This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the Thing, a member of Marvel’s superhero team, the Fantastic Four.
The Thing (real name: Benjamin Grimm) first appeared in “Fantastic Four” #1 (November 1961). He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Benjamin’s backstory states he grew up impoverished in New York City. Eventually bettering himself, Ben went off to college, where he met his roommate and eventual longtime friend, Reed Richards. After finishing college, Ben enlisted in the Air Force, becoming a test pilot. Eventually, Ben entered an astronaut training program.
The superhero origin aspect came when Reed Richards asked Ben to pilot an experimental rocket he’d built. With Reed’s fiancée Sue Richards (née Storm) and Sue’s hot-headed teenage brother Johnny as passengers, the four flew the rocket into space. However, the rocket’s shielding wasn’t adequate enough to withstand a burst of damaging “cosmic rays.”
Crash-landing back on Earth, the four found themselves mutated in different ways—Sue gained invisibility powers, Johnny the ability to set himself aflame, and Reed the ability to stretch his body. Ben’s transformation was the most extreme, as he’d gained a rocky, monstrous appearance.
The four decided to use their new abilities to help humanity as heroes. They became the team the Fantastic Four: Reed as “Mr. Fantastic,” Sue as “the Invisible Woman” (formerly “Girl”), Johnny as “the Human Torch,” and Ben as “The Thing.”
The team’s one of the Marvel Universe’s premiere and most respected superhero teams. The Fantastic Four’s headquarters is the fictional Baxter Building in New York.
It should be noted that thanks to sliding comic timelines, several aspects of Ben’s backstory have been dropped. One is Ben and Reed having served alongside each other in World War II. Another is the original reason the four went into space; they were rushing to “beat the Russians.”
As the Thing, Ben’s abilities consist of vast superhuman strength, stamina, and endurance. However, Ben still retains the same personality he had before, a gruff but likable guy. Supposedly, Ben’s partly based on the persona of his co-creator, Jack Kirby, which might explain the Thing’s habit of smoking cigars.
Over the years, the Thing’s had recurring traits/running themes in his stories, including:
- The occasional fight with fellow super-strong monstrous Marvel hero, the Hulk.
- Angst over the extreme nature of his mutation, and Reed’s attempts to undo such. Occasionally, he’ll turn back to normal, but it never lasts.
- His running rivalries with the Human Torch and the Yancy Street Gang, a street gang in the neighborhood where Ben grew up.
The Thing’s also received various nicknames (a few self-proclaimed), including the “ever-loving blue-eyed Thing” and “the Idol of Millions.” Ben also makes occasional mention of his Aunt Petunia and sometimes describes a negative situation as “what a revolting development.” However, the Thing’s most famous catch phrase is “it’s clobberin’ time!”
The Thing’s proven popular enough to get his own occasional comic series. The most prominent one was the 70s title “Marvel Two-In-One,” a team-up book where Thing met a different Marvel Universe character each issue.
“Fantastic Four” (vol. 3) #56 (August 2002) revealed that Ben’s Jewish. Ben’s religious background has since occasionally come up in stories, including in 2011’s “Marvel Holiday Special.” There, Ben’s shown celebrating Hanukkah with some of Marvel’s other Jewish heroes, including Kitty Pryde and Wiccan.
Outside of comics, the Thing’s made plenty of appearances in animation, starting with a 1967 Hanna-Barbera animated series. The oddest animated version is probably the 1979 series “Fred and Barney Meet the Thing,” which I’ve discussed before.
The Thing and the rest of the team’s also appeared in movies. However, none of them have been successful or strongly faithful. The latest example of such is the 2015 film. Rotten Tomatoes ranks the film (as of this writing) at 17%.