So, it started off with a tweet I saw from Tess Fowler, an amazing artist whose work I’ve enjoyed, asking a simple question about the comics medium:
And I replied with the following, speaking purely from the heart:
This issue in particular has always stayed with me, even if I forgot some of the details when I first got it. Unlike a lot of my friends who are fellow comic lovers, I never had much of a mind for detail in who drew and wrote what and when, so some research was in order.
Written by Tom Defalco and drawn by Ron Wilson, Issue # 86 of Marvel Two In One was a comic I had picked up as part of a four issue reprint Marvel had done in the 90s, even though the original had first been printed in April of 1982, during the reign of Jim Shooter as Editor in Chief. Back in the 90s, and this is only my hypothesis for I’ve not found any proof about it, Marvel was reprinting a lot of classic Marvel titles, from the origin stories that brought us Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and others, to wholesale series such as Classic X-Men and Classic Spider-Man, possibly because Marvel was getting close to going bankrupt.
At any rate, I picked up the The Thing mini-series because I liked Ben Grimm and how un-superheroic he looked. Maybe it was something I was picking up on, being a fat kid in high school who didn’t look like any of the six pack, beefed up, superheroes I admired but unable to articulate why. I was more drawn to the characters who were, for lack of a better word, ugly.
Like Ben Grimm, rendered into a rock like golem by cosmic rays, or Bruce Banner, transformed into the Hulk from absorbing gamma radiation.
I could understand Ben Grimm’s frustration at being mocked for his appearance, as I’d been mocked, bullied, and picked on for being fat. He was someone I wanted to see happy and loved and cherished, because it meant I could be too.
And it was Ben Grimm who taught me kindness and compassion, although it took me a few more years after high school, and a couple courses in Feminism, to better and more thoroughly apply such a profound lesson.
The basic plot is that Ben Grimm is angry and frustrated, and, upon hearing of The Sandman being at large once more, finds him at a bar, and challenges him to a fight!
And Sand Man surrenders.
This shocks Ben, so much that he buys a round of drinks and simply… listens to Sandman, who tells him his name is Flint Marko, talk about his life and the choices he made and the mistakes befallen him that lead him up to that moment.
Just having a superhero comic where the team up is of two men talking about their problems instead of fighting or joking or brushing it aside really opened up my eyes not just to how much more a superhero comic could be, but in how men could do things differently. It was, in a way, one of the first instances of positive masculinity that didn’t deal in the language of violence.
That’s always stuck with me over the years, that sometimes if we just listen to people who might appear to be bad, we find decent human beings who make mistakes and, finding themselves in a deep hole, are unable to climb out without a helping hand.
And I’m not talking about truly ugly-hearted people whose minds are coloured with bigotry, ignorance, and racism, as the Friends of Humanity and the Red Skull’s are, but people who simply struggle to survive.
The issue ends with Ben giving Flint twenty bucks and wishing him well, hoping that he stays on the straight and narrow, and thus began the start of Flint’s heroic journey, all because someone decided to listen.
Superhero comics have taught me a lot over the years, such as with great power comes great responsibility, how bigotry and racism should have no place in our society, as well as how far a little kindness and compassion can go. I like to think it’s part of what’s shaped me into (I hope) a good person.