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Drawing Crazy Patterns – Failed Attempts by Mr. Fantastic of Curing the Thing

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In this feature, I spotlight at least five scenes/moments from within comic book stories that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently in comics).

Today we look at a few times where Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards tried and failed at curing his best friend, Ben “The Thing” Grimm of his cosmic mutation.


As you well know, Reed feels awfully guilty that his plan to steal his own rocketship and travel to the moon got his best friend, Ben Grimm, mutated into, well, a thing. So Reed often tried to cure his friend of his mutation.

The first time was in Fantastic Four #8 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers) (Reed is trying to hide what he’s working on in his lab, so naturally Ben presumes Reed is trying to screw him over…why, I dunno. Then the Puppet Master takes control of him and sends him after the rest of the FF…)…

Next time came just three issues later, in #11 (by Lee, Kirby and Ayers)…

Ben, though, is enraged at the treatment of Sue by the readers of the Fantastic Four, and he turns back into the Thing, Hulk-style…

#16 (by Lee, Kirby and Ayers) was the last major attempt for awhile…

Check the next page for the next attempt…

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And now the story is what…that the Thing can’t change to Ben without creating duplicates across the multiverse? Seems to me Marvel needs to address this situation permanently.

I think that was the story in relation to that particular method of tranformation – a side effect of Diablo’s aurum something-or-other, if memory serves. Personally I don’t like the idea of there being a permanent explanation for it all. I think it works better when individual writers have their own take on the matter. And while I would like to see Hickman’s take on it (and everything else in FF history, really) it’s not something I like to see come up too often.

Incidentally, one of my favourite interpretations of Ben has always been Simonson’s mechanical Thing-suited version. Mind you, Simonson’s characterisation on the FF in general is leaps and bounds above most other writers on the series.

Simonson didn’t originate the idea of a mechanical-suited Thing — Stan and Jack floated the idea in FF v.1 #39-40 when the entire team lostt heir powers and Reed invented (among other items) a Thing robot for Ben to control.

Later, during the 1970s Roy Thomas era, Ben really was cured for a while (as of FF v.1 #169) and started using a Thing exosuit until he was remutated by Galactus (FF v.1 #175). Simonson wasn’t even the one who had him start using it again; that was Michael Higgins in Avengers Annual #18 and John Byrne in West Coast Avengers Annual #4, during the Atlantis Attacks crossover in 1989 . Simonson started on the FF in 1990, and picked it up from the 1989 Annuals; the 1989 FF Annual (#22) was by…Roy Thomas, the guy who created the exoskeleton idea in the first place.

Here’s a link to the exoskeleton’s history:


Boy, the editor’s ball got dropped on FF #16. Bad enough that Sue’s got it backwards by wanting to “deaden a dog’s scent” when she should be trying to deaden her own, but earlier on, while lounging in the remains of the dropped piano, Ben calls Alicia “Sue baby” – and Reed’s right there! AWKWARD!

You should feature the scene in a later Byrne issue where Reed reveals that Ben’s been able to change all along, but his love for Alicia (and poor self-esteem) prevented him from doing so.
It’s been thrown to the wayside since, but it was a poignant moment at the time (and fit well with the early attempts).

Here’s an interesting one… how many times has Ben changed “permanently”? (As in: he’s now permanently the Thing, and can never go back to being human)

I think my favorite thing in all these pages is Reed saying oops, he probably should have had Ben put the piano down before shoving a serum in his mouth that would take away his super-strength. One of the world’s most brilliant minds at work, folks.

I’m torn about the whole Reed Richards taking on Ben’s curse thing. It’s kind of noble, but it kinda disturbs me that he would make such a huge decision without consulting anyone else first, especially his wife and kids. I think it was Waid’s idea to redeem Reed for the fact that Reed cause Ben’s disfigurement with is arrogance by showing that Reed is the type of guy now who would take on Ben’s curse if he could.

Instead though it kind of reinforces to me that Reed is arrogant and thinks of no one but himself that he would do something that affects his wife and kids so majorly, possibly giving his kids some serious future psychological issues, just so that he can assuage his own guilt. It instead has reverse effect to me than Waid probably intended: it shows that Reed is still arrogant and selfish, and that when he wants to do something he unilaterally determines is for the greater good, whether it’s fly a spaceship without permission or disfigure himself, he feels entitled to do it, regardless of how it potentially affects others.

As I’ve recently been reading/re-reading Stan & Jack’s classic Fantastic Four and X-Men runs, I find it pretty amusing how often they used the trope of a young hero “using up” his/her powers temporarily. Cyclops was always draining his eye beams, Iceman was running out of snow, Marvel Girl was too tired to use her TK, up here, the Human Torch used up too much of his flame, etc.

Actually, that might be a good one for a future entry: Every time Cyclops used too much of his eye beams and needed to “recharge.” Seriously, I think it happened every issue in the first 25 issues of X-Men. ;)

What about the time where Ben could switch to “Thing mode” at will . .. but in Adam Warren’s arc before the Waid/Ringo run, he had spores pop off of him that became Things, and he had to be rocky for good because it would keep happening if he switched to human. Am I remembering it correctly?

PJ, good one, Never noticed it but you’re totally right.

What Ben needs is a ring that can turn him back and forth when he says “Thing ring, do your thing!”

Thanks, T. Yeah, reading this stuff in Essentials volumes gives you some interesting perspective.

You forgot Pacheco’s run after Claremont when the Thing could change back and forth for a while.

I second the Thing Ring! God that show was awful!

Also, every time Ben sweats big cartoony drops of sweat to show tension, each droplet that falls turns into a Herbie the Robot, off-panel.

You forgot Pacheco’s run after Claremont when the Thing could change back and forth for a while.

This is not directed at you in particular, Ian, as I’ve seen that word a lot this month – “forgot” – and I figure I should take a moment out to explain why it really does not apply. This is just “five examples.” it is not even “the five best examples.” It is “five examples.” Therefore, any examples past five were not “forgotten” – they just were not one of the five examples chosen.

Hey Omar – I know the basic history of the Thing suit. Cheers for the more detailed version. I just meant that I liked the way Simonson worked with the character of Ben in conjunction with the suit, particularly in the Acts of Vengeance issues. It was great stuff.

I love how in Alicia Masters’ first appearance she is drawn EXACTLY like Sue, down to her OUTFIT!!


That’s actually because she was dressed up as Sue by the Puppet Master. No, really.

This reminds me of the times in early FF in which Ben would suddenly transform back to normal for no given reason, then soon revert back. Talk about yankin’ the dog’s chain.

I also recall that one of those random instances was (much) later revealed to be the doing of Doctor Strange, during Roger Stern’s run. That was a great story.

There are a lot of bad cliches that lesser FF writers seem to rely on – Ben’s human/no, he’s not, _____ leaves the team, Johnny/Ben/Alicia love triangle, Sue pining away over Namor
Been there, done that. Wish they’d move on.
FF is the greatest comic ever, but, man, has it had some bad writing at times

Let’s add Reed’s attempt in FF 105-106. Reed’s “cure” gave Ben the ability to change back and forth from Thing to human at will, but with the unfortunate side effect of gradually becoming an ever-lovin’ blue-eyed dick. By FF 111 he wasn’t takin’ no smack from his teammates and he went rogue. It ended with an epic Hulk/Thing battle in FF 112. God, I love John Buscema.

Growing up with comics of the Lee/Kirby era, I can tell that Ben had transformed back into his human form for more than 5 times in that era alone…although sometimes it wasn’t because of Reed (he devolved by nature in the Rama-Tut story), but there’s this one story where Ben transformed back into his human form in order to penetrate the defense system of Dr. Doom’s blimp (which would detect the Fantastic Four members’ body pattern, or whatever it was, and destroy them if they reached the interior of the blimp – The Thing’s body pattern, and not Ben Grimm, in this case).

Now, I don’t exactly remember if it was in accordance to Reed’s typical temporary-cure-moment that Ben decided to sacrifice the cure so that the team could defeat Doom, or Reed gave Ben a temporary cure and ordered him to go into the blimp by himself, but that’s quite a great moment.

I get the impression from most of these that there was an intention by the early writers that he could ALWAYS turn back and forth, but his psychological issues kept messing it up somehow. Every time Reed gives him a “cure,” the writers gave him an angry moment or a moment of insecurity with Alicia that turned him back. It seems pretty clear the transformations were just being nudged by Reed, and then reversed by Ben’s own subconscious which activated his latent power to go back and forth.

All those comics on the 2nd page of this article are tops, in my book.

One of my favourite scenes from “1602” is a conversation between Reed and the Thing. The Thing asks Reed if he could ever be cured. Reed answers that logically yes, he could. Because with enough knowledge, the laws of science dictate that anything is possible. “Yet I posit we are in a universe which favours stories. A universe in which no story can ever truly end; in which there can only be continuances…. the laws of story suggest no cure can last for very long …. in the end, alas, you are so much more interesting and satisfying as you are.”.

A bit off topic, is it just me, or does it seem coincidental that an article about fantastic four failures was posted this week?

Mark J. Hayman

August 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm


“…I would like to see Hickman’s take on it…”

He had the Future Foundation create a formula that allows Ben to change back to normal for one week per year. Naturally it happens when it’s least desirable. There was a neat story attached to it that the formula effectively made Ben immortal as he only ages in human form. No doubt this will all be retconned out post-SW, and maybe would’ve been ignored by future writers in any case.

I don’t recall Robinson fixing Ben and Johnny’s relationship, either, though it might have been a wash as they had to work together to save the world, again.

What most impresses me is Kirby’s rapid evolution. Even as an old, old hand in the biz, his later FF work was frequently breathtaking. I’ll attribute this to Kirby’s not having to produce 200 pages/month (or whatever) like he did in Marvel’s early days, in addition to his love of the book.

And let’s not forget the awesome Joe Sinnott

I love how Reed yells at Johnny in the Robinson run. “You arrogant idiot!”

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