On History: When Did Ben Grimm Take Up Flying?

By | Tuesday, June 20, 2017 Leave a Comment
The basic history of the Fantastic Four is relatively well-known. Four people, experimental starship, cosmic rays, super powers. Pretty simple and straight-forward. The story was fleshed out over the years. Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were revealed to have been college roommates. Dr. Doom was included in the mix later. Reed having met Sue Storm when he was boarding at her aunt's house came later still.

It was in Fantastic Four #11, though, that we first learned that Ben was an accomplished pilot before their fateful starship ride. Later stories would expand on the adventures he had in the Air Force and/or Marines (both have been cited at various times) and we've seen a pre-cosmic-rays Ben fighting alongside Logan, Carol Danvers, Nick Fury, and Capt. Savage at various points. By pretty much all accounts, Ben was a very talented and famous pilot. His adventures with Capt. Savage came about because he was specifically targeted and captured for his skill in shooting down enemy aircraft. So that Reed would come back to his friend years after college to fly this starship makes sense.

But it just dawned on me that there's a weird little wrinkle that was added back in 1983. In Thing #1, they elaborate on Ben's backstory considerably, going into detail about seeing his older brother killed and his time in the Yancy Street Gang before eventually getting to college. It then covers Reed and Ben's first meeting and, as they're introducing themselves to one another, we get this exchange...
So, I got to thinking: why suggest that he'd fly it? Of all the ways to respond that would provide some level of snark, why specifically "I'll fly your rocket ship"?

If someone tells you something you deem far-fetched, it's not uncommon to respond with something you might consider equally implausible. And typically, you'd want to keep your comeback thematically similar...

"I'm a Saudi prince."
"Yeah, well, I'm the king of Spain."

"I build car engines that run on water."
"And I make solar powered flashlights."

"I'm dating Chris Hemsworth."
"And my wife is Scarlett Johansson."

You keep the same idea in your retort. Whatever it is that you claim to do or be should follow the same line of thinking as the original statement. So if Reed says, "I'm going to build a rocket," a typical retort might be "And I'm going to build a Mars rover" or "I'm going to build a space station." (Bear in mind that both of these were still science fiction in 1983.)

The other likely response is to extrapolate and exaggerate your own self to the same extent that you think the other speaker is. If someone claimed they were going to be a first round draft pick in the NFL next season because they play high school football now, you might come back with the claim that you're going to win the Noble prize for literature because you got an "A" on that short story you wrote for Mr. Reynolds' English class last semester. Or if someone says they're going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because they play in a shitty bar band, your response might be that you're going to win an Olympic gold medal for figure skating because you're a pretty good player on the local ice hockey team.

It's the second concept that seems to be where Ben is coming from since he certainly isn't mimicking Reed's basic structure. But if Ben's suggestion that he fly a starship is an extrapolation/exaggeration of his current abilities, he must have some flying ability at this point, right? If you had zero experience flying anything at all, you wouldn't make that joke. Being a football player, he might've gone with, "You build that rocket an' I'll punt it into space myself!" Or maybe going back to his Yancy Street days, "You build that rocket an' I'll cut anyone who keeps ya from launchin' it!"

But, no, he went with the notion of piloting it. This would suggest Ben already knows how to fly a plane at this point. Perhaps he didn't have his actual pilot's license, but at least the basic knowledge and skill with only some additional flight time and/or a written test remaining.

Although Reed is later identified as being 18 when he met Ben, Ben's age is never expressly noted. Presumably, he's around that age as well, but given his problematic days as a youngster, he may have been held back a year or two in school. (It's also possible that he took some time off between high school and college, but given that he had a football scholarship, this strikes me as unlikely.) Ben's expressly noted as having a layabout father who didn't bring much money in, so flying lessons seem out of the question before his parents died and he was taken in by his Uncle Jake.

So was that something his Uncle Jake did for him then? Give him or pay for him to take flying lessons? Did Ben actually have a pilot's license as a teenager? Did years of experience flying before even getting into the armed forces help propel him up the ranks faster than others that entered around the same time?

It's an absurdly minor character point, and based off one line of dialogue that was probably written with more foreshadowing in mind than anything else, but an interesting notion to think about nonetheless. Well, interesting to me at any rate!
Newer Post Older Post Home