The recent release of Secret Empire #6 generated many talking points for Marvelites, but one of the most enjoyable for long-time fans was the return of a fine Marvel tradition: that of the Hulk vs Thing throw-down. The death of Bruce Banner in Civil War II #3 appeared to put an end to this long-running rivalry, but Bruce’s resurrection by Hydra set the scene for one more clash between Marvel’s preeminent man-monsters. Way before hero vs hero became a staple of Marvel’s comics, Thing and Hulk were knocking lumps out of each other. Since their first encounter in Fantastic Four #12, through mutations, color changes and misunderstandings, the two have fought time after time.
So, why does this pairing hold such appeal, both for fans and creators? There’s obviously the visceral thrill of the damage that can be caused by two powerful heroes knocking lumps out of each other and their surroundings. But there’s also an emotional resonance to their meetings that goes beyond a test of strength. One of the defining features of the Hulk has typically been that he has been alone: feared, hunted and misunderstood. In contrast, the Thing, despite looking equally monstrous, is a bona fide celebrity in the Marvel Universe and a member of a team that is defined by bonds of family and friendship. It’s no surprise that meetings between the two generate strong emotions, one enviously looking at the life he could have had and the other fearful of what might have been.
The first meeting between the two, in Fantastic Four #12, was something of an anti-climax. The battle between the FF and the Hulk only lasted a few pages, with the Thing/Hulk clash cut short when the Hulk was knocked unconscious. If this was a disappointment for fans, Marvel made it up to them in their next meeting, an epic two-part brawl that featured in Fantastic Four #25-26, by the Silver Age dream team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
In the tradition of the epic battles between the Sub-Mariner and Human Torch in Marvel’s Golden Age, this brawl saw the Hulk and Thing take their fight across New York, with the FF being picked off one after another until only the Thing was left to stand in the Hulk’s way. This classic match established the template for the Hulk/Thing fights to come. The Hulk may be stronger, but Benjamin J. Grimm has a big heart and a never say die attitude. To put it simply, he’ll keep fighting as long as there’s breath in his body, especially if it’s to protect people that he loves.
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