WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Fantastic Four #13 by Dan Slott, Sean Izaakse, Marcio Menyz and Joe Caramagna, in stores now.
There aren't many rivalries in comic books like the one between the Hulk and the Thing. The two superheroes have long been at the center of a debate among fans: which super-powered character is, actually, the strongest.
Over the years, the pair have clashed many times, to the point that their brawls have become classic bits of nostalgia, stretching all the way back to the pair's first meeting in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #12 and their spectacular fight in Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four #25 and 26.
No matter how many times the two have fought one another, it's been difficult to pinpoint an exact winner. Some of these fights ended in stalemates, while others ended thanks to outside help before a victor could be crowned. Once, the Thing came out on top, but he was given extra powers while the Hulk, in his grey Joe Fixit form, was severely depowered -- not exactly a fair fight. The general consensus however, is that the Hulk is the strongest of the two, while Ben Grimm is the one with the most heart.
However, in Fantastic Four #13, the Hulk and the Thing duke it out once again. And this time, the Thing wins, fair and square.
Like Lee and Kirby's classic Hulk vs. Thing brawl, the latest battle between the two brutes stretches out over two issues. The fight, which began in last month's Fantastic Four #12, saw the Immortal Hulk interrupt Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters' honeymoon for a rematch. In truth however, the Hulk is being mind-controlled by the Puppet Master, Alicia's stepfather Phillip Masters. The Puppet Master isn't holding back and makes sure that the Hulk is fighting as his most brutal, most dangerous self. What follows is easily the most savage, ruthless fight the two rivals have ever had.
Unfortunately for Ben, he's out of his league for the better part of the fight. While he gets some good licks in, he spends most of the time getting viciously punched around. It's only when he finds himself on the ropes, with a face as badly beaten as Rocky Balboa, that Alicia finally rushes to her new husband's side for a pep talk.
Ben says the Hulk's got him beat six ways to Sunday. But that's when Alicia reminds the blue-eyed Thing what all of us know: he's got more heart than anyone -- and a lot more than a Puppet Master-controlled Hulk.
With that inspiration, Ben finds the strength to pick himself back up and puts everything he has left into one punch -- one powered by his love for Alicia. The sense-shattering punch takes up an entire two-page spread that shows just how powerful and damaging it is. The rock epidermis that covers Ben's arm shatters away as he screams in pain, but the punch is so powerful that it knocks the Hulk out cold.
With nothing left to give, Ben then falls unconscious -- but not before he realizes that he has finally done what he was never able to do before: beat the Hulk, fair and square. No tricks, no gimmicks.
When he regains consciousness a week later, Ben finds his arm in a Vibranium cast -- a clear sign that he has never delivered a punch as powerful as the one that took out the Hulk. After all this time, we finally have our answer: the Thing wins thanks to what he's always had -- heart.