My Misspent Youth: The Thing by John Byrne and Ron Wilson

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

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As I’ve confessed many, many times in this digital space, there was no character who held greater sway over me during the years that my time was most clearly monopolized by superhero comics than bashful Benjamin J. Grimm, also known as the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing. The craggy colossus of the Fantastic Four, the first family of Marvel Comics, was a character I’d follow just about anywhere. I religiously purchased the title featuring the previously mentioned quartet, and I was even a devotee of Marvel Two-in-One, the monthly team-up comic in which the Thing took turns collaborating with other denizens of the Marvel Universe.

I don’t think there were too many others going out of their way to add issues of Marvel Two-in-One to their collection, though. Even at the time, I was somehow able to figure that out. So it wasn’t all that much of a surprise when word came down that it was getting canceled. There was quick conciliation in the news that the team-up title’s space on the spinner rack would be replaced by a new series simply called The Thing. I recall writer John Byrne, who was presiding over a stellar run on Fantastic Four at the time, arguing that there was plenty of opportunity to see the Thing playing off of other superheroes in the team book he’d been a part of since the very beginning of Marvel. The missed opportunity was in the lack of pages turned over to simply and solely exploring Ben Grimm.

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Teaming with Two-in-One artist Ron Wilson, Byrne didn’t quickly demonstrated just how serious he was about liberating the character from the circulating band of costumed do-gooders who shared a masthead with him in the previous series. The first couple of issues of The Thing basically plumb the history of Ben Grimm before he ever piloted the ill-fated, illicit rocket journey that resulted in him gaining super-strength and a rocky orange hide.

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That was a fine instinct, and it represented a welcome prioritization of character over spectacle, a creative ethos that more current superhero comics scribes would benefit from adopting. But it also, I will admit, got a little snoozy at times. There was an overabundance of pathos, which obscured the wry sense of humor that was truly Ben Grimm’s most distinctive trait. And, quite frankly, I could have used a little more time spent clobberin’.

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Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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3 comments on “My Misspent Youth: The Thing by John Byrne and Ron Wilson
  1. You know, I thoroughly enjoyed the handful of issues of The Thing’s 1980s series that I read as a kid. Then last year I made it a point to finally track down the entirety of the post-Secret Wars “Rocky Grimm, Space Ranger” arc (think it was about 12-15 issues, IIRC). My goodness, it was glorious. I’d love it as a kid but it was a frustrating read because I only had a few of the issues in the run. It’s a lovely story arc, playing out over a year’s worth of issues, that, yes, does overdose on pathos at times, but is also a really fun and introspective sci-fi romp.

    BTW, I’m finally reading Byrne’s Fantastic Four now. Again, I’d read a bunch of it as a kid but in and out order, so now I’m doing a straight read through for the first time. It’s as good as advertised, that’s for sure.

    • Dan Seeger says:

      I remembered being lukewarm on this series as a kid, but I couldn’t pin down why until I gave a fresh read to the first few issues. Now, I do it a disservice here by stopping before the Rocky Grimm issues. They provided a real purpose to ol’ Benji having his own title.

      I need to follow your lead and read the entire Byrne FF run start to finish again. Those were dear favorites when they first came out.

      • Rocky Grimm is such an odd yet highly entertaining run. I think I’m a sucker for that “stranger in a strange land” sci-fi & fantasy trope, though.

        I’m about fifteen issues into the Byrne run and it’s been nothing but a delight so far. I owned some of these as a kid (still have ’em in the long boxes too), but my FF purchasing habits were sporadic at best. So I’m excited to read the majority of his run for the first time.

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