Saturday, July 18, 2015

Timely Returns - Marvel Edition!

As we all know in 1961 Marvel comics debuted the Fantastic Four and changed the comic book industry for all time. It would take a decade for the industry to realize that, but the earth shook nonetheless. Part of the original Fab 4 was a revised Human Torch, a true human transformed as were his partners by cosmic rays. It would be many years yet before we learned what happened to the original Torch.

The first true straight-up Timely revival was Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. In Fantastic Four #4 the aforementioned Torch found a dour bearded hobo who turned out to be the legendary Atlantean prince with a whale of a case of amnesia. But Johnny Storm fixed all that with a bit of flame and suddenly the FF were confronted with a true super menace from beneath the waves as Namor sought vengeance for his people who he thought at the time had been destroyed by the surface men.

In the truly awesome first Fantastic Four Annual the Sub-Mariner discovers his Atlanteans are still around and leads them in a stupendous attack on the surface world, making for one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told.

Namor's sometime romantic interest Betty Dean would not make an appearance in the Marvel Age of Comics until the eighth issue of Subby's own self-titled comic in which a much more mature Betty appears to sooth his rage after a battle with the FF's Thing.

Betty being merely human has continued to age as the decades have passed as has Namor, but his mutant and hybrid heritage promise him a much longer span. The tragedy is palpable.

As it turns out Johnny Storm would prove instrumental in the next Timely revival. Strange Tales, the regular hangout for the Torch's adventures was picked to see if any lingering interest remained in Captain America.

The Torch battled a Cap figure only to discover it was his old enemy The Acrobat in disguise in Strange Tales #114.

But that try-out did the trick and less than a year later in 1964 the real Captain America returned to life after being discovered by The Avengers in the fourth issue of that esteemed comic.

Ironically it was the Sub-Mariner in one of his customary rages after being defeated by the Assemblers who first chances across Cap frozen in ice and sends him on his merry way into the southern currents in which the thaw can at last begin.

Soon Cap finds his place among the Avengers and swiftly rises to lead the team as he had done the All-Winners Squad and as we'll learn in the 1970's, The Invaders before.

Irony strikes again when the third and final member of Timely's Big Three finally makes his first Silver Age appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #4. (It's always a fourth issue it seems.) Again Johnny Storm is on hand and certainly this is apropos as the new Torch uncovers the original android's body and releases him.

The two face off in one of the most cynical stories Marvel ever produced. Sadly the motivation to create this tale and bring back the original Human Torch was that his creator Carl Burgos was contemplating bringing a court case to earn back the rights to the character and this one-off story became a real roadblock in that idea.The android Torch remains a hero but at the seeming cost of his own existence when he refuses to comply with the Mad Thinker's scheme to use him to attack the FF. 

But there was more to the Human Torch's story though it would be many years until we learned the truth, and that truth involved one of Marvel's newer characters The Vision, who was himself something of a Johnny Storm-like revision of a classic Timely hero.

Before though the true secret of the Human Torch was revealed, a red herring (no pun intended) was thrown in the reader's path when Subby himself seemingly battled the original Torch in the pages of the fourteenth issue of his own title.

That Human Torch though sadly turned out to be Toro, now grown and used by the Mad Thinker to get some measure of revenge on his enemies. Toro sacrificed himself when he became aware of how he was being manipulated, seemingly killing the Thinker too. Due to the complexities of time travel he has since gotten better.

One of the great all-time scenes in a Marvel comic was in The Avengers #93 during Ant-Man's odyssey into the Vision's body where he saw something that shocked him.

It would be many years before we learned what he saw, that the element of the Vision's body were exceedingly similar to that of the original Human Torch.

In later issues of The Avengers toward the end of the epic Celestial Madonna story lines we get to see the Vision's origin as Ultron revised the Torch's body, last seen in the Fantastic Four annual, and fashioned his ultimate sleeper agent to gain entry into the Avengers.

When the Vision woke though he still possessed Jim Hammond's memories so those were erased and the mind tapes of Wonder Man were substituted.

Some years later we learn about the fates of The Whizzer and Miss America and possibly their connection to the Marvel Age, but more on that in a later post.

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  1. Again Johnny Storm is on hand and certainly this is apropos as the new Torch uncovers the original android's body and releases him.

    I'd only mention that it was actually the Thinker who found the Torch's body and subsequently revived him. Johnny was really "on hand" only as far as ending up on the receiving end of the original Torch's unexpected attack thereafter.

    I'll be curious how you deal in the events of Avengers Forever vis-a-vis the Torch's revival, revelations which also touch on the Torch's funeral in the Sub-Mariner issue with Toro. (Though there are times when I find my head spinning at all the patchwork done on this hero's reappearance!)

    1. Point taken. I don't know that I can delve into all the possible variations from the later years, though I do take note in a later post that now Toro is back among the living. Head-spinning is the word. I've been on a real tear to read old Avengers lately and a run-through of significant Kang stories with an emphasis on the outstanding Avengers Forever series might be in order at some time. Busiek's run on The Avengers was the last time I was positively breathless to get hold of a regular superhero comic, outstanding.

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