In the pages of The Fantastic Four one of the more common storylines is for one member or another to leave the team. There have been times when this lasted a while but most often it is resolved in an issue or two at the most.
Strange Tales stars Johnny Storm in his own adventures but the rest of the FF have shown up here and there on several occasions. In issue 106, it’s advertised as a guest appearance for the Fantastic Four. There’s nothing unusual about this appearance but it does show Marvel is trying to tie a superhero universe together. One of the best ways to do this is to use the team that kicked off the 616 universe as much as possible.
It’s been a little confusing in Strange Tales for Johnny to live in Glenville but show up consistently at the Baxter building in the pages of The Fantastic Four as if he is living there. Johnny and Sue seem to be sometimes living in Glenville and sometimes at the Baxter building as well.
This issue starts off with Johnny zipping around an obstacle course Reed has created for him. Next a visitor arrives at Johnny and Sue’s Glenville home, asking to see The Human Torch. This should be surprising because Johnny has tried to disguise his identity in Glenville. This never made sense considering the FF are publicly known figures but Johnny tries to keep a secret identity anyway.
Johnny gets home and ditches his costume in an alley. (Side note here to mention a lot of Marvel heroes really do seem to think hiding their costumes in an alley is a great strategy.) Even as he is doing this, people are pointing out the Human Torch usually arrives home around this time.
As Johnny enters his home he is greeted by Sue and one Mr. Zante who knows Johnny is the Torch. Johnny is utterly shocked by this revelation but Sue admits “All of Glenville knows of your dual role!” This is one of the first times (but far from the last) when Marvel subverts expectations about secret identities not only to the reader but also to the character hiding a secret identity. This is similar to a future event involving Mary Jane Parker and Spider-man but to be clear, this type of revelation happens first in Strange Tales 106 with Johnny Storm.
A big question in my mind would be why Sue lets Mr. Zante in without knowing anything about him but she does. Johnny feels a bit embarrassed about everyone knowing his secret but Sue assures him everyone was just respecting his desire for privacy. She then leaves saying, “Now I’ll leave you two alone for your man talk!” Yeah, not exactly the most progressive of eras in publishing but it is what it is.
It turns out this Zante is an acrobat and thinks Johnny and he should team up and form their own super team called “The Torrid Twosome.” Not a name that would go over well now but might have made sense at the time. Zante recalls a bunch of adventures the Fantastic Four had and highlights all of Johnny’s biggest contributions. He tries to convince Johnny that Reed Richards is exploiting him because Reed keeps most of the money for research rather than paying Johnny more.
Johnny races over to Reed and starts to complain, going so far as to demand a salary. There’s a silly tussle with The Thing because, of course there is. In the end Reed says no, stating the money really does need to be used for research. Again, one of the biggest foes the FF face truly is money. It causes all sorts of problems for the team.
Johnny leaves the team and flies out of the window telling them he’s going to be part of the Torrid Twosome. When Johnny calls up Zante to tell him the news we get the first real impression Zante is up to no good. He thinks to himself, “By the time he learns the truth–It’ll be too late!”
Johnny next designs a rather ugly green and orange outfit, complete with beret made out of unstable molecules. Sue tries to convince Johnny not to join up with Zante but he just keeps going on and on about his new outfit.
Zante shows up the next day and tells Johnny there is a man stuck in a bank vault. The plan is for Johnny to melt through the vault and free the bank teller. The Torch flies through and melts the door to find no one inside. Zante follows and shoots Johnny with a liquid asbestos gun. He just wanted Johnny to open the vault so he could steal the money. As if that wasn’t enough, Zante shoots Johnny in the arm with a regular gun as he makes his escape.
The police attempt to catch Zante but because he’s an acrobat they have a pretty hard time of it. But when Zante gets to his getaway car it goes nowhere thanks to The Thing hanging onto the bumper to keep it from moving. Soon Reed and Sue show up to pitch in. They have him caught and all but arrested when Johnny comes out of the bank and demands the FF leave Zante for him.
There’s a bit of a chase but Johnny has a bum arm so it takes a bit longer than normal for him to catch the criminal. He ends up melting the pavement right under the guy’s feet, making it impossible for Zante to walk. Johnny then admits he never truly believed Zante but he had to string him along to find out what he was up to. The issue ends with Johnny back on the team and this time tossing away his Terrible Twosome costume in the same alley where he had been hiding his Fantastic Four uniform. With that, everything is back to normal and the FF can operate as whole team once again.
Next up on the reading list, we’re sticking with Johnny Storm for another story as we catch up with The Human Torch in the pages of Strange Tales #107!