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The Thing #1 (2021), Marvel Comics. Ben Grimm in orange fisherman’s coveralls, carrying a net and a fishing pole Image: Walter Mosley, Tom Reilly/Marvel Comics

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Marvel’s The Thing #1 is the work of a master storyteller and longtime fan

A first issue that isn’t a love note or an homage, but definitely tips its cap to both the character and his creator

The Thing #1, the first standalone book for the Fantastic Four’s founding member since 2006, is now on shelves sporting an intriguing pair of credits. Marvel has paired up-and-comer Tom Reilly’s artwork with the writing of Walter Mosley, a 69-year-old author best known for pulpy detective tales. It’s a spotlight treatment of a Jack Kirby character who was present for Marvel’s big bang 60 years ago, but also a guy who usually rides backseat in discussions of that publisher’s biggest characters and franchises.

Who is making The Thing #1?

Walter Mosley, the National Book Foundation laureate best known for his pulp-inspired Easy Rawlins character and novel series, is The Thing’s writer. You may recall a 1995 film called Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington — that’s Easy Rawlins, and the film adapted the character’s first appearance and Mosley’s first novel. In comics, Mosley was also behind the voluminous Maximum Fantastic Four, a 2005 celebration of Jack Kirby’s artwork for Fantastic Four #1, the founding document of the modern Marvel Universe.

Tom Reilly, who penciled X-Men: Marvels Snapshots #1 last year and Morbius: Bond of Blood #1 this spring, is the artist. Jordie Bellaire provides colors and Joe Sabino letters.

What is The Thing #1 about?

Ben Grimm is in a transitional period. He and longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters break up after an escalated misunderstanding that ends with Ben pepper-sprayed and dumped in jail following a violent, public outburst. After he gets out, he re-evaluates his relationships and is matchmade with a glamorous fashion designer. A disturbing dream, however, portends his encounter with a new enemy, who is obsessed with the same woman. For as Hercules observes, Ben appears to be stalked by the same evil spirit who created this foe, who refers to himself as Brusque.

Is there any required reading?

The Thing #1 (2021), Marvel Comics. NYPD in special gear show up to arrest Ben Grimm, The Thing Image: Walter Mosley, Tom Reilly/Marvel Comics

Although The Thing #1 isn’t a lore-heavy reintroduction, it does assume some knowledge of the character and his substantial contribution to The Fantastic Four’s web of relationship drama. Mosley is 69 years old, and he read FF as a kid and teen growing up in Los Angeles. So a longtime fan’s perspective — aware of the big stuff, not so much current events — is helpful. Mosley recalls (through Ben’s dialogue) something Mister Fantastic observed about vibranium way back in Black Panther’s 1966 origin issue; that’s a good example of the familiarity his book expects.

Also, this ComicsXF interview with Mosley illuminates how the author thinks and feels about Ben Grimm more broadly:

When he’s working with the Fantastic Four, he’s the pack animal, carrying all the things they need. I think Ben and Sue are kind of in the same place: they back up the other two. Every so often they get their own thing, but when Sue does, she has to be alone, and when Ben does, he usually turns bad for some reason — at least he did back then. So I just wanted to pull him out. It’s hard to write about a Fantastic Four, because it’s much more familial. Which I like, but I want to talk about the Thing, and how important he is to the whole world: to me, as important as Spider-Man to that world.

Is The Thing #1 good?

It’s a slow burn, which is strange considering the blazing pace of events in the book’s first 12 pages. That includes a jailhouse cameo by Hercules, explained by a modest-sized balloon of expository text. This introductory issue’s purpose is to drive three characters, two of them new, together on the final 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 serves the overall tone of The Thing well, as does the semi-symmetrical rock pattern he’s chosen for some of Ben’s closeups. But The Thing #1 is still more pitch than it is sale; I’m intrigued mainly because I’m guessing at the creative urges Mosley wants to scratch.

The story presents a matter-of-fact intersection of other-dimensional beings, fabulous high technology, mutated folks, and ordinary life, the defining traits of the Marvel Age that Kirby inaugurated. It’s not as subtle as an homage or as overt as a love note, but it’s definitely the work of a longtime fan.

One panel that popped

The Thing #1 (2021), Marvel Comics. Ben Grimm is being asked for biographical details for a dating service run by a Tinkerbell-like fairy. Image: Walter Mosley, Tom Reilly/Marvel Comics

When Ben is signing up for a dating service, whose concierge apparently is Tinkerbell, he’s asked for his biographical details. “Race? Non-white,” is a good chuckle, but also evocative of how Mosley, who is Black, has seen Ben Grimm ever since he was a young fan. Again, from ComicsXF:

When I was a kid, I identified him like a brother. What I would say now is that he’s not like a white American character. People don’t want him around; they’re afraid of him. When he walks into a room, they want to get away from him. When he sits in a restaurant, they say “we don’t have any chairs that will fit you.” His girlfriend has to be blind because if she saw who he really was, that would not work out well. So it’s a thing about being classified a second-class person. Necessary — “I need your strength, I need you to back me up and be there for me” — but also, “you make me nervous.”