Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dan Slott's Thing

Here's an old review I once wrote for Newsarama's readers review section. It discusses the Thing's last series, canceled just days after I wrote why I think the sales are winding down.

(Pull my) Thing #1-6 review
the Character

The Thing is a classic superhero supporting character of Silver age whose book Fantastic Four works so well that Marvel has always kept it close to the Lee-Kirby original. He has meant a lot to superhero universes, as the ideal sidekick. He has indebted the genre by visual and powers first, springing forth many follow ups the most famous of which being the Hulk and broadened the team superhero dynamic by establishing a rule of the big lug powerhouse all teams must have. In terms of personality he was also exceptional for his time with his working man blue collar ethic later much imitated in everything from Doom Patrol's Robotman to Mike Mignola's Hellboy. Adding the two gave us a perfect Marvel creation - Stan Lee's humanity and Jack Kirby's epic vision together in one character that works wonderful as a quick fan-favorite. He had a team up series in the 70-ies when he was still widely popular while She-Hulk has previously been in and out of spotlight without much successes, even replacing the Thing as a member while he was having solo adventures in yet another forgotten chapter of his latter part of publishing history. Coupled with a gimmick related to roaming the post event world of Secret war crossover Thing proved unsuccessful in the 80-ies and was canceled 3 years into the book's history considering the books sold better then. Since, Thing has proven incapable of carrying his own series partly because he lacks individuality and works best when justapoxed against others and partly, because he's an afterthought - all (the only kind there is - old) readers know everything there is to know about him and get enough of a reminder in his parent book. Times have changed and nowadays many creators cite Reed Richards as a favorite Fantastic Four character with Thing staying in the background providing old favorite sound bytes, unable to alter his appearance, grow beyond his horseplay with Johny Storm or get back at Yancy streeters. New characters don't sell, icons appear not to sell steady except when driven through life changing crossover events - even hot creative teams don't make much change when not dealing with the lesser known characters.

the New series

Thus writer Dan Slott has successfully rebuilt She-Hulk with a bold new and thought-out concept, his creativity has since showed up in the GLA mini-series. Thing on the other hand was too much of a no-brainer and no creative challenge - Marvel liked Spiderman/Human Torch Slott's old, continuity inspired fun with a lot of heart in it very much. The problem was that it was written for the movie crowd mini ala Wolverine/Punisher and Spiderman/Daredevil oneshot which went a long way past it's original intent. Marvel coupled Slott with a hot penciler Andrea Divito and a proven icon with the potential for tongue in cheek superhero adventure which is where it fails. Thing is a well-rounded character that will work as a lucrative licensed property as long as the freelancers keep updating it to modern fans with minimal changes - exactly where Slott and the editorial tripped. Dan Slott seemingly follows John Byrne's career, tackling with properties Byrne played around on the side in the 80-ies (GLA, Thing and She-Hulk) while producing much bigger successes on Superman and Fantastic Four, providing there literally second most important versions to some of the most popular American comic books. The irony is that the Thing and She-Hulk's co-creator Stan Lee had a much more prophetic take - limiting the first to a sidekick role in Fantastic Four and providing the second with an ongoing series. Strangely, Slott became instrumental in showing that to readers releasing much of She-Hulk's potential by recreating the simpler character while being in the dark with what to do with previously fully developed Thing. Green Arrow-like Thing has no arch villains of his own leaving the anti-hero supporting character to be his own biggest enemy, also the feel of Thing's adventures is that of a Fantastic Four episode where he is a main character providing a break from the more adventurous SF tales. Ironically, Slott avoided this by divorcing She-Hulk from the Avengers and showing her character and up to date momentum all in the first issue while spending three ones to do the same with the Thing, dropping the ball afterwards when it came to revisioning the book and making it's own originality. The book is the perfect sum of its parts but no more than that, in truth it's too retro and unambitious for it's own good. Marvel launched the book on previously established strengths with the only new element of the story premise being that all of a sudden Ben is a billionaire and it fails which is a strange scenario already dealt with everywhere from the Flintstones to Carl Barks' duck books. It's a silly setup considering his parent book always treated him and his teammates like superstar celebrities living in SF technology heaven of a Doc Savage-inspired headquarters which even if ignored can be expected to go away as abrupt as it showed up as a status-quo restoring trick. Slott is spreading himself too thin writing similar books at the same time, we have seen him showing us obscure characters before and here they don't do much to build a convincing new status quo - Even Lockjaw, the most permanent addition to supporting cast does show up until issue 4. The solicitations promise more of the same which is, in itself, not a bad thing considering it will borne out even more solid old-fashioned done-in-one comics which is strangely a rarity on today's market, itself built on that very definition. Just like with She-Hulk a year ago, Slott is fighting to keep the book alive but the situation is different - the same comic that does not manage to convince us that it has a reason for existence beyond that, especially compared to Fantastic Four and She-Hulk covering the same ground, it is moving small numbers, the penciler has been shifted to Annihilation which is a huge crossover that popularly reinvents a corner of a Marvel universe, much like She-Hulk once did. It remains to be seen what change will the new penciler Kieron Dwyer bring, along with the announced trade paperback. Perhaps previously introduced characters Constrictor, Carlotta la Rosa and Sheckie will reshape the book when (or if) they show up again, - until then it's back to the Thing trying to work out a relationship with Alicia Masters.

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