The Thing is Marvel’s everyman hero, the muscle of the Fantastic Four, but a recent story explores how deep the trauma of his transformation runs.
Warning: contains spoilers for Marvel #4!
Anyone who’s paid even the slightest attention to the journey of the Fantastic Four knows that Ben Grimm definitely got the short end of the stick when it came to the groups’ powers. While his friends suddenly had the ability to turn invisible, or control fire, or stretch and bend at whim, he got strength… coupled with an irreversible change of exterior. In Sal Abbinanti’s ‘I am a Revoltin’ Development,’ readers get to see, through Ben’s own words, just how personal and tragic his transformation really was, and how far back its roots truly stretch.
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Ben has always been the team member people were wary of, going by the unsettling name of the Thing. He scared people, and scared himself, beginning his comics career as someone so full of rage he attacked his oldest friend, Reed Richards, at the slightest provocation, blaming him for what he saw as his permanent othering from a society he’d previously loved being part of. He’s a hero for all intents and purposes, but at what cost? What is it for him to be a hero, to be venerated, if at heart he feels like the monster people mistake him for? These are the questions ‘I am a Revoltin’ Development’ answers.
In this tale, Ben recounts his life up to now, how he saw himself since a young age, and how becoming the Thing solidified all the negative thoughts he’d ever had about himself. He reveals the tragic truth that he’s always felt like a monster on the inside. From a young age, he made up for the things he lacked through playing sports or getting in fights. He never held himself in high regards. To compound that, he considers meeting Reed Richards in college to be the worst thing that ever happened to him. He sees their relationship as one of necessity; that his service as a pilot in the military is what made him “useful” to Reed and landed him in the position he’s in today; a person transformed into a physical representation of the negative feelings they harbor. All of this backstory makes the tragedy of his circumstance even more heartbreaking. It really brings to light that there probably aren’t many people who would have been more ill-fitted for the powers he was dealt in terms of how they confirmed all his deepest worries and his boiling self-hatred.
Few Marvel heroes choose to gain powers in the comics, but most of them take at least some pleasure in their new abilities, even if the responsibility to use them ultimately adds new challenges to their lives. While the Thing has come to accept his situation, he’s never quite stopped thinking of it as a curse. Ultimately, he can’t find it in himself to hate Reed for what he caused, because as much as he sees himself as a monster, and as tragic as his circumstances are, he also feels the love of those who just see him as the “big guy who has their backs.”
In the mainstream comics, Ben’s life has steadily improved. Thanks to the Future Foundation, the Thing gets one day a year in which he gets to be human again and experience what life could have been for him, and as of recent stories he even has a loving family. Despite this, the Thing’s characterization – and his place with the Fantastic Four – hangs on how devastating his original transformation was, and how it forces him to live a life he never would have chosen. With ‘I am a Revoltin’ Development,’ fans now know that becoming the Thing wasn’t just a terrible accident, but the ultimate confirmation of all the baggage Ben Grimm had carried throughout his life. That protecting others helps him live with this is what makes him a hero, but it doesn’t make his origins any less tragic.
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