Thursday, 23 September 2010

Review - The Thing: Idol of Millions TPB

The Thing is one of my favourite Marvel characters. As a child, one of my favourite comics was Marvel Two-In-One and what I have always liked most about those early Lee / Kirby issues of the Fantastic Four is Lee’s wisecracking Thing. So, when I saw this on eBay a few weeks ago I snapped it up for £5.99 (including postage). I suppose £5.99 isn’t such an amazing bargain but it is a perfectly reasonable price for a TPB and it’s certainly less than it would have cost me to buy the comics collected in this volume when they first came out, so it’s a purchase that falls well within the rules of this blog.

Idol of Millions collects all eight issues of the 2005 Thing series by Dan ‘I write Spider-Man now’ Slott, Andrea ‘who?’ DiVito and Kieron ‘the name rings a bell but I can’t think what else he’s done’ Dwyer. As far as I remember, it was not intended to be an eight issue mini-series but was cancelled after eight issues due to poor sales. I had an account with Diamond at the time this was coming out, and this was a long way from being my biggest selling Marvel title, but I don’t remember it selling that badly. There were certainly a lot of Marvel titles that sold fewer copies and there were probably a hell of a lot of Marvel titles more deserving of cancellation. I mean, at least you don’t need to buy a load of other comics to understand what’s going on, even if some basic familiarity with the Marvel universe is necessary. It’s not that bad. Unfortunately, it’s not that great either.

At the start of the book, we find out that Ben Grimm is a billionaire, thanks to some wise investments, and his riches have gone to his head. He now dates a famous actress, hangs out with other rich people, lives in a penthouse apartment, and spends money freely. Personally, I found the idea that success would go to Ben’s head a little hard to swallow, as he had already been a celebrity for years, already lived at a pretty exclusive address (i.e. the Baxter Building), and probably got paid fairly well as a member of the FF, but maybe that’s just me? I found it harder to believe, after seeing his movie star girlfriend walking around their apartment in her underwear, that it would be possible for the Thing to have a sexual relationship with a normal woman without killing her. But I guess it would be na├»ve of me to expect such matters to be explored in a Marvel comic that is (hypothetically) aimed at children (but more realistically aimed at nerds in their 40s – like me – who have fond memories of Marvel Two-In-One).

This idea that success has gone to Ben’s head runs through all eight issues, but we don’t really see much evidence to support the idea. He seems a little over-impressed by the rich people he meets in the first few issues but mostly he just seems unhappy. In fact, the comic gets a bit preachy and really lays on this idea that money doesn’t buy you happiness with a trowel. I hate rich people as much as the next guy, but if I was a billionaire I would be really bloody happy and can’t help thinking that this whole ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness’ lark is just something the rich want us to believe so that we don’t revolt. Even if money really doesn’t buy you happiness (it does!) the concept has already been done to death elsewhere and here it just gets a bit tiresome.

Slott also heavy-handedly reminds us, on several occasions, that the Fantastic Four are a ‘family’, which is something that writers of the FF seem to feel the need to do constantly these days and it really irks me. I mean, I get the idea that the FF have this family dynamic going on – three of them are related, after all – but why does every modern FF writer feel the need to ram the idea down the reader’s throat? I don’t remember Stan Lee ever beating us over the head with this idea that the FF are one big family and all this ‘family’ crap annoys me almost as much as the whole ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ nonsense that every modern Spider-Man writer seems to feel obliged to mention over and over again, even though Stan Lee probably only ever said that in a Spider-Man comic once. Even then, as far as I am aware, no character in the comic actually said it, it was said ‘off camera’ by Lee, the narrator, where it didn’t sound quite so corny. Actually, Slott does mention the whole ‘with great power…’ thing in an issue of the Thing where Spider-Man shows up, but he does at least try and make a joke out of it.

Slott tries to make a joke out of many situations in this book and I understand that he has a reputation as a funny writer. Sadly, though, his attempts at humour fall a bit flat here. There were moments that were mildly amusing but there was nothing here that was laugh-out-loud funny, nothing much that even made me smile, and that was probably the most disappointing thing about the book. I could probably pick up any random issue of the Fantastic Four written by Stan Lee and find a laugh-your-arse-off-funny Thing one-liner, but few writers have managed to recapture that. Still, at least Slott appeared to be trying, even if his efforts were a bit tiresome.

The first story arc (issues 1-3) involves a Paris Hilton type hiring Arcade to kill the Thing and his movie star girlfriend because she wasn’t invited to their party. Other guests captured at the party include Nighthawk, the Constrictor (now a good guy, it seems), and Tony ‘I’m Iron Man me’ Stark, so Ben has some help trying to get out of Arcade’s newly constructed ‘Murderland’, which isn’t half as good as his old ‘Murderworld’. ‘Murderworld’, I seem to remember, was full of all sorts of inventive death traps, but ‘Murderland’ is just full of murderous robots based on Marvel characters, which doesn’t seem like half as much fun. Personally, if I were Arcade, I would have killed everyone while they were unconscious and in transit to ‘Murderland’, as this would have been much easier and cheaper, and as it is Arcade gets his arse roundly kicked. Mind you, if I were Arcade, I would spend all day constructing erotic robots based on Ms Marvel and would have very little time for murder. In fact, I can’t help wondering why Arcade bothers working as an assassin at all. If he just saved all the money he spent constructing and maintaining Murderland, he could live off the interest. I guess he must be some kind of homicidal maniac, but he’s not a very good one, because I don’t remember him ever managing to kill anyone, despite spending a fortune trying.

Anyway, this review is getting a bit long now so I won’t describe the rest of the book in any great detail. I’ll just say that, by the end of the book, Ben realises that he has been a bit of a dick (which he hasn’t), that money can’t buy you happiness (which, as we’ve already established, it can), and that all you really need is friends (which is debatable). He also gets back together with Alicia Masters and rediscovers his Jewish faith. The fact that Ben Grimm is Jewish is something that is rarely explored in comics and this is a potentially interesting source of material. In fact, Ben Grimm ‘getting’ religion is probably something that should have been explored in a mini-series, as it could have had major ramifications for the FF. Here, though, it gets just a few pages – just to illustrate that it’s the simple things in life that matter, which is plainly untrue – and was probably never mentioned again.

The first five issues are drawn by Andrea DiVito, who draws like a cross between the late Mike Wieringo and Mark Bagley, while the last three issues are drawn by Kieron Dwyer. Dwyer is probably the better artist – he is certainly more stylish – but I think I preferred DiVito’s art here as it seemed better suited to this type of book. It wasn’t great art but it was certainly good enough for a book like this and I’ve seen much worse (for example, the art in most modern DC comics).

All in all, I was a bit disappointed with this but I still feel strangely attached to it because it’s the Thing. I don’t think I will sell it just yet but I can’t help thinking that I could have spent £5.99 on something much better.

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