A Human Torch Story That’s So Bad It’s ‘Van Vile’

Journey Into Marvel – Part 81

Van Vile paints a 3 headed ape to terrorize us.

Van Vile paints a 3 headed ape to terrorize us.

Extremites, I have discovered the best way to enter a story in the Strange Tales solo Human Torch issues is to expect the worse. Today, my expectations were lived up too and then some. This is the most terrible Human Torch story I have read thus far.

The story starts off in the realm of comic cliche.

Okay, perhaps it’s unfair of me to fault a comic on cliche. We are in the medium of cliches.  This one struck me as pretty awful.

The scene is New York. There’s a party going on. The rich are all wearing masks and dancing. Thugs break in and rob the place. I have been reading and watching comic stories all my life, and all the worst ones — and even some of the best: Nolan’s Dark Knight I am looking at you — have this cliche in it.

Hot on the heels of cliche comes a pun. Again, I shouldn’t fault Stan Lee and Robert Bernstein on a pun. The Marvel Silver Age is full them but a pun following a cliche is some poor writing.

Robert Bernstein is the guy on the left.

Robert Bernstein is the guy on the left.

Sidebar: I am unable to track down any information on who this Robert Bernstein is. Marvel wikis don’t  have much information about him. I assume that he is a contract writer. The Bullpen was full of them in this period. Oh… the pun! The Human Torch is “putting the heat on the crooks.” I groaned when I read it.

This story is full of some terrible dialogue.  At first I thought it charming but as I read on I realized it was just hasty, wonky, work. Perhaps, Robert Bernstein was a new at writer.

Then again some of these problems could be stemming from confusion. Stan Lee has proven many times that when it comes to the Human Torch’s strengths his limitations are malleable. One moment he could be hampered by some asbestos and the next moment he could burn so hot that any thing in his way will melt or disintegrate. Stan offers up a new ability: fire scissors. Torch conjures up two scissors to slice through some gang wires. Stan has confused Human Torch’s ability with that of the Green Lantern.

Van Vile in his vileness.

Van Vile in his vileness.

The terrible part of this issue — the ‘Van Vile’ part of this issue — is the antagonist. Van Vile is a counterfeiter who has been thwarted by the Torch before. During a jail break he discovers hieroglyph from a million year old alien race. Aside from the fact that Van Vile, an uneducated brute, recognizes and reads these hieroglyphs, he exclaims that because he is such a good counterfeiter he can recognize that these writings are over a million years old. That’s when I about put down the issue and skipped it for Spider-Man’s second. 

Van Vile finds a vat of radioactive paint that gives him the ability to paint whatever he wants and it comes true. Should he wish for gigantic fire hydrants to dowse Torch, so be it. A gigantic wave of sand? Done. This is where he makes a mistake. And Extremites, this is where the issue looses the only thing going for it, its campy imaginative charm.

Van Vile isn’t a very good counterfeiter he forgets basic detail. He leaves  the four on the Fantastic Four suits or trash cans at the beach (pretty thin). Torch sees through his fabrications. Torch uses this knowledge to sneak into the hide out unseen and, never mind the fact that Stan Lee never bothers to share with us how Torch did this, he catches Van Vile.

There was a redeeming charm about this story until the very end. The concept of a villain that can create his own plots by painting it is fun, in a gothic sort of way. But the ending makes no sense. I can’t even call this a bad story. It’s a non-story.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read:The Painter of a Thousand Perils!” (Strange Tales #108 May 1963)

Rating: 0 out of 5

Pros: So close to having charm. So close.

Cons: Torch’s malleable powers. Van Vile’s wonky abilities. The ending is terrible. The dialogue is campy and bad in a bad way. Useless issue.

Next Review:Duel To The Death With the Vulture” (Amazing Spider-Man #2 May 1963)

Last Review:Sandu, Master of the Supernatural” (Journey Into Mystery #91 Apr. 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 June 8, 2015, in Comics, Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Fun note: The Painter appeared again in 1991, for an arc of Web of Spider-Man. It was actually kind of a neat arc, though also kinda stupid. He also got to appear in Amazing Spider-Man #13 from 2012, though the actual villain of that issue was Disco Hustler.

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