Sometimes when you have a hit comic book on your hands the stories in there get too big to be contained in just that book. This was the case for the mega hit superhero team the Fantastic Four. Up to this point there had been seven issues of the first family of heroes and while those were popular, Marvel also had a book of anthology stories that was not selling as well.
When you think back on it now, it seems like it was an easy call to have a prominent character or characters go from a best selling book into one that was only sitting on the shelves. Now, it’s not like there was no audience for Strange Tales prior to the introduction of regular superhero stories but it definitely wasn’t flying off of the shelves. The other problem with anthology books is that you have to think of something to put in there over and over to crank them out. Eventually there are only so many stories you can tell about aliens attacking, scientists creating formulas that go haywire, and communists attacking the population of the country. So what’s the solution? Toss in a superhero!
In this case the book is about Johnny Storm, a.k.a. The Human Torch. He’s moved to upstate New York with his sister, Sue who is, of course, The Invisible Woman. We don’t really see her in this issue (or do we?) other than in a recap of how the FF famously came to be.
The story itself revolves around an amusement park Johnny and his pals are eager to frequent as soon as it is built. While they are there watching the progress of the construction it seems as if one of the rides being tested is about to kill someone on it. Luckily Johnny is on the spot (yes pun intended) and takes quick action to save the man on the ride. The audience knows this was going to happen because we got to see a threatening letter from someone called The Destroyer.
The people building the park ignore these threats and proceed with building. Each time Johnny is there to flame on and save the day. He comes up with more and more ridiculous ways to hide that he is The Human Torch with elaborate distractions so no one will notice the guy next to them literally lighting on fire and flying away.
Eventually, The Destroyer calls Johnny out to battle by advertising his challenge in the newspaper. Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing shows up believing this guy will be too much for Johnny. Johnny tells Ben it’s his fight (after all the story is literally featuring The Human Torch so he gets to shine here) and immediately walks into a trap.
He makes it out okay and then figures out the only amusement rides being tampered with are the tall ones so he flies on up to check it out. There he sees, “A commie sub!!” and knows he has to finish this fight. Which he quickly does. I mean, you try fighting a guy who is actually on fire, it can’t be easy. Turns out the publisher of the newspaper was feeding information to this submarine but if the amusement park was built, he would no longer have cover to do so.
So, to sum up Strange Tales was a little tired of the same old stories about aliens and communists so they dedicated a feature story to a superhero who… defeats a communist. Still, this will not be the last appearance of Johnny Storm in Strange Tales by a long shot. And will absolutely not be the last time a hit superhero ends up in the pages of an anthology magazine published by Marvel. It was a bit original though, in that it was the first Marvel effort to get one of their big stars from a team to have a spotlight shined on them individually. It’s a sort of forgettable story but nonetheless has its proper place in comics history as a new innovation for Marvel that would work very well for them.
Next time on the reading list we’re getting micro once again as we check up on Henry Pym a.k.a. The Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #36!
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