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Heroes Never Rust #37 by Sean Ironman

Man or Monster?

Ben Grimm, aka The Thing, is the focus of the final issue of Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules. The cover is of Ben unconscious with a bloody lip and with a small panel of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman laughing at The Thing who’s on his knees and covering his face in defeat. The issue begins with Ben’s girlfriend smashing dinner plates, telling him to rot in hell, and storming out. While this could be thought of as Ben’s issue, the opening is layered with Reed Richards’s interiority.

“Science relies upon observation. The more data one collects, the more likely one can predict future behavior. But what happens when behavior belies all known data? When there is chaos where there should be order? Must I surrender to the premise that the only constant is randomness and instability? Can I accept these implications of how illusionary the world we’ve conjured for ourselves is? How easily it can come apart?”

We’re never told why these characters are in the situation in which we find them. We get hints about Ben Grimm’s time during the war. We don’t know why Reed is dating Susan. Or why Susan would want to date Reed. Or what happened to Susan and Johnny’s parents. They are all messed up and can’t see their way out. Susan flirts unsuccessfully with a young colleague of Reed’s. Ben unsuccessfully hits on a woman at a diner. Reed wants to marry Susan and practices his proposal even though it’s obvious he doesn’t even understand love.

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Reed wants to organize life. Everything must have a purpose, must make sense. He doesn’t understand the world and attempts to figure out it out. He wants to sit and watch from the outside.

But that’s what he comes to learn. There is no observer in life. He’s a part of it. Reed runs late to the dinner party Susan throws for Reed and his colleagues. By the time he arrives, he finds Susan and Ben in the bedroom making out. It wasn’t planned. Susan and Ben weren’t sneaking around behind Reed’s back this whole time. Actually, Ben is more remorseful over what happened than Susan. So many things had to happen to get the two to that point. So many random things.

Susan finds Johnny gone (He’s on the beach getting beaten up from issue three). Reed’s running late. Ben can’t fit into the crowd downstairs and searches for Susan, who’s crying over Johnny having run off. Reed comes home two minutes after Ben and Susan start kissing. It just happens to be the night Reed wanted to propose to Susan.

In many stories, these coincidences wouldn’t work, or at least would feel more contrived. Coincidences can be difficult to write. Characters decisions should drive the story forward. But Unstable Molecules is able to manage it because the coincidences still revolve around characters’ choices and it becomes part of the story, instead of trying to trick the reader into not noticing.

Johnny is gone because Johnny chose to run off. Reed chooses to propose. Ben chooses to come to the party and look for Susan. Susan chooses to kiss Ben. They all happen in the same night because that’s life. What one person does affects another person. We’re not separate creatures. We share the same space. Our lives pull and push against other lives. We’re connected.

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That’s what Reed had wrong this whole time. He realizes he was studying life from afar instead of realizing he’s a part of it. His life affects another life. It might seem like coincidence or randomness at first. But it’s not. Everyone is in control of the choices they make, but those choices affect more people than just that one person. A choice I make today affects someone else. In turn, what that person does affects a third. And so on down the line. We’re not bouncing off of one another. We’re bound together.

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.

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