Wednesday, January 26, 2011


So someone took the Human Torch down and passed him around, or something. The result is: he’s dead. Like Captain America, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Angel, Kraven the Hunter and endless more before him, The Human Torch is as dead as can be legally allowed by the Comics Code (also dead. Thanks Archie Comics).

Those responsible for Johnny Storm’s murder are writer Jonathan Hickman and his accomplice, artist Steve Epting. Seems as though there’s this cosmic battle raging throughout The Fantastic Four series, all culminating with a spectacular, huge, heroic (no idea, I haven’t seen the book) sacrifice on the part of ol’ Torchy.

Now, none of this is news. Comic books, like soap operas, love to kill off major characters, often to bring them back a few issues or, sometimes, years later to the delight of dozens and the ire of dozens more. Heck, the “original” Human Torch was an android created to fight Nazis long before Johnny was a gleam in Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s eyes, so there’s not even much to mourn here. It’s just par for the course.

But, to quote

“According to new Marvel owners, the Walt Disney Company, the character is a 'bad influence' on young kids who may want to emulate and possibly 'immolate' themselves as the burning superhero.”

Some of you may be old enough to remember this tired schtick dragged out to explain why the happy-fun calculator H.E.R.B.I.E. had replaced Torchy on the ‘78 Fantastic Four animated series. It was also trotted along to explain the presence of “Firestar” during the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends hour. According to my buddies who actually worked or work for Marvel, this is not a true concern now, nor was it then. The truth is far more boring in that the character had been separately licensed to Universal Studios for a proposed television movie, precluding his involvement in both Four and being an Amazing Friend. Still, the “immolation” concern persists as one of those four-color urban legends that the hysterical like to point to whenever they think of The Human Torch.

But let’s posit for a moment that Marvel/Disney really did think kids would try to imitate Johnny’s powers. Let’s think back to when we were all kids, shall we? I recall that the one of the first words my sister and I were taught as toddlers was "Hot"! It’s certainly part of my two-year-old niece’s vocabulary. She’ll even point accusingly at red pot holders as “hot”, just to reassure us that she knows that she shouldn’t touch something that could possibly remove her fingerprints in 2nd- or 3rd-degree ouchy.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but "Immolation" was never a part of playtime when I was a kid. Maybe some of us were dumb enough to leap off the roof in the mistaken belief that we were somehow more aerodynamically sound with a towel tied around our necks, but never did we go "You know what'd be cool? Burning to death like the Human Torch! Go get your dad's napalm!"

Because what we lacked in XBOX systems or flame throwers, we made up for with imagination. If one of us played the role of The Human Torch, we’d yell Flame On!, point our hands at whatever it was we wanted to enflame and make a whoosh noise. The more talented of us could even add crackling noises over the whoosh to simulate the burning. Not once did we apply flame to skin to enhance play. Maybe we weren’t yet allowed pointy scissors, but we knew enough not to play with matches. That was pre-teen funtime.

If your kid buys a Fantastic Four comic book then sets himself on fire, I'd either question the writing or his religious or political leanings—obviously, he's protesting something. And if he plays with fire more than once, he's either a budding serial killer or it's evidence of unstoppable natural selection.

Anyway, Rest In Peace, Johnny. We’ll see you in a couple of years when the franchise gets its reboot. 

 They look so happy, rushing off into oblivion like that.

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