One of the benefits of comic books having bright, illustrative covers, and often being sold bagged up, is that the perspective reader has the chance to contemplate what they are about to read. So it was with me, as I spent several minutes staring at the cover, wondering what I would encounter within. I had found this issue of Marvel-Two-In-One on the one dollar remainder shelf of a book store. Normally, a dollar for a single issue comic book would be too much for me, but as this said at the top, this was a Double-Sized Issue and was issue #100. And, from my knowledge of comics history, I believed that this was the final issue of Marvel Two-in-One. And, the cover proudly proclaimed, this was a team-up between The Thing and Ben Grimm. Since Ben Grimm is The Thing, there was obviously something going on here! Clearly, I had to buy it.
A bit of history about Marvel Two-in-One: it was called "Two-in-One" because each issue teamed up The Thing with another Marvel Universe character. It was a silly comic, even by the standards of the 1970s, as excuse plots were put together to put the rough-hewn but good natured Thing together with a random other Marvel character for some fisticuffs. It was cancelled in 1983, to make room for a true solo book, entitled simply The Thing. So I imagined that this issue would be full of some fun comic book adventure.
The cover depicts The Thing and Ben Grimm, in the middle of a wrecked city street, looking upward at the sky. The Thing, via speech balloon, proclaims... "So this is...THE END!". In the cornerbox, the faces of The Thing and Ben Grimm look outward, with little trademark notices by their face. I momentarily wonder about an intellectual property lawsuit over the visage of Ben Grimm who basically has an average, and to me, untrademarkable face. And then I try to guess what is going on. Knowing that the transition from Marvel Two-in-One to The Thing occurred during, and because of the events of Secret Wars, I assumed that this issue was some sort of dream sequence on Battleworld where the wish-fulfilling powers of The Beyonder enabled The Thing to have a philosophical dialogue with Ben Grimm. (Non comic book fans: believe me, those words all make sense).
I was pretty wrong. The real plot involves Mister Fantastic and The Thing discussing a previous adventure The Thing had had, where he traveled back in time to cure himself of his mutation into The Thing. It had not worked, and here Reed Richards reveals why: the Fantastic Four's time machine might not actually be going into their past, but rather into the past of a seemingly similar but actually different time stream. (One of the objections to Avengers: Endgame was the seemingly contradictory description of how time travel works. If you are looking for consistency in Marvel Comics time travel, good luck). The Thing then decides to see if that is true by going a day backwards into the past. Surely enough, he finds he is not in his own past, but in a quite different world. The streets are empty and full of wreckage, and astute readers might notice Galactus' feeding machine on top of the Baxter Building. The Thing quickly confirms what went wrong when he runs into Ben Grimm, who tells him that with him in human form, Galactus destroyed the earth. Oh, and the Red Skull used this as an excuse to take over what remains of New York City and there are nazi flags flying from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. After the Thing is kidnapped, he has to infiltrate the Red Skull's concentration camp and rescue The Thing. The Thing returns to his own time stream, and ends the issue contemplating who is happier: himself, trapped in his Thing form, but in a non-destroyed world, or Ben Grimm, in his human body, fighting to make life livable in a devastated world.
Comic books are silly. They are silly because their characters change for the vagaries of plots, the plots are often thrown together, things that are treated seriously will be erased the next month. And comic books are silly because they were used to sell chewing gum to children. This issue contained two separate full page ads for chewing gum. And yet, with all of that, this comic book threw me more than a few curveballs. Expecting some fun fisticuffs, I was instead confronted, in 38 pages, with metatemporal mechanics, a discussion of the ethics of pretending to be a nazi while infiltrating their base, and a meditation on the nature of identity. Looking on how many ideas it presented, and in such rapid fashion, it makes sense to me how The Fantastic Four (and associated titles) advertised themselves as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine".