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 #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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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #101

Strange Tales Issue #101 Photo Credit: Marvel

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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