Friday, February 22, 2008

Remembrance of "Remembrance of Things Past!"

I’ve read thousands of comics. Tens of thousands in fact, so it should come as no surprise that I have a lot of “favorites”. Like any funnybook hoarding weirdo, I have favorite writers, favorite artists, and favorite characters. Amongst the superhero crowd, one ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing stands above the rest. I started reading comics intently with Spidey, but over time Benjamin J. Grimm has proven to be the superhero I like the most, and most consistently. Which is to say, while some of our heroes aren't acting themselves, the Thing is (ahem) rock solid. Unless he's a Skrull.

With stories, though, it would be impossible to cite any one favorite. Again, even restricting our choices to the Marvel/DC axis, there have been many better stories than “Remembrance of Things Past” from Marvel Two-In-One #50 but few as all-out fun. I picked this up at the age of 10, in the misty past of 1979, and read it to confetti over the next few years. Back then, of course, I had no idea what was going to be in at the comic shop any given visit, and this issue was a complete surprise to my young self. John Byrne’s tale pitted the polished, modern Thing against his lumpen, grotesque early self, and to a ten-year old, that's golden.

Who am I kidding? I still love this story.

“Remembrance of Things Past” started as so many Fantastic Four stories do: in the lab of Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mister Fantastic. Once again, Reed has tried to cure his old friend of his rocky mutation, and once again, he has failed:

Reed leaves the lab, and Ben gets a brainstorm: if the cure could only work in the past, he’ll give it to his past self. “Borrowing” Doctor Doom’s time machine from the lab, the Thing travels back in time to shortly after the Fantastic Four’s debut. Narrowly missing a much younger Reed in the as-yet unoccupied Baxter Building, Ben sets out to his old neighborhood:

...Where he meets his younger, uglier, bitterer self, fresh from the cosmic ray shower and simmering with a miserable mix of resentment and self-pity:

I love the stiff, formal way Thing.0 speaks. Thus begins an impossible, time defying multi-page battle. I should mention that artistically, this was John Byrne at his best, with the amazing Joe Sinnott on inks. They did a great job making old skool Thing jarringly ugly compared to the “teddy bear” Thing Ben had evolved into. The two titans clash on and on:

Hey, modern-day Thing! What time is it?

Finally, present-day Thing '79 gets to do what he came to do. He feeds the unconscious proto-Thing Reed’s antidote, and heads back to his own era:

Of course, Things don’t always work out as planned, and Ben returns to his own time, expecting to see his human face, only to find:

And so that, it would seem, was that. Except it wasn't. Ben later returned to this timeline to find a Galactus-blasted husk with a few ragtag survivors being lorded over by the Red Skull. I can't remember why Galactus ate Earth, but I don't think it had anything to do with the Thing or a lack of same. It...wasn't very good.

Reed's theory about how a time-traveler can never change the past, just create an alternate timeline? Yeah, someone comes along later in the Marvel Universe and blows a big hole right through that little tidbit. Soon, here, you'll find out who, and why his discovery is good news for Harry Osborn.

For another look at this great, great Thing tale, go see Comics Oughta Be Fun's coverage of "Remembrance of Things Past!" from which I "liberated" a couple of the pix used above.


Sarcastro said...

Late seventies FF was my favorite era.

joe bloke said...

wow. i only read this comic ( for about the 100th time ) the other night. seventies marvel rocked. great post.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The "Two-in-One" issue you mention at the end, when Ben returns to that alternate Earth, reeked of editorial change. To me, at least.

It's the last issue of 2-in-1, with an epic team-up: "The Thing and Ben Grimm!" For some reason, the Thing goes back to the parallel world mentioned in this post. And lo! It done been et by that Galactus feller. The world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the human Ben Grimm is the leader of a small band of survivors who are being picked off by the Red Skull. Ahem. Anyway...

The question arises: what happened? How did Galactus eat this world?

Now, basic storytelling logic suggests that the lack of the Thing in the FF was the reason. After all, that world was the same as the mainstream one, right up until Ben created a new timeline by his time-travel shenanigans, right?

Ah...but that would mean that the Marvel Universe's Ben Grimm was responsible for the deaths of billions. Not totally responsible, true, but Ben knew how much the FF needed him; he cured himself anyway, heedless of consequences. His acting in pure self-interest cost the world a key element of its own defense.

There's no way editorial would let that stand. Remember how Shooter insisted Jean Grey be killed after her Dark Phoenix genocide? How could they possibly let the blue-eyed Idol of Millions be even partially responsible for such a crime?

So the issue had a stupid "out" included: there was no Silver Surfer in the parallel world. The Surfer was key to defeating Galactus, and his absence on CrapWorld was the real difference. The human Ben Grimm suggested that had he still been the Thing, it wouldn't have mattered.

Which totally hoses up story logic.

It looked to me like editorial simply removed the Surfer from one or two panels, where he would have been a tiny background figure anyway, and re-dialogued portions of the comic to give the Thing back his innocence. Felt very ham-handed.

But that's just my hunch. I could be wrong. Maybe that was always in the script. I doubt it.

(Sorry about the rant. It's nagged at me for a long time.)

Brian Hughes said...

You know, I remember being disappointed by MTIO #100, but it had been so long since I'd read it, I couldn't remember why. Logically, the divergence would have been that Ben would never have known Alicia Masters, and she never would have met the Silver Surfer, inspiring him to rebel against Galactus. And Byrne wrote #100 too, didn't he? So yeah, maybe it was editorial meddling. Oh, and the rant was awesome. Thanks, Mistah J.