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Marvel’s The Thing # 1 is a masterful tribute to Ben Grimm and Jack Kirby

Thing # 1 the first standalone book for the founding member of Fantastic Four since 2006, is now on the shelves with fascinating credits. Marvel paired the artwork of aspiring Tom Reilly with the writing of Walter Mosley, a 69-year-old writer best known for pulpy detective stories. It’s a spotlight treatment of a Jack Kirby character who was present at Marvel’s Big Bang 60 years ago, but also a man who usually sits in the back seat in discussions about this publisher’s biggest characters and franchises.

Who does Thing # 1?

Walter Mosley, the National Book Foundation awardee best known for his pulp-inspired Easy Rawlins characters and novel series The thing‘s writer. You may remember a 1995 film called Devil in the blue dress, starring Denzel Washington – this is Easy Rawlins, and the film adapted the character’s first appearance and Mosley’s first novel. Mosley was also behind the voluminous in comics Maximum fantastic four, a celebration of Jack Kirby’s 2005 artwork for Fantastic Four # 1, the founding document of the modern Marvel universe.

Tom Reilly, who painted in pencil X-Men: Marvel’s Snapshots # 1 last year and Morbius: blood band # 1 this spring is the artist. Jordie Bellaire supplies colors and Joe Sabino supplies letters.

what is Thing # 1 Above?

Ben Grimm is in a transition period. He and longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters split after an escalating misunderstanding that ends with Ben being sprayed with pepper spray and thrown in jail after a violent public outbreak. After he gets out, he reevaluates his relationships and is matched with a glamorous fashion designer. However, a troubling dream portends his encounter with a new enemy possessed by the same woman. Because as Hercules notes, Ben seems to be haunted by the same evil spirit who created this enemy who calls himself Brusque.

Is there any required reading?

That Thing # 1 (2021), Marvel Comics.  NYPD in special equipment appears to arrest Ben Grimm, The Thing

Image: Walter Mosley, Tom Reilly / Marvel Comics

Even though Thing # 1 is not a traditional reintroduction, but requires some knowledge of the character and his essential contribution to the relationship drama of the Fantastic Four. Mosley is 69 years old and he was reading FF grew up in Los Angeles as a child and teenager. Hence, the perspective of a longtime fan – aware of big things, not so much current events – is helpful. Mosley recalls (through Ben’s dialogue) something Mister Fantastic observed about vibranium in Black Panther’s original 1966 edition; this is a good example of the familiarity his book expects.

Also, this ComicsXF interview with Mosley sheds light on how the author thinks and feels about Ben Grimm in a broader sense:

When he works with the Fantastic Four, he is the pack animal and carries everything they need. I think Ben and Sue are kind of in the same place: they support the other two. They get their own thing from time to time, but when Sue does she has to be alone, and when Ben does he usually gets bad for some reason – at least he was back then. So I just wanted to pull it out. It’s hard to write about Fantastic Four because it’s a lot more familiar. Which I like, but I want to talk about the thing and how important it is to the whole world: as important to me as Spider-Man is to this world.

Is The Thing # 1 Good?

It’s a slow burn, which is strange given the fast pace of events in the first 12 pages of the book. This includes a cameo in Hercules prison, explained by a modest balloon with explanatory text. The goal of this introductory edition is to bring three characters, two of them new, together on the last page: Ben, his rebound date Amaryllis DeJure, and a new villain whose visual treatment vaguely reminded me of Jack Kirby’s The Wrecker.

Reilly’s precise, minimalist pencil style goes well with the overall tone of The Thing, as does the semi-symmetrical skirt pattern he chose for some of Ben’s close-up shots. but Thing # 1 is still more bad luck than selling; I am fascinated mainly because I suspect the creative urge that Mosley is trying to scratch.

The story presents a sober cross between other-dimensional beings, fabulous high technology, mutated humans and ordinary life, the defining characteristics of the Marvel Age that Kirby ushered in. It’s not as subtle as a tribute or as overt as a declaration of love, but it’s definitely the work of a longtime fan.

A panel that has burst

That Thing # 1 (2021), Marvel Comics.  Ben Grimm is asked for biographical information for a dating service run by a Tinkerbell-like fairy.

Image: Walter Mosley, Tom Reilly / Marvel Comics

When Ben signs up for a dating agency whose concierge is apparently Tinkerbell, he is asked for his biographical information. “Race? Don’t-know” is a good smile, but also an indication of how Mosley, who is black, has seen Ben Grimm since his youth. Again from ComicsXF:

When I was a kid, I identified him like a brother. What I would say now is that he is not a white American character. People don’t want him around; they are afraid of him. When he enters a room, they want to get away from him. When he sits in a restaurant, they say, “We don’t have chairs that fit you.” His girlfriend must be blind because if she saw who he really was, it wouldn’t be okay. So it is one thing to be classified as a second class person. Necessary – “I need your strength, I need you to support me and to be there for me” – but also “you make me nervous”.

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