First Published: January 2004
Contents: Human Torch stories from Strange Tales #101 (October 1962) to #134 (July 1965), and Strange Tales Annual #2 (1963)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber, and Bob Powell
Key First Appearances: Wizard, Paste-Pot Pete, the Eel, Dorrie Evans, Plantman, the Beetle, the Fox
Overview: Welcome to the solo stories of Johnny Storm, the teenage member of the Fantastic Four. We are quite familiar by now how Johnny gained the fantastic ability to ignite himself on fire to become the Human Torch. Now we see how the youngest member of the FF deals with teenage issues, like finding a girlfriend or getting a car.
One of the key introductions in these stories is Dorrie Evans, who would become Johnny’s regular girlfriend for the early years, at least until she disappeared into limbo and was replaced by Crystal from the Inhumans. Many longtime FF villains started out as foes of Johnny, including the Wizard, the Eel, and Paste-Pot Pete. (It’s hard to strike fear in citizens with a name like Paste-Pot Pete, so he eventually changed his name over to the Trapster.)
In Strange Tales #120, the Human Torch teams up with Iceman from the X-Men, the first meeting between these two characters. This would lead to an ongoing argument within the comic community that has lasted for 50+ years as to who would win a fight between them. My feeling is they could each win in the right circumstances in a neutral setting. But generally, the edge always goes to the titular character.
Beginning with Strange Tales #123, the Thing comes on as the regular co-star of these stories with the Human Torch. This helps build the friendship between the two characters. The stories seem to repeat a lot of the friends and foes seen during Johnny’s solo stories, so we get second appearances by the Sub-Mariner, the X-Men, Paste-Pot Pete, the Wizard, and others.
What makes this Essential?: These stories could be considered as the first spin-off book from Marvel Comics. Even though the Human Torch is the title character for this run, these really are a secondary set of Fantastic Four stories. Reed, Sue, and Ben appear in nearly every story in this run. These stories start just 11 months after Fantastic Four #1 and served as a way to help get the characters more exposure, in particular, the teenage member of the foursome. A side benefit had to be increased sales on an anthology book that was quickly being surpassed by the popularity of the super-hero titles.
Hindsight being 20/20, maybe it would have been better to include these stories chronologically within the Essential Fantastic Four run. This Essential Human Torch came out nearly six years after the Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1, during the early days of this collection line. With most of the stories in this volume done by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers, you could almost consider this volume to be Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1.5. If you own the early Fantastic Four Essentials, then you should also own this one.
She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!: In Strange Tales #130, Stan Lee decided to team up the Fantastic Four with the Fab Four. Dorrie Evans and Alicia Masters invite their boyfriends to attend a Beatles concert. When they arrive, the concert venue manager announces that they were just robbed, and would be unable to pay the Beatles. Johnny and Ben step up to recover the money. Even though these are just normal crooks, they lead the Human Torch and the Thing on a six-page chase before being captured. Johnny and Ben return the money to the box office, right as the concert ends.
This appears to be the first appearance of the Beatles in a Marvel comic, but not their first appearance in a comic. In 1964, Dell Comics released an oversized one-shot that was more magazine than comic.
Footnotes: Strange Tales was an anthology title that started back in 1951. When the Human Torch joined in issue #101, that began the “Marvel Universe” takeover of the title. Dr. Strange joined in issue #110. When the Human Torch (and the Thing) left the title, they were replaced by Nick Fury.
In 1974, Marvel launched an eight-issue Human Torch series. It featured reprints of Golden-Age Human Torch stories featuring Jim Hammond, as well as reprints of the early Strange Tales stories featuring Johnny Storm. Each issue had a new cover, done by the likes of John Romita, Sr., Marie Severin, and Gil Kane. It would have been nice if Marvel had included those covers in this book.
The Human Torch story in Strange Tales #127 was reprinted with a new framing sequence in Fantastic Four #154, which was reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 7.
If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries from 2005. Written by Dan Slott and drawn by Ty Templeton, this five issue series spotlights moments shared between the two characters over their five decades in comics. This is a funny yet touching look at two friends who grew into adulthood fighting villains and aliens. This has been reprinted in the digest format and as a hardcover, but the individual issues can still be found in quarter bins. This is a must read for all ages!
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