For Your Consideration: Marvel’s The Human Torch & The Thing: Strange Tales – The Complete Collection

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Writer/editor Stan Lee and publisher Martin Goodman were not at all prepared for the wild success of Fantastic Four. All Goodman saw were dollar signs and asked for more heroic product, despite being limited to a mere eight titles a month. Lee cautiously began rolling out new concepts, stuffing them as the cover feature to his anthology titles that were home to aliens, monsters, and things that go bump in the night.

The Human Torch & The Thing: Strange Tales - The Complete Collection

The Human Torch & The Thing: Strange Tales – The Complete Collection


With younger readers in mind, Lee decided to expand the FF brand by taking teenage Johnny Storm and giving him his own feature as the lead in Strange Tales. While Lee plotted, his brother Larry Lieber dialogued and Jack Kirby initially penciled the short stories, ably inked by Dick Ayers. In time, the Thing took on a more prominent role so eventually he shared billing before it was decided the whole thing wasn’t working and was replaced. The run of those stories are now being collected in The Human Torch & The Thing: Strange Tales – The Complete Collection, including Strange Tales #101-134 and Strange Tales Annual #2.

The adventures begin in Strange Tales #101

The adventures begin in Strange Tales #101


These overlooked stories have some interesting takes on the characters as well as their own internal continuity that more often than not saw the Thing and Torch tackle the Wizard and his minions. There’s also a charm to Johnny’s antics without Reed Richards harrumphing at him to act more responsibly. From the outset, he was still living with sister Susan Storm in Glenview, Long Island and even tried to attend high school. He even tried a secret identity before everyone realized that creatively it wasn’t working so his friends and neighbors knew who he was. Johnny was also still involved with his first flame, Doris Evans.

The sibling rivalry between Johnny and Benjamin J. Grimm also added a sparkle to many of the stories.

Strange Tales #106

Strange Tales #106


There were more than a few characters and concepts introduced here, all of whom would be seen throughout the Marvel Universe over the next few decades. There’s good old Zemu in 1962, for example, resurrected as Xemu when resurrected in 1975. More immediately, there’s Paste Pot Pete, who goes from silly looking criminal to silly looking costumed criminal before he spruced up later as the Trapster. Then there’s the Acrobat in issue #106 (which also introduced the Human Torch’s obstacle training course) who came back in #114, disguised as Captain America in a trial run for the star-spangled avenger’s resurrection four months later. That story won the 1963 “Favorite Short Story” Alley Award.

Lesser-known villains the Plantman and Eel arrived here as did the poor man’s Hate Monger, the Rabble Rouser. And let’s not forget the Terrible Trio who plague Johnny a few times before disappearing into a limbo so deep they’ve never been resurrected.

If you’re going to have a Human Torch feature, a confrontation with the Sub-Mariner, echoing their Golden Age conflicts, was inevitable and he makes a few appearances here.

Jerry Siegel dialogs a battle against Plantman in Strange Tales #113

Jerry Siegel dialogs a battle against Plantman in Strange Tales #113


Creatively, Lieber bowed out fairly early on, giving way to Robert Bernstein and Ernie Hart before Jerry Siegel, (yes, that Jerry Siegel) wrote a few under the name Joe Carter. In time, Lee returned to fully script the series until the last handful of issues, where he co-plotted with Bob Powell who stepped in to pencil (although Larry Ivie did co-plot one with Powell). Visually, this was largely Dick Ayers’ show although he received inking from Mike Esposito, George Roussos, Paul Reinman, and Frank Giacoia. When Powell stepped in, he was inked by others including one nice issue from Wally Wood. Carl Burgos, who drew the very first Human Torch tale in the Golden Age, came back for one pencilling assignment.

Strange Tales #124

Strange Tales #124


With issue #124, the title was revised to the Human Torch and the Thing and they were increasingly sharing the cover with Doctor Strange, who arrived in issue #110 and was quickly the more popular feature. He even began dominating the split covers.

Maybe it was the rise of the Marvel Universe or the need to goose sales, but in the final year, there were a lot more guest stars including one with Iceman (fire and ice – get it?) and later there was one with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as they tried to extricate themselves from Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Johnny and Ben meet the Beatles in Strange Tales #130

Johnny and Ben meet the Beatles in Strange Tales #130


Then there’s the second best known story, as Johnny and Ben took their dates to Coney Island to see the Beatles perform. In addition, of course, they meet the Fab Four after defeating criminals robbing the box office.

In the final tale, the Watcher arrives in a wild story that involves Kang the Conqueror imprisoning Merlin the magician so our heroes have to travel in time to Camelot and do their thing. They went out on a high note although it was a quiet one as all attention was paid to the following issue and the arrival of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Lee, Kirby, and Ditko join forces for Strange Tales Annual #2

Lee, Kirby, and Ditko join forces for Strange Tales Annual #2


Also included here for completeness’ sake is the 18-page lead from 1963’s Strange Tales Annual with a Human Torch-Spider-Man team-up that was a rare collaboration between the Marvel Age of Comics’ founders: Stan lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko.

These are not great but certainly fun stories and allows you a sideways glimpse into the creative evolution of the Marvel Age.

USER COMMENTS

We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!