In a world with time travel and magic, sometimes taking a look back at who you used to be takes a very literal turn – especially if you’re the Thing.
Marvel characters are a constant work in progress. When you’re a product of serialized fiction, change is inevitable – especially from the point at which you’re first introduced. Writers and artists still haven’t gotten a good handle on what makes you an interesting character, so they’ll often keep giving you new looks, new powers, and even new personalities until you develop a fan base that latches onto a certain popular depiction. After that, there’ll often be attempts to make it seem like that popular choice was always the way the character was intended to be created, which can lead to some embarrassing moments…
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After all, when you live in the Marvel Universe, coming face-to-face with your past self doesn’t mean finding some embarrassing photos of yourself in a high school yearbook – it means literally coming face-to-face with yourself through some time-traveling shenanigans. The Fantastic Four’s Thing discovered this to his dismay when he went back in time and learned what an ugly, violent creep he was in early comic issues.
This happened in Marvel Two-in-One #50 in a story written and drawn by John Byrne. At this point in his life, Ben Grimm was his classic self, a good-natured rocky monster who wasn’t thrilled about his condition but was willing to use it for super heroics. When his friend Reed Richards conducted some tests to see if he could revert Ben to his original human form, however, he found something surprising.
Longtime fans know that the Thing has changed greatly in appearance over the years. Back when Jack Kirby first designed him for Fantastic Four #1, Ben was a lumpy, orange creature who looked like he was made of mud. Kirby gradually made him more rock-like and other artists continued giving the Thing a more comedic and less horror-based look to make him more appealing. According to Reed, however, this was a sign that Ben’s body was getting more “comfortable” as the Thing. Telling Ben that the serum he just invented could have turned him permanently human after he’d been changed, Reed sadly admits that it’s useless now.
Instead of being sad, Ben hit on a novel idea – use Doctor Doom’s time machine to go back in time and give the serum to his younger self! Shocked by how his past self was basically just a lumpy mass of orange gunk, Ben is too frozen to avoid being hit by the original Thing, who smashes Ben into some cars. Ben is also struck by how angry and bitter this Thing is – where Ben eventually became defined by his wisecracks and easy-going nature, his original depiction was basically as a rampaging monster who talked like a melodramatic villain.
For his part, the original Thing views Ben as an enemy, even when Ben explains who he really is. Snarling that he would give his soul to look as human as Ben does, the original Thing wraps Ben up in sheet of pavement (somehow) and decides to take him to Reed Richards. Frustrated by what an unreasonable jerk he used to be, the Thing smashes out of his prison and beats up his younger (and less powerful) self before administering the serum and turning him permanently human. Unfortunately, after returning to his old time, Ben finds that the changes he made didn’t affect him, instead creating an alternate timeline. Still, after seeing how much he’d changed in looks and personality over the years, the Thing felt remarkably happier about being himself – showing that sometimes it pays to take a look at who you used to be.
Next: Fantastic Four: Ultimate Comics Reveal The Thing’s Final Form
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