Marvel 616 Review – Strange Tales #107

Strange Tales Issue 107 Photo Credit: Marvel

Here we have one of the first grudge matches of the Marvel 616 universe. On the cover you can see it is Namor vs. Johnny Storm, an epic match up of fire against water. This type of story will become a regular staple of Marvel comics but this one does have some unique features.

The issue starts with Johnny Storm coming home from school to see the rest of the team has had a meeting without him. This is definitely a boys club because Reed remarks how they were working on the notes for their next Fantastic Four adventure and, “Sue was nice enough to type them up for us!” It’s a little ridiculous that Sue Storm has one of the strongest powers in all of Marvel with her ability to become invisible and create force fields but she’s seen as what amounts to as a secretary even by her own team.

Anyway the team, especially The Thing, kind of antagonizes Johnny, reminding him of quitting the team in the last issue. Johnny then decides he’s tired of being treated like a kid and decides to set his sights on winning a fight with a foe single handed. His idea is to go after Namor all alone and beat the Sub-mariner.

He shoots out of his apartment and flies to the sea. His flame dies out and he has to land on a boat. He tells everyone on board who he is but they all think he’s just some stowaway. After the waters get foggy, Johnny is able to light the way for the boat and the sailors realize their mistake.

Johnny sky writes a challenge to Namor just above the surface of the water and Namor gets it. He’s none too happy with Johnny. The pair duke it out going back and forth as to who looks like they might win. Namor uses the power of a puffer fish to save himself at one point, while Johnny goes supernova underwater with his flames. Namor is able to hypnotize Johnny at one point and gets the upper hand. It doesn’t last long though and Johnny is back in the fight.

Johnny is able to flame on while he’s under the water. His powers are still rather loosely defined at this point in the 616 so this kind of thing happens often where it seems like he shouldn’t be able to use his powers but does anyway. Eventually Johnny traps Namor in an underwater cave and gets away.

Exhausted, Johnny meets the same boat he helped earlier, and they give him passage on the ship.

Of course, Namor is not stuck for long and he breaks out. He assumes Johnny has left since he doesn’t see him around anywhere and figures he would have flown back to the continent by this point. Namor is somewhat relieved as the fight has gone out of him a bit. He also realizes Johnny is much stronger than Namor thought. Add that to the fact Johnny is not fully grown and Namor understands what a powerhouse of an ally he could be.

Namor imagines the two of them joining forces to beat the FF and holding the entire world in their hands.

A lot of this issue is just typical fighting for the sake of fighting. But the end with Namor contemplating what could be seems like it could be the foundation for a What if? story.

This was the first real one on one grudge match with Johnny and Namor but it won’t be the last. I also think it’s interesting how Namor was minding his own business and Johnny decides to start a fight. That’s not typically a hero move but it seems to work out in this case.

Up next on the reading list we’ll be sticking with Johnny Storm and the rest of his pals as he and the team meet The Hulk in Fantastic Four #12!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #106

Strange Tales Issue 106 Photo Credit: Marvel

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!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #105

Strange Tales Issue 105 Photo Credit: Marvel

In Strange Tales #102 Johnny Storm met the supervillain known as The Wizard for the first time. He laid a series of traps but Johnny evaded them eventually and with a little help from Sue Storm he was able to trick The Wizard into thinking he had psychic powers. It wasn’t very wizardly for someone who claims to be smarter than anyone considering it’s pretty public knowledge that The Human Torch hangs out with The Invisible Girl.

Despite his less than perfect debut, The Wizard is back for round two with ol’ hothead. The issue starts with a brief recap of the events from issue 102. Then we’re shown The Wizard in prison. He’s been a model prisoner just so he could get placed to work in the prison hospital where there are a bunch of chemicals within reach. He concocts a mixture that is capable of eating through a wall and he proceeds to make a man sized hole in the prison. The guards assume he escapes out this hole but while they are busy looking around for him, The Wizard, who was simply hiding, waltzes right out of the cell door the guards left open for him.

The Wizard sneaks onto a train and heads in the direction of his estate where he observes police looking for him. It’s exactly what he expected and he’s smart enough to have created an electromagnetic force field to keep people out.

While The Wizard is smart, he’s dumb enough to challenge The Human Torch to battle and Johnny gets word of it on the news. He’s not about to give up on a challenge and the opportunity to show up an escaped convict. Sue Storm is not comfortable with the idea though and tries to talk Johnny out of it.

Johnny whips up a fire made double of himself to fool Sue while he goes and takes on The Wizard. The only trouble is his double can’t talk or respond to Sue. She calls up Reed Richards and Ben Grimm but they basically tell Sue to leave it to Johnny because “He has to grow up and stand on his own two feet sometime!” So, yeah, showing not a lot of concern for Johnny’s safety here.

The Human Torch makes it to The Wizard’s estate where he is let in but the police are still kept back. If I was a villain inside of an estate with an impenetrable force field the last thing I would do is to let my rival super hero in but that’s exactly what The Wizard does. His ego is just too big to allow him to do the sensible thing here.

He does have a pretty big rocket launcher though and he fires it at Johnny. The Torch just melts it. Next The Wizard tries to drop Johnny into an asbestos-lined dungeon. Of course, Johnny flies so that backfires. Next up is nerve gas but Johnny stops that with a wall of fire to insulate himself from the gas. I’m really not clear on how the physics of that would work but we’ll just assume it does.

The Wizard boldly claims he was simply testing Johnny when an alarm goes off. Someone else entered the house. He can’t see anything on his security cameras and figures it has to be The Invisible Girl. At least he learns from his mistakes. He goes to the room Sue is in and sprays the air with a special spray he made which reveals where she is. I mean, paint would have worked fine, but sure a special spray, why not? In the room she is in some walls come up and trap Sue. The Wizard then plants a device in the wall and heads back to check on Johnny.

Turns out the device in the wall is an explosive and if Sue can’t escape in five minutes, well, that’s the end of her. The Wizard offers to let Johnny into the room if he flames off. Of course Johnny is going to take that offer. And in a classic villain blunder, The Wizard has placed two heroes in the same deadly room, increasing their chances of escaping.

Once The Wizard is safely away he lets Johnny know if the temperature increases in the room by a single degree the bomb is rigged to go off. Johnny heats up just his hand and fires a small flame at the mechanism for the bomb. He melts the hammer that would hit the bell to cause the chain reaction of the explosion. It melts fast enough the bell is never triggered. Thus, Johnny is free to flame on once again without risking death. But the bomb is about to go off so he melts the wall as fast as he can. He gets lucky and exposes the bomb.

Then, in one of the more ridiculous parts of the issue, Johnny creates a “catapult of flame” which launches the bomb through the roof of the house and into the air where it can explode harmlessly.

After all that, Johnny is ready to grab The Wizard. He heats up the air vents to trigger the sprinkler system. And the floor gets wet enough The Wizard slips and falls. He draws some kind of gun but Johnny does what anyone would expect and… yeah… he… um… makes a saw out of flames and carves the roof above The Wizard so the ceiling falls on him to knock him out. A little silly but we’ll just go with it again.

Sue switches off the lever keeping the forcefield up and by the time the police enter The Wizard is being held by a flame lasso. Sue tells Johnny if The Wizard is smart “…he’ll stay in prison where he’s safe!” so we all know he’s going to break out again. Torch has to have some kind or rival in his own book so it makes sense.

Back at home Sue admonishes Johnny for going against direct orders. The issue ends with a little sibling rivalry as Sue throws a pillow at Johnny for making a joke about her help in the whole thing.

The issue is pretty interesting and does sort of expand Johnny’s fire powers even more. More importantly, it continues to set up The Wizard as a recurring villain who becomes a staple in the foes of not only Johnny but all of the Fantastic Four and several other Marvel heroes.

Next up on the reading list we catch up with the god of thunder once again in the pages of Journey Into Mystery #89!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #104

Strange Tales Issue 104 Photo Credit: Marvel

Allow me to introduce to you the incredible supervillain Paste-Pot Pete! That’s right, he’s the only villain who chooses as his weapon of choice, a pot of paste and a paste gun that shoots out… paste.

Eventually this guy will become known as “The Trapster” but he starts his criminal career with paste. These kinds of stories are why I love Marvel. They have some of the strangest ideas and somehow a lot of them seem to work. In fact, Paste-Pot Pete actually comes fairly close to defeating The Human Torch on his first time out.

One thing you have to say for Paste-Pot Pete is he’s got a lot of flare. Our story starts in Glenville where Johnny Storm is going to school. He’s at the bank and very nearly writes The Human Torch on his deposit slip thus giving away his secret identity. As far as the Fantastic Four goes the idea of secret identities is kind of nebulous. Everyone pretty much knows where they live and that they were four space explorers who got their powers from cosmic rays. Even before the days of Google it wouldn’t have been that hard to put two and two together.

Leaving that aside, in comes Paste-Pot Pete who proudly announces “Meet Paste-Pot Pete… master criminal!” It’s quite an entrance even if you could argue shouting you’re a master criminal is not something a master criminal would do. Then he goes to town on the bankers and security guards. He’s gluing people to walls, gluing guns to guards hips, and rocking an amazing purple bow tie and beret paired with a green suit. It looks like he took some fashion tips from a combination of The Joker and an art student dropout.

Johnny is in the bank but he can’t just burst into flame without giving away who he is. So instead he sends a flame copy of himself to follow the crook. Pete races on out of there, gluing feet to the street as he goes. He even glues a group of police into their own cars so they can’t run out and get him.

Johnny is finally able to flame on and catch up to Pete but not before Pete has broken into a nearby missile base and defeated several armed and trained soldiers by shooting paste at them.

Pete’s there to grab the latest missile and sell it to the highest bidder. He literally captures the missile by shooting it with paste as soon as it is fired. I don’t know what his glue is made of but he mentions that it is super strong and will only last for an hour. Does that remind anyone else of a certain teenager who uses web fluid to swing around?

Pete does get a great line in at the missile base when he flees with the missile saying, “And anyone who tries to stop me will get a taste of paste!”

Of course, Johnny inevitably catches up to the crook. He first tries to shoot flame arrows at the tires of Pete’s truck but Pete’s reflexes are too good and he maneuvers out of the way.

Johnny’s next idea is to burn a ditch in front of the truck but again Pete is too fast for The Human Torch. This time Pete glues some nearby lumber and uses it as planks to get across. For Pete’s first time out, he’s doing really well. He has escaped one of the Fantastic Four three times already which is no easy feat. Johnny is about to just melt the truck as much as he can when he runs out of flame. As that happens, Pete glues Johnny to the missile he’s carting around.

Unfortunately for Pete his glue gets into the housing of the missile and triggers it to fire. Just when it looks like it’s curtains for Johnny he realizes the intense heat of the missile is enough to give him his flame back. He carefully cuts himself out of the glue by flaming on a single finger. Luckily the missile drops into the ocean so no one is harmed. (Although I suppose if Namor hears about it he’s not going to be happy)

Torch catches back up to Pete and this time does melt the truck. Pete gets out alive but Johnny is smart enough to target Paste-Pot Pete’s paste pot. (Try saying that five times fast) Pete is not out of tricks though. There is still paste in his paste gun even when he doesn’t have his pot. He fires glue at a passing airplane and hitches a ride.

While Johnny does recover all the stolen goods, Paste-Pot Pete manages to escape and rendezvous at a boat waiting for him in the ocean. And thus, Paste-Pot Pete enters the annals of Marvel history being one of the few villains who can actually get away from The Human Torch.

Believe it or not, Pete’s character in the future does get to be a lot more complex and interesting. This is a guy who knows how to plan and to be patient which gives him an advantage over other criminals.

I just love that there are characters like Pete in comic books. I would love to see this dude show up and just take on an Avenger or two in the MCU sometime. But until then, we’ll just have to wonder if Paste-Pot Pete is gone for good. (He’s not)

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking up on Johnny and the rest of the first family of super heroes with Fantastic Four #10!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #103

Strange Tales Issue 103 Photo Credit: Marvel

While the Fantastic Four has been consistently stopping bad guys, Johnny Storm has branched out on his own to highlight his own adventures in the pages of Strange Tales. Johnny only gets half of the book of Strange Tales but he is undoubtedly the star of this series.

He’s living in Greenwood and is an average student who just happens to have super powers. There’s a housing developer in town who has been having some trouble. He’s building houses on top of swamp land but reinforcing the foundation first. These houses should be perfectly stable. However, they keep sinking into the ground. The locals swear it’s because “swamp demons” are to blame. Johnny does the smart thing and contacts Reed Richards to help but three fourths of the Fantastic Four happen to be busy so The Human Torch gets to take this one on his own.

Johnny sticks around to investigate and finds out some “unhumans” are turning the foundation into swamp land around these houses. Johnny catches them in the act and it turns out these creatures are from the fifth dimension. They’re preparing to invade earth but they need the area where the houses are being built to enter into our dimension. Johnny is quickly caught and taken to “the 5th dimension” where an evil despot named Zemu is ruling with an iron fist. He figures he’s free to go ahead with the invasion because Torch is out of commission. Unbeknownst to Zemu there is a woman named Valeria who wants to help Johnny and is a little bit in love with him.

With her help and a bit of creative skywriting, Johnny is able to inspire the people of this dimension to rebellion. They overthrow Zemu and swear to leave our planet in peace. Valeria is fairly heartbroken that Johnny is leaving though. And for his part, Johnny seems to have some similar feeling as he daydreams about her in class later on. We definitely get the impression we’ll see Valeria and this dimension again (spoiler, we will). She’s the first real potential love interest for Johnny Storm but she won’t be the last.

There are actually several things in this short story that are significant not just to Johnny Storm but also to The Fantastic Four and all of Marvel 616. Valeria will go on to be a recurring character, the fifth dimension comes up again, and the whole situation, in part, helps the Fantastic Four become the dimension hopping, intergalactic heroes they are known to be.

While the story itself feels a little bit like an episode of Scooby-Doo but with aliens, we do get to see a couple of neat tricks performed by Johnny. He shows he is not just all about the heat as he makes a smoke screen at one point and later he makes what he calls, “a super tornado” which is hot enough to melt metal and wipe out some baddies.

This isn’t what I would call a great story in 616 but it does do the job of laying down the foundations for Johnny to have a really complicated love life.

Next up on the reading list we’re not done with the members of The Fantastic Four just yet as we catch up with them in Fantastic Four #9!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #102

Strange Tales Issue #102 Photo Credit: Marvel

Strange Tales #102 has several short features in it but the only one that matters in the Marvel 616 continuity is the one starring Johnny Storm fighting a villain called The Wizard.

The issue starts with a recap of what happened in the last issue when Johnny defeated a villain who was trying to destroy an amusement park. While he and his pals are reminiscing and marveling over the feats of The Human Torch, a man named The Wizard overhears them. He is an inventor and a showman, already world famous in his own right. He decides the only way he can really prove to the world he has the smartest brain on the planet is to defeat… The Human Torch? Yeah, you read that right.

I think every Marvel fan gives a bit of a groan when reading this. No disrespect to Johnny Storm but he’s not known for being brilliant. However, Reed Richards most certainly is. But this story stars Johnny so he gets the spotlight.

What’s The Wizard’s brilliant plan for trapping Johnny? Simple, he is going to build a machine that is supposed to dig to the center of the Earth. Then, he’s going to fake getting stuck, knowing a.) he actually built this machine with plenty of air so he’s not in any real danger and b.) The Human Torch is definitely going to come rescue him. After all of this, he’s going to invite Torch over to show off his super cool modern house. Then, while Torch is in the house he’s going to ask Torch to have his picture taken with some special cameras he invented. Those cameras are not cameras though, they’re actually water cannons which will douse Torch, but not his face so he can keep his secret identity, and then put him in an asbestos lined room so he can’t escape. Easy right? And does it work? You bet.

That is not all though, oh no. The Wizard has also built a suit which mimics Torch’s powers. He uses this suit to commit crimes in order to sink Torch’s reputation with the public. That also works. To top it all off he skywrites in flames, “Down with law and order” just to make the point really clear.

Here’s the thing though. As smart as The Wizard thinks he is, he’s not smart enough to realize Johnny can get hot enough to burn out of his prison. Johnny also knows how to defeat The Wizard so he makes a quick phone call. The Wizard lures Johnny back to his home where he holds photographs that will prove Torch’s innocence. For a smart dude, this guy is making a lot of really obvious mistakes. Torch tells him he has greater powers than The Wizard could imagine. At which point the photographs float out of The Wizard’s hands.

The Wizard is convinced Johnny does have some kind of otherworldly powers. Torch then calls the cops and saves the day. If you guessed the obvious then you have a smarter brain than The Wizard does. Of course, Johnny called Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Girl. And if you can’t even be bothered to know who is on the Fantastic Four can you actually be in the running to be a supervillain at all?

This really was one of the most ridiculous of the stories in the continuity so far but I suppose it gave Johnny Storm something to do for an afternoon.

Next on the reading list get your purple pants out because we’re going back to see the big green guy in Incredible Hulk #4!

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