Fantastic Friday: Grunt work

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s another visit to Marvel’s “Startling Stories” line, which non-Marvel creators told Marvel stories in their own styles. Thing: Last Line of Defense gets to the heart of our favorite rock monster.

What’s all this, then? This one-shot is from writer Ron Zimmerman, who sadly recently died. He has a huge list of television writing and producing credits in multiple genres from the 80s through the 2000s. He went on to write Spider-Man, Punisher, and Captain comics for Marvel. And yes, he was once in a very public relationship with celebrity superstar Cher. Artist Don Kramer mostly worked for DC, drawing JSA, Wonder Woman, Dr. Fate, Nightwing, and more.

The comic begins in New York, in Stan’s Bar (Get it?) where Ben is hanging out with Nick Fury. Fury is asking for Ben’s help, but Ben tells him to call someone else, as he has upcoming vacation plans. Fury says this gig is in Ben’s wheelhouse, and that Ben doesn’t have a choice. He’s to report to Fort Duke army base immediately.

Ben shows up at the base and meets Corporal Charlie Proctor, his driver. They banter while on a long drive through the desert. Charlie asks if being a superhero is fun, and Ben says it often falls on him to do grunt work. There are exceptions, though, and he tells Charlie about one night when the police called him to help fight the Wrecker in Times Square. Ben clobbers the Wrecker and is celebrated as a hero.

Charlie says he’s an army brat, coming from a family of army brats. He envies Ben, saying superheroes don’t have to take orders from anyone. Ben disagrees, telling a story of how the US President once ordered the FF to handle a crisis in Attilan, the Inhumans’ secret city. Reed outfitted Ben with flying rocket shoes for this mission, which malfunction and make Ben look foolish. He meets with Gorgon – who, let’s not forget, once singlehandedly defeated the entire FF. Gorgon says the US Army is threatening the Inhumans. Gorgon is outraged, and he and Ben fight. Karnak and Triton show up, saying that they are preparing for battle against the US soldiers. Ben and Gorgon fight for a bit more before Medusa arrives and breaks them up.

Ben talks with Medusa, asking her to let him talk to the President and to General Thunderbolt Ross to ease the tension. Ben and Medusa are quite flirtatious, saying if they were not already in relationships, they might have something together. They hug and instead agree to remain just friends. Black Bolt then arrives, and thinks the hug is something more. He attacks Ben. They fight, with the other Inhumans cracking jokes from the sidelines. Medusa insists they break up the brawl.

Back in the present, Charlie keeps asking whether Ben and Medusa actually hooked up, and Ben insists they never did. Charlie continues to be jealous of Ben, saying Ben can anywhere he wants and do anything he wants. Ben says it’s not the powers that matter, but what’s in your heart. Then it’s another flashback, to when Sue was pregnant with Franklin. (The Inhumans vs. army plot goes unresolved.) Sue grouses about Reed going on adventures while she stays home, and Ben reminds her how much Reed loves her. Then Blastaar the Living Bomb-burst comes through the Negative Zone portal on a mission to kill both Sue and the baby. Ben fights the villains while Sue contacts Avengers mansion. Blastaar confronts Sue, but Ben protects her, saying that the FF is first and foremost a family.

Back in the present, Ben and Charlie sense an Earthquake, and they see a strange object in the sky. Ben tells Charlie to retreat, adding “That’s an order!”  With him out of the way, Ben prepares for a fight. The object in the sky is the Hulk, on a rampage and coming down from one of his giant leaps. Ben wraps things up by saying, “Time to go to work.”

Clobberin’ time: Sorting out when and where these flashbacks take place is a continuity headache, especially the Inhumans one. Remember that these are stories Ben is telling Charlie, so I’m willing to concede that Ben is exaggerating and/or misremembering.

Fade out: During Sue’s first pregnancy, she spent a lot of time away from the main cast, often not appearing for multiple issues. It’s nice to see that she wasn’t totally sidelined during that time and still got a little superhero-ing in.  

Flame on: Johnny shows up for one scene at the beginning, to say he’s not joining Ben on Fury’s mission. This illustrates how often it falls to Ben to the grunt work.

Fantastic fifth wheel: I don’t recall any sexual tension between Ben and Medusa in the past, but this comic makes a good case for it. Medusa says she feels a kinship with Ben because ordinary humans think he is a monster, and they treat her and the Inhumans the same way. Humorously, Ben compares Medusa to Wonder Woman, explaining to her that’s a character from “the funny books.”

Trivia time: This is the only appearance of Corporal Charlie Proctor, even though the Marvel Wiki gives him his own entry. That’s too bad, as he’s a fun sidekick for Ben.

Gorgon wears just a loin cloth (!), revealing what fans suspected all along, that he doesn’t have human legs, but full-on super-strong horse hooves for legs.

Triton mentions romancing an Atlantean woman named Flama. She has no Wiki entry, so it’s a safe bet she’s never seen or mentioned again.

Fantastic or frightful? The comic starts with emphasis on Ben being the one who always does “grunt work,” but then he makes the point to Charlie that even a basic grunt simply following orders can still be a hero. It’s a quick, lighthearted read, with some truly gorgeous art.

Next: Still more startling.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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