The Thing (latest series) issues #1–8 by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito and Kieron Dwyer
What is it about the Thing that gets him is own series? I’ve never understood it – sure, he’s got pathos but remains down to earth, and he’s got the catchphrase, but what is it about him that keeps getting him his own book outside of the Fantastic Four, the whole point of which is the family dynamic. He’s rocky, he’s orange, he’s strong, and that’s about it.
This time around, Ben Grimm is written by Dan Slott, a funny man (having Ben say, ‘I’m a regular “Kevin Bacon” of the superhero set.’ is typical of his comic touch) who knows his way around the Marvel Universe. However, despite the Thing’s supposed popularity and the critical acclaim this series got, even he couldn’t keep Ben in an ongoing series.
(Btw, ‘Idol of Millions’: has Ben really called himself this before? Slott really hammers it home, as if to reassure us, but I’ve never heard it.)
Part of the problem could be the approach. In an interview [EDIT: link no longer exists], Slott admits to being self-indulgent in the first three issues (having Nighthawk, the Constrictor, Iron Man on Arcade’s island) and describes it himself as ‘was very much a fun, retro, bronze age book’, which I think hurt the book and makes it feel very dated.
The loaded adjective of ‘fun’ can be applied to these tales; they are light and fluffy but seem devoid of any purpose. The first three issues on Arcade’s island seem old-fashioned, when the whole point of the series should be about the fact that the Thing is now immensely wealthy and how this changes him. This comes into effect by issue four, with the introduction of Lockjaw, the teleporting alien bulldog of the Inhumans, and a sense of purpose to Ben’s life (Reed gets Franklin to indirectly teach Ben about the value of money) but it seems an unwise choice to not start with the stronger material in the first issue. The best part of the first three issues was the fun of seeing the Thing fighting different Hulks (Maestro, Mr Fixit, the combined version) in the guise of robots, who then go on to fight different robot versions of the Thing (original, extra-rocky, ‘helmet head’ presumably from the 1990s).
The later issues see some fun – he teams up with Spider-Man (there are nice jokes about the stupid costume that he was wearing at the time, with the armour and the three limbs) and then takes Alicia into the past to see the original Venus de Milo (where Ben gets into a fight with Hercules as he was then, with some nice jokes about history and Alicia being an oracle) and a final issue which sees Ben having his Bar Mitzvah and having a huge poker game with nearly all the heroes in the Marvel Universe. But, as Spidey so rightly says at the end, ‘Uh … is that it?’
Artwise, Andrea DiVito is a perfect artist for the Thing; his thick, smooth lines compliment the rockiness of the craggy exterior, and he has good, expressive faces and bodies. I’m sure I can detect a hint of George Perez in his artwork, in a good way, and is completely appropriate for the tone of the stories that Slott is telling. There is good attention to detail, such as in the background of a fight scene where you can see the breaks in the concrete where Ben has trod. However, he does suffer from the problem afflicting a lot of modern superhero artists – the sexualisation of the women characters. The picture of Carlotta (a gold-digging film actress who is Ben’s girlfriend for a short time) where she is in a basque and suspenders, her massive breasts larger than her head, is completely unnecessary. Especially in the first issue. Still, his sense of fun (some of the famous faces in the party in the first issue, or the Bruce Banner robot on Arcade’s island chewing on the Thing’s leg) covers for this – his covers are a delight, particularly issue 6 with Spidey. It’s a shame to see him leave, but Kieron Dwyer is no slouch when it comes to humour and action, and he is a good replacement, even if is artwork is craggier in contrast to DiVito’s.
I still don’t see why Benjamin Grimm deserves his own series, but that could be my flaw. If Slott had got round to bringing the series into the modern era that the interview suggests, the book could have become more interesting and wouldn’t have been cancelled. I guess we’ll never know. If you like your superheroes old-school, this is the book for you.