Fantastic Friday: In the Yancy heights

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Karl Kesel only solo wrote two issues of FF, but in vol. 3 #56, legacy #485, but he certainly made his mark on FF history.

We begin with a man wandering the streets of NYC and ending up in a bad neighborhood, where he encounters the Thing. Ben chases him off, saying, “In this part of town, some things aren’t so nice.” Turn the page and we see this little drama has been playing out on Yancy Street.

As Ben wanders down the street alone, we cut to flashback, where child Ben is in trouble with local shopkeeper Mr. Sheckerberg, who has caught Ben throwing rocks at windows. Ben’s older brother Daniel tries to bribe Sheckerberg, but Sheckerberg won’t have it. Ben agrees to work weekends to pay for the damage. Then it’s a second flashback, where Ben comes across Daniel on the sidewalk just after Daniel had been in a fight. He says he was fighting to protect to Yancy Street neighborhood. Ben says he wished they lived somewhere else, and he points to the stars above. The third flashback has a cop telling Ben and his mother “sorry for your loss,” and that Daniel is in “a better place.”

Then the next flashback, where Ben is again on the run from Mr. Sheckerberg, after having stolen a Star of David necklace from Sheckerberg’s pawn shop. This was Ben’s initiation into the Yancy Street Gang. Back in the present, grown-up Ben, as the Thing, returns to the pawn shop, and Sheckerberg is still there. Ben is just there to say hello, but Sheckerberg says he’s been getting threatening letters and phone calls, and he thinks the Yancy Street Gang has something to do with it. Ben promises to investigate.

Cut to another flashback, where teenage Ben is now leader of the Yancy Street Gang, but others have all voted him out of the gang, because Ben is leaving town to live with his uncle the doctor and pursue training as a pilot. In classic Yancy Street fashion, they dump garbage all over him. In the present, they again dump garbage on him. They also shoot him with paintballs, hit him with a stink bomb, and blast him with a fire hose.

A humiliated Ben returns to the pawn shop, where a mystery man is holding Mr. Sheckerberg hostage, saying he’s the one behind the threats, not the Yancy Street Gang. There’s a fight, and the man is revealed to be the supervillain Powderkeg, who creates explosions with his “explosive aura.” Mr. Sheckerberg is injured by one of Powderkeg’s blasts, so the Yancy Street Gang joins the fight by pulling all their pranks on Powderkeg. This gives Ben the chance to take the villain out with a big punch.

Ben returns to Sheckerberg, who is unconscious. Ben wants to help, but, despite all his strength, he is unable to. Then, he realizes there’s something he can do. He stands over Sheckerberg and recites a Jewish prayer. Sheckerberg comes to, and he’s just fine even though he was just in an explosion. He chides Ben for being a celebrity all these years and never telling the public he’s Jewish. Ben says it’s not something he’s purposefully hidden, just something he doesn’t talk about much. He then tells Ben that Ben deserves all the harassment the Yancy Street Gang gave him over the years because he left the neighborhood and they didn’t.

Ben then reveals that he was there that night to return the stolen Star of David necklace from all those years ago. Sheckerberg tells him to keep it. Sheckerberg tells him to keep the necklace. Ben says he’s not ready to start going to Temple again. Sheckerberg says that’s okay, but he does expect Ben to clean up the mess made of the pawn shop. The cops and the paramedics arrive. As Ben hands Powderkeg over to the police, the issue ends when Powderkeg does a “You don’t look Jewish” joke.

Unstable molecule: The “4” emblem on Ben’s belt has a hidden compartment in it, in place of pockets. This is some Batman utility belt action right here.

Clobberin’ time: After many years of fans speculating on whether Ben is Jewish, mostly because his personality is loosely based on his co-creator, artist Jack Kirby, this is the issue that makes it canonical. Now that this is done, expect more stories about this aspect of Ben’s history and personality from here on.

Commercial break: I don’t remember this episode of The Twilight Zone.

Trivia time: The full story of Daniel Grimm’s death and Ben leaving Yancy Street was told in The Thing #1.

The prayer that Ben recites for Mr. Sheckerberg is called the Shema. According to Wikipedia, it’s something of a centerpiece for various prayer services. There appears to be many variations of it, but from what I could find, the Jewish Virtual Library website has a translation closest to what Ben is saying: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,” followed by, “Blessed is the name of his glorious majesty forever and ever.”

This is the first appearance of Mr. Sheckerberg, who will go on to have other appearances as Ben’s old friend.

Other Marvel Jewish characters include (but are not limited to) Kitty Pryde, Magneto, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Polaris, Moon Knight. Across the street at DC, Harley Quinn, the Kate Kane Batwoman, and Colossal Boy are Jewish.  

Who’s this Powderkeg guy? He was originally a rival for the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel, and later fought Iron Man and the whole Avengers. His big thing seems to be escaping from super-prison the Vault. Seems like whenever have those scenes of a bunch of villains escaping the Vault at once, Powderkeg is usually there, escaping alongside them.

Fantastic or frightful? I’m on the outside looking in, but to my outsider’s eyes this would appear to be a tasteful enough story, and one that’s a nice look at Ben’s internal character. If nothing else, it changed the way we all look at Ben moving forward.

Next: Manga or not?

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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