Fantastic Four #13
When we left off last issue, all I could think was, Man, do I want The Puppet Master punished for this! On that score, certainly, this issue does not disappoint—but wait for it.
While he’s being wailed on by The Hulk, The Thing proposes a temporary truce for the two of them to dig Alicia and other civilians out of the rubble of the island resort that their battle demolished last issue. That’s when The Puppet Master, through the mouth of The Hulk, lets it slip that he is controlling Greenskin. Worse yet, The Hulk, who seems to be certifiably evil in his present iteration, welcomes the opportunity to reduce The Thing to orange chips. And still worse than that, as we’ll recall, the minutes are counting down to Benjy’s annual shift back to human form, at which time The Hulk will pummel and pound him to lifeless jelly!
As The Puppet Master, again through Greenskin, reveals that Alicia herself was using a radioactive clay puppet of him to make him bless her marriage to Ben (I knew that was going to come back and bite them somehow), Alicia is not acting helpless. Being blind, she is not inhibited by having to move about in the dark, and being a sculptress, she knows where to dig in the rubble to get herself and everyone out of there without having it all collapse on them. So Alicia emerges from what used to be the resort just in time to see her new husband being totally flattened by The Hulk. With her loving inspiration, Ben rallies one last time. The Hulk charges, and in one moment that people will be talking about for years to come, the pride of Yancy Street pastes Greenskin with a left jab that shatters the integument on Ben’s entire arm and puts both The Hulk AND the transforming Thing down for the count! The blow is so powerful that not only does it drop both combatants, it actually shatters the Hulk puppet right in the Puppet Master’s hand—a brilliant touch!
Ben has to sleep off his massive injuries for a whole week, during which he misses the, ahem, fun of what would have been his honeymoon. He awakes back home, back in Thing form, with Alicia and the rest of The Fantastic Four, whom Alicia called after Ben delivered his historic knockout punch to his greatest rival. The broken arm with which our hero laid out The Hulk will be in a Vibranium cast for the duration. And as for The Puppet Master…
The unstoppable Hulk soon breaks into The Puppet Master’s prison cell. While he enjoys thrashing The Thing, he did not enjoy having Philip Masters pulling his strings in the process. He grabs The Puppet Master by the hands and squeezes, breaking every bone in both hands. And he’s not finished yet. What follows reminds us of the climax of Fantastic Four #284, in which Sue, in her last act as The Invisible Girl (now Woman), catches up with Psycho-Man. We are not allowed to see what happens next. We only get to hear the screaming… Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh…
The delicious, excruciating, and well-earned fate of The Puppet Master takes me back to the finale of Fantastic Four #100, in which The Puppet Master and The Mad Thinker have created a series of simulacra of other FF baddies, the last of which is The Hulk. The simulacrum of The Hulk turns on them, and this is the way Jack Kirby drew it:
Has The Puppet Master learned his lesson this time? If he survives Greenskin’s reprisal, will he be any the wiser for it? Given that he is a Marvel super-villain and he’s been evil for a long time…who knows? I suspect, however, that Earth’s greatest heroes will not have to worry about Alicia’s wicked stepfather for quite some time.
When this issue was released last week, a fan named Steve Anderson on Facebook gave his own opinions on it and the previous ish, and on some points I can understand what he was saying. In Anderson’s words, “In a New York Yancy Street minute, The Hulk makes The Thing look like a D list super hero, causing THE WORST damage to the Thing that I have ever seen done to him. Worse than Wolverine did to his face. Worse than the Champion of the Universe. All of a sudden, I am to believe that Ben’s cosmic energy imbued hide is fragile – like a set of cheaply glued tiles. The fight is utterly embarrassing to the Thing and his legacy.”
Anderson has a point. I’ve seen The Thing battered around pretty badly in 58 years of Fantastic Four stories, but I’ve never seen his body turned to a mass of impact craters and Warner Bros. cartoon-sized lumps the way it is in this battle. I think the implication is that The Hulk is even stronger now than he’s ever been in the entire history of the Marvel Universe. (I’m guessing it goes with the whole “Immortal Hulk” thing of his present characterization, which strikes me as truly, malevolently evil.) I frankly don’t know how this is even possible; the theory of The Hulk’s powers is that his strength increases geometrically with his anger, but there’s only so angry any sentient creature can get, and in a universe to which physical law still pertains (or the version of physical law that is native to Marvel Comics), there should be some upper limit to the possible physical strength of any organic life form, even The Hulk. Still and all, I’m assuming that The Hulk’s strength being ramped up even more than it was is the rationale for what Greenskin does to Old Blue Eyes in this issue. And it is still a shocking and painful thing to see.
Anderson criticizes Slott’s story—and Marvel’s seeming attitude towards The Thing in general—by pointing out how The Hulk taunts Benjy about being “way out of your weight class,” saying that he has “crushed creatures 100 times stronger than [Ben].” He also calls out the moment when The Thing says The Hulk is “…bigger than me! Stronger than me! Smarter than me!” As for that last part, it hit a nerve with me the same way it did for Anderson. I do not accept that any iteration of The Hulk—and we know that there has been a whole spectrum of Hulks—has ever been “smarter” than The Thing, except when he has been fully integrated with Banner’s mind. More ruthless and brutal, yes; smarter, no. It is Bruce Banner who is smarter than The Thing, but it is not Bruce Banner that Benjy has been facing in all these battles; it is the physical expression of Banner’s personality disorder. I’m going with Anderson on that point.
My fan-friend Anderson sums up, “The Thing may not be as strong as The Hulk, but he isn’t made of glass, either.” Agreed again, and to this I may add that at no time has The Thing ever been “a D list super-hero,” regardless of the way Marvel treats him. (For that matter, they’ve been guilty of treating the entire Fantastic Four as lower-tier characters more than once, which is a disgrace!) Listen, The Thing may not be the strongest Marvel super-hero, but he is the muscles of The Fantastic Four, and damnit, that means something!
What redeems this whole battle is that moment when Alicia’s pure and unwavering love enables Ben to rally for a last stand—that’s total romance and a triumph of the heart—and that climactic knockout punch to which an entire double page spread is devoted. The effects of that punch are consistent with an earlier story about someone else battling The Hulk. In Iron Man #132 we find the Armored Avenger slugging it out with Greenskin. This battle concludes with Shellhead putting the entire power output of his armor into a single punch, which drives The Hulk into the ground and knocks him out—and also shorts out every system in Iron Man’s armor and traps Tony Stark inside it. That scene, as we remember, looked like this.
That’s what you have to do, basically, to stop The Hulk, assuming you’re not The Invisible Woman and you can’t just shrink-wrap his head with a force field: Put every bit of your strength and power into a single blow, which may have even more dire consequences for you than your opponent. When I saw this scene, my immediate thought was, Yep, where have I seen this before? It’s that Iron Man moment all over again.
Before I move on from talking about the story, I would be remiss if I did not mention the overall conduct of the newlywed Mrs. Alicia Reiss Masters Grimm in this issue. It is a very commendable touch that Alicia does not play “the blind, helpless wife” who has no part in the story but to be in jeopardy and be rescued. She takes charge of her situation, gets herself and other civilians out of trouble, and sets up her husband’s victory. That’s just nice. You know, Alicia has been in harm’s way a lot in the decades we’ve known her, which is natural for a woman who’s a super-hero’s girlfriend (now wife) and part of the extended Fantastic Four family. (Remember when Annihilus got her in FF #251-256? I was honestly frightened for her that time.) The way she’s been written lately is a good thing to see. She is not intimidated by the dangerous things to which she is exposed as The Thing’s wife. Alicia, after many years, knows what she has married into and she’s prepared to deal with it. This is the best work I’ve seen with her since she stood up to The Silver Surfer and convinced him to turn on Galactus in FF #49, and that was one of the best scenes ever in any comic book. This characterization needs to continue.
Now, as for the art. This issue continues the art of Sean Izaakse from last issue and is another top-shelf job. The Thing may end up as a mass of craters and lumps from battling The Hulk, but he’s a well drawn mass of craters and lumps who looks the way The Thing is supposed to look. The overall art style is a match for the other current best-of-series, Aaron Kuder. I still urge Marvel to get one artist for The Fantastic Four and try to keep him there for the long term, and it should be either Kuder or Izaakse or someone else who has an appropriate style and the appropriate feel for these characters.
Finally, there is the cover, which may well be even worse than last issue’s cover. What is the meaning of the way Esad Ribic has done Ben’s face and body? He looks like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with brickface all over his body. And as another fan on Facebook pointed out—in a message to Ribic, no less—The Thing does not have ears! (At least not defined, external ones.) I’m sorry, but the covers of this book have been its greatest weakness and its greatest letdown. Many of the greatest covers in comics history have fronted The Fantastic Four. They were covers done in a traditional American Marvel super-hero style, and they were awesome. We need to get back to that. I’ve looked ahead to the cover of next issue and it is not by Ribic. This is all to the good; they need to put him someplace where his work is a better fit.
And lest I forget: Reed Richards needs a shave.
In these thirteen issues so far, Dan Slott has reunited The Fantastic Four, brought them home, given them a new place to live, married Alicia and The Thing, restored the villainy of Dr. Doom, and now given us another memorable round of comics’ greatest grudge match. It’s time to open this book up to some new territory, some new things to explore, and some new things to discover, in the best Fantastic Four tradition. And it looks as if in the issues ahead, we may see just that. Onward to FF #14 and whatever may await us, and our heroes, there.
Fantastic Four #13: Thing, Interrupted; or, Ben Grimm’s Finest Hour
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 8.5/108.5/10
Cover Art - 3/103/10
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