We all have our roles within the group. Reed is the smart one. Sue is the nice one. Johnny’s the dumb kid who’s got heart. Me? I’m the tough one.
It’s someone I’ve had practice being ever since I was a kid, when my dad used to get drunk and use my head for batting practice. Nowadays, I know the others need someone like me on the team. Someone who can go up against unknown enemies and take the first hit for the team while Reed figures out how to beat them. Someone who can stand up to Galactus and call him out on his bullsh*t when I know I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving if he decides to squish me.
But here’s the thing. Just because I act tough don’t mean I don’t feel things. I’ve taken down all the mirrors in my house just so I don’t accidentally see my reflection. All I have to do is go online and I can find all sorts of jokes and clever observations about the monster known as The Thing. The guy who makes The Hulk look like a fashion model. The guy who no one wants to be rescued from a burning building from.
So I grit my teeth like I always do, and do my duty by the other three because they need me. But all the time I’m waiting for Reed to fulfill his promise of turning me back to normal. I’m waiting for the day people stop calling me The Thing.
Reed’s a good man, and I know he’s trying his best, but that day can’t get here fast enough for me. In the meantime, I do my job. An army of Doom Bots invade the city, and I’m right there with the others taking them down. Each bot gets a good few licks in, but I don’t mind it. I can focus on the bots and ignore the people standing nearby who’re staring at me like I’m a zoo exhibit and whispering behind their backs.
I take down the final Doom Bot, and the citizens make a beeline for us. I don’t want to be here for this part. I especially don’t need to be seen standing next to Sue. No need to add any more ‘Beauty and the Beast’ memes to those that already exist on the Internet. I take off for the Fantasticar and fly away before the crowd gets to us. As I leave, I hear one of the girls in the crowd shouting for Johnny to marry her.
“You shouldn’t have left like that, Ben.” Reed tells me later.
“I’d done my part, hadn’t I?” I grunt back. “You don’t need me for the photo op. Any closer to changing me back?”
Reed sighs. “I’m sorry, but it’s proving difficult. It’s not just a question of changing your appearance. We’d have to change your entire cellular structure to bring you back to who you were before. If I tried to do that, there’s a seventy percent chance of you dying in the process. You have to give me more time to refine the process and improve your chances of survival.”
And I have to make my peace with that. The same routine again and again. Annihilus, Blastaar and Diablo. Doom, Dragon Man and the Frightful Four. Me and the others would take them all on. We’d get knocked around. Sometimes we’d get captured. But always we’d manage to save the city. I’d take off right after the job gets done, and watch the aftermath on Youtube. I’d see the chief of police shaking hands with Reed. I’d see video clips taken on cell phones of the battles our group fought. And then I’d scroll down to the comments section to read what the common folk had to say.
A comment about my looking like a monster. A comment about Sue being hot. Another comment about me being a monster. A comment about Johhny being Cool and hot. A comment about me being a monster. A comment about me being a monster. A comment wondering if stabbing me with a spear could be enough to kill me. A comment wishing I’d leave the Fantastic Four because I made the others look weird by comparison. A comment that wonders why I don’t get surgery done to look less deformed.
All this time, I keep asking Reed how far along he is towards curing me, and I always get the same response: Not yet. Finally, I can’t take it anymore, and tell him I want him to perform the cellular regeneration procedure on me.
“Ben, I told you that procedure is incredibly dangerous.” He argues. “You need to give me time to make it safer.”
“I don’t care if it’s safe, I just want to go back to being Ben Grimm. I need everyone to stop calling me a monster, Reed.”
He sighs. “I know how hard this has been for you, but believe me, the world doesn’t hate you, Ben. If you just stayed back with us once after a crisis, you’d see-”
“I’ve seen enough on the Internet. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me to kill myself or move to another city. Please, Reed. You have to help me.”
He sighs heavily. “Fine. If that’s truly what you want. I’ll do the procedure this weekend.”
The weekend can’t come soon enough for me. Even when Diablo attacks the city, I’m able to take him on with a lighter spirit. Maybe I’ll die during the procedure, but even that would be preferable over living the way I am now. Either way, this’ll be my last public appearance as The Thing.
Once Diablo is neutralized, I make my way back to the Fantasticar, but I’m not quick enough this time. A woman’s blocking my way.
“Mr. Grimm, thank you for everything you’ve done for us!” She grasps my hand warmly. Like she ain’t scared of me. “I teach at a middle school a few blocks away from here, and I always tell my students you are the definition of a good samaritan. You help everyone in the city, and never stick around waiting for people to thank you or give you anything in return afterwards.”
“Yeah, no problem.” I mumble.
“That’s why my students wanted to pay tribute to your efforts,” She continues, letting go of my hand and calling over a bunch of kids to us. “I work with a company called Soul Purpose, and we design superhero shirts and shoes. This is a very popular favorite, especially among our younger customers.”
Reed, Sue and Johhny have joined us, and together we watch as eight middle school kids come running towards me with huge smiles on their faces. None of them look scared of me. They’re all wearing shirts with my ugly mug on the front. A crowd has gathered all around us.
“They’re all huge fans of the Four, but especially you.” The woman tells me. “They’ve been practicing a little tribute they’d like to present to you, if you don’t mind. Go on, children.”
The eight of them line up, took a deep breathe and shout together, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
I look at Reed, who winks and smiles at me, “Looks like you’re not nearly as unpopular as you thought, Ben.”
I turn slowly back to the kids, who’re watching me shyly. “That was pretty good. But let me show you how a pro does it.”
I take a step back. I clear my lungs. I raise my fists. Then I let loose, “IT’S CLOBERRIN’ TIME!”
The kids cheer, and so does the crowd. They surge towards me, not with pitchforks and burning torches like in my nightmares, but with autographs books and their mobiles for selfies.
Guess the operation will have to wait. I think I can put in some more time as The Thing.