Essential Human Torch Vol. 1

Essential Human Torch Vol. 1

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.

The Human Torch and the Thing return the stolen box office receipts.

The Human Torch and the Thing return the stolen box office receipts.

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!

Essential Ant-Man Vol. 1

Essential Ant-Man Vol. 1

First Published: February 2002

Contents: Ant-Man/Giant-Man & Wasp stories from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962), and #35 (September 1962) to #69 (July 1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, and Bob Powell

Key First Appearances: Dr. Henry ‘Hank’ Pym/Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Egghead, Janet Van Dyne/Wasp, Porcupine, Human Top (Whirlwind), Nathan Garrett/Black Knight

Overview: Doctor Henry Pym is a research scientist looking to find a way to miniaturize objects. After proving that it works on objects, Pym tries his formula on himself, shrinking down to the size of an ant. Unable to defend himself from the attacking ants looking to defend their home, Pym runs for his life until he can get back to his lab to retrieve the antidote. Putting aside the formula for months, Pym revisits his project as he learns more about the ants. He converts the formula to a gas, attaches the gas canisters to a costume, dubs himself the Ant-Man, and a new hero is born.

In the issues to come, Ant-Man develops a decent rogues gallery. While many opponents in these issues were one-and-done, some of his foes such as Egghead, Porcupine, the Human Top (later renamed Whirlwind), and the first Black Knight would have long-lasting spots in the Marvel Universe.

In Tales to Astonish #44, we meet Janet Van Dyne, the daughter of a fellow scientist. When Janet’s father is murdered, she seeks help from Pym. Donning his costumed identity, Ant-Man rescues Janet and reveals his identity to her. Pym uses his current research to mutate Janet’s body, giving her the ability to shrink down to insect size while wings sprout from her back. Taking on the name of the Wasp, the duo avenges the murder of Janet’s father, and a new partnership is formed.

Shortly after joining the Avengers, Pym feels inadequate in comparison to his other teammates in Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Pym theorizes that what can be shrunk can also be enlarged, and Giant-Man is born. This is the first of many costume identity changes that Pym will make over his career.

What makes this Essential?: There are very few original ideas in comics. Everything is inspired by what has come before, or as an unapologetic attempt to duplicate success at a rival publisher. DC had found success by resurrecting the Atom identity with Ray Palmer in Showcase #34 (September/October 1961). Henry Pym first appeared in January 1962 and dons the Ant-Man costume and identity in September 1962. Over at DC, the Atom joined the Justice League in Justice League of America #14 (September 1962), and Pym (with Van Dyne and others) found the Avengers in November 1963. So whether Lee & Kirby were directly trying to duplicate DC’s success, or just wanting to have their own size-changing hero, the timeline that Henry Pym follows seems to mirror that of Ray Palmer, just one year behind.

Despite being founding members, Ant-Man and the Wasp often get pushed to the side in modern retellings of the early days of the Avengers. These stories help justify their place on that team. Pym is a brilliant scientist who gets overshadowed in other comics by his contemporaries in the Marvel Universe. The Wasp was not a sidekick, but a truly equal partner with Ant-Man. She earned her own ongoing backup feature, which may have been the first female-led super-hero stories at Marvel. Lee and Kirby do the bulk of the stories in this volume, but they get overlooked by all of the other legendary stories that were coming out in this era. This volume is worth taking a look!

Footnotes: Henry Pym was just one of the tenants in Tales to Astonish during the 1960s. Initially, the book was a science-fiction anthology title. When the super-hero movement took off, Pym became the lead feature each month with various backup stories. Starting in issue #50, the Wasp was given her own solo story feature, giving the book two super-hero stories per issue going forward. With #60, the Wasp feature ended and her space was given their former Avenger colleague, the Hulk. In 1965, the Giant-Man feature was replaced by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, beginning in #70.

If you like this volume, try: the Mighty Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest collection, available as both a hard cover or a trade paperback. Following the events of Secret Invasion, Henry Pym has once again adopted a new costumed identity, this time as the Wasp. Pym’s ex-wife was believed to have sacrificed her life in stopping the Skrull invasion of Earth, and Pym wants to honor her memory by keeping the Wasp name alive. A new Avengers team is formed, by what appears to be the long missing Scarlet Witch. Can this new team of Avengers come together to help save the Earth? This is one of the best story lines involving Henry Pym and the Avengers. Pym is confident in his abilities, he steps up as a leader of gods and warriors, and he proves that his intellect is just as great as Reed Richards and Tony Stark. Over the last 10 years, this was the one Avengers title that felt most like the Avengers of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.