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This is the end. My only Ben, the end. (An Ever-Lovin’ October Concludes) – Marvel Two-In-One #100

October 29, 2011

It’s with sadness that I begin pulling the curtain down on the Ever-Lovin’ October. I wish I could have thrown more Thingified issues into the mix, but I think there was a good cross-section presented, more than enough to show what made Marvel Two-In-One so unique and fun. The Thing didn’t exactly disappear after the end of his series, as he still had his own eponymous title to satisfy the cravings of devoted Grimmheads. It wasn’t the same, though. Cramming the Thing into improbable pairings brought out the best in him.

Hey, the month isn’t over yet. We’re rushing the eulogy. For the grand finale we have a pairing from the series closer that’s as senses-shattering as any you could conjure up, one that needs a DOUBLE-SIZED ISSUE to do it justice.

It’s the Thing. And Ben Grimm. It’s impossible! It’s a mind-bender! It’s like a wet dream of William Shatner’s ego!

This comic (Script: John Byrne, Pencils: Ron Wilson, Inks Frank Giacoia & Kevin Dzuban) requires some ‘splainin. Back in issue #50 (also scripted by Byrne), Ben had travelled back in time (or what he thought was back in time) to try to cure himself of being the Thing. He succeeded (after Clobberin’ Time fisticuffs with his former self) but when he returned to the present he was his same old craggly monster. Pull out the hankies. Life goes on.

Now it turns out the egg-head Reed Richards may have been a tad off in his calculations:

It wasn’t the plain vanilla past that Ben had leapt back into, but an alternate universe past. One where New York was still New Amsterdam (I guess there were no goatees to clue them in that something was amiss). I’m not all that clear on the geo-political implications of such a difference, like whether that world is ruled by clogs, windmills and bifurcated doors, but there you go. New Amsterdam.

Sue shows up and yentas Reed into a night out. Instead of doing a Tom Cruise in Risky Business routine (he’s already in his briefs, folks), Ben decides to travel into that other reality and see how alter-Ben fared. He plugs that day’s date (March 23, 1983 if you’re curious) into Doctor Doom’s time platform and materializes on the roof of the other Baxter Building.

He’s stunned by what he sees. The streets are empty, the buildings are cracked and crumbling, and, in what should be labeled GIANT CLUE NUMERO UNO, Galactus’ Earth-destroying device from his first appearance is still perched in its appointed place.

Ben wanders around for a while, surveying a bleak landscape that looks like something out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and is assaulted by raggedy, savage people. After he fends them off he has a convenient “Regis, what are you doing here?” reunion with himself:

It’s catch up time, and we learn that alter-Ben went into exactly the line of work that we’d expect a powerless Ben to enter, as his former team made an equally obvious choice for his replacement:

I wonder if that’s the same bar where Ben shared a drink with the Sandman

It was rough for alter-Ben to watch his friends going off on all kinds of adventures. That envy didn’t last long, though, because events soon took a bad turn. Bad bad:

The Fantastic Four quickly become the Fantastic Zero. Cue the funeral dirge. So speaks Galactus!

If only they’d given Spider-Man his own blue uniform…

It turns out that there was another difference in this alternate reality — no Silver Surfer. No herald at all. No Firelord, no Terrax, no Morg, nothing. So there was no Power Cosmic-imbued character to go Benedict Arnold and help prevent the tuning-forked world devourer from sucking the blue marble dry. Without this reinforcement the flower of Earth’s pantheon (Avengers, Hulk, X-Men et al.) fell before his might, and Galactus drained the planet of its precious bodily fluids, its essence. Sterling Hayden was onto something.

All this is laid on our Ben in alter-Ben’s underground refuge, a subterranean encampment where other people are also living. Ben is racked by guilt, thinking that if he — or alter-he — still had powers, things might have been different. And there’s another problem, made clear by the fact that alter-Ben is leading a John Connor-like resistance. But resistance to what? Before alter-Ben can spill the beans, the hideout comes under attack by trollish goons. They only go after Ben (hmmm), and he’s subdued — but he goes down swinging!:

Enter the villain:

Holy sheep dip indeed.

During an interrogation the bound Thing recounts his own history to the skeptical Red Skull, along the way trying to figure out how this guy rose so high after the Galactapocalypse. There are some nice visual cues in this trip down Marvel memory lane:

No Thing. No fight with Johnny Storm. No discovery of the Sub-Mariner in Fantastic Four #4. Hence no Namor hurling a Steve Rogers ice cube into the water in Avengers #4, hence no thawing of Captain America, and without the Star-Spangled Avenger bopping around the Red Skull stays in stasis and waits out Galactus’ wrath. The Skull keeps his precious bodily fluids, his essence (“I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence…”) and emerges fresh as a daisy. The Mighty Marvel Butterfly Effect. He awakes with a world in shambles, ripe for the picking. The Nazis rise again under his guidance, and now he’s brought their acute brand of evil to American shores. Got it?

Throw Nazis on top of the end of the world. And the Thing is down for the count. BLEAK.

Not to worry. Alter-Ben may be without a rocky exterior and super-strength, but he still has the heart of a hero. He sets out to find his other self, Nazis be damned. It’s like Willis Reed limping back into Madison Square Garden, but with Yancy Street diction. He rounds up some compatriots, captures a Nazi patrol, steals their uniforms and infiltrates the Red Skull’s HQ/concentration camp (set up in the shadows of the crumbled World Trade Center). Once inside the gates he sees a petty atrocity, one inflicted on what is (sadly) for him an unfamiliar face:

There’s nothing like seeing a blind woman beaten down into the mud by Nazis to make you want to kill yourself. Like those animal cruelty commercials that pop up on TV now and again. THIS IS NOT A WORLD I WANT TO LIVE IN.

Alter-Ben raises a ruckus and our Ben uses the distraction to break his bonds. The righteous hands of justice turn the tide, curb-stomp the Nazis, and the Red Skull gets his ass cornered like Qaddafi. But the Skull still has his Mr. Fuji Dust of Death!:

EPIC FAIL!:

PWNED!

Ding dong the Skull is dead. Now things still suck, but at least they suck without Nazis hanging around. Ben and alter-Ben exchange good lucks (one hopes that alter-Ben will cross paths with a hopefully-still-alive Alicia), and alter-Ben tells his still-Fantastic counterpart to not blame himself for all that’s happened, because even if he had been powered that wouldn’t have tipped the scales against Galactus. Cold comfort. Ben returns home.

And here’s the final sequence of the series, the last rehashing of the well-worn “heavy is the brow [literally] that wears the crown” trope, with the baby blue eyes center stage:

So endeth the series.

First the micro. There are minor faults in Byrne’s script. It’s never really laid out what the Red Skull wants with the Thing, or even how he knew about him and where to find him. One can assume that he simply wanted to eradicate a dangerous foe, but for all we know he wanted to tie Ben down and drain his blood for nefarious schemes. That’s the downside. But the weaving in of Marvel lore, including visual reprises of Namor and Captain America’s Silver Age introductions, is delightful in much the same way the usual eclectic team-ups are. Perhaps more so. Byrne has never been a writer that can blow your mind — few can — and he can be a prickly bastich, but he’s dependable. He’ll hit a solid single in the clutch. That’s what you get here, a script (in conjunction with fine artwork) that touches all the bases.

Sorry for all the baseball references. I watched a lot World Series games in the last week and a half.

Now the macro. Getting mad at Two-In-One for not being perfect, for indulging too often in the Ben Grimm Woe Is Me World Tour, is a bit like being angry at the Beatles for churning out a lot of fluffy rock (Well, yeah…). The heavy dose of pathos is part and parcel of all that works. The humor isn’t intentional, but springs organically from Ben’s working man personality and how it processes the outlandish. The action is two-fisted, but rollicks and rolls and shows Ben for the true hero he is, one that fights to the end and never gives up. The pairings can be awkward, but the contrasts draw out the qualities that make Ben one of the most endearing lugs in the long history of comic books. A lummox. A galoot. A guy who you know (KNOW) dresses as Santa every Christmas for the kids.

There was a steadfast undercurrent of compassion and kindness throughout the series. One gets a warm glow whenever it’s revisited. It’s a favorite, and I hope the few clumsy paragraphs I’ve thrown out about it convey that love. I could rattle on indefinitely, but I’ll zip my lips before a rattly baritone gives me a “Shut yer yapper!”

Excelsior.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Greg A permalink
    October 29, 2011 5:55 pm

    I wonder why team-up books became pretty much a relic?

    Both MTIO and Brave & the Bold ended in 1983. Marvel Team-Up lasted until 1985. My least favorite, DC Comics Presents ended in 1986.

    I don’t think there has been a successful team-up title since 1986.

    • November 1, 2011 12:05 am

      DC Comics Presents the least favorite? Apostate! Heretic!

      I suspect there are corporate dollar counting reasons for the demise of the teams. Diluting the brand, etc. etc. And maybe people stopped buying them. They were definitely some of my favorites growing up, though.

      • bluekatt permalink
        November 8, 2012 8:38 am

        it probably also has to do with the fact that team up’s were becoming more and more common in the characters own comics ( usually to prop up flagging sales )
        and off course the ever increasing obnoxious huge cross overs that drive the industry today

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