Under the Skin of Asbestos Man

Journey Into Marvel – Part II

Story I Read: “Fighting to the Death With the Asbestos Man!” (Strange Tales #111 Aug 1963)

Kasloff. The man who will most likely die of cancer.

Kasloff. The man who will most likely die of cancer.

Looking at the solo adventures of the Human Torch in Strange Tales, I am struck by the haste in their construction. In the early days, of the establishment of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee wanted to capitalize on the possibilities of having a teenage hero and cranked out countless unfocused stories. The speed in the development is obvious in the disregard to canon. It would be ideal to look at Torch as a rough draft for Spider-Man but it can’t really be done.

Accepting that Torch doesn’t work on his own, as evidenced by the more and more prevalent cameos of the other three Fantastic members in the solo stories, let’s dive into the story offered in Strange Tales # 111.

The first thing that strikes me about this story is the brilliance of the villain. Up until this point, in the Silver Age comics, little focus had been given to the villain’s motives. Often they had been reduced to simple melodramatic caricatures expounding:  “let’s kill the hero because he is good and I am not.” Orson Kasloff, on the other hand, is one of the first truly human villains. A good third of the story is devoted to the sad thoughts of a scientist who feels disrespected by his employer and this makes his need to destroy Torch that more believable. When he attempts to rob said employer the plan predictably blows up in his face for he does not expect the alarm to go off. I chuckled at this.

Long story short, Kasloff becomes Asbestos Man and all the time spent on establishing Kasloff; the man, goes up in flames in the nauseating arrogance of Torch’s snap vendetta. When the villain challenges the flaming teenager, Jonny, haphazardly flies to battle and is easily defeated.

Torch’s powers are wildly pliable, suddenly he’s too weak to combat a man in an asbestos suit when in an earlier publication he burnt so hot he melted through an asbestos lined wall. Perhaps, this is Stan Lee’s way of equalizing the earlier wild creativity of the Marvel heroes.

Fluidity in character development is also present in Sue Storm who makes yet again another aimless cameo. This time she is cast in the role as

Today's Story.

Today’s Story.

Jon’s spirit guide. Sue is looking more and more matronly in every issue. Perhaps, Stan is wishing he actually made her into Jonny’s mother rather then sister. The wild sexism and disrespectful way the creatives treat Sue is better suited to full other article but I just need to mention banality of her presence in this issue.

One of the greatest aspects of this story is it’s art. Inked by Dick Ayers, this story is beautiful. No longer are the empty blue backgrounds common to Jack Kirby present. Background detail is prevalent. The contouring on Kasloff’s face or the fire veins (for what else do we call those dark lines on Torch) are fluid and ably move when Torch does. The New York presented here is gritty and evokes the detail neo-Noireish renderings of Gotham in DC’s Batman. Marvel is truly coming into its own over the DC behemoth.

Looking at this story as whole, it is easily a 3 out of 5 story, mainly for the time spent on detail of a new villain and the environment he exists in. The negatives exist in the rather shoddy writing that peaks its head on many occasions. Ably obvious in this rather cheap redundant piece of dialogue spouted by Kasloff early on ““What is all the excitement about? Why is everyone so excited??”

Changes are afoot but there are still many obstacles.

P.S. Think of all the cancer Kasloff will suffer because of his alter-ego.

Last Review: Journey Into Mystery #94

Upcoming Review:Face To Face With Magic of Baron Mordo” (Strange Tales #111 Aug 1963)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on November 1, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Regarding that discrepancy, it can probably be explained by the fact that the Human Torch, like most superheroes, has a no-kill policy (or, kill only as a very last resort). Burning through a wall is one thing – but burning through a person? He wouldn’t do that.

  1. Pingback: A Human Torch Story That’s So Bad It’s ‘Van Vile’ | THE EXTREMIS REVIEW

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