The Constrictor grins as he shows Hercules his poker hand: two pairs, kings high. Hercules grins back, revealing three of a kind. He laughs heartily as the Constrictor puts his head in his hands. Hercules scoops up the chips; his fortune restored. The Thing appears holding a drink and asks them not to have any more high-stakes side-pots. That’s not what tonight is about. Tonight they’re here to have fun!
Ben looks around the room at the gathered poker players. Seated or standing around a half dozen tables are members of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men and numerous other assorted heroes. The Wasp and Yellowjacket are clearly cheating, but Reed Richards is saying nothing to Cyclops about where his invisible wife might be. Nighthawk arrives late and asks what he missed. Dr. Strange quips that he missed two super-villain attacks, an incursion from Earth-A and they had to send out for more pizza.
Next through the door are the former Great Lakes Avengers, currently calling themselves the Great Lakes X-Men. Mr. Immortal introduces his team as the GLX, but Marvel Girl snaps her fingers and uses her telepathy to make him think again. He comes up with the name Great Lakes Defenders. Dr. Strange makes him think again using a spell. He admits that he doesn’t know who they are. Luke informs them that, whoever they are, they’re not on the list so they should turn around and leave.
Ben assures Luke that they’re there with Squirrel Girl, so they’re cool. He asks Squirrel Girl to pull up a seat wherever she wants. She-Hulk, seated next to Beast, asks her how she knows the Thing. She replies that they met the other day. They had one of those team-up things.
(flashback, the other day)
Squirrel Girl is introducing her new partner Tippy-Toe from Milwaukee, to some local squirrels. Tippy-Toe makes a chrt! sound which Squirrel Girl understands as meaning they’re in danger. She leaps out of the way, and the Thing lands where she was standing, causing the other squirrels to run for cover. She helps the big guy to his feet, gushing with admiration. “Wowee! I know you. You’re the Thing. You’re on my lunchbox!” She asks if he’s in the middle of some big adventure, and if she can join in. Ben tells whoever she is to get out of there. She introduces herself, and informs Ben that she can talk to squirrels and has squirrel agility… and nuts. Ben thinks she’s nuts. Ben’s assailant lands nearby; a hulking great sandy-colored muscle man with one head on top of the other.
Ben explains that he’s called the Bi-Beast. Normally he’s one of the Hulk’s foes but, since he isn’t around, he’s all that’s standing in his way. The Bi-Beast mocks Ben, telling him that he is twice his size and has twice the strength. He’s the ultimate two-in-one foe. He has two sets of eyes for twice the vision and two brains for twice the smarts. Squirrel Girl replies that he has two noses… for twice the smelling. This confuses the Bi-Beast a little. The two big guys go at it again, whilst Squirrel Girl speaks with the park’s collection of furry creatures. Immediately, the squirrels head to the trash cans and begin digging out the most foul-smelling litter they can find.
Meanwhile, the Bi-Beast beats on the Thing, informing him that, when he’s defeated, he will destroy his human society. However, as they fight, they both notice an awful smell. They stop punching, and the Bi-Beast asks where it’s coming from. “Don’t ask me!” Ben replies. They notice that a circle of litter has been created around them. Squirrel Girl apologizes as the Bi-Beast uses both hands, one on either nose, to block out the smell. Defenseless, the Thing smashes him, putting him down for the count. Ben tells her she did good there. She smiles, and replies, “You could say we won by a nose.”
At the poker party, Ben laughs at the memory. He thought the joke was adorable. Carol Danvers throws in her hand, and says that the only thing that stinks more than Ben’s story is her hand. She’s out. Ben scoops up a pile of chips. His table consists of himself, Goliath, the Human Torch, Tigra and the Impossible Man. He takes them down easily, even the Impossible Man, who changes into a different character with each hand. He finally loses by thinking Ben was bluffing. Johnny asks him why he thought that. Impy asks Johnny if he remembers last week when he called the Fantastic Four.
(flashback, last week)
The Impossible Man asks the Fantastic Four for help, but Mister Fantastic tells him he doesn’t have time for games right now. He assures Reed that this is no game. He’s contracted some kind of Poppupian disease, and only someone of Reed’s genius can cure him. He needs him right away. Unfortunately, their communication suffers from interference from a meteor storm, and Reed figures he could be falling to Earth anywhere. He asks the team to split up, and for Ben to take the first point of impact; the Himalayas.
Ben makes his way there, and discovers the Impossible Man popping away, creating a whirlwind that tears through a small town in the hills. Ben asks what the problem is. He can pop himself into anything. Why not pop into a pile a’ posies or something? Impy changes into a bull which charges at Ben. He replies that the problem is that he can’t control it. Monks flee as the battle rages, with the Impossible Man changing into different shapes of ever-increasing danger. He turns into a gigantic Mjolnir during the hours they spend fighting, until finally, he pops into a bomb, which rolls down the hill at Ben. When he reaches him, he explodes, knocking Ben unconscious. He changes back into his normal green form and breaks down, asking what he’s done to his dear friend. He cries out, but is shocked when Ben quickly sits up and shouts, “Boo!” Impy holds his stomach and grins when he realizes his pop-ups are cured. Ben informs him that on Earth they have something similar called hiccups.
Ben apologizes to a monk about the damage to the temples. He informs them that he’s a real Rockefeller. He’ll throw money at this till everything’s as it was. The monk replies that it’s not that simple. Their retreat was unique. It was an immersive art structure; a habitat that promoted a positive atmosphere. Who could possibly rebuild something like that? Ben has a good idea.
Before long, Alicia Master’s friend Arlo is on the case. He looks forward to rebuilding the scared temples of Shemballa. This kind of honor has never before been bestowed on a westerner. Alicia is pleased for him, but asks what about them. It’s a strange time now as Ben’s back in her life. Arlo blows her a kiss, and replies that she should explore that and be true to her feelings. He respects her life journey, and feels secure about his part in it. He assures her that Tibet isn’t that far away, spiritually. They’ll pick this up when he gets back.
As he walks out the door, Ben calls, asking Alicia if she has any plans for the night. Alicia isn’t sure she’s in the mood for pizza or bowling, but Ben surprises her by offering box seats to one of those fancy operas she likes so much.
Alicia asks Ben if he’s okay. Ben takes her hand and says he was just thinking about something. “About what?” she asks. “Sumthin’ like this,” he replies. She asks him to come along. Everyone’s waiting for him at the final table. She plants a kiss on his cheek as he takes his place, as the heroes who have been knocked out gather round. He asks what the kiss was for. For luck? She says he won’t need that today, because today, he’s the man! Ben smiles, knowing that she’s right. It wasn’t the case a month ago.
(flashback, a month ago)
Mr. Sheckerberg informs Ben that his debt is now paid off so he doesn’t have to work for him any more. Ben admits that he’s gonna miss it. He and the other Yancy Streeters used to give him nothing but grief, but since he’s been spending all his weekends here, they’ve made him feel like he belongs here again. Shecky is pleased that he’s regained his place in the neighborhood. He now has something else he can help him with.
They leave the shop and Shecky leads him to the temple. Ben says he hasn’t been inside one for many years, and Shecky believes that this might be the perfect time. Ben wonders what he’s talking about, but he is soon introduced to Rabbi Lowenthal. The two men shake hands and the rabbi informs Ben that he and Hiram were wondering if he might be interested in finally having his bar mitzvah. Ben thinks they’re kidding, but they’re not. He thought you had to be thirteen to get bar mitzvahed.
The rabbi enlightens him to the fact that the ceremony can also be performed when someone is eighty-three. Hiram adds that in their faith, some believe that when a man reaches seventy, every year after that is a blessing - a second life. So, the rabbi continues, when a person reaches eighty-three, it can be seen as turning thirteen again, and once more they can have their bar mitzvah. Ben asks what that has to do with him. He’s no spring chicken, but he ain’t that old. Hiram says that a month from now, it will be thirteen years since he began his second life, as the Thing. The rabbi has run the idea past some local rabbinical scholars, and for him, they’ve decided to let it slide. Ben agrees to go along with it.
It’s hard work. Every weekend he returns to Shecky’s store to receive schooling. Every weekday he goes to Hebrew school and every spare moment he is practicing his torah and haftorah portions with Rabbi Lowenthal. But, finally, the big day arrives. Invitations go out to Ben’s friends, including Dum Dum Dugan, Alicia, Willie Lumpkin and his closest friends, the rest of the Fantastic Four.
Everybody turns up; the heroes and the Yancy Streeters, Willie and Ben’s folks. It means the world to him. Sometimes he feels like he’s all alone, but at times like this he realizes how many families he belongs to. The bar mitzvah takes place, and Ben addresses the audience. He admits that for years he thought he was cursed. But if what happened to him never happened, he wouldn’t be where he is today, and he wouldn’t know half the guys there. He wouldn’t have been on all the adventures he has, so heck, he’s glad he’s got this second life. In fact, he thinks he’s the luckiest guy there is.
Ben is seated at the final table across from the final player. He has a good hand and pushes a huge stack of chips to the center of the table. He couldn’t ask for a more poetic hand. He turns them, revealing four fours; a fantastic four of a kind! His opponent, Flatman, reveals his cards. It’s a straight flush - the five, six, seven, eight and nine of diamonds. “I-I-I win!” His colleagues congratulate him on his success, and Squirrel Girl gives him a kiss on the cheek. Ben is dejected, but Spider-Man figures that these guys don’t actually fight crime. They just hang out and play cards all day. It makes sense that they’re good at it.
The winners begin singing Queen’s ‘We are the champions,’ and Mr. Immortal has a moment of clarity. “Wait, that’s it,” he remarks, “We’re the GLC; the Great Lakes Champions!” Hercules stands up, angry that they’re stealing his old team’s name, but She-Hulk calms him down. Luke Cage asks him to let ‘em have it. It’s not like anybody’s using it.
Alicia bends down to whisper in Ben’s ear. She tells him something he’s delighted to hear. “Hommina hommina!” He stands up and starts ushering all the heroes out the door. He thanks them for dropping by, but it’s time to go. He shoves the last of them out the door as Alicia scoops up all the cards into a bag. The heroes plead with him to allow them to stay, but he points inside and says he’d love to let them stay, but what can he do. Alicia’s holding all the cards. He raises his thumb and winks at them, before closing the door.