Benjamin Jacob Grimm was born on Yancy Street on the Lower East Side of New York City to Jewish parents. He lived a hard-knock childhood which toughened him into a streetwise survivor. He even joined, and eventually led, a street crew named The Yancy Street Gang. When his parents died, Ben went to live with his Uncle Jake and his wife, Ben’s Aunt Petunia, whom he referenced frequently throughout the comics.
In high school, he was a star football player which earned him a scholarship to Empire State University. There he met two people who would figure prominently in his life – two genius-level fellow students, one of whom would become his best friend for life, Reed Richards, and the other who would become one of his fiercest enemies, Victor von Doom.
Ben and Reed hit it off immediately. Reed told Ben of his plans to build a rocket ship to explore deep space. Instead of poking fun at his nerdy roommate, Ben instead told him he would pilot the ship if Reed ever built it.
Ben’s adult life involved serving in the US Marine Corps as a test pilot before joining NASA as an astronaut in early failed attempts to reach the moon.
Years later, Reed, a super-genius who had mastered all areas of science and engineering, had built his ship. He found Ben Grimm, with whom he had lost touch, and asked if he was still interested in piloting the ship for him. He informed Ben that NASA had taken control of the parameters for the flight, and that they needed to secretly commandeer the ship if they were to fulfill their mission of space flight before the communists could do the same. Reed’s fiancé, Susan Storm, who had provided some of the funding for building the ship, and her younger brother, Johnny, would be along for the flight. Ben adamantly refused, not because of the unauthorized nature of the mission, but because he knew that Reed hadn’t had enough time to fully study the mysterious cosmic radiation which existed in outer space, nor to adequately prepare the ship for protection of the crew should they encounter the deadly rays.
But, ultimately Sue convinced him of the importance to the country of beating Russia and China into space, and he agreed to fly the ship. Once in space however, their fears became real and they were blasted by the cosmic rays. Forced to crash-land the ship in a remote area, one by one, the four friends revealed startling new powers. Of them all, Ben’s was the most shocking as his body grew entirely beyond normal size and proportion, and he became a walking slab of orange rock. He was incredibly powerful, demonstrating this by ripping a tree up by its roots.
He was also found to be the only member of the group who could not ‘turn off’ his powers. Unlike the others, who could appear as normal to anyone they may meet, Ben was perpetually stuck in his mutated state, which threw him into a state of anger and depression.
He self-mockingly called himself The Thing when the quartet gave themselves their superhero code names. The group called themselves The Fantastic Four and agreed they must use their powers to help better the planet.
As The Thing, Grimm became one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe, able to lift one-hundred tons. A fierce brawler with considerable boxing skills, his oft-heard battle cry was, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
Always considering himself a hideous monster, Ben eventually found love with a beautiful, blind sculptor named Alicia Masters.
Over the years, Reed tried tirelessly to find a cure for Ben’s permanent state. Periodically, Ben would revert to his human form, but these episodes were always temporary and Ben’s depression over his seemingly incurable condition grew deeper. To overcompensate for his self-pity, Ben used humor to hide his pain.
As his appearance modified over time due to fine-tuning his look by Kirby, Ben came to have a more cartoonish look with overexaggerated facial expressions and four digits on each hand and foot like Mickey Mouse or any number of other funny animal characters. This only made The Thing more loveable and endearing to the readers, who loved the contrast of the evolved look on such a cantankerous character. This was accentuated further by Ben referring to himself as ‘the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing’ and ‘Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew’.
Ben was the godfather to Reed and Sue’s son, Franklin. Reed was his oldest friend, but as time passed, and with Reed and Sue getting married, Ben and Johnny became better friends, actually more like brothers. Their relationship was often presented with them playing practical jokes on one another and fighting just like brothers do.
While frequently presented as having a sad existence, Ben never completely succumbs to his depression and was always a fierce and loyal friend to those he cared about, showing that, however huge his body was, his heart was even bigger.
Ben Grimm/The Thing was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961 for the comic book The Fantastic Four. His Jewish heritage, street gang background and constant cigar-chomping made it clear that he was Kirby’s literary alter ego.
As one of Lee’s counterpoints to the established tropes of comics, Ben was his alternative to the super strong hero with the lantern jaw, rugged good looks, dramatically wavy hair and well-defined musculature. Also unlike these familiar archetypes, Ben doesn’t wear a costume. In fact, he usually wears nothing more than a pair of blue shorts. He doesn’t even wear shoes!
Lee also imbued The Thing with a level of pathos not seen before in a four-color comic character before. This added a level of depth that attracted a more mature brand of reader. Burdening Ben with such real-world problems only made him seem more realistic even as his enormous rocky form defied reality altogether.
All of the heroes created in the initial 60s renaissance of the Marvel Age were unique archetypes to various degrees, but Ben Grimm was one of the most original.