I thought I'd start my talks about The Thing by looking at the basic theme of the first four issues: money can't buy happiness. Over in J. Michael Straczynski's Fantastic Four, one of the plot developments he made was to make the Thing a multi-billionaire. It's largely a sub-plot within that book, but it's an interesting notion to take a classic blue-collar archetype character and see how they handle the, for them, unique situation of suddenly coming into a lot of money.
Now, I'm not certain if the plot point came up first and Dan Slott starting playing it up more, or if Slott specifically asked to have Straczynski write that in so it could be a launching point for the new series. In either event, it's provided a nice backdrop for Slott's storylines, allowing for Ben Grimm to have some classic plots reminiscent of Marvel Two-in-One but still create some new forms of interaction with his companions.
Take, for example, issue #1. The book starts off with the Thing and Black Goliath fighting a new villain named Cauldron. The story reads much like a classic superhero fisticuff, with the somewhat more modern twist at the end of some bystanders claiming that they'll sue for pain and suffering. More interesting, however, is that Ben learns after the fight that Black Goliath had only invited him over in the first place to help pay for some of his research. Not to make Goliath a cold and impersonal character, he still seems to maintain his friendship with Ben and cares about his personal life -- a more distinct tip of the hat to the old Two-in-One stories where they first met -- but the subtext of using his friend's wealth as a means to further his own ends seems to taint the relationship somewhat. Even in #4, his oldest friend, Reed Richards, hits Ben up for money and, although Reed's intentions are shown to be more altruistic, Ben's impression is that the relationship is again tainted by his financial status.
The message is abundantly clear, certainly by #4, that a man's measure is not tied to the size of his bank account. Many people dream the "American dream" of "making it big" and "striking it rich" but those dreams aren't really worth having if you aren't aware of what you truely enjoy and what really makes you happy. When was the last time Marth Stewart was really happy? Has Paris Hilton ever been truely content? I'm not about to pass judgement on either of them and, despite their charicatures in the book, I don't think Slott has either. But it's a question that he does seem to think that we should all ask ourselves. Is the money we earn (or are given) what makes us happy, or is it something else? Does the money have value if we can't be content?
And you thought this new series was just another directionless superhero slugfest title! So, if you haven't already, tell your local comic shop dealer to put The Thing on your pull list.