The Thing is one of the greatest creations of both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and one of the best comic characters, period. He’s probably the easiest character of Marvel’s First Family to get right, and might be the star of the most good comics in the history of the medium. With a healthy history of solo series, Ben Grimm is here and starring in one of the best of the year (so far, but will almost certainly rank highly by the end of it).
Last week, I had the opportunity to review Silk Vol. 2, which felt like a classic Spider-Man story in all the best ways, but also modern in all the best ways, and will probably end up being one of my favorite comics of the year for that reason. The Thing: The Next Big Thing conjures a similar feeling, but goes about doing so in different ways.
The Next Big Thing immediately stands out by taking place in some undefined period before now. Though I’m sure individuals have nailed down where this takes place—if not precisely then nearly—the general nature of its place in time immediately feeds into the classic feeling of the comic. That typically isn’t enough, though. Oftentimes, when creators choose to place a story in some undefined “past,” it feels too modern, too cheap, or too cheesy, and they immediately have the wrong vibe. Dancing between the raindrops of continuity can also be limiting and tricky, and leads to meaningless stories more often than not.
The Next Big Thing does not fall into any of those traps.
Primarily, this just works because it understands how to make Ben Grimm work, which to be fair, is pretty flexible. The Thing works in pretty much any context, and it turns out to be especially true here, where he has to face his own toxic masculinity while putting a massive smackdown on other masculine toxins (and a feminine one, for good measure).
Now, as much as I do think The Thing is a pretty easy nut to crack, the finesse with which it’s done here is superb, and that’s mostly due to the way this comic isn’t just trying to be a classic Ben Grimm, or even Fantastic Four comic – it’s trying to be a classic superhero comic.
The Next Big Thing has a kid sidekick, a damsel in distress, a rocky—two rocky—romances, and more than one giant-sized fist-fight. It’s got secret lairs, villain reveals, hero reveals, and a dude who drops dead out of sheer villainy. It’s got stuff that you could tie back to every classic superhero I could name; from Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel, to Spider-Man, and Captain America. The creative team has a clear understanding of why and how superhero comics work, and know exactly how to leverage all of the pieces into a new, classic work.
Now, Walter Mosley clearly knows how to write a thing about The Thing, and knows how to write a fantastic superhero comic starring him, but none of this happens without the absolutely magical Tom Reilly, who crushes it on every page and panel, along with Jordie Bellaire, who makes orange more beautiful than anyone ever.
Reilly’s style works perfectly here, to the degree that I’m a little bit scared that he’s gonna get typecasted as the new “throwback” artist, shackling him into one version of his art. I don’t think I’ll complain too much, though, especially if he keeps making comics as good as this. I’m particularly enamored with his Ben, who is perfectly emotive and expressive, but still in a minimalist way.
I doubt a better superhero comic will be out this year, and I’ll still be enjoying this comic well into the next. This is a comic that understands all of my favorite things about superheroes and delivers on all of them: this is the evergreen comic everyone is always asking Marvel for.
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