Environmentalism and Plantman: How Stan Lee Used the Human Torch to Piss Off Flower Power

Journey Into Marvel

By: Julian Munds

Story I Read: “The Coming of the Plantman” (Strange Tales #113 Oct. 1963)

The Plantman plots.

The Plantman plots.

If I were to mention the Sixities, you’d probably associate the term “Flower Power,” with whatever other LSD fueled thoughts that might be inspired. But you may not understand why “Flower Power” is so important. In short, Flower Power was a youth movement that was primarily identified within the larger anti-Vietnam War protest that so defined the decade. Even though the movement became more defined by pacifism in later years, its conception came out of humble environmental roots.

As the Beatnik culture of the late 50s and early 60s grew more in tuned with a simplistic, almost anarchic, existence they became obsessed with nature and the environment. Likewise, ever the confrontationist, Stan Lee loved to rile his readership. So he used  his favourite youth allegory, the Human Torch, to satirize the perceived zeitgeist absurdity of environmentalism.

It was a widely held belief, in the early Sixties, that the environment was indestructible. Humankind had not yet been forced to understand how their existence directly influenced the Earth. Though there were a few minds beginning to notice the correlation between the growing expanding population and the loss of species, most were blissfully ignorant of the coming environmental collapse that we now live with everyday. Environmentalism was still extraordinarily ‘fringe’ and was the plaything of privileged idol artists in the hedonist Greenwich Village or the fledgling swinging Soho.

It so happens that many of these future hippies were avid comic book fans. You could say that the Sixities comic readership was made up of preteen boys and counterculturists.

I have mentioned in a past review Andy Warhol’s passion for Ant-Man.

Stan Lee, as all of us Marvelites know, is a man who loves conflict. He often, in his career, has gotten into squabbles with just about everybody in the comic industry. Naturally, he had no problem riling up the readership.

Stan set about riling these Beatnik readers by creating the Plantman. Plantman is a disenfranchised gardener who, after loosing his job, uses a special invention that

The onslaught of dew.

The onslaught of dew.

can take advantage of unique energy signatures that plant life emits. This electronic bamboosledry makes all things green, slaves to his bidding. Naturally, (forgive the pun), because of the plethora of foliage on the Earth, Plantman is quite a strong opponent. He ably does away with the flames of Torch with a thick onslaught of dew and further incapacitates Jon with viscous sap. One would think that Plantman ably shows the power of environmentalism. However, he demonstrates the opposite.

Plantman’s power is dependent on the total subjugation of the plant world. Excepting  that, in the Marvel world, all plants are autonomous sentients, which is made clear by their ability to strategize with Plantman, the point is clearly made that Humanity should be dominant over the Earth. Nature is something to be dominated, not lived with. Stan, through the guise of Plantman, is telling those aforementioned Beatniks that their environmentalism is utterly pointless because it exists for our pleasure.

But wait a minute, the plants ultimately revolt against their captor.

Yes, they certainly do.

The plants launch an all out assault against the villain when Torch destroys the miraculous tool. However, the plants don’t just turn around and attack the Plantman, Johnny Storm orders them to punish their captor. “Go, you green monsters, attack your captor,” says Johnny, in a fit of revenge. The domination has just been passed from villain to hero.

Now, to be fair Johnny is on the butt end of domination in his own right. Doris Evans, his new girl, doesn’t like the fact that Johnny is a superhero and often flames on at moments notice.


You all know, from having read many of my articles that are part of this series, the Marvel writers seem to hold some extreme animosity toward women. However, the  the biased creation of Doris Evans is a new low.

Why would Doris date the grossly public Johnny Storm knowing full well that he is the Human Torch?

If she doesn’t like his flames, it’s not like this ability is new news. Storm is  the most famous teenager in the world and he is a fame whore to boote.  Doris Evans makes no sense and is just unpleasant.

Also, it’s Doris’ father who fires the Plantman because Plantman accidentally sprays him with a hose.

So Doris is rich and snooty as well.

Mind as well just make every superhero conduct a vendetta against every female in the world.

Stan Lee is by no means an anti environmentalist. In fact, he’s a card carrying Democrat, who has given large sums to both PETA and the WWF.

However, he loves to rile up his fans. He said as much in his memoir. In fact, Tony Stark was created to directly bother his hippie leaning readership with his rampant Republicanism and compulsion to worship for all things capitalist. Surely, this issue is another example of that mercurialness.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: Plantman. The inventive plant strategy and the ensuing battle. Torch had some great one liners: “Leaf me alone, you green brain.” Dick Ayer’s meaty art.

Cons: Doris Evans. The misogynism.

Previous Review: Tales of Asgard “Home of the Mighty Norse Gods” (Journey Into Mystery #97 Oct. 1963)

Upcoming Review:The Crimson Dynamo” (Tales of Supense #46 Oct. 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 December 7, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It’s funny how environmentally minded characters get a rough deal in the 1960s and early 1970s. A similar thing happens in the Doctor Who story Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974) where radical environmentalists try to turn the world back to a pre-human golden age. Funnily enough, that story was written by the left-wing Malcolm Hulke. It clearly took a long time for liberal authors to catch up with the environmental movement.
    The Plant man sounds barking – no wonder he didn’t make too many reappearances.

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