Just added a new post to my blog, this one spotlighting the often-maligned JOHNNY STORM, THE HUMAN TORCH series.  The first 5 covers (so far), lovingly restored, in all their 4-color glory.
 

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When I first read reprints of the first few Human Torch stories from Strange Tales, I was astounded to learn that he was trying to keep his identity a secret, something he never did in Fantastic Four (see FF #9 when he thought that he was going to star in a movie!). Combine that with the fact that everyone knew Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl WAS Johnny's sister yet no one was supposed to know that he was The Torch! Oh, Johnny ya big moron!

Also that half of the Frightful Four (The Wizard and Paste Pot Pete) debutted there as well.

The Torch also fought the Sandman in #115, so you can say that three-fourths of the Frightful Four came to the FF by way of their grudges against Johnny.

Philip Portelli said:

Also that half of the Frightful Four (The Wizard and Paste Pot Pete) debutted there as well.

So whatta ya think... can we blame Larry Lieber for that short-lived "Johnny Storm's secret identity" schtick?

 

"three-fourths of the Frightful Four came to the FF by way of their grudges against Johnny"

 

I don't know if anyone's pointed this out lately, but... "grudge matches" take away a lot of respect I have for villains.  I mean, instead of having some unique, interesting motivations or plans and schemes, too many of them get wrapped up WASTING their time & energies on grudge matches.  I suspect it's because it's EASIER to write. A lazy writer will turn to grudge matches when they just don't have any better ideas.  So when you think about it, the entire existence of The Frightful Four is based on a set of grudge matches. As for Medusa, I've read those early stories many times, and I STILL can't make heads or tails of HER motivations for hooking up with those LOSERS.  (Sandman may be the least "loser" of the bunch, as he at least had a career outside the group, and outside of always fighting the FF. No wonder he came on to Medusa the way he did.)

 

The 1st Wizard story has me shaking my head. This guy is brilliant, wealthy, successful, and respected.  WHY does he turn to crime? I have only one answer... HE'S NUTS!!!!!

 

The 1st time Wizard & Paste-Pot Pete team up is freakin' hilarious.  Pete figures they're equal partners, but Wiz keeps treating him like a LACKEY.  Plus, he never shuts up!! Pete must be a glutton for punishment.

 

Back before the ESSENTIAL books came out, a friend of mine pointed out that a lot of long-running villains debuted in either HUMAN TORCH or ANT-MAN stories, many of which had never been reprinted (or if they were, were hard to come by).  Both volumes became favorites of mine.

 

Well, the villains probably wouldn't label it a grudge match. If the Mole Man gets stomped on by the FF every time he sticks his nose above ground, at some point he'll learn he needs to go on the offensive and eliminate the FF so he can get on with his business of taking over the world or whatever. But I agree, it is an easy springboard for a "Big Battle Issue!!"

 

I'll say this about the Frightful Four: Their second FF appearance, "Defeated By The Frightful Four!" lived up to its billing. The evil FF kicked the good FF's butts (leaving them to be rescued by the Coast Guard, IIRC), did lasting damage (removing their powers) and got clean away, in defiance of the Comics Code, which at the time stipulated that the bad guy must always lose! The following issue the FF had to contend with Doctor Doom, so there was no rematch/comeback against the Wizard and company (until a few issues later, when the Frightful Four initiated another attack).

FWIW, Stan and the rest of the Marvel staffers threw many things against the wall that never stuck  Remember Daredevil's electronic cowl? The transistors in Captain America's shield? Professor X's love for Jean Grey? Dr. Strange's money problems?  I imagine that Johnny's "secret identity" was just another thing that didn't work out, but rather than quiety drop the issue, they chose to explain it away.

I'm sure that the Wizard, who fancies himself Reed Richards' intelluctual equal, is mighty glad that he didn't end up being known as Johnny's arch-nemesis! And Johnny had some pretty weird foes: the Painter, the Rabble Rouser, the Acrobat, etc. What he never had was a teen-age foe. A teen-age rival, yes in Spider-Man but an actual evil one, no.

But I remember fondly his battles with the Sub-Mariner and the Iceman. When the Thing became the co-star, they fought Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch which unknowingly foreshadowed their own "rivalry"!

I remember someone pointed out (in an article?) that "The Rabble Rouser" story started life as a sequel to "The Hate Monger".  Strange as it may seem, I had never noticed this, but they had virtually the IDENTICAL schtick and M.O.  But more-- The Rabble Rouser used the IDENTICAL "thru-the-ground tank" used by The Hate Monger... which I had first run across when The Fixer (and Mentallo) used it to attack SHIELD H.Q.!!  The Fixer told Mentallo it had been supplied to him by "Them"... as as we eventually learned, "Them" was a cover name for HYDRA.  Which means... Baron Strucker was actually supplying Adolph Hitler with weapons.  (Ain't that a riot?)

 

 

"I'm sure that the Wizard, who fancies himself Reed Richards' intelluctual equal, is mighty glad that he didn't end up being known as Johnny's arch-nemesis!"

 

Yeah, I guess it's a lot more impressive (and less embarrassing) to be beaten by Mr. Fantastic than it is by the kid sidekick.

Hey, whatta ya know?  Just got only the 2nd reply at my blog since I started it...

 

builderboy said... Nicely done, gentlemen! I enjoyed your analysis of the circumstances that drove Marvel's conversion of the sci-fi/supernatural title Strange Tales to platform as a supporting title to one of their hits. The phenomenon of success-to-excess has existed in the industry forever, the cause for it's periodic collapses (under the weight of its own excess). You might have mentioned that the Thing became a near constant costar of the feature soon into the run...and that Dr. Strange would start as a 2nd tier feature just 13 issues later, and eventually commandeer the title. Thanks for the beautiful presentation.

 

 

My post was getting long-winded already... I'll probably mention The Thing when I get around to posting some covers he appears on.  It's true, not just Ben but Sue & Reed manage to turn up in cameos in almost every episode of the series. As I recall, Sue saves Johnny's life in one of the earliest stories.

I read most of those early Strange Tales in the 1960s, and it's probably one of the reasons I have had -- at least subconsciously -- such a low opinion of Johnny Storm. Because what stuck with me from those early issues is how easy it was to beat him. For some reason, they gave him a time limit in those early issues, where he could only flame on for, like, 10 minutes. The actual length of time seemed to vary, but he always seem to run out of juice at the most inopportune times, leaving him with no more advantages in a fight than any other skinny teenager; in those circumstances he was no more formidable than me. Also, his foes would often beat him (at least in the first act) in a variety of prosaic ways -- garden hoses, big fans, asbestos rigs, stuff that a big-time superhero shouldn't have to worry about. There was one story, I think Plant Man was the villain, where he was doused when the bad guy shook dew off a tree on him, or something along those lines. What a loser!

 

Also, it didn't escape me that The Thing was added in later issues, essentially telegraphing what we all knew, which was that Ben Grimm was the actual star of Fantastic Four, not the callow idiot they thought would be. (Seriously, why did Marvel think we kids would identify with a jerky kid with a room temperature IQ? Most comics fans being smart, alienated youth, we naturally gravitated to the tragedy of The Thing.) And even that didn't save the feature, which was replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD within a year. Which was LOADS more fun than watching Johnny do much of anything.

Obviously Stan thought A) teen-age Spider-Man = Big Hit, B) Fantastic Four = Big Hit and C) the Concept of the Human Torch = Big Hit for in the 40s thus a teenager from the Fantastic Four with flaming powers should = Big Hit. But the concept could not overcome the contrivances and the conceits of the series: the "secret" identity (then wear a mask, Johnny!), the time limit (which wasn't as pronounced in the early issues of Fantastic Four), the reliance on the other FFers (virtual babysitters) and that Johnny was egostistical, whiny, smug, immature and yes, jerky!

Imagine had Stan replaced Johnny with the Original Human Torch in Fantastic Four Annual #4. That would have been something!

That issue, Strange Tales #114 (N'63) was supposedly done to test the waters for Captain America's return but Avengers #4 was cover-dated March'64! Clearly that's not enough to properly measure fan reaction so it wasn't to see if readers wanted Cap back but to familarize them with Cap as they were reviving him. With the Human Torch (concept) and Sub-Mariner (character) successful in the new Marvel Age, they did both with Cap. He was the same character but now a man out of time and mourning (perpetually it seemed) Bucky's death.

Yes I know! Bucky wasn't really dead! But since this is on the Mister Silver Age page, then, yes, Bucky was really dead!

I first read this story in Captain America #216 (D'77) which was an interim issue after Kirby's run. The Human Torch got "Falcon" co-billing status which I thought was neat!

As I said on the blog...

 

Martin Goodman always felt The Human Torch (a misnomer as he was an android) was a "good luck charm", as when he decided to have HT on the cover of MARVEL COMICS #1 instead of Sub-Mariner, it became a hit.  After that, he insisted on The Human Torch (or, at least, A Human Torch) being in most of his anthologies.  When it was decided to start doing superheroes again in 1961, sure enough, one of the FANTASTIC FOUR was "The Human Torch"-- although, this time, like DC's late-50's superhero "revivals" (Flash, Green Lantern, etc.), it was an entirely new version of the character-- and this time, he actually was a human being, in the form of Johnny Storm, "kid brother" of Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl.

Success breeds excess, so Goodman decided to spin-off one of the members of the F.F. into his own series.  If you've noticed a pattern here, it should be no surprise it was Johnny Storm, The Human Torch!

 

So, as far as I know, it wasn't Stan's idea (OR JACK's!!!), it was Martin Goodman's idea.  he called the shots, and you'll note, Stan didn't stick around, and Jack soon moved on as well. What cracks me up is that (as I also said on the blog), I found the Johnny Storm HT stories MORE FUN to read than the original HT stories!  "Fun" can cover a lot of sins.

 

 

Also, while Spidey debuted in Aug'62 (cover date), Johnny got his own series in Oct'62, and Spidey got his own book in Mar'63. As far as the hero biz goes, Johnny had the seniority!

 

Personally, the character quirk about those Johnny Storm stories that bugs ME is his choice of girlfriend.  ALL those girls throwing themselves at him, so many wanting to date him, so many DATING him... and WHO does HE go after?  Doris Evans.  BLEH. She's not interested in him, she doesn't like him, she spends all her time knocking him and "heroes" in general, she complains all the time when Johnny has to fly off to stop a criminal or save innnocent people's lives... WHAT was he thinking???

 

It was a momentous day in Johnny's life when he called her on the phone, found out she was "busy" doing her hair, and found himself wondering what he saw in her.  Not long after, he first laid eyes on CRYSTAL...!

 

To me, Johnny & Crystal SHOULD have been together "always" (as Tarzan & Jane said in ...AND HIS MATE).  Roy Thomas & Gerry Conway should hang their heads in shame for breaking them up the way they did. (As should Stan & John Buscema for getting the ball rolling earlier.)

 

I'm amazed this thread has gotten so much interest!

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