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.

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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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Fred W. Hill said:

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.

Too bad nobody seems to think like that today.

I think Ben was supposed to have been working as a "test pilot" between the end of WWII and the events of FF # 1, but it doesn't seem evident that he was still in the military at that point, but maybe he had just recently retired, as possible if he had joined in 1941 and did 20 years.  I'm not aware of any civilian test pilots for rockets or any other craft designed to fly into space in the 1950s or '60s.
 
Richard Willis said:

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.

Fred W. Hill said:

I think Ben was supposed to have been working as a "test pilot" between the end of WWII and the events of FF # 1, but it doesn't seem evident that he was still in the military at that point, but maybe he had just recently retired, as possible if he had joined in 1941 and did 20 years. I'm not aware of any civilian test pilots for rockets or any other craft designed to fly into space in the 1950s or '60s.

In the early 60s (when the FF and Green Lantern debuted) test pilots were a big deal. According to the movie The Right Stuff (1983), admittedly my only source, the early test pilots were a combination of military and ex-military flyers. Test pilots flew the X-15 rocket plane on the edge of space:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-15

Not just Ben Grimm and Hal Jordan, but Larry Trainor (Negative Man from the Doom Patrol) and the Challengers of the Unknown's Ace Morgan were also test pilots.

I would count Luke as an FF-er , if briefly . I've always wanted to do a storyline where all the people who were ever shown to be FF members at any point are members of the FF again at least briefly (Not nessecarily ones who were members at the same time or chronologically close  , that have to meet with the FF/work with them for a while , for some reason that could be tied in with that charter " must-have " feature being invoked , forcing them to do it...Thank you for the reminder , Philip !

  Was this period of Ben being powerless longer than (of course , it wasn't him being powerless .) the period immediately post-Kirby where he could switch from human to Thing ?

  I started a line about the Essentials that covers this , pretty long , period - but with the book ending before it is resolved (GUESS , I say guess , how .)!

  The whole lengthy storyline might even be rooted in the " Magneto invades " story in the last full Kirby issue of FF , or if not that immediately after ~ And , again , that Essentials volume I had & started a line here about ends before the Ben-back plot resolves !
Fred W. Hill said:

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.

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.

The Black Panther would be an interesting choice for the team, but he could hardly serve as their strongman.

Luke Cage was the only superhero who sold his services.

I've only read Luke Cage in his original series. It seems to me that his selling his services isn't necessarily a negative. He was never shown selling his services to bad guys and I don't remember his ever letting harm come to someone just because he wanted money.

Even though the FF is a family, they are still getting paid in that they don't have to find a way to pay for their food and shelter. This also applies to Cap's Kookie Quartet.

Fantastic Four #169 (Ap'76) "Five Characters In Search of a Madman!" by the Thomas/Buckler/Sinnott team.

I also got this one when it came out!

It opens with Ben at a seedy bar, drowning his sorrows when, thanks to a female "patron", he gets drawn into a classic bar brawl. For three pages, he holds his own, regaining some of his self-respect, until he gets clonked on the head. Luckily Reed and Johnny show and drive away the barflies.

Meanwhile new FF-er Power Man is back at the Baxter Building with Sue, Alicia and Franklin, talking about Ben, his attitude and why Sue is still the Invisible Girl, not the Invisible WOMAN. (Actually the reason probably had to do with merchandising.) Luke shows off for Franklin by lifting the couch when something takes control of his mind! He suddenly wants to kill Sue! Sue tries to get him away from Alicia and Franklin but Cage reassures her that he's not going to harm them, only her! Sue keeps him at bay for two pages until the menfolk show up but Ben, Johnny and Reed are quickly defeated!

Power Man then goes on a rampage, destroying Reed's devices and vehicles! Also a canister disappears via Doctor Doom's time machine which will have later consequences! (Foreshadowing!!)

Cage flies off in the Fantasti-car, leaving the others confused and angry. Ben is furious over Cage's betrayal and blames Reed for hiring "the first name (he) sees in the Yellow Pages!" However Reed explains that Power Man was only to be a temporary replacement. Ben's real successor is revealed to be............

......aha! Now I remember.

THE THING!!!!!

Man, is Ben confused????

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

It's a bit hard to believe that Power Man took out three of the Fantastic Four so easily.

Cage leaving Alicia alone is, in fact, a clue.

Still, it's too bad that Cage didn't have a longer run with the FF because none of his charisma or personality comes through here!

Now we've had two symbolic Thing covers in a row. Would sales have dropped without him?

NEXT: Some Thing in the Way He Moves or It's Howdy Doody Time!

I figure he had to be a test pilot to have flown the rocket for Reed all those years ago.



Richard Willis said:

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.

Looking at those scans reminds me how much I was attracted to the FF back then because of the art.

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