Sunday, November 10, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #106

"The Threat of the Torrid Twosome!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Dick Ayers & John Duffy
(March 1963)

This whole story demonstrates two things that have already been well-established. One, that Johnny Storm can be quite determined when his self-respect is at stake. And two, he's not always so bright. Not the best combination for a hot-headed teenager, especially when that teenager is the Human Torch.

For example: Stan and his brother Larry finally tackle the issue of the Torch's "secret identity."


Johnny, as the fans have been complaining, everyone knows who the Human Torch is. The Fantastic Four are international celebrities! They've been feted by the United Nations and honored by Congress! You guys were in a movie where you played yourselves! I know that--and no, I'll never let this go--you once forget there was no oxygen in space, but dude, come on.

Apparently, according to Sue, everyone in Glenville was just being polite and giving Johnny his privacy since he never brought it up. That's pretty big of Glenville, since Johnny never tires of talking about how amazing he is. It also shows that Johnny wasn't giving folks enough credit; they knew he was the Torch and never mobbed him and just minded their own business. That's a twist I dig.

That man speaking to Johnny is Carl Zante, the world's greatest acrobat, who has decided to go into the crimefighting business under the name, wait for it: The Acrobat! Simple, obvious, yet elegant, I suppose. This guy is one suave character. So much so that you don't care that he's obviously going to turn out to be the villain. He's just so smoove.

Kevin Kline's gonna play him in the movie, right?

Well, in another example of Johnny not being very bright, the Acrobat plays up to Johnny's pride and convinces him--quite easily--that he's the real star of the Fantastic Four and Reed Richards keeps all of the reward money from their adventures and puts it back into scientific research only to aggrandize himself. As usual, Johnny's pretty quick to believe that he's being held back and that he deserves all the glory, so he quits the Fantastic Four, joins with the Acrobat as the Torrid Twosome, and then proceeds to get duped.

The Acrobat manages to fool the Torch into helping him rob a bank, then douses him with liquid asbestos (how big are his tumors by now?), shoots him and leaves him for dead. Making his escape, though, he runs into the Thing, Mr. Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman. But it's Johnny who has to make up for his stupid mistake by capturing the Acrobat, despite having been shot in the arm, which throws off his balance and makes it hard for him to fly. Somehow, though, acrobatics and ego are no match for flame and heat, and Johnny stops the Acrobat from getting away by melting the tar in the road so his feet get stuck. Then he re-joins the FF and all's well that ends well. Or at least ends.

Notes:

:: I really like Dick Ayers' pencil work in this issue, taking over from inking Kirby's usual work. Anyone know why Kirby is so absent this month? He skipped the final issue of Incredible Hulk and didn't draw this month's Thor or Human Torch stories, and won't for a while. Same with Ant-Man and this month's debut of Iron Man. The only explanation I can think of is that he was working on the premiere issue of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, which comes out in May '63, but I'm sure there are much bigger fans than I who might know why he's missing. (He did do an exceptional job on this month's Fantastic Four #12, though, one of the best Marvel issues so far.) (According to Marvel Wiki, he also penciled this month's Two-Gun Kid. That's a fun book, too, even though I'm not doing it as part of the Marvels series.)

My wife wonders if he was already working on the Fantastic Four annual, which will be out in September and which, as you know, is epic.

:: Johnny shows off his ability to control any flame near him, even when he can't flame on. Has that been established before? If it has, I've forgotten. Neat power, though. I like that he can pull the flame out of Reed's pipe just to humiliate the Thing with another prank.

This was a fun story, elevated by a dashing villain and the way Stan and Larry fixed a continuity error with good humor.

Next time: Iron Man!

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