Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines the new Fantastic Four spin-off comic The Thing #1 by Walter Mosley and Tom Reilly and how Marvel Studios should fold it into their cinematic philosophy.
This past week, a new comic book was released that knocked me on my butt: The Thing #1, written by Walter Mosley, illustrated by Tom Reilly, colored by Jordie Bellaire, and lettered by Joe Sabino.
I read a lot of comics, and I love most of them. I consider myself an enthusiast, but I may just be a mark. However, I also like to think I know when something special hits, and dammit, this thin narrative slice feels like a moment. And maybe a direction the Marvel Cinematic Universe should take when introducing the Fantastic Four in 2023.
New #1 comics are often a misleading introduction. DC Comics and Marvel Comics tend to reboot their works every few years. This Thing may proclaim itself as a #1, but it’s actually Volume 3 #1 with 44 preceding issues, not to mention the hundreds of Fantastic Four comics and Thing guest appearances that have occurred over the last 60 years. After all, Ben Grimm, The Thing, was there when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee ignited the universe with their cosmic superteam.
So, The Thing #1 does assume you know a little somethin’-somethin’ about the rock-skinned clobberer before you crack its first page, but the good news is all you really need to have consumed is one of the four miserably disappointing Fantastic Four movies. It’s kinda like when Marvel Studios rebooted Spider-Man for their purposes. They knew we’d seen the Tobey Maguire trilogy and the Andrew Garfield flicks; there was no need to go through the Uncle Ben tragedy again.
Assume your audience already gets it, or assume they can catch up. These are creators who should have faith in their consumers. We’re not dumb. We can figure it out as long as they sell emotional authenticity and engage with us on a character level. Plot is a secondary concern. That’s the secret. We’ll swallow whatever mumbo jumbo as long as we love the characters swimming within it.
Did you say Walter Mosley is writing The Thing?
Some of you reading this piece are already nodding your head, going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Brad, get to the bit about Walter Mosley.” The novelist is best known for his Easy Rawlins novels, and hopefully, most of you have already witnessed that series’ first adaptation, Devil in a Blue Dress starring Denzel Washington. Mosley’s books are hardboiled, brutal bouts that rage with political fervor. They’re easily devoured, demanding one-sit reading experiences, thrusting you to the next title on the shelf.
Mosley is not the first novelist to venture into the comic book space, but thankfully, the crime writer’s greatest contribution is not words. Frequently, authors crowd a comic’s page with captions, balloons, and dialogue. You can barely see what’s happening behind these white blobs, zapping the reader’s attention span with rambling purple prose. Mosley loves the comic book form too much to allow such an atrocity to occur. He steps back and lets Tom Reilly do the heavy-lifting and the heavy-hitting.
Reilly is a relative newcomer. His style features clear, sharp linework. He recalls other graphically minded artists like Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez, creators you could easily hand to a new comics reader, where every expression and action is plainly communicated. Woe unto those whose first comic was drawn by Geoff Darrow. I love him, but damn, I’ve melted some friends’ brains with Hard Boiled.
What’s The Thing #1 About?
In The Thing #1, Walter Mosley and Tom Reilly set the clock back. They’re not interested in playing within or interfering with the current Fantastic Four continuity. A caption reading “Brooklyn, New York. Years ago” does the trick, firmly rooting Ben Grimm in his awkward superhero adolescence, when he’s still pissed about what he is but trying to establish a romantic life with girlfriend Alicia Masters.
After a long fishing trip, he returns to the Baxter Building, hoping for a warm reunion with pals Reed, Sue, and Johnny. But all are gone, having adventures of their own. When he seeks out Alicia, he finds her strolling the street arm-in-arm with a handsome gallery owner. The dude’s good looks cause Ben to bristle, and his slight but obvious agitation triggers the other beau into macing the orange man-monster in the face. Blinded, Ben lashes out in pain and frustration, knocking cars into the air and gaining the attention of the NYPD’s superhuman containment squad.
While Ben cools off in lockup, his cellmate Hercules (yes, that one, if there’s a Thor, there’s a Hercules) notices a malevolent spirit circling his aura. Ben’s not much for worrying about such hoodoo and dismisses Herc’s warning outright. Meanwhile, this sinister force names itself Brusque and works its treachery on another lovelorn tough guy who crashes the comic’s climax.
The Fantastic Four Need Not Suffer The MCU’s First Movie Problem
The bad Fantastic Four movies could be a gift for the MCU. Director Jon Watts gets to do with Ben, Reed, Sue, and Johnny what he did with Peter Parker in Spider–Man: Homecoming. He can relax on the origin story, use a little shorthand, and push immediately into a plot that accentuates character, not mythos.
Watching Eternals, I was struck by the struggle Chloé Zhao and her other screenwriters exhibited when attempting their set-up. They juggled a team of 10 characters, bumping the non-essentials to the side as quickly as possible and zeroing the climactic focus on Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), and Sprite (Lia McHugh). However, too much time was already wasted, with Sersi and Ikaris’ relationship mostly jammed into a speedy flashback. We were denied a chance to connect with their bond, so the hurt lacked impact when it shattered over their opposing faiths.
If the two are to meet again in Eternals 2 (which could prove tricky all things considered), the first film’s legwork will bolster the reunion’s emotionality, using the old to improve the new. This is an effect mastered by most MCU sequels and absolutely exemplified by Avengers: Endgame. It would be nice to speed this process up and get the heart-rending thwack on the first go-around. And, in using our familiarity with the Fantastic Four, Marvel can jump straight to the good stuff with their reboot.
And, maybe, nudge Ben Grimm to the narrative’s forefront. Since Kirby and Lee launched The Fantastic Four, The Thing has always been the most relatable member. When buffeted by cosmic rays, Reed, Sue, and Johnny were given rad powers that still allowed them to mingle within polite society. Ben Grimm was not so lucky. He’s strong as hell and looks like hell.
When he’s not clobbering supervillains, Ben Grimm exists in agony because he sees what we see, a monster. Left to think alone in a room, Ben’s mind wanders into doubt, self-loathing, and anger. His exterior reflects an emotional state we all occasionally dip into. The Thing is a confused mess, unsure of his place on this planet. He is us on our worst days.
Going Big to Serve the Small
The MCU currently consists of 26 movies and four television series. With Thanos dead, we now have titanic space gods and time-traveling despots to worry about. Meet the new cataclysm, same as the old cataclysm.
I want those at Marvel Studios to pick up The Thing #1, which is hopefully already on their desks. Walter Mosley and Tom Reilly also promise a possible apocalypse. But it exists only as a means to key in on Ben Grimm’s interior disharmony. The big never overshadows the small; in fact, the big is there to highlight the small. The Fantastic Four serves as a fantastical backdrop; a family exaggerated to match the emotional extremity we experience in our homes.
The Thing #1 is superhero storytelling at its very best. Mosley and Reilly use punching, magic, and prophecy to ease a reader into a conversation about self-love. It’s only the first chapter in a larger narrative. But the excitement it elicits in 30 pages outperforms most two-and-a-half-hour runtimes.
When Fantastic Four arrives in the MCU, we want it to be an epic moment. It’s the same desire we held for Eternals, but we should resist such colossal yearnings. Every Marvel movie cannot be an Avengers. Rather than reaching for Galactus on the first attempt, let’s chill out. Let’s get to know our heroes.