So, when I bought the previous issue of INVADERS from my local 7-11, it must have been on sale for some time, because before you knew it, the next issue showed up, sooner than the next issue of FANTASTIC FOUR. And again I bought it, at that same 7-11. It was clearly going to have a focus on the Human Torch, which was really my initial point of interest in the series.
INVADERS was, in some ways, the culmination of writer/editor Roy Thomas’ career at Marvel. For these were the versions of the characters that he had grown up loving as a fan and reader, and who, among others, sparked his interest in becoming a comic book professional. Roy was also a primary architect of what we now think of as the Marvel Universe. While Stan Lee placed most of the characters in Manhattan and would have stories interact between titles, it was really Roy who first embraced the idea of a cohesive continuity for Marvel, and who used the connections between the stories of the past as a springboard for the stories of the present. INVADERS was his love letter to the comics of his youth.
This issue was a good example of the kind of continuity springboarding that Roy would do, as he takes the opportunity to pull elements from a number of different older stories to craft an origin for Toro, the Human Torch’s sidekick. In previous issues, Toro had been wounded and was near death. As the Invaders are picked up from the crashed bomber they had escaped Germany in by the British navy, the Human Torch takes the opportunity to fill Spitfire in a bit on his ward’s history. He begins by recounting Toro’s first appearance, wherein the boy was working as a carnival fire-eater who spontaneously burst into flames when the Human Torch passed nearby. That was about the extent of Toro’s origin in the Golden Age–but in 1977, a bit more was needed.
The Torch and Spitfire trade notes on what was then known about Toro–including how his parents had been killed in a railroad accident, in the aftermath of which Toro was found holding a red-hot piece of metal, completely unharmed. From there, the Torch reveals new details–about how on one day before the war, he returned to the laboratory of his creator, Professor Horton, because he was lonely for companionship, being a life form unique in the world. This put Professor Horton in the mind of an old friend of his, Fred Raymond. Fred was ill as a result of his experiments with asbestos, as was his wife Nora, who herself had experimented with Radium. But they had a child between them, that for some reason they named Toro.
Enter at this point the Asbestos Lady, a masked criminal from the actual Golden Age of Comics. While her first appearance took place in 1947, Roy decided to back-date her origin, and so she was on a crime spree in 1940. In order to improve her asbestos-based weapons, she sought out the assistance of Fred Raymond and threatened them to attempt to secure their cooperation. But the Torch was on the trail of the Asbestos Lady, and he interceded and drove her off.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Torch learned from Fred about his son Toro’s imperiousness to fire and promised to keep an eye on him. But the Torch didn’t know that the Raymonds were dying–or that the Asbestos Lady would cause the train accident which hastened their demise. But he did realize who Toro was when he heard radio reports of his circus exploits. Unfortunately, so did the Asbestos Lady, who considered her revenge against the family incomplete.
The Torch found the Asbestos Lady on the way to the circus, and wound up trapped in a tanker truck full of water. But by superheating the air trapped in the tanker truck, he caused it to explode, freeing himself. Leaving the Asbestos lady stuck to the tarmac, he proceeded to the circus–where his superheated body sparked Toro’s own latent flaming powers It’s not really much better an origin than what we got in the 1940s, but there you have it. And at the moment, it does nothing to help preserve Toro’s life, as the boy hangs by a thread from his earlier wounds. But that’s a matter for the next issue, because this is where things are To Be Continued!
On the letters page, longtime fan Dwight R. Decker critiques Roy’s faulty German in preceding issues, in literally the only letter printed on the truncated page, the rest of the space given over to an ad for MS MARVEL: and a somewhat-random illustration of Master Man and Warrior Woman (who presumably had been speaking that awful German.)