This is the third of the three issues of MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS I pulled up out of the big bin of affidavit-return comic books in my local drug store after I’d gone back for a second helping of the Fantastic Four. And of the three, it’s the slightest–a pattern that very much mirrored the first three actual issues of FANTASTIC FOUR that I had earlier read. But I powered right on into it seconds after having consumed the first two.

These books represent my earliest experiences with the work of not just Jack Kirby, but of Stan Lee as well. By this point in their partnership, Kirby was doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to plotting the stories involved. Stan had confined himself to dialoguing the completed pages and to editing the entire package. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it was actually an awful lot when it came to the tone of the Marvel books of this era. These books and characters had personality, and almost more importantly, they were funny at the same time that they were being tragic or dramatic. And perhaps no character better embodies that paradigm better than the Thing.

This issue revolved around the pathos and personality of Ben Grimm most of all, and was my first exposure to the idea of a super hero whose powers were a problem, a curse to him. But for all that the Thing loved a good fight, he didn’t want to be a monster, he wanted to be able to return to his human form and live a normal life. I honestly didn’t quite get it as a kid–I would have loved to have been a super hero, so Ben’s situation perplexed me a little bit. Either way, this issue got into Ben’s problems in a big way.

The story opens up on the heels of the previous issue, with Reed, Ben and Johnny returning from the Sub-Atomica world of Psycho-Man to discover that the Silver Surfer was successful in assuaging Galactus’ hunger and saving the Earth. The Torch is hopped up on adrenaline due to their win, and buzzes the city, but Ben’s thoughts have taken a darker turn. He’s falling into his regular depression about being a monster. As the Torch soars through Manhattan, he flies over the Wizard, just released from prison, who is preparing to strike against his Fantastic foes. I’d already met the Wizard in the issues of FANTASTIC FOUR that I’d read, so at this point he appeared to be a regular and important antagonist for the team to me. 

The Wizard has developed a pair of “Wonder Gloves” that grant him an array of technological powers–powers he thinks will be enough to conquer the FF. After a few tests, he’s ready to go on the attack. Meanwhile, the Torch returns to the Baxter Building to learn that Reed has come up with another potential cure for his friend Ben. Ben is cynical about the whole thing–he’s been through this routine before. But he goes along with it, and shortly, Reed’s treatment has him shedding cosmic energy and reverting to his human form once again.

It’s at this moment that the Wizard shows up, gloves blazing. A wild Jack Kirby fight breaks out in which the Wizard more than holds his own–he’s got the upper hand for most of the battle! And its no wonder. Ben, still disoriented by the process that returned him to normal, forgets himself and attempts to join in the fight–only to realize to his sudden horror that he no longer possesses the rampaging might of the Thing. A contemptuous Wizard hurls him at terminal velocity towards a wall in the lab, and while Reed is swift enough to overtake Ben’s flying form and make himself into a shock absorber to cushion Ben’s impact, that impact takes him out of the fight as well, leaving only the Torch remaining.

But the Torch is up to the challenge! He uses his flame to put the Wizard on the defensive, then burns through the floor, dropping the villain into Reed’s giant centrifuge. From there, it’s just a matter of turning the thing on before the Wizard can free himself, and the Wizard is knocked silly by the whirling waters. Johnny pulls the limp Wizard from the tank and removes his power-gloves–but the Wizard is able to make a break for it using his chest-mounted anti-gravity disk, and so he eludes capture and escapes.

And in the aftermath, we get to the crux of the matter. A guilty Ben tells Reed that he needs some way to be able to turn back into the Thing when he wants to, and Reed gives him the bad news: the only way for Reed to cure Ben in this manner was to make it a one-way trip. Should he ever become the Thing again, he will never again be able to return to his human form! Now, having already read issues a hundred issues after this one, I knew what the outcome would ultimately be. But I was still curious as to how this situation was going to play itself out. Unfortunately, it would be some time before I could lay hands on the following issue and find out.

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