Warning: SPOILERS for Fantastic Four #13
Marvel fans have long argued which superhero is stronger: the Incredible Hulk, or the mascot of the Fantastic Four they call The Thing. That question has now been answered in the most decisive fashion possible... with the winner of Hulk vs. Thing claiming a knockout with a single, desperate punch.
Even if the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are now united by Marvel on the movie side of things, their comic counterparts have long debated as the strongest of Marvel's colorful clobberers. Is the top talent The Hulk, the unstoppable force? Or The Thing, the immovable boulder? The appeal of the match-up has led to several fights over the years, usually with some crucial detail or mitigating circumstance allowing the debate to live on. The same is somewhat true in the newest showdown, but it's the emotional stakes that truly tip the scales. The Hulk may be immortal, but with his wife in danger, and only seconds left to live... it's The Thing who throws a punch strong enough to knock the Hulk out cold.
The bout officially began in the previous issue, with Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters's honeymoon interrupted by a raging Hulk determined to kill The Thing. The Banner fans can rest easy, since it's soon revealed that Hulk is being at least partially puppet-ed by the supervillain Puppet Master (Alicia's deadbeat dad... yikes). Mind-controlled or not, Hulk unleashes his full power against Ben in one punch after another. But when Alicia and the other innocent bystanders are buried alive, Ben is forced to start fighting for real.
For those keeping score, the Hulk does win the early rounds of the duo's showdown. But if we're being technical, the beating taken by Ben (like the punches he throws in response) is under the assumption that something is wrong with Bruce Banner. In fact, Ben is more confused and annoyed than violent or aggressive--first 'admitting' that Hulk is the stronger of them, hoping that will get him to leave Ben and Alicia alone. But Banner isn't steering the Hulk through this fight, and the Puppet Master is hellbent on murder. To make matters worse, Ben's previously-looming transformation into his human form means Hulk can actually get the blood he's looking for.
It may seem like a bit of a cheat that for one week per year, Ben's body reverts to his human, flesh and blood form. But when that one week is intended to be his and Alicia's honeymoon (so that they can start a family) we're willing to bet most fans will be happy to overlook it. When the Hulk crash lands on the newlyweds' beach with less than an hour to go before Ben Grimm becomes a squeezable, squishable human... the fight becomes a matter of life and death. Fantastic Four #12 left Ben a half-hour to put the Hulk down for good, making this issue a literal countdown to the death of The Thing.
Thankfully the odds are evened almost immediately, as the Puppet Master lets his control of Hulk slip, allowing Ben to abandon any efforts to talk down his buddy Bruce. Knowing that he's fighting a villain basically using Hulk as a murder weapon, Ben takes his gloves off (figuratively). The odds are further balanced by the fact that Hulk is now officially immortal, and unable to be permanently killed. So even if Ben punches Hulk hard enough to kill him, he will simply come back to life in a matter of moon cycles.
All these circumstances add up to as even a fight as two heroes are likely to ever enter: both knowing victory lies in killing the other fighter, not just beating them. But the same setup means that The Thing is invested with his heart, as well as his physical strength. Knowing Alicia is buried in rubble, and seeing his seconds as The Thing dwindle down to single digits, Ben Grimm is painfully aware that he has just one punch left. One punch to either save his life along with his wife, or lose everything. It's safe to say that under those conditions, even an ordinary man would throw the hardest punch of his life... and Ben Grimm is no ordinary man.
In a comic panel sure to be burned into the memory of every fan who reads it, Ben uncoils his stone fist like his life depends on it... and drops Hulk like a sack of bricks. Ben may not be able to savor the victory, since he reverts to human form and passes out from his injuries within seconds (leaving Alicia to lead herself and the other bystanders out to safety). But that doesn't mean that his fans can't celebrate the occasion, and one of the most emotionally satisfying answers to this age-old rivalry that their bouts may ever produce
The outcome of the fight is sure to be disputed whenever Bruce Banner and Ben Grimm next cross paths, or when fans claim that a mind-controlled Hulk will take a punch far worse than normal. But if fans wish to see the fight and its decisive finish for themselves, they can pick up their own copy now. Check out the official details and plot synopsis for the issue below:
- FANTASTIC FOUR #13
- Written by: Dan Slott
- Art by: Sean Izaakse
- Cover by: Esad Ribic
- Ben and Alicia are off on their dream honeymoon in a remote tropical paradise...until someone decides to crash it. Or should we say SMASH IT?! Get ready for the biggest HULK VS. THING FIGHT OF THE CENTURY!
- The clock is ticking down. The moment is almost at hand. That do-or-die instant where Ben Grimm will either find the will to win – or be annihilated by the fighting-mad Immortal Hulk!
Fantastic Four #13 is available now at your local comic book shop, or online from Marvel Comics. Flowers and condolences can be sent to the Hulk directly.