Despite being one of the most famous and recognizable card games in the world, poker seldom gets depicted accurately in film or TV. Rules are changed to streamline the action for audiences and to cut down on runtime. However, for a few years during the ‘00s, Marvel did a fantastic job of showcasing the rules of poker for readers. What made these instances work so well? Here are a few reasons.
1. Ben Grimm is the Common Thread Ben Grimm is best known for being the large, rock-skinned Thing. He is a founding member of the Fantastic Four and has been a regular in the Marvel Universe since 1961. For five decades, we’ve gotten to know Ben and what makes him tick. He is a lovable, streetwise tough kid from New York’s Lower East Side who gained super strength and bright orange, rock-like skin from a trip into space. The poker games in this period are often Grimm’s personal games where he invited other heroes to play. Having a common character floating through the portrayals of poker gives the games a personality and consistency of their own.
2. The Rules are Presented Simply The poker games hosted by The Thing are primarily vehicles for telling another part of the stories in the comics, so it is important that they not get bogged down in the minutia of the game.
Often, we only see the portion of the game where players reveal their hand and attempt to claim the pot.
In The Thing #8 from 2006, this is shown explicitly as characters present their cards. One has a two pair while another wins with three-of-a-kind. In this way, the games adhered to real poker hand rankings and made clear what was happening for readers without needing to spend much page-space to explain it.
3. Dan Slott Contributes to Many of the Scenes
Dan Slott is a celebrated comic book writer who has been cited as an influence for many writers coming up since his start in the industry. His understanding of poker and the culture around it is evident as he weaves the game into scenes involving Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and other major characters in the Marvel Universe.
4. The Multiple Purposes of Poker are Introduced There are times when the purpose of poker is to win money off other players. There are times when it is simply an excuse for players to get together to socialize.
Sometimes, such as in 2007’s Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #2, players gather as a way to share their grief with each other over the death of the celebrated hero.
The writers at Marvel were clever enough to make sure they showed several reasons why characters would gather to play poker.
5. The Game is a Backdrop to Drama Poker is a game of stakes, which is why it can work so well in dramatic works such as comics.
The tension between players is what is on display and the game is a vehicle for that tension.
Sometimes, the game reveals something about the players, even when they are not at the table, such as when Captain Marvel considers blowing off Grimm’s poker game in The Thing #1 because Ben has begun betting too much and it ruins the feel of the game. This gives us a bit of insight into the characters and what their relationship has been like in the past and how it has changed.