Fan of Bronze: The Thing Replaced By...Power Man?!? Sweet Christmas!

Sweet Christmas, indeed, as I got this for Christmas in December 1975 when I was 10!

The previous issues of Fantastic Four, #166-167 (Ja-F'76), had the THING revert back to his human form of Ben Grimm, due to being exposed to the Hulk's gamma ray emissions. Of course, that never happened in the first ten or twelve times these tortured titans tussled nor did it happen again the multitude of times they fought afterwards.

This issue, Fantastic Four #168 (Ma'76), came courtesy of Roy Thomas (writer/editor), Rich Buckler (penciller) and Joe Sinnott (inker) and was titled, "Where Have All the Powers Gone?"

As can be expected the FF is down a member as their charter for "Fantastic Four, Inc." clearly states that there must be four super-powered heroes on their roster! Before they can deal with Ben, Johnny wants to leave, too. He was rejected by a girl (the future Frankie Raye) and now wants to try to have a "normal" life, preferably in a flame-resistant environment!

"Normal" Ben is adjusting to his new reality with a very sexy Alicia Masters. Actually it just hit me that Ben is probably too old for her. He fought in World War II so if he was twenty-five in 1945, he'd be fifty-five in 1975! Granted Alicia had been around for about ten years now but she wasn't linked with WWII and Ben was! Still Ben is starting to regret his loss of power, fame and purpose. No one seems to want or need him anymore. At least he's no longer whining about Alicia only loving him when he's the Thing!

Shockingly, Ben still thinks that he can be part of the Fantastic Four and feels betrayed that Reed has replaced him (rather quickly, it must be noted) with LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN! Luke first appeared in Hero For Hire #1 in 1972 so he was still a relatively new character. He had fought Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #123 (Au'73), held his own against Iron Man in Power Man #17 (F'74) and even traded blows with the Thing in the then-recent Marvel Two-In-One #13 (Ja'76). Luke is sympathetic to Ben's situation but Ben won't hear it. After a very brief TV interview, Ben realizes that only as the Thing was he considered "important".

Suddenly an alarm goes off and the FF monitor a bank being broken into. (They have all this set up because Reed has a safety deposit box in that bank! I wonder if the bank knew about the extra security!) The team flies off in the Fantasti-Car and Ben demands to go along. They investigate and see that the culprit is none other than The Wrecker, a longtime Thor villain who battled Power Man in The Defenders #17-19 (N'74-Ja'75). But he doesn't know why he wanted to rob that particular bank and why he was expecting to battle the FF.

Recklessly Ben tries to stop the Wrecker two times and is quickly defeated each time! But the others use teamwork to save him and stop the Wrecker. But Ben is hardly grateful and leaves depressed and dejected.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Even as a kid, I knew that Power Man was not equal to the Thing in strength as he seemed more in Spider-Man's class. But with the other powerhouses on other teams: Thor (the Avengers), the Hulk (the Defenders), Sub-Mariner (the Defenders AND the Invaders, like Reed would get him anyway!!), Hercules (the Champions), Colossus (the X-Men) and Black Bolt (the Inhumans), the choices were limited. The only one I could think of was the SILVER SURFER and he was probably too busy commiserating! And they never altered his outfit or at least put a "4" on it somewhere!

Maybe they were hoping to boost the sales of Power Man...

Ben was angry over a lot of things: being replaced, being forgotten, realizing that he could no longer be a super-hero, Cage getting paid and, most importantly, being made to feel useless.

Still I wonder why there was no interest in Ben? No offer to write his memoirs? No position in SHIELD? No speaking engagements? It wasn't that Ben needed a publicist, he needed a GOOD publicist!!

Next: You Can't Get Good Help These Days or the More Things Change...

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I accepted the "must have four super-powered members" clause as the plot device it was, but the selection of Luke Cage struck me as weird. He wasn't as strong as The Thing, but moreover, he had no connection to a team whose raison d'etre was family (and other ) connections. How about the Black Panther? At that point he was probably still living in New York. If neither Medusa nor Crystal had any interest -- they'd both done it before -- then Karnak or Gorgon would have made better choices, or even Dragon Man!   So I suspect you're exactly right, Phillip, that this was a ploy to boost sales on Power Man.

They were looking for a strong guy and Cage was the only one available.

Power Man was up to #29-30 at this point but the ploy didn't work. By #50, the book became Power Man & Iron Fist though it lasted up to #125 in that form.

Of course they could have used THUNDRA....

What suprised me was the speed with which they dropped Cage, he goes just as quickly.
I can see why these appearences may not have boosted his sales however - he's virtually portrayed as a villain!
Ben hates him everyone else just tollerates him and we get no real character development before he fights them and leaves!
He was dealt with more sympatetically in ASM where he fights the grieving Spidey.

This is about the time I picked up the FF for the first time. Given the times it made sense, there was no social media and fame was very fleeting. How many one hit wonders came and went in that era? It did showcase part of the problems of having and loosing power. Ben as the Thing had carved out a life for himself as a strongman in the FF, now he could look normal but he had to miss being able to throw cars around. Given time he'd have found a new life for himself, this was a guy who had pulled himself out of the wrong side of the tracks and become a test pilot. Once he got over not being famous he'd find something to do, maybe open up a bar. Reed of course never explained what he was really up to.

They do give a reason for the brevity of Power Man's stay.

btw, I know that Marvel does but does anyone here consider Cage a former FF member?

What was rthe reason Philip?

I bought the trade of these issues recently  and I don't remember - something to do with influence by Doom?

No - don't think of Cage as an FF-er.

...but then I refuse to think of him as an Avenegr either...or bald....

Philip Portelli said:

They do give a reason for the brevity of Power Man's stay.

btw, I know that Marvel does but does anyone here consider Cage a former FF member?

I don't think it was so much of a ploy as just a what I think was a good story idea -- as we'll see, there was no intention to make Luke Cage a permanent replacement for Ben.  Note that Luke Cage was the only superhero who sold his services.  That means in the entire Marvel Universe of 1976 he was not only the easiest to find but also the easiest to convince to join.  The Silver Surfer, Hulk, Namor were not characters who would easily fit in with a group like the FF and hang around for very long if at all (oh, and I'm sure Phillip remembers that the Invaders were set in WWII!  Of course, it might have been fun if the FF had offered the fill-in position to Spider-Man, but I'm sure Roy rightly deemed that Spidey was getting enough exposure as it was and so why not enlist one of the newer heroes.  Another bit, Roy explained that despite Ben & the Hulk having been in contact with another several times in the past, those past encounters were all relatively brief fights in Marvel time (even if they took place over two months in our time), but in the story previous to this Ben & Hulk teamed up and stuck together for a much greater length of time than in any previous encounter (I think prior to issues 166-167, Ben & Hulk had encountered each other just 4 times, in FF 12, 25-26, & 112, and in Marvel Feature 11).  It's a goofy explanation, but then their origin was goofy to begin with, and it worked for me.

Overall, I enjoyed this storyline and its eventual resolution at the conclusion of the next Galactus story.  Roy was bringing a sense of fun back to the FF that had been lacking for some time.  This would be the longest storyline in which Ben was deprived of his cosmic-ray enduced powers and Roy included many unique twists, including having Power Man play substitute for the Thing.  Of course, no one could really replace the Thing, which was good. The Thing was just too unique.  Yeah, a few years later they would replace him with She-Hulk for an even longer period, but the FF is the one group that however they play with the membership it's eventually going to revert back to the original foursome.

Also, I think Roy had this story in mind when he introduced the element of having the FF incorporate several issues previously.  I believe he did have Reed mention that hiring Power Man was a contingency plan all along if Ben lost his powers.  As later events revealed, however, Reed hadn't given much thought to what he would do if he was the one to lose powers.  I suppose in keeping with Reed's character, he held himself to be the absolutely irreplaceable member without whom the team would have to break up (although even that wouldn't hold indefinitely).


 
Captain Comics said:

I accepted the "must have four super-powered members" clause as the plot device it was, but the selection of Luke Cage struck me as weird. He wasn't as strong as The Thing, but moreover, he had no connection to a team whose raison d'etre was family (and other ) connections. How about the Black Panther? At that point he was probably still living in New York. If neither Medusa nor Crystal had any interest -- they'd both done it before -- then Karnak or Gorgon would have made better choices, or even Dragon Man!   So I suspect you're exactly right, Phillip, that this was a ploy to boost sales on Power Man.

Fred W. Hill said:

I think prior to issues 166-167, Ben & Hulk had encountered each other just 4 times, in FF 12, 25-26, & 112, and in Marvel Feature 11

Also The Incredible Hulk #122 and #153, and Giant-Size Super-Stars #1.

There's also a bit where Talbot uses some film of them fighting to make a point in The Incredible Hulk #103, but I take it that's supposed to be the fight in Fantastic Four #25-#26. (I owe this last reference to this list of their fights).

Ah, thanks for the completions, Luke!  I'd forgotten about that G-S SS, with Ben & the Hulk duking it out in a boxing ring!
 
Luke Blanchard said:

Fred W. Hill said:

I think prior to issues 166-167, Ben & Hulk had encountered each other just 4 times, in FF 12, 25-26, & 112, and in Marvel Feature 11

Also The Incredible Hulk #122 and #153, and Giant-Size Super-Stars #1.

There's also a bit where Talbot uses some film of them fighting to make a point in The Incredible Hulk #103, but I take it that's supposed to be the fight in Fantastic Four #25-#26. (I owe this last reference to this list of their fights).

It should be noted that the Thing's power loss was never reflected in Marvel Two-In-One #14-19 nor in Marvel Team-Up #47 which was two-parter with MTIO #17 which ran at the same time. The exception was Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1/MTIO #20 with the Liberty Legion but only because they were part of the story started in Fantastic Four Annual #11 (FF meets the Invaders) where Ben lost his powers.

And Roy Thomas wrote all of those along with the FF mags but he didn't write (or edit) M2in1 or MTU during this period.  Likely, other writers figured or already knew that Ben's power-loss would be temporary and so felt no need to refer to it in their stories which could be set either before or after the power loss.  I think it was pretty rare in the team up mags for writers to make reference to what was going on in ASM or the FF, save occasionally when one writer was on both the parent and offspring mags.  Heck, there wasn't even much referencing between events in ASM & PPTSS for the first several years of the latter's run.
 
Philip Portelli said:

It should be noted that the Thing's power loss was never reflected in Marvel Two-In-One #14-19 nor in Marvel Team-Up #47 which was two-parter with MTIO #17 which ran at the same time. The exception was Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1/MTIO #20 with the Liberty Legion but only because they were part of the story started in Fantastic Four Annual #11 (FF meets the Invaders) where Ben lost his powers.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

Given time he'd have found a new life for himself, this was a guy who had pulled himself out of the wrong side of the tracks and become a test pilot.

Was Ben ret-conned as a test pilot? I only remember him as a WWII pilot, except for Reed's spaceship. I guess it's like a doctor in the comics, who can be any kind of doctor at the drop of a hat. A doctor is a doctor. A scientist is a scientist. A pilot is a pilot.

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