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Drawing Crazy Patterns – The Thing’s Floating Superhero Poker Game

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In the finale to 2005’s excellent Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series by Dan Slott, Ty Templeton and Drew Geraci (or Greg Adams, I dunno who inked the scene), we’re shown a number of photos commemorating the events that Spidey and the FF did after Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to them…

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In 2006, Slott was at it again in the Thing’s short-lived (but awesome) ongoing series, which spun out of a plot in J. Michael Straczynski’s Fantastic Four run that the Thing was rich. In the first issue (by Slott and Andrea DiVito), the Thing ruins the poker game by betting too much money now that he’s rich (note Slott’s amusing commentary involving Spider-Man)…

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Later in 2006, the final issue of Thing’s series (by Slott and Kieron Dwyer, who does yeoman’s work on this issue with so many characters in it) is one giant poker game, celebrating Ben’s thirteenth year as the Thing…

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In 2007’s Fantastic Four #542, Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone and Andy Lanning (or Cam Smith, I dunno who inked the scene) have the Human Torch visit the Thing during Civil War to talk to him about the death of Goliath during the war. The Thing thinks back to their old poker games…

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Later that year, in Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #2, Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines tells the story of both Avengers teams (the “official” Mighty Avengers and the renegade New Avengers) dealing with Captain America’s death. The New Avengers do so by playing poker…

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The rest of the issue is about Spider-Man trying to deal with it and the others sort of helping him through it (but not really, as they are having trouble processing it, as well).

In Jason Aaron’s acclaimed two-parter about how Wolverine fits in all the things he does every week (with art by Adam Kubert and Mark Farmer), We see Wolverine at a poker game during one of the days…

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In 2010’s Fantastic Four #584 by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting, the Thing takes part in one of the poker games during a day he gets to spend as just Ben Grimm…

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Finally, as suggested by commenters Anstod and Tyrell, in 2011’s Amazing Spider-Man #666, Dan Slott and Stefano Caselli, we see Spidey and the Thing go to Avengers Mansion together for the game (this was during the time that Spider-Man was a member of the Fantastic Four serving in place of the then-dead Johnny Storm)…

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I believe that’s it. If I missed one, I’m sure you’ll let me know. Remember, to count it has to feature the Thing and it has to be superheroes playing poker. The closest miss for me is Marvel Two-in-One #55, which DOES have the Thing and two other superheroes, Quasar and Goliath (Giant-Man). However, this took place before the Thing learned Bill Foster was Giant-Man…

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So I don’t think it counts. It’s just one superhero, and he’s there only because he also worked at Project Pegasus. It comes REALLY close, though.

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57 Comments

Very nice coprehensive rundown, Brian.

Kieron Dwyer really is a great, somewhat underrated artist. I really thought he did a wonder job illustrating The Thing #7… which, incidentally, is also one of my favorite stories written by Dan Slott.

What about Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen’s 1998 Fantastic Four Annual?

Impressive. But “thirteenth year”–was that a typo or is the story a retcon?

What about A+X #6? I suppose neither of them really count, because the first didn’t have the Thing and the second was just the Thing and Gambit but it was a nice poker themed issue, and one of my favorites from that series.

It’s the oldest established permanent floating poker game in the Marvel Universe.

This was a really fun list – however, it is missing Fallen Son #2, or does that not count as a ‘floating’ game?

Pete Woodhouse

July 3, 2014 at 7:57 am

I know it’s de rigeur and perhaps tedious while commenting on mid-90s art when it appears in a CSBG feature like this; but here goes… that is a prime example of sub-Image work in X-Men 48.
It’s not awful, when you consider what artistic atrocities were committed then, just… predictable (like my comment!) :)

Also:
* I did not know about this poker game trope. Duh, me!
* I’ve just realised that Gladiator (who is Marvel’s equivalent of Superman anyway) is almost certainly named after Gladiator, the Philip Wylie work which was an inspiration for Siegel & Shuster. Duh, me, again!
* Miller/McLeod – what a great combination! Pity they didn’t collaborate more. This’ll be pre-Daredevil or just-starting-Daredevil Miller, right?. Miller already looks a class act.

Wouldn’t a Spider-sense be an unfair advantage in poker?

Wow, Carol is just an awful person…and its made even worse because she took Marv’s name herself. This is why I don’t consider Carol to be a real Captain Marvel; by her own logic she has no right to the name.

Since Genis and Phyla aren’t coming back any time soon, can we just give the name to Teddy? Hulkling is a stupid name anyway.

last page is oddly centred. might wanna fix that, Bri…

Not sure if it counts, but in ASM 666 (The start of Spider Island) Peter And Ben goes to Avengers mansion to play poker, The Thing however is not hosting.

Spider-Sense at the poker table is not fair play; they might as well have invited a telepath.

“Doctor Strange didn’t just drop $100,000 on a game that he didn’t even know how to play. That makes no sense.”
Anyone who’s played poker for any length of time can tell you that there are plenty of players out there like Strange…more money than sense.

Fantastic Four… #584? :D

Peter B. Gillis

July 3, 2014 at 8:55 am

Frank did not invent the game: the story was an inventory plot that I wrote that Frank got assigned to. It turned out wonderfully, but Frank did not co-plot. That was me.

Interesting to look at Frank Miller’s pencils on Marvel Two-In-One #51. It is some nice work, with interesting, dramatic layouts, especially the splash page of the poker game, with the faces of the individual participants within playing card shaped panels. But credit should also go to Bob McLeod, whose inking is very strong and effective.

Actually, as I’ve said before, in my opinion most of the best work that Miller did was with other artists doing the inking / finishes. A lot of the time I think that some of the artistic aspects of the stories that Miller worked on that readers assume were his were really the contributions of Klaus Janson, Josef Rubinstein and Bob McLeod. Once Miller began exclusively inking his own pencils his work became more and more abstract and, to me at least, unappealing. His artwork in the last 15 years has been especially underwhelming.

In any case, it’s nice to see Peter Gillis to stop by and offer up some background info. I’ve always been a fan of his work, and I think he wrote some good, quality stories at Marvel in the 1970s and 80s. It was cool meeting him at New York Comic Fest last month and getting the two Captain America issues he did with Fred Kida autographed.

the marvel poker game has become almost as much the x-men playing baseball. and hard to believe how long it was part of the comics. including my fave where the kingpin gets into the game. plus also some things doctor strange even sucks at.

In the game with Kingpin, shouldn’t the Black Cat’s power of giving bad luck to others assure that she would win? Did the writer forget she has that power? (I guess the rules of the game would state that no superpowers can be used, but IIRC her power is not something she can just turn off.)

@Pete Woodhouse- I think that mid-90’s art is fair game, because it really stands out next to the art before and after it how bad it is.

@Fury- but it’s so cool, even the comments are centered on that page. (And the Leave a Comment boxes!)

@Peter B. Gillis- I don’t think he meant that Miller helped come up with the idea, but that in the Marvel style (you did say plotted) he drew and designed the look of the event. So he wasn’t giving credit to him for thinking it up. In any regard that’s a pretty cool thing to have come up with, and must feel nice to have something you thought up copied so many times. Leisure time I think of the Thing’s poker games, and the X-Men or Avengers baseball games.

@Tuomas- at that point did the Black Cat have the bad luck power? First it was fake, then she was given actual powers, then weren’t they taken away (and maybe given back again…?) I’m not sure where that story fell. Anyone? (Does bring up the point…don’t play with Domino or Longshot).

Tuomas: The Kingpin game was in 2004. Felicia lost her bad luck powers in 1990 and regained them in 2009.

If I recall correctly, there was another game at Avengers Mansion just prior to Spider-Island, in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man (I don’t recall the number, sorry!). I remember it because Peter and Ben are walking up to the mansion after being dropped off by the Fantasticar, both wearing their FF suits, when Spidey taps a button and his suit reverts to his regular look. Ben’s cranky because now they don’t match…

@Beacon – If you see the first couple of issues of the current Captain Marvel series, there’s a great justification for her taking the name. I think it works very well for her, particularly since she’s honouring Mar-Vell’s memory with her new identity.

@Peter B. Gillis- I don’t think he meant that Miller helped come up with the idea, but that in the Marvel style (you did say plotted) he drew and designed the look of the event. So he wasn’t giving credit to him for thinking it up.

I think Mr. Gillis grasps that, which is why he points out that Miller did not even go as far to co-plot this story. Gillis is saying that by either standard, whether Brian meant coming up with the idea or by co-plotting in the Marvel style, Miller did not co-create the game.

(Also, because I know intention doesn’t always come across well on the internet, I want to make clear that the above sentence is not meant by me to be snarky in the least.)

That story with the Kingpin is just some horrible writing all the way around. Just terrible.

Benjy is very inconsistent in his “no hiding your eyes” policy. He didn’t seem to have a problem with Iron Man playing in full armor, and never complained about anyone wearing a mask until that very recent issue.

I have Marvel-2 in 1 #75 :), I got it in the late 80’s tho, the first comic that introduced me to Annihilus and Blaastar.
Since then I can’t pass a book featuring the two.
That book was top notch tho.

I was getting withdrawal symptoms from 4 days of no Cronin, but it was worth the wait. Awesome post and love me some Snarky Brian..

Hooiser—-Yeah, Jenkins can be hit and miss and that was most definitely a “miss.” I mean, Kingpin knows where to crash a poker game, no problem coming to these heroes and making this bet just seems way too petty for him, he’s above that sort of juvenile game. Plus, as Brian points out, hard to believe Strange that bad a poker player given his past experience in games and such.

Boy, Doctor Strange is not well represented on this list. First, there’s the aforementioned absence of the 1998 “Fantastic Four” Annual by Kesel and Immonen, the game of which Strange not only attended, but determined that the Thing was not the Thing of that reality. Also, when they covered that “Strange Tales” one shot by Busiek and Vilagranon on page 2, they neglected to mention that Doctor Strange was later revealed as a 4th player in that game. (The back of his head is partly obscured by the word balloon “Well, since you ask so nicely –“.) The most he is seen doing in this otherwise informative feature is bet impulsively in that “Spectacular” issue on page 3? OUCH.

David Serchay

July 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I was thinking of the 1998 annual as well. A great story in which the Thing finds himself in a world where all of the Marvel characters have aged in real time. At the game were those who age slower — Thing, Thor, Wolverine, and Strange. We find out that a 70-somthing Bruce Banner had just died, Cap died stopping the Oklahoma City bombing, Matt Murdock is now mayor of NYC, and that Spider-Man vanished in 1973 after Gwen’s death (oh, and that the Human Torch was wearing a very bad toupee).

What about Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen’s 1998 Fantastic Four Annual?

It was an alternate reality, so Thing couldn’t very well be hosting it.

This was a really fun list – however, it is missing Fallen Son #2, or does that not count as a ‘floating’ game?

Fallen Son #2 is in there.

Frank did not invent the game: the story was an inventory plot that I wrote that Frank got assigned to. It turned out wonderfully, but Frank did not co-plot. That was me.

Oh yeah, I just meant it in terms of “First person to draw it.” Obviously that’d be too early in Miller’s career for him to be co-plotting stories already. Sorry for implying otherwise! By the way, do you recall roughly how old the inventory story was? I just wonder how much earlier we could have seen the poker game show up!

Not sure if it counts, but in ASM 666 (The start of Spider Island) Peter And Ben goes to Avengers mansion to play poker, The Thing however is not hosting.

Definitely counts! I’ll add it in.

Captain Haddock

July 3, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I never know what to expect from Luke Ross. You compare this to his later work on Spiderman and Green Lantern, and to his latest work I’ve seen in the Ultimates. It seems to me he just mirrors he style that’s popular at the time. His work isn’t bad (or good) necessarily, just it doesn’t seem to evolve so much as just leap from one shape to the other, and it can get distracting. It’s a bit like his fellow Brazilian, Roger Cruz, who has had a few “styles” in his own career. Maybe it’s a Brazilian thing?

Also, when they covered that “Strange Tales” one shot by Busiek and Vilagranon on page 2, they neglected to mention that Doctor Strange was later revealed as a 4th player in that game. (The back of his head is partly obscured by the word balloon “Well, since you ask so nicely –”.)

Good call! I’ll add that in.

The FF Annual doesn’t count, though – it’s an alternate reality and thus inherently could not be Thing’s floating superhero poker game.

I notice as the comics get newer, the artwork gets more terrible.

Cap and Mr Fantastic’s faces in that one panel look like funhouse mirrors.

I don’t see why Peter’s spider-sense should go off if they’re playing for CHARITY. It’s not a danger to him if he loses.

Brian: Just FYI, something very strange is going on with every page of CSBG, where the ads up top are huge and stacked vertically, so that they completely cover up the intro image and first two paragraphs of this page. (Or, in the case of Chad’s latest entry, the entire post.) It seems to vary by browser–on my Macbook, it’s all screwed up in Chrome, but looks fine in Safari (which I don’t usually use). On my iPhone, it’s all messed up in the same way. It’s been like that since yesterday.

i ve been experiencing that as well with my iphone

As for Peter’s spider-sense, despite the way some later writers have treated it as a psychic ability, Stan Lee intended it to be merely a heightened physical sensitivity to threats and conditions in the environment, like the way a spider’s sensitive hairs can detect even the faintest movement in the air. (It was sometimes portrayed as a heightened spatial awareness as well, enabling Spidey to maneuver in the dark or find his way out of traps.) I actually spent a fair amount of the Spider-Man novel I wrote for Pocket Star, DROWNED IN THUNDER (alas, out of print, but now available as an audiobook), exploring how and why the spider-sense worked, and I tried to be true to Lee’s intentions while taking its later abilities into account. For instance, I suggested that his ability to sense when a person was a disguised enemy (like when the Chameleon disguised as Jameson set off his danger sense) might be a subliminal awareness of body language that’s aggressive or cognitively dissonant.

So I suppose the spider-sense might function in a poker game as a heightened ability to read people’s tells and register when they’re bluffing. I’m not sure that would count as cheating, because it’s just an enhancement of the people-reading that’s a basic part of poker skills. (And hey, Wolverine has heightened senses and they still let him play.) But I doubt it would be able to detect what was actually on the cards, because there’d be no physical cues to distinguish one card from another. (Unless… many spiders can see in ultraviolet, and I did suggest in my book that Peter might do the same on a subliminal level. Can you see through the back of a playing card in UV?)

This would make a fun TBS animated special: “Marvel Presents: Poker with the Superheroes”, starring Brad Garrett as the voice of the Thing.

There’s at least one missing example, just a few issues after the first one in Marvel Two-In-One. Ben is playing at Project Pegasus with Quasar, Black Goliath, and some Pegasus guys

http://gregsbookhaven.blogspot.com/2014/01/review-project-pegasus-saga.html

peter, not to do with this, but i loved strikeforce morituri

Peter B. Gillis

July 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm

As for how long the plot sat in the drawer–not long at all, since MTIO had not had a regular team for a while, and wouldn’t until the Gruenwald/Macchio/Perez Project Pegasus run. I had written two, and the first one–a Thing/Captain Marvel, slotted in at #45. That one got pencilled by Alan Kupperberg. Alan is a fine storyteller and a complete professional–but I think I lucked out with the second plot.

Gotta love the 2006 Thing issue if only for the fact that Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers/X-Men/Defenders/Champions show up

There’s at least one missing example, just a few issues after the first one in Marvel Two-In-One. Ben is playing at Project Pegasus with Quasar, Black Goliath, and some Pegasus guys

http://gregsbookhaven.blogspot.com/2014/01/review-project-pegasus-saga.html

I showed that one on the list, Ken. I omitted it because Quasar was the only other superhero in the game when Thing put it together (the Thing doesn’t learn that Bill Foster is Giant-Man until later in that issue). So it didn’t seem like it really fit. Not to mention that the previous two issues had seen the Thing try to get together his Pegasus co-workers to play poker and he just couldn’t get anyone to play. So it A. Wasn’t really organized and B. It wasn’t really a superhero game when Quasar was the only other superhero there.

The first poker game in A+X 06 was the tail end of an Avengers’ poker night IIRC – albeit only Carol and Wolverine left (before the third guy ‘joins’). Second story in that one was Gambit and Thing taking on some local hustlers.

Does anyone know if an in-story reason was given for why the Constrictor was at the big anniversary game? Like, was he a supporting character in the Thing’s solo series or something like that? I don’t have a problem with heroes hanging out with the less-villainous villains – it actually makes a bit of sense, like the way police officers on TV shows are often shown getting chummy with non-violent repeat offenders – and Constrictor’s usually portrayed as more of a punch-card villain than an evil scumbag, but the fact that he’s the only villain in the room (except maybe the Prowler, but he’s done turns as an actual hero) makes me think there’s a backstory there.

Nice one, Brian. It always felt to me like there were dozens and dozens of these poker games around…

90s art: meh.
90s & 2000s writing: meh.

And *meh meh meh* it seems pretty hard to draw a decent Thing…Paul Pelletier almost did, except the arms.

Travis Pelkie

July 5, 2014 at 2:14 am

If I never asked you to feature these games, I intended to, so I’m glad you did. I can’t remember which of these I saw (I think the first one, actually, as I believe it was reprinted in the early ’90s in an “Adventures of the Thing” mini), but I was wondering how far back they went/when it was established. Neat to find out that if the first one was the one I saw, it was actually the first one. Nice feature here!

Does anyone know if an in-story reason was given for why the Constrictor was at the big anniversary game? Like, was he a supporting character in the Thing’s solo series or something like that?

Yes, actually. Dan Slott had a running plotline witht he3 Constrictor that started in his She-Hulk series, where the snakey crook won a sizeable fortune in damaged after a settlement in his excessive force lawsuit against Hercules.

The villain semi-reformed, since he had no further need to commit crimes, and duly turned up trying to fit in with the rich and famous at a party hosted by the Thing — himself a billionaire after cashing in on his share of Reed Richards’s patent revenues — and Grimm’s new girlfriend, model and actress Carlotta Monti. The Constrictor was thus among the guests kidnapped by Arcade and his new sidekick Byrnocki after Milan Ramada, a Paris Hilton parody snubbed by Monti, hired him to make the party a lethal one. Schlicting nearly got the others killed when he ran for safety, breaking the “rules” of Arcade’s game, but ultimately he wund up helping the Thing, Tony Stark, and Nighthawk — all rich guests at the party — save everyone and defeat Arcade (Thing v.2 #1-3).

Finally, however, Slott pulled the plug on the storyline, using the final issue of the Thing’s title to let Hercules win back his fortune from the Constrictor in a poker game. Thus the baddie was freed up to appear in Slott’s new Initiative series and continue his shaky path towards reform.

Excellent summary, Omar. Thanks!

It occurs to me that between that, his time at the Initiative, his stint as Deadpool’s roommate, and his current status quo as Baron Zemo’s lieutenant, the Constrictor’s personal life gets more attention than some heroes’ lives do.

There was also a panel in the Captain Marvel series by Peter David (the second volume of his run) where Thing was playing a game with several versions of himself. I think it was issue 14.

Heh, more examples of what looks like Grimm/Danvers/Logan meeting for the first time.

Personal favorite is a Captain Marvel issue where the Thing plays poker with two other versions of himself.

It’s funny to see D.A. Tower in the first one. I remember him from Spidey comics from that era.

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