Top of the morning to you! This Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that means very little to me other than having people every year remind me that my name is Patrick too, and the never-ending search to find Marvel comics featuring one of the most famous stereotypical aspects of Irish culture, leprechauns! Insanely, two different years I was able to scrounge up stories where the X-Men came in contact with leprechauns, specifically the ones living inside of the ancestral home of Banshee, a member of the team. But, sadly, as far as I can tell those two stories were the extent of the saga of the leprechauns of Cassidy Keep. And, like a fool, I assumed that meant I had also tapped out on leprechauns in general in the Marvel Universe. But, thankfully, that was not the case. After cursory search on some Marvel wiki, I came across another story that featured leprechauns, just not of the Cassidy variety, and as luck would have it, it also features one of my favorite characters in all of comics, and a frequent star of Marvel Madness posts, the idol of millions, Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, Ben Grimm! And, if you think I would pass up the opportunity to talk about a story featuring both the Thing and leprechauns, you don’t know the type of nonsense I specialize in. I may be scraping the bottom of the leprechaun barrel, but I like to think that I’m doing some sort of a public service here.
This story takes place in the Thing’s titular solo book, which took place in a time when the Fantastic Four were initially disbanded, and eventually just reformed without Ben so he could be on some sort of sabbatical, roaming the country and helping people while trying to find himself. And this story picks up in the Adirondack Mountains, where Ben Grimm is stomping around having just gotten wrapped up in a story involving the Rhino, Project PEGASUS, and Miracle Man, the guy who has previously tried to recreate a new Messiah in New Mexico, which the Thing also witnessed. And, after taking are of all those shenanigans, Ben has decided it’s time to head back to New York, and even though he saved the day at Project PEGASUS, he’s decided he’s going to take a bus back to the city. And, while he’s wandering through the woods, looking for a bus stop, he hears the unmistakable sound of gunfire. And, his superhero instincts kick in, causing Ben to charge headfirst into a field where a man appears to be wildly shooting his gun around. So, Ben marches up to the guy, and makes quite an appearance.
Ben’s not too pleased with this guy a) calling him a monster, and b) shooting him several times, point blank in the chest with a hunting rifle. But, since bullets don’t do much to the Thing, he’s able to just shrug it off, and yell at the guy for the whole monster thing, which is a very touchy topic for Ben. He demands the guy tell him why he’s shooting randomly into the field, and the guy responds with more monster talk, causing Ben to lose his patience and bend the guy’s gun in half so he won’t be able to make any more noise. And, this does not stop the guy from throwing the m-word around. He starts telling Ben that there’s some sort of little monsters in this valley, and Ben has unwittingly turned himself into their ally, which means Ben is also the guy’s enemy.
Ben doesn’t take too kindly to being referred to as a helper for little monsters though, and he starts to posture himself as if he’s ready to smash this guy into the ground like a hammer with a nail, so the farmer goes running off into the woods, telling Ben that he’ll be sorry for sticking around. Ben takes a moment to wonder what in the world this guy was yelling about, before he notices that off in the distance a bus has pulled up to a bumpy country road. So, Ben starts barreling off to the bus, huffing and wheezing the whole time. And, right as he gets there, the bus pulls away, leaving Ben in its dust. And, as Ben is lamenting the fact that his terrible luck always makes the worst possible thing happen to him, it starts down-pouring rain.
I’m always a little uncertain about exactly what sensations Ben Grimm is able to feel with his rocky exterior, but apparently he doesn’t like the feeling of being wet. So, Ben starts running through the fields again, desperate to find someplace to get out of the bad weather and dry himself off in, and he ends up wishing out loud that he had somewhere to hide out in. And, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, Ben comes across an old barn and silo in the middle of the field. He’s almost certain that that barn wasn’t there a minute ago, but not wanting to look a gift barn in the mouth, Ben decides to duck inside to wait out the storm.
Ben pops into the barn, which is luckily unlocked, and starts investigating the place. It seems like a pretty standard barn, lots of farm equipment and stacks of hay. But, there’s also a surprising amount of beer, all held in giant kegs that are strewn around. Which is a sight for Ben’s poor eyes. He gladly walks up to one of the kegs and taps it, figuring that while he’s waiting out the storm he could also get pretty wasted. Which I’m sure will make the bus driver who ends up picking his gigantic orange ass up even more pleased. And, while Ben is sitting there, drinking mystery beer, he begins lamenting his current standing in the world, simultaneously feeling irritated and jealous that the Fantastic Four are operating again without him. And, while becoming drunker and more bitter, Ben nods off to the lulling sounds of the rain storm, until he’s awoken by a strange rumbling noise. And, when he wakes up, he finds something shocking.
Listen, we all knew leprechauns were going to show up in this issue, it’s the whole reason that I was talking about it. But, I sure didn’t expect them to show up inside a barn/brewery bowling while Ben Grimm bitterly sleeps one off. And, he can’t really believe it either, assuming that this is all a dream caused by strange barn beer. Which, makes sense. But, one of the leprechauns walks up and tells Ben how appreciative he is for saving him and his friends out in the field earlier. Because it turns out that these leprechauns are the “little monsters” that that farmer was talking about, and Ben chasing him off has inadvertently saved them.
Apparently these leprechauns live in this part of the Adirondack Mountains, and they have a long-standing beef with that farmer, whose name is O’Keefe. Their blood-feud has been going on for quite some time, but it’s apparently been in a sort of Cold War for a long time. Until that morning, when he grabbed the very leprechaun talking to Ben, intent on getting three wishes from him. The little leprechaun tried to fight Ben off, but it didn’t work until Ben came along and terrified the man. And, since Ben missed his bus, the leprechaun decided to repay his life-debt to Ben by giving him his three wishes, the first of which was to gain entrance to this barn, which apparently belongs to the leprechauns, and is full of O’Keefe’s beer. Ben is still pretty apprehensive about the whole thing, figuring that O’Keefe does kind of have a good point dealing with these little buggers, but does want to take advantage of his two wishes. Although, the leprechaun does make that statement a little ominous.
The leprechauns have told Ben that they’ll be capable to delivering to him his greatest wish in the world, as long as he will be able to handle it. Ben thinks that that warning is just the leprechauns trying to get in his head so that he won’t take advantage of his two remaining wishes, and decides to just go ahead and use his wish to do exactly what you think Ben Grimm would do if given the chance to use some leprechaun magic to his advantage. He wishes that they would turn him back into a normal man, take away his rocky exterior and let him finally give up being the Thing.
And, sure enough, the leprechauns announce that that is well withing their abilities. So, the lead leprechaun takes out a little bag of sand, and blows it right into Ben’s eyes. While Ben curses at them and tries to rub the sand out of his eyes, the leprechauns all vanish, and a miraculous transformation occurs, reverting Ben back into his human form. And he’s ecstatic. He’s not as hairy as the human form of Ben Grimm is usually portrayed. But, while Ben is busy cavorting around the mystery barn, thrilled that he’s no longer made of orange rock, someone approaches the bar. Ben assumes that the shadow belongs to O’Keefe, the weird farmer, and before he can call out to him, a fire breaks out. It seems that O’Keefe has lit fire to the leprechaun’s barn, and now only plain old human Ben is able to deal with it.
Ben does his best to deal with the flames, and pretty quickly gets the dubious idea to try and extinguish the flames using the kegs of beer inside the barn. Which, is frankly just some drunk guy logic. But, it turns out that this plan doesn’t work for a different reason than you might have expected, because part of accomplishing this plan requires the strength that Ben has grown accustomed to over the year, but that has been taken from him by leprechaun magic. Which is giving Ben the feeling that this whole thing may have been a little too Twilight Zone for Ben’s taste.
And, to add insult to injury, as Ben is standing around in his revealing little getup thinking about how ironic it is that he suddenly wishes he could be the Thing again, some of he flames jump onto his suit and he immediately catches on fire. Thankfully the one beer keg he tried to roll around has opened, and left a big puddle of beer on the barn floor, which he feels will be perfect for him to roll around in. So, Ben stops drops and rolls through some beer to get the flames out. Which does work, but Ben then has to deal with the fact that he’s trapped in a burning barn as regular-ass Ben Grimm, and things are looking bleak. So, in a moment of desperation, Ben wishes that he could be the Thing again, and as the timbers above him finally give way and crash down upon him, a transformation occurs.
Well, sort of.
Ben wakes up, as the Thing, in a barn that still is on fire, but not nearly as bad as it was just a moment ago. And, thanks to copious amount of beer on the ground, Ben makes the probably wise assumption that the whole leprechaun thing may have just been a blackout drunk hallucination. He starts piecing it all together, Kaiser Soze style, and figures that all of this was thanks to O’Keefe talking about little monsters, and his brain just built a weird dream from everything that had happened to him that day. But, that still means Ben has a burning barn to deal with.
So, he trudges out of the barn where it’s still torrentially raining, and he starts thinking fast. He grabs the old empty silo next to the barn and wrenches it completely out of the ground before walking it over to a nearby stream. Ben fills the silo up with water and then marches it back to the barn where he just dumps the whole silo’s worth of water onto it, extinguishing all of the fire. And, right after the deals with the barn he’s shocked to find the weather clearing up, and a bus arriving at the road that’s surprisingly close by. Ben then marches toward the bus, figuring that it’s time to go return to the Fantastic Four, while settling into a very long and awkward bus ride with a driver who seems determined to talk to Ben about his superheroics. And, as Ben rides off into the distance, we’re left with the bizarre reminder that all of that crap actually happened, and the knowledge that the Adirondack Mountains are apparently lousy with shifty leprechauns.
One of the things that I love most about the Marvel Universe is that there’s always something shocking to discover about it. This world has been going on for damn near a century, and in that time people have been given essentially free reign to make whatever insane stories they want, and add whatever weird nonsense they feel like adding to the texture of that world. Sometimes that takes the form of Iron Man and Doctor Doom meeting King Arthur. And, other times it takes the form of two completely separate colonies of leprechauns existing at the same time. The leprechauns of Cassidy Keep kind of make sense in a stereotypical way that Chris Claremont comics often revolve in, but these leprechauns who live in upstate New York are that particular brand of Marvel nonsense that I love so well. I guess maybe the implication is that the leprechauns came to America with O’Keefe, and have been in a blood feud with his family for generations, but there’s really no explanation of why Ben Grimm comes upon a group of boozy leprechauns willing to pull a manipulative monkey’s paw-style mind-fuck on him. But I love it. I adore Ben Grimm, and I’ve never been the biggest fan of stories that revolve around Ben wanting to become a normal man again, only to realize that that will never work, but this story is one of the few that was able to make that story interesting, other than the first time it was told. And, it’s probably because they had the brilliant idea to add leprechauns. It’s a never-fail formula! I’m not really positive if I’m going to be able to track down any more leprechaun stories in the years to come, but I’m thrilled to find out!
The Thing #25 “Legends,” was written by Michael Carlin, penciled by Ron Wilson, inked by Brett Breeding, colored by Bob Sharen, lettered by John Morelli, and edited by Mark Gruenwald and Howard Mackie, 1985.
Categories: Marvel Madness