Friday, December 17, 2010

Guest Post Travis Hiltz

The Thing: Idol of millions
Since the very first issue of the Fantastic Four, its most popular member has always been Ben Grimm, the Thing. Whether it was the fact that he looked like a monster, but you could root for him, because he was one of the good guys or the fact that underneath his rocky exterior, he was portrayed as a regular guy is up for debate. He was the one that asked the questions the reader had when weird science fiction stuff happened. Whatever the reason, his popularity has always been high, leading him to have more solo and spin-off stories and series than any other member of Marvel Comics “first family”.
The Thing was the anchor character in the team up series “Marvel two in one”, than later graduated to a solo series. Years after that was cancelled he had a four part mini series, a prequel mini (set before he became a super hero and was plain old Ben Grimm) and numerous one shot stories and guest appearances.
‘Idol of millions’, written by Dan Slott, collects his short-lived series from early 2000. Slott does a great job of juggling the many aspects of the Thing’s life. There is a story thread about him having struck it rich, wanting to return to his old neighborhood and learning that the people who ‘knew him from way back when’ didn’t want his charity. There are plenty of adventures featuring the Thing as a super hero as well as a story arc about how he deals with his self esteem issues (looking like a big, rocky monster) and what happens when his estranged girl friend, Alicia Masters, comes back into his life.
Slott manages to balance some great big super hero stories, like the first three parter that starts the collection, the team up story with Spider-man and the time travel, with some really nice smaller threads. The story, where the Thing babysits his niece and nephew and ends up adopting a very special dog is sweet and one of the best stories in this collection.
What makes this series work so well, and the reason it’s sad that it was so short lived, is that Dan Slott gets it. He understands that Ben Grimm is a regular guy, who lives a very irregular life. It’s about family and friends and how we all do stupid things to impress girls, as much as it is about big fights, killer robots, guys in capes and science fiction.
The art, by Andrea Divito and Kieron Dwyer, is clean, simple and colorful with a style that reminds me of older comic series without feeling like an Imitation. In a perfect match to Slott’s writing, the art team is adept at doing exotic settings, super hero battles and the gritty details of the ‘real world’.
This series has a vibe of old school fun, and that might be what got it cancelled, in that it was out of step with the darker, gritty, attempts at realism that so many current comics try for. It got almost no notice or press, which is a shame, as it is a perfect encapsulation of what has kept me reading comics all these years.
And if that isn’t enough to get your attention, Dan Slott follows the great comic tradition, by having one entire issue devoted to one of the Thing’s famous super hero poker games!
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