grimm '79 meets Ben Grimm '61:
MTIO #50 panel


Do they throw a tea party? They do not:
MTIO #50 panel


They fight!
MTIO #50 panel


And fight!
MTIO #50 panel


And fight and fight and fight!
MTIO #50 panel


Fight fight fight!
MTIO #50 panel


Fight fight fight!
MTIO #50 panel


The Benjy and Benjy Show...oh wait, sorry, I went off on a tangent there.
MTIO #50 panel


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?:
MTIO #50 panel


Older Ben beats young Ben and pours the serum down his craggy gullet, causing the sixty-one model to revert to human form.
MTIO #50 panel


Hooray! That means when Ben gets back to present times he'll be smooth and squishy instead of...dagnabbit!:
MTIO #50 panel


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.)
MTIO #50 panel


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 story—really 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:
MTIO #50 panel


Now you know...yet another reason why Ben Grimm totally rocks.


6 comments:

Michael Jones said...

I, too, loved that story oh-so-many moons ago and I grew up with the dinosaur-hide Benjy. But I'm still waiting for the Thing vs Concrete battle!

aronh said...

Man, I have this book. Bought it right off the spin-rack at the corner quicky mart. Love it.

The old MARVEL TWO-IN-ONEs were great. Lotsa fun. And Byrne and Sinnott are almost as good a team as Byrne and Austin.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Thanks Bully for bringing back some good memories to the Keeper.

That's our favorite issue of Marvel Two-In-One, and back in the day we owned quite a few issues of that title!

Captain Infinity said...

Sorry, Ben, I thought you knew all about the intricacies of the space-time continuum.

Is Reed giving Ben a lot of credit or just being a sarcastic jerk?

davidm said...

Reading this is timely as the night before last I dreamt I was reading an issue of The Golden Age Thing! I was amazed I'd never heard about this earlier incarnation. Then I woke up. Not as disappointing as the time I dreamt I found a box full of comics which Kirby drew for another company in the 60's.

Jeff Rients said...

The follow-up story in Two-in-One #100 was one of my favorite comics as a kid, and my second comic featuring the Thing. Good times.