“I never did a worthwhile thing in my whole life!! But now — I’ve finally got the chance!! I can really be Ben Grimm! I’ve gotta do it! I’ll save Richards!”
A depressed Ben Grimm wanders through the streets of New York until he is invited into a man’s house and given a hot drink. This drink turns out to be drugged and the man is a scientist who proceeds to transfer Ben’s power and form into himself. Assuming Ben’s identity, he returns to the Fantastic Four’s headquarters in order to live a life of adventure, as well as gain access to Reed’s inventions. The real Ben returns and challenges him but his teammates do not believe him. When Reed finds his life imperiled in one of his explorations, he relies on the new Thing to save him, but he does not do so in time, conflicted as to whether he should help him or not. He ultimately decides that he must and sacrifices himself to save Reed’s life. When his body is destroyed then the power and rocky body returns to Ben Grimm once again.
Stan Lee has gone on record as saying that he often thinks of “This Man, This Monster” as his favorite issue of his run, and it’s easy to see why. There is so much of the high adventure feel of the Fantastic Four here, and yet the story is a very intimate one.
After seven issues of rather complex ongoing story lines, we’ve come back now to a single-issue story, which we actually haven’t had since issue 38, over a year ago. It’s a nice break, and a common story strategy since it gives both the readers and the characters a chance to decompress and take stock of what has happened to them. However, much too often the writers decide just to have a lot of scenes of the characters talking to each other and getting emotional. When done really well, that sort of thing is okay. Here, Lee and Kirby have enough story chops between them to keep some outside antagonism coming in the mix, in this instance in the form of a disgruntled scientist who intends to infiltrate the FF and sabotage Reed Richard’s experiments out of professional jealousy.It’s not a hugely compelling motivation, but it’s believable in the scope of the universe we’re in and the common man trappings of the character are a unique touch (especially for Stan). This isn’t a master villain looking for revenge, it’s an unlucky genius who has a bee in his bonnet and a disproportionate sense of entitlement.
The short of it is that this scientist — and we never know his name — takes Ben’s identity as The Thing and manages to put his plan into perfect effect. However, what he sees and experiences of the FF lead him to change his plan. It’s one of those things that is too simply done to afford much analysis, so I won’t belabor an explanation of the events of the issue. It’s best just to experience it.
We also have another notable first! The first (again) Negative Zone. It’s not called that yet, but the floating rocks and cosmic background is unmistakable. What Reed is aiming for is a pathway through subspace, and Kirby gives us some great visuals on that.
I’m giving this issue a 10/10 not so much because it’s flawless — Johnny gets a little lost in the shuffle, Sue exerts no will or personality, and the scientist infiltrator not only manages to get Ben’s mannerisms spot-on but knows exactly what his emotional responses should be to every challenge by the FF — but because if anyone should read any singe Lee/Kirby FF issue, then this one should be it.