Why the Human Torch is Forever Unlikable

Journey Into Marvel

Story I Read: “The Threat of the Living Bomb!” (Strange Tales #112 Sept 112)

human-torch-fly-byThose of you who have read my recent reviews have probably noticed that I have been harping on the arrogance of the Fantastic Four. It seems every story that features an FF character revolves around egotistical needs. The worst culprit out of the Four, for this self obsession, is by far the Human Torch. His need to be liked, to be appreciated by none superhero folks, is as blazing as his skin. If there is not applause for Johnny, then he mopes and takes his displeasure out on his partners; most heavily on Thing. This has always made him a rather unpleasant character and really discoloured my opinion of the ‘most popular member of the Four.’ Luckily, this issue, takes away Human Torch’s need to be recognized and finally investigates what he’s made of.

Torch begins the story doing what he does best: showing off. When his home town doesn’t appreciate his aerial acrobatics, Torch goes into overdrive and attempts to win them over. He even makes a full fire facsimile of Niagara Falls. Desperation is a fascinating emotional aspect of Storm we haven’t seen before. He is really put off by the  town people’s apathy to his existence. This apathy towards him leaves him broken. Johnny is surprisingly fragile.

The plot is anything but fragile. At first I thought it was gonna be a cheap repeat; a purple spandex wearing thief called ‘The Eel’ steals a brief case with ‘Project X’ embossed on it. Boring, right? I thought there would be a quick confrontation with Torch and all would be righted.


The Eel, upon delivery of the brief case, is informed that the case’s contents are atomic and, through a

Torch flies the mom into space.

Torch flies the mom into space.

twist of fate, he has tripped off detonation protocols. Naturally, not wanting to be incinerated, he drops the active bomb near a hospital. This is all made more complex by the fact that the Eel is the only person who holds the deactivation code. What a marvelous twist. There is no, painstakingly planned, master plot. All the danger results from coincidence. Torch gets thrown into action because there is no other choice. Torch, feeling so impotent and unloved, deals with the problem at hand with a practicality not seen before.  A usually egotistical Torch might have gone off to destroy Eel, but instead he tries to figure out how to disarm the bomb, like a rational person. What’s even better, he is unable to figure it out. The bomb explodes and Torch has to absorb the energy from the blast; which means absorbing all the bomb’s poisonous radiation. Torch sacrifices himself for a hospital. A sacrifice on this scale has never happened in Strange Tales, Fantastic Four or any other Four related publication to this point. Torch acts like a true hero and it only took a dip in popularity to make this happen.

This act of martyrdom is not the only powerful moment in the issue. When things look bleak for our flaming hero, Ben has a moment of real grief. He is heavily affected by Johnny’s possible death. So much so, that he professes his love for the guy. This is a really poignant and powerful moment. I suggest picking up this issue just to experience this.

That endorsement aside, this issue is far from perfect. After all the turmoil, all the trials and all the grief, Johnny Storm seems unaffected. All of the brilliance is undercut by the final panels. The first thing Johnny does after being revived is insult Thing. There could have been a note of change written here. Just one small moment for Johnny to realize his pursuit of fame is empty. The interaction came off as extraordinarily cold and caused me to dislike Torch even more then I did at the top.

Marvel often uses Torch as a conduit for commentary about the youth of the early 60s. Throughout the issue Torch’s reputation is being destroyed by a boisterous and hate filled radio presenter. It is his opinions that caused the civilians at the beginning to be so dismissal of Torch’s inferno circus. The presenter has a change of heart after Storm’s heroics and declares he was wrongfully dismissing the youth: “young people have worth too,” he declares. This issue wasn’t written to develop Torch, but to extol the worth of the readers. I hate the fact the writers destroyed a brilliant investigation into the motivations of a public superhero for placation of the audience. What a shame.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

Pros: Dick Ayer’s gritty detailed art, The Twists, Thing’s moment of beautiful humanity and the moment Torch takes in the full energy of a nuclear blast.

Cons: The ending panels and the pandering to the readers.

<— Preceding Review: “Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom” (The Amazing Spider-Man #5 Oct 1963)

—> Upcoming Review: “The Terrible Traps of Egghead” (Tales to Astonish #112 July 1963)


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 14, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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