Aside from “Who would win in a fight?” no debate gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether or not superheroes should marry. In this mini-feature, former Bride Rebecca Henely-Weiss and Bride-to-Be Kayleigh Hearn take a trip to today’s spinner racks and look at the most recent times comic companies took the plunge and got their characters hitched! Did we like the couple? Did we like the dress? And more importantly … why did (or didn’t) the marriage last? Today we look at the wedding of Benjamin Grimm and Alicia Masters.
The Couple: Benjamin Grimm and Alicia Masters (for real this time)
The Issue: Fantastic Four #5
Published: December 26, 2018
Today: Read on, True Believers…
Rebecca: Not a dream! Not an imaginary tale! Not a fake-out, and not a freaking Skrull! It’s a wedding as advertised! *Pops champagne*
Kayleigh: Before we begin the review proper, I have to say I feel a lot of emotions looking at this cover. It eschews the traditional Fantastic Four logo so our attention is drawn to both the beautiful cover art by Esad Ribic, and the banner memorializing Stan Lee, without whom, of course, we wouldn’t be writing about the 650th Fantastic Four comic today.
Rebecca: Last time we talked about how we don’t know anyone who was keen on Johnny Storm and Alicia Masters, but Alicia and Ben Grimm’s romance has been one of the mainstays of the franchise, with Alicia being introduced in the original Fantastic Four #8 as the blind sculptor who could see beyond The Thing’s monstrous appearance to the goodhearted man inside. They’re a fairly archetypal Beauty and the Beast tale, but some archetypes work for a reason. I was pleased to see them tie the knot—and this comic really does have a lot of what I think makes a good wedding issue.
Kayleigh: Superhero comics are frequently referred to as our “modern mythology,” and as corny as that can be, Ben and Alicia’s relationship within the Fantastic Four saga definitely gives weight to it. They’re a literal fairy tale, so I’m not surprised that despite their ups and downs, this romance has lived in fans’ hearts for decades while, in contrast, Johnny and “Alicia” and Ben and Sharon Ventura have faded from memory.
Rebecca: I really enjoyed how this issue was structured. It begins with the Fantastic Four (plus Reed and Sue Richards’ kids) moving into a new headquarters on Yancy Street, but before the ceremony itself, we’re shown two stories-within-a-story. In the first, Sue takes Ben to a dance lesson, where she reminisces on some old regrets she still has in the lead-up to the accident which gave them their powers and how happy she was to see Ben fall in love with Alicia. The second story covers Johnny’s efforts to put on a perfect bachelor party for Ben, which is a large part a cover for Johnny’s own regrets in his relationship with “Alicia”/Lyja. Marvel’s First Family eventually converges in Arizona for a small ceremony, but Reed—to Sue’s consternation—lags behind. However, he does eventually arrive with his gift, and not a moment too soon. When Doctor Doom and Galactus announce their intention to battle right as Ben and Alicia are about to say “I do,” Reed’s gift puts the happy couple into a four-minute time bubble. They break the glass with those extra minutes, and at the end of the issue, the Four speed off to save the day, with Ben promising to be back in time for cake.
Kayleigh: There’s a common characterization of Reed and Sue—he overlooks his family to the point of negligence, and she nags him about silly things like the kid’s haircut—that chafes me. But it’s almost worth it for the reveal of the time-bubble, which is probably the most perfect gift you could give a superhero at their wedding. The format of the issue gave every member of the Fantastic Four their moment, though Johnny’s existential crisis at Ben’s bachelor party highlights the “the more things change, the more they stay the same” problem at the heart of never-ending superhero comics. Thirty years ago, he was ready to grow up and get married, but in 2019, Johnny’s still stuck in the role of immature prankster playboy. The wedding itself was rather sweet and heartwarming, though I think we almost have enough entries for a “Best Doctor Doom Wedding Cameo” listicle.
Rebecca: Dan Slott’s reputation among comic fans is … not wonderful, but what I’ve always liked about him as a writer is how he’s willing to confront the weirder parts of comic book characters’ long histories. The Sue story uses some parts of the original Fantastic Four #1 which haven’t aged well—like Sue calling Ben a coward and then being terrified by him after his transformation into The Thing—to explore how the two characters’ formerly flirtatious friendship has changed over the years and how it influenced/contrasted to Ben’s later relationship with Alicia. Meanwhile, the bachelor party story—which features Ben Grimm entering a wrestling match and pulling his groin, as well as the super villain team, Serpent Society Strike, jumping out of cakes—is genuinely funny, but it also deals with Johnny’s feelings over Alicia/Lyja in a way that makes sense. I also like how the entire comic is accessible to new and old readers. We get caught up on the new status quo. (The Fantastic Four have a new home! The Richards children are teenagers who insist on dying their hair blue for the ceremony!) But also get a story that appeals to those old fans who would recognize references to Ben’s Aunt Petunia and be happy to see her in Arizona.
Kayleigh: The weird part of the Fantastic Four’s history I did not expect Slott to bring up is that Alicia is a near-exact double for Sue, which should have been a big awkward cloud over Johnny’s wedding to his sister’s (alien) doppelganger. These stories all have their cute moments—I loved Ben in a black beret trying out for Nailed It: Sculpture Edition, and the reminder that yeah, Adam Hughes is a pretty damn good artist when he isn’t using cheesecake as a crutch. But what stood out for me is that, until she gives her vows, we really don’t get Alicia’s perspective on marrying Ben. Like, I get it; she’s not one of the Fantastic Four. That’s why we’re reading Sue’s version of Alicia’s love life and not her own. Reed’s comment about Johnny’s marriage to Alicia/Lyja is super awkward and sends him down an insecurity spiral, sure, but what does Alicia think about the time an alien stole her life and married the wrong person? I genuinely hope this wasn’t a case of the creators not knowing how to convey the perspective of a blind woman who doesn’t have Daredevil-y radar powers, ’cause … c’mon guys.
Rebecca: Just like Johnny tried to avoid the big crowds of Reed and Sue’s wedding, Ben and Alicia kept their guest list small. Still, there’s no shortage of cameos here, especially in the bachelor party section. My favorites in that part were Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon showing up in a party bus playing the Steve Miller Band’s “Some People Call Me the Space Cowboy” and Thundra of the Femizons insisting on drinking and brawling with the boys instead of going to the bachelorette party (although considering Alicia and the girls took in a Chippendales show she probably missed out). However, my very favorite cameo was from the flashback where Ben and Alicia go to a petting zoo and Mike Allred straight up drew the cover of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in the background. By the way, how great are the Allreds at aping Jack Kirby’s style? Aaron Kuder in the main story and Adam Hughes in the bachelor party story did fine, but the Allreds were the real standout of the issue for me visually.
Kayleigh: Ben expressly forbidding the presence of any other super people at his wedding was probably the right call. (Sorry, Spidey.) Thundra stole the issue for me; that panel of her winning the super strip poker game, complete with sunglasses, bubblegum cigar, and Thor’s helmet was ridiculously funny. (“Hatest not the player, Benjamin Grimm.”) The Allreds’ chapter felt a bit padded to me—I don’t know if we really needed another origin retelling—but the Pet Sounds cover was a nice Easter Egg. Hey, remember when Deadpool’s wedding had a random Abbey Road album cover homage? Maybe that’s a thing wedding issues just do now.
Rebecca: And now for the fashion review! Like I said last time, I don’t know if it would be in character for Alicia to have an extravagant gown, so I’m not going to dock it for being simple. The bridesmaid dresses don’t have much of a design either, and orange is my least favorite color, but hey: at least they match the groom. Speaking of whom, the black suits and bowties for the men in the wedding party are classic but basically serviceable. The nice part is seeing Ben decked out in a prayer shawl and kippah, just like this famous Kirby drawing.
Kayleigh: This is the kind of intimate, stripped down wedding where fashion is really beside the point, so I can’t say much. I like Alicia’s headband; the flowers are a nice splash of detail. And this isn’t a knock against either artist, but I blinked a few times when I realized Alicia’s appearance on the cover (long hair, veil) was totally different than how she looked in the comic (short hair, no veil). I get the impression that Aaron Kuder is more interested in the flashy fight between Doctor Doom and Galactus than the wedding, which seems so much plainer by comparison. But now that I’m typing it out, that might have been the point.
Rebecca: It’s hard to know what the future will be for Ben and Alicia. I have high hopes for them, given that what was meant to be Alicia marrying another man failed to keep them apart and Kirby creations tend to have a good track record in this column. On the other hand, it’s common for the Fantastic Four to undergo big changes and then snap back to a status quo. It’s hard to say if Ben and Alicia’s new marriage will remain a part of it as the years go on. Also, as much as I appreciated that a comics couple advertised as getting married in 2018 actually got married, I will say that I don’t know if this will go down as one of a favorite wedding issue. It’s fun, but it doesn’t feel as iconic as some of the other couples we’ve seen walk down the aisle. That being said, I say Mazel Tov to Alicia and Ben. L’chaim!