This was another book that I got out of the local drug store’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics. I’d had no idea that there had even been a HUMAN TORCH series–and in truth, it turned out to have been a short-lived reprint title. Still, it was another Fantastic Four-related book–and as the Torch was the figure who led me to sample the FF and Marvel in general in the first place, it’s appearance was most welcome.
The opening story in the issue was culled from the Torch’s solo run in STRANGE TALES in the early 1960s. With the success of FANTASTIC FOUR, it made all the sense in the world to try to spin off the Torch into a series of his own, given tat the Human Torch ad been a major headliner for Timely in the 1940s. Alas, it turned out that the Thing was truly the break-out character among the Fantastic Four, and, typically produced by B-tier talents for most of its run, the Torch series limped along for a few years until being put out to pasture in favor of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.
This particular entry was one of the stronger ones, featuring the always-compelling clash of fire vs water represented by the Torch throwing down with the Sub-Mariner. The issue opens with Johnny returning home from school to discover that, in his absence, the rest of the FF have put together their notes on their latest adventure for Stan Lee to publish in the comics without him. Burning with a desire to prove himself in the eyes of his teammates as more than just a kid, Johnny runs off and does something juvenile–he decides to challenge the Sub-Mariner, whom the FF have never conclusively defeated, to one-on-one combat. He figures if he can take down Namor single-handedly, his partners will have to respect him.
After a few fun mishaps, Johnny writes a flaming message of challenge in the air over the ocean, and the Sub-Mariner comes in response to it. Namor has no patience for the young hothead, but e’s still hung up on Johnny’s sister Sue, and so he doesn’t want to administer a beat-down. But the Torch goads him into a fight anyway. This is an early story after Namor’s revival, where the creators at Marvel were still deciding what to do with him, and so here he evidences the ability to duplicate the attributes of all of the fish in the ocean–including this page where e inflates himself like a puffer fish. It’s hardly Namor’s most dignified moment.
Ultimately, though, the Torch is at a massive disadvantage. He’s fighting with Namor in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight. And his flame in these early days will only last for so long before he needs to power down and recharge. So it’s no surprise that Namor cleans his clock. Not wanting Sue to be mad at him, Namor straps the Torch to a handy porpoise and sends them back towards the mainland, hoping that the humiliation will be enough to make Johnny relent. But in fact, it has the exact opposite effect, and when he regains consciousness again, he flames on once more and returns to the battle with vigor.
Again, this is really a fight over nothing at this point–Namor hasn’t done anything wrong, at least in this story. But the Torch is so mad by this point that he increases the intensity of his flame to such a degree that he can boil the water ahead of him into steam, and he chases the Sub-Mariner down into the depths of the ocean, sealing him inside an underwater crevice before returning to the surface. The powerful Namor is ultimately able to dig himself out from this imprisonment, but he’s impressed by the Torch’s skill and power. Making his way home, the Torch is so exhausted from his experience that he crashes out right away, and doesn’t even bother telling Sue and the others about his fight. And that’s where this story ends. It’s a fun little tale that’s really about the characters being colorful and expressing their personalities–but it doesn’t truly have anything more to offer beyond that.
The back-up was pretty cool to me as well, being a reprint of another Golden Age adventure of the Original Human Torch–this one from the 1950s revival. As it was only 5 pages long, there wasn’t much to it: a gang of crooks carries out a series of robberies dedicated to distracting the Torch and Toro by causing them to run all across the city in pursuit of them. After some capture-and-escape action, the crooks are pursued up to the torch in the Statue of Liberty, and miraculously burned by it, falling to their deaths. Its one of those quasi-supernatural endings that would have fit better into one of the mystery titles. More interesting is that this story, like the lead, was illustrated by Dick Ayers.