18 Jul 2013

Cover Story: TOP 10 GREATEST THING COVERS

Matt C: At a young age, following my discovery of superhero comics, it was initially all about Spider-Man and Hulk for me (as, unsurprisingly, they received the most exposure on the shelves of the newsagents) but as soon as I first laid eyes on the rocky orange hide of Fantastic Four member The Thing he instantly became one of my favourite characters, and has remained so ever since. It's that cheerful, playful aura he exudes that makes him so damn likeable, but at the same time it isn't quite potent enough to obscure the deep melancholy within. Benjamin Grimm's a working class brawler with a heart of gold but he generates an enormous amount of pathos because no matter how brave or noble he is, outwardly he'll always look like a monster. Even my young mind latched onto that concept pretty swiftly, and his plight - his struggle with being perceived as a brute - remains as compelling as ever. These are my Top 10 covers featuring the man Franklin Richards refers to as 'Unca Ben' and the hero we know from his resounding battle cry of "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!"

10. FANTASTIC FOUR #528 (2005)
Under J. Michael Straczynski’s stewardship it transpired that Reed had used the FF’s fortune to pay off various debts but left Ben’s share untouched (guilt over the Thing's condition playing a part in Mr Fantastic's decision). It was an entertaining plot thread and it provided us with this wonderful picture of the blinged-up Thing displaying his new found wealth in a non-too-subtle manner. It captures that cheeky glint in the eye that makes the character such an enduring favourite.

9. FANTASTIC FOUR #296 (1986)
Artistically this is far from the best depiction of the Thing on the cover of a comic book, in that you only get the briefest glimpse of the man underneath the hat and trenchcoat. But that’s not the point. The Thing had been out of the FF for a couple of years and the return of one of the founding members of Marvel’s First Family was something that, although predictable, generated a lot of excitement from this particular fanboy. This cover brought that excitement to fever pitch.

8. FANTASTIC FOUR #107 (1971)
It’s a transformation we’ve seen countless times over the years, but this is a particularly good single image that encapsulates the anguish Grimm feels over something that is almost inevitable. “It must happen. It must – IT MUST!” Nuff said.

7. WHAT IF #11 (1978)
This one, from Jack Kirby’s second (and final) tenure at Marvel, is kind of cheesy but somehow it cuts through all the animosity and recriminations that would follow in the years to come, showing Stan Lee leading his Bullpen comparadres on a great adventure. There's some self-mythologising in this image, but there's also something quite touching about Jack rendering himself as the ever-lovin', blue-eyed Thing, the character that he blatantly felt the most affinity with, the guy who came from impoverished beginnings to make his mark on the world.

6. THING #2 (1983)
A simple idea, but a potent one all the same. This is Ben reflecting on his life pre-transformation, his hopes and dreams never to be realised now he’s locked in the rocky body of the Thing.

5. MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #86 (1982)
A lovely cover that does the exact opposite from the usual “Clobberin’ Time!” visuals you expect to see, as Ben enjoys an unexpected brewski with his co-star, paraphrasing a rather famous advertising slogan. Rather than focusing on his superheroic adventurer status, it emphasises his roots as a working class hero raised on Yancy Street.

4. FANTASTIC FOUR #12 (1963)
First impressions always last. There have been plenty of covers depicting Ben Grimm and Bruce Banner's green-skinned alter ego laying into each other, but this one, featuring their first meeting, is probably the most powerful because it teases the confrontation rather than showing it. There's a cocky confidence to Ben in this image, while the Hulk emits brute power, and perhaps neither of them are quite prepared for what will be the beginning of one of the greatest rivalries in comics.

3. THING #23 (1985)
Back from the Beyonder’s Secret Wars planet (dubbed Battleworld), everyone assumed Ben would boot his replacement She-Hulk out and take his place in Marvel’s First Family again. That was on the agenda eventually (see Fantastic Four #296 above) but he wasn’t quite ready at this stage, as shown in this effective image from Ron Wilson that evokes the classic “Spider-Man No More!” cover from Amazing Spider-Man #50.

2. FANTASTIC FOUR #263 (1984)
One of my favourite covers – of any comic series – of all time. It’s bulging with drama and intensity thanks to John Byrne’s brilliant rendition of Aunt Petunia’s blue-eyed nephew and the glorious use of white-hot colour. Then there’s the speech bubble – one simple word: “Johnny--!”. With even a basic familiarity of the characters, that exclaimed name – coupled with Byrne’s art – is more than enough to have you desperate to crack upon the cover and read the adventure inside.

1. FANTASTIC FOUR #51 (1966)
There could really be no other choice for the number one spot. It’s an idea that’s been used on countless occasions as a way to visually convey the core of this beloved character, but no one could draw the Thing like Kirby, and he absolutely nailed it here. The sad soul locked away inside a pile of orange rocks, his happy-go-lucky persona concealing the feeling that he will always be considered an outcast and never truly fit in. A beautiful image that really seems to exemplify the old saying that a picture can paint a thousand words.

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