My First Comic by Rick Lundeen
Fantastic Four #112- All Time Greatest Battle Issue
June, 1971. In Fantastic Four #111, the team was dealing with an out of control Ben Grimm. Reed’s latest serum to cure Ben of being the Thing tried a new tack. It allowed Ben to transform back and forth between himself and the Thing at will. The best of both worlds. And it worked! Unfortunately, the side effect was that it made Ben mean. Violent. Trouble. So on the very last page, within four or five panels, 1) Reed decided they’d better call in Bruce Banner for help. 2) Johnny did a quick, giant skywriting letter calling out Dr. Banner 3) Bruce, who happened to be in a cab close by, was telling the cabbie that he’s in a hurry but mustn’t get upset – fat chance 4) He smashes out of the cab as the Hulk, sees the Thing on a rampage and decides he must smash him and 5) a face off shot of them staring each other down, hyping next month’s “Battle of the Behemoths!”
There was a lot of that type of last second wrap up in the old books, as the artists sometimes didn’t quite pace things out right for the 20 pages. Kirby sometimes fell prey to it, so did big John Buscema. This was the most shambolic, hurried set up ever for a next issue. But thank god they did it. Because it resulted in the greatest all time battle issue ever beheld in this or any other universe, FF #112. ‘Course, it was years later that I finally saw #111 and the lead up.
This was 1971 and I’m not sure if I ever actually picked up a comic before this magical day. *This* was the day I was in a grocery store and saw some comics and picked up a couple for the first time. I’m sure my grandparents bought them for me. So no, I had no set up. One of these comics hit me like an orange and green brick.
The cover was simple, powerful, to the point. “Hulk vs Thing”. It had been about 90 issues since the last time Ben and ol’ green jeans had an epic battle in the FF. Mind you, they really did have an epic battle in FF 25 & 26, too. This was the actual first time Ben realized he was no longer the world’s strongest human and it was humbling. But even though he fully realized the Hulk was bigger, stronger, and seemingly never got tired, Ben never gave up. He kept fighting until the end. On that day, millions of new Thing fans were born. You just had to admire the hell out of Ben Grimm. Eventually, the rest of the FF and the Avengers all got into the mix too, so Ben only carried the fight for most of part one, great as it was.
In #112, this battle was –start to finish, a high octane, visceral, slugfest that had the entire city either running for cover, or training hi tech weapons on the two monsters. Usually, at least Ben would be concerned about civilian casualties, trying to get the fight to a remote area. Not so here, thanks to Ben’s current mental outlook. As furious and uncaring as the Hulk was about who else might get hurt, Ben was just as unconcerned. The Hulk wanted nothing more than to smash the Thing. Ben saw the Hulk as the perfect guy to take a beating and he was in the perfect mood to take the job.
These two used anything they could get their hands on. Statues, monuments, trees, merry go rounds, you name it. The cops put up barricades and prayed the fight didn’t come their way as they knew their weapons would be useless. Back at the Baxter building, Reed was frantically building and charging a weapon to blast Ben back into normalcy and at least cure him of his hatred and rage. Then they could at least reason with him.
But at every turn, Johnny was flying off the handle, threatening to go help Ben against the Hulk, but Reed needed his help. Their landlord, Collins, even shut down their power at the worst possible time, trying to get rid of his most infamous tenants. As if things couldn’t get any worse, in addition to the armed forces gathering to go after the two combatants, J. Jonah Jameson was going on TV live, demanding that all so called heroes be crushed, smashed, destroyed!
Meanwhile, the main event battered on. Traveling up, down and tearing across the city, the battle was starting to take it’s toll on Ben. As usual, the Hulk never tired but more and more, Ben had to stall and distract until he got his second wind. Buscema is truly at his best here, choreographing the beats of this non stop destructive match. And we’ve got the dependable inks of Joe Sinnott bringing it all home. Ben maneuvers the Hulk into falling off a building, while Ben drags down the side of it, hoping that the fall will at least slow ol’ jade jaws down. But no luck. He gets Ben in a vice grip of a choke hold and it takes everything Ben’s got to break the hold, all the while, the comic fan is on the edge of their seat. See, this isn’t some universal mega battle for existence. This isn’t for the sake of the planet. There’s no greater truth or enlightenment here. This is two men fighting each other, presumably to the death. The fact that they’re two of the strongest guys on the planet is beside the fact. It’s a personal fight to the finish and that’s why it’s so interesting. It’s huge but it’s small at the same time. It can come down to a choke hold or a devastating punch to the jaw.
We check in on Alicia Masters, Ben’s blind girlfriend. She hears about the battle on the radio and begins to make her way toward the devastation, as crowds run the opposite way. Reed, finally done with his device, races across town with Johnny to join the fray. Alicia nears the battle and starts calling out to Ben, eventually, Ben hears her and turns his head at the wrong moment.
Reed and Johnny arrive, too late. All is silent. Ben lies still and doesn’t appear to be breathing. The immediate battle and threat over, the Hulk quickly shrinks back to Banner, who skulks away. The silent crowd looks on. Johnny blames Reed for waiting too long and now it’s too late. Ben is dead.
Seeing how this was the summer of ’71 and there weren’t any regular comic stores around, it was a crap shoot that I was going to find the next issue at the grocery store. But that was okay, because I had this issue. It had everything I needed from a comic. Life and death stakes, melodrama, almost more action than I could imagine and best of all, truly magnificent artwork! Plus, it reintroduced me to the Fantastic Four, who, up until that point, I’d only seen on tv in the Hanna Barbara cartoon a few years earlier. The cartoon was good but this, the comics, the drawing.
Oh, I was IN.
I wanted to DO this.