Fantastic Four #296
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #296
In fact, fairly early in this issue, we have the Fantastic Four in California with boxes of equipment meant to locate the Thing, but that search is cut off when the Thing's pilot friend Hopper Hertnecky shows up to tel them that he's just dropped the Thing off at Monster Island.
Having the Thing moving in with the Mole Man makes a lot of sense given the more sympathetic treatment of the Mole Man in Fantastic Four annual #13 and Fantastic Four #263-264. In fact, having the Thing start off already at Monster Island, maybe after having received a cure for his mutation from the Mole Man, would have made a lot of sense to explain the gap and apparent lack of health problems. But the issue begins with an un-mutated Thing...
...visiting the crash site of the FF's first rocket and then getting the ride from Hertnecky.
News of the Thing's decision sends Reed into a depressive spiral, and eventually Sue has to go and tell him to snap out of it, surprisingly taking the position that the Thing himself has exploited the tragedy for too long.
At the same time, we see She-Hulk telling Wyatt Wingfoot that even though they've both become close friends of the Fantastic Four, they don't have the "blood bond" that the original four members of the team have.
Reed takes Sue's message to heart, and decides that he's going to go to Monster Island to see the Thing one last time, not to try to get him to come back, but to tell him that he's through accepting the blame for what happened.
Sue and Johnny go along, but when Alicia Masters says that she wants to go, too, She-Hulk and Wyatt tell her that there's "no way" the FF could have taken her.
The FF have to fight through a mass of monsters to get to Ben and the Mole Man...
...and that allows for this Al Milgrom scene which looks more like a Fred Hembeck drawing.
Milgrom does come up with some crazy monsters that have some very specific abilities that counter-act the FF's powers.
After they are defeated, the FF meet the Thing, who has taken to emulating his new buddy.
Alicia shows up not much later, having gotten a lift from Hopper Hertnecky.
The Thing seems to have anticipated Reed's message, and he tells Reed that he no longer blames Reed, and he also apologizes to Johnny for "overreacting" when he found out that he and Alica were dating now, and he also apologizes to Sue "the way I use'ta force her ta play 'mommy' everytime I got inna snit".
All of this together is possibly the start of a new phase for the Thing, although Roger Stern will reset the Thing's attitude next issue, possibly due to the fact that the situation with the Mole Man falls apart here. Reed does think that the Thing's condition may have been anxiety-related, and the Mole Man's kingdom does allow him to find peace.
The arrival of the FF, however, shatters that peace, especially after it becomes apparent that the Mole Man's scheme to create a new continent in the Pacific the size of New Zealand will have dangerous implications for "the entire Pacific coast".
Mole Man, either for sinister or misguided reasons, also disfigures Johnny Storm because he is an "enemy" of the Thing.
The final strike against the Mole Man is when the Thing catches him hanging out in a holodeck surrounded by beautiful people.
The Thing therefore joins the FF against the moloids (note that they talk here) and monsters.
They destroy the Mole Man's Earth-Shifter machine and force the Mole Man to restore Johnny's face. The Mole Man complies and then goes back to his holodeck while his island crashes down around him. Stuck on a raft at the end of the issue, the FF engage in a hand-placing sequence replicating the one from FF #1.
Like i said, it's a little cludgey at times, but when you have to get through the cludgey task of bringing the Thing back to the FF while sweeping all of the bad blood between him and the team under the carpet, doing it with Stan Lee scripting and a bunch of guest artists is a good way to minimize the complaints. And there are some nice moments here. The Thing and Mole Man relationship is done fairly well even if the Mole Man comes off, at a minimum, looking unhinged. This was potentially a chance for a fresh start for the team, with all of the disputes between team members essentially getting resolved, but as i mentioned, Roger Stern will begin next issue with the Thing not fitting in well.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Thing returns to the FF with this issue but that doesn't mean She-Hulk is gone. Power Pack #23 (Jun 86) will show the FF, sans Thing, preparing crates for shipping to California. There's no footnote, but that was probably meant to be prior to this issue, which begins with the FF in California with equipment that they intended to use to search for the Thing before Hertnecky made that search unnecessary by just telling them where he went. However, i'm ignoring that for placement, as i'll explain below (note though that the June cover date of the PP issue and the whole sequence of a trip to California that turns out to be unnecessary seems to confirm an aborted Search for the Thing plotline). I'll note that if one were looking for a break in this issue, there is a "some time later" narration panel on page 15 of this issue. (I'm not using it, but you could say that Power Pack #23 occurs before this issue and the FF's appearances in Power Pack #25-28 and West Coast Avengers annual #1 in the gap between pages #14-15 here.) Somewhat separately, note that Franklin Richards, at least, is still staying at Avengers Mansion...
...which could indicate that the FF have not entirely moved into their new building yet. I'm proposing a period where the FF have sort of half moved in to the new building but are still living out of the Avengers Mansion some of the time. Fantastic Four #297-298 have to take place soon after these issues. And then i'm placing the FF's appearance in Comet Man #3-5 and West Coast Avengers annual #1 between this FF #298-299, and also Power Pack #23-28. My story is that the Thing returns with the FF this issue and is around for the Comet Man appearance, but then decides to go back to California to see if he can find Sharon Ventura and Demolition Dunphy, using some equipment that Reed ships him as shown in the Power Pack issue. While he's doing that, the rest of the FF, including She-Hulk, appear in the WCA annual and the Power Pack issues. And then the Thing returns.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
At one point, "Alicia" thinks to herself about how she loves Ben and Johnny both in different ways. That makes sense if she's Alicia but not if she's Lyja, who hardly knows Ben at this point.
Posted by: Michael | January 8, 2014 9:41 PM
I would guess that the writers intended for Lyja to have her personality changed to Alicia's in terms of how she thinks, acts, & feels - i.e. she would react to things as if she was blind, without having to think about it.
Posted by: clyde | January 9, 2014 11:49 AM
Of course, the real reason could be that the retcon for Lyja wasn't made at this point.
Posted by: clyde | January 9, 2014 3:59 PM
Yeah, i think your second comment is the point, Clyde. The Lyja retcon caused a number of contradictions, which shows that it wasn't very well thought out. Unless there's something i'm not remembering that said that the Skrulls actually implanted Alicia's memories and skills on Lyja.
Regarding the FF's powers, they do comment that they are doing worse against the Mole Man's monsters because they don't have the Thing (or She-Hulk) with them. I think it's that, and the fact that the group is supposed to be up against an endless horde of monsters that the book didn't have room to properly show, that results in the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman getting exhausted. But i agree, it was odd to see the Torch run out of flame and Sue needing to get rescued after John Byrne did so much to establish her strength.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 9, 2014 7:39 PM
Maybe it could just be a self-reminder. Like "oh right, I love them in different ways. Better act accordingly."
The Skrulls in secret invasion actually did do a weird memory merging thing along with being undetectable by the usual tricks. Seems a little early for that though...
Posted by: Max_Spider | January 9, 2014 8:00 PM
Byrne revealed part of his plot for this in an issue of Marvel Age: the Mole Man was going to return to the Valley of Diamonds seen back in #1, melt them down, and bathe in the liquid which would give him the power to remold his body. I don't remember what he said about the Thing, if anything.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 10, 2014 6:21 PM
IIRC, the idea was that the Valley of Diamonds transform a person into their true self. So the Mole Man would be transformed into a giant mole while Ben would be transformed into his classical Thing form. Byrne later did something similar with the Mole Man and Louise Mason when he was writing She-Hulk.
Posted by: Michael | January 10, 2014 6:37 PM
There's a couple of problems with placing stories between FF 296 and 297. First, on page 4 of FF 297, Wyatt arrives in the South Pacific with Jennifer, and remarks that Reed's message was the first time the two of them had heard from the FF since they left to find the Thing. Second, on page 7, Reed explains to Jennifer what happened since the end of FF 296.
Posted by: Michael | January 12, 2014 3:52 PM
Thanks Michael. As you know, we're entering a period with a lot of intricacies, so placement will be tentative until i get through all the entries.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 12, 2014 6:14 PM
This story would make a great animated adventure. The FF have not had a straight to video feature yet. Also it would work as a CGI animation feature film.
Posted by: Hypestyles | June 10, 2014 8:18 PM
As one of the minority readers who never liked Lifedeath (I or II), mainly because of the art, I am stunned at how much I like the way Windsor-Smith draws Thing.
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 28, 2015 1:09 PM
The FF's powers all seem weaker in this issue.
Lee scripts Sue and Johnny as he would have in the earlier days of the series, so Johnny goes back to "running out" of flame=-power and Suer can only do things when Reed explains them to her. Strangely, he does a much better job on the reconciliation scenes, and Lee's more sympathetic Mole Man from stories like FF #88-89 is on display as well.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | September 9, 2016 7:08 AM
For Byrne's original plans on what would have happened in this issue, see http://www.kleefeldoncomics.com/2015/04/on-history-john-byrnes-unused-ff.html
Note that by the time the magazine was published, Byrne had decided to leave the comic.
Regarding the recent debate on whether Byrne intended for Alicia & Johnny to marry in #300, Byrne makes reference to a "possible wedding" in that issue, & Johnny had twice been interrupted when seeming to be about to propose to Alicia in both FF Annual #19 and FF #287 (maybe he was intending the proposal to take place in the anniversary issue 296 & then the marriage in 300?). Not conclusive that the wedding wouldn't get interrupted somehow, but it does at least seem to suggest that it was something Byrne was on board with rather than something editorial came up with after Byrne left.
I can understand why they didn't want to have to fit in the story of the Thing being unmutated as well as everything else going on here, but did they ever explain why Thing started mutating in Thing #36? He mysteriously starts having dizzy spells & mutating, then just gets better? I guess being Ben it was something psychosomatic.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | July 17, 2018 12:08 PM
Ben's mutation wasn't psychosomatic. For one thing, it was depicted on panel. He actually physically changed. The wrestlers in Thing #36 who held him down were touching his "clammy skin." Ms. Marvel slapped scales off his face and his whole body turned black. He was in real pain. Byrne intended to resolve the plotline ala the Valley of the Diamonds story which showed what was in Ben's "heart of hearts" and reverts him to his regular Kirby design. Since Byrne quit the book, Shooter side-stepped the plotline, doing a completely different story. Roger Stern mentions Ben's condiction next issue, but Reed can only speculate something happened to the Thing but he can't ask since Ben's so angry all the time. And canonically, Steve Englehart revealed that the Mole Man used technology to "fix his mutations" in WCA#23.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | July 17, 2018 8:54 PM
I'd heard about Byrne's "heart of hearts" plot that would cure the mutation, but I've never heard what Byrne intended to have caused the mutation in the first place.
From what you say, it sounds like Stern might have explained it if he'd stayed on, but Englehart probably wanted to move forward with other stories & it becomes a dropped, forgotten plot - we never get to find out why he mutated, & there's no obvious cause shown in the Thing series.
I was half-joking about "psychosomatic", but Byrne's idea of Thing is that Ben's mental blocks are powerful enough to override Reed's cures and change him into his early scaly form in #238 instead of changing him human. Thing used to change back to Ben randomly until he met Alicia, when he stopped. So Ben's mind has some power over his physical form. We might not want to stretch that too far, but if no-one's ever explained why Thing started mutating, perhaps it was some physical manifestation of the bitterness & depression he'd been experiencing in The Thing comic the past year or two. I don't necessarily believe it, but in the absence of any other explanations it might have to do.
A problem with the Mole Man's curing Ben is that as Fnord points out, Ben already looks "normal" here before he's even got to Mole Man. (The driver says "your face" & you expect to see a mutated Thing, but it appears he just doesn't know who Thing is.) Perhaps the mutations wax & wane, & in a few hours he'd look "mutated" again.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | July 18, 2018 4:57 AM
Stern didn't seem interested in explaining what happened to cause or cure Ben, as in #299, he has Ben causally mention his "condition cleared up a little." Like Ben had a bad case of acne instead of a painful, body ravaging mutation. As for why he had the mutation, in another issue of Comics Feature, Roger Stern was interviewed before his first issue and mentioned energies that Ben was exposed to on Battleworld. So, it could have been that the change happened during the Rocky Grimm story, but was repressed until catching up with him in Thing #36. I personally asked Roger Stern via his web forum and he didn't remember at that point. And recently, I read John Byrne mentioning that he had changed his mind about changing the Thing's appearance before he quit in reference to a comment about the "pineapple" Thing design on Byrne Robotics. So basically, only Byrne really knew the whole thinking behind it, but since he was going to drop it as of #296 himself(and he even drew a first page of a hypothetical continuation of his FF run ala X-Men Forever with a splash of an angry, unmutated Thing several years ago), there's no narrative reason other than housekeeping to address it. And it's been over 30 years now and no one has touched it with a 10ft pole since. That said, if any writer would, Dan Slot, the new FF writer as of the new series, would be at the top of the very small list. But that would be out of scope on this site, even assuming Marvel allowed it, which is unlikely as well.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | July 18, 2018 5:48 AM
One other thing. depending on how you want to interpret the story, Ben could have visited Monster Island more than once. He went there at the end of Thing #36. Maybe he hid on a outgoing sea-liner and jumped ship when it got close enough to Monster Island. Then the Mole Man "cleared up" his mutation. After he stayed a while, he then went to Stockton for the anniversary and one last look at the surface and had Hopper take him back to Monster Island. That makes more sense to me than the Thing wandering around the west coast scaring people and unable to be found and explains why he looks like his old self and seems to feel healthy again. I'd like to include the WCA #10 appearance, but the timeframe doesn't work and having him shuttle back and forth just to say goodbye to the West Coast Avengers doesn't really seem justifiable if he returns again. One last visit to the surface world makes more sense than two.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | July 18, 2018 6:09 AM
Thanks for the info on Stern/Byrne.
I hadn't realised that Byrne had intended Thing's mutation to be a "new look" for him, like the pineapple form was during Englehart's run. What is confusing though is that the link I posted earlier specifies that Thing will return in #296 & also that the Valley Of the Diamonds plot will happen in that issue, so if Byrne had intended some "new look" a la the pineapple design, then it sounds like it would have debuted in #296 & then been fixed in the same issue.
I do remember getting Thing #36 as a kid & wondering why & what he was mutating into, looking forward to whatever would happen next? And of course what happened next was anticlimactic. He seemed fine the next time I saw him in this issue. Then I heard he'd appeared in a WCA issue inbetween, so I tracked down the WCA issue hoping for answers, and there were none. Which was a disappointment at the time.
But I understand that no-one needs an explanation in 2018 (in fact I think modern writers should in general be dissuaded from providing "explanations" for 30-year old comics as young readers won't care & as an older reader I find that such "fixes" usually cause more continuity problems than they solve. Though speaking of Slott, I loved his one-panel joke resolution to F.A.C.A.D.E., the mystery that no-one cared about.) Still, it's interesting that due to creator upheaval the plot never gets explained, even though 80s Marvel was in general all about continuity & explaining everything.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | July 18, 2018 6:30 AM
My "Great FF Re-Read" has included over the past year a rotation with three other books. Among those were The Thing because the earliest issues coincided with FF and West Coast Avengers #'s 1-20 after I finished my Avengers run at # 275. The Thing mutating story seemed to start up out of nowhere. No fighting a radiation type villain or anything that indicated an event that would trigger it. It just starts up. In WCA he agrees to join in one issue and is a no-show the next, mutating unseen and disappearing.
Posted by: KevinA | July 19, 2018 10:18 PM
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