Thursday, June 25, 2015

Guest Review - "I'm With Stupid"... Teaming Up to Review Spider-Man/Human Torch, Part One

Doug: Super-duper treat today, kids -- times TWO!! I'll get out of the way and let Dr. Oyola and Mike W. drive this bus.

In putting this series of posts together, Mike and Osvaldo split the work by alternating writing summaries (with a little input from each other) and then following up with a Doug/Karen style discussion. We cover issues #1 and #2 in Part One, #3 and #4 in Part Two, and the final issue, #5, in Part Three.

Spider-Man/Human Torch is a five-issue limited series written by Dan Slott, with pencils by Ty Templeton and published in 2005. The series is a nostalgic look back on the relationship of these two rivals/friends and each issue takes place in a distinct era—with the earliest story being in the Ditko-era Spider-Man and the last story taking place just before Civil War. In keeping with the rolling timeline of the Marvel Universe, events we know were published in issues that came out in the 1960s are referred to as “10 years ago,” while events of the 70s and 80s are “several” and “many years ago,” but since the eras are evoked by the stories themselves, the whole sense of a timeline is muddled despite Slott’s obvious careful consideration of continuity and detailed knowledge of both characters’ histories.

Overall the series’ tone is comedic, which is fitting for these two characters’ usual interactions, but there is also a sentiment of genuine developing friendship, which leads to poignant moments.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #1: “Picture Perfect”

Spider-Man/Human Torch #1 (March 2005) opens with the FF fighting Mole Man and his subterranean minions. Johnny saves the day, and doesn't let any of his teammates forget it. Johnny anticipates a lot of good publicity, but is pushed off the front page of the Daily Bugle by a story about Spider-Man fighting (or teaming up with, if you believe the headline) Mysterio. Spidey fought Mysterio in Amazing Spider-Man #24 (1965), so this issue must take place right after that (and well before #42, since he hasn’t met Mary Jane yet). Johnny was still dating Dorrie Evans at this point. Anyway, Johnny decides to hire Peter Parker to take pictures of him, since Peter always seems to get Spidey on the front page. Peter is reluctant, but he and Aunt May need the money, so he finally agrees.

Johnny's ego makes Peter's job harder; when Johnny tackles some bank robbers, Peter changes to Spidey to lend a hand and is promptly told to butt out by the Torch. To top it off, Johnny refuses to use the photos Peter took of the fight (with his camera set on automatic, natch) because he doesn't want to share the spotlight with Spidey. Peter suggests he stay out of sight and follow the Torch around all day. Johnny isn't sure how Peter will manage that, but we know, don't we? Unfortunately, Johnny's adventures when Peter/Spidey is trailing him are less than awe-inspiring (although Spidey has a hilarious interlude with Paste-Pot Pete, soon to be known as Trapster!), so Johnny gets the (not-so) bright idea to attack Dr. Doom in the Latverian Embassy—that'll make the front page for sure! Of course, he's caught (cryogenically frozen) in about three seconds. Spidey goes to his rescue and manages to convince Doom that he's reconsidered Doom's offer to team up (from Amazing #5). Doom wants proof of Spidey's loyalty, so Spidey says he'll kill the Torch, but instead he picks up the giant ice-ball with Johnny inside and swings off.

Later, Spidey meticulously chips away the ice to free Johnny, who is understandably impatient. Spidey warns him that it's a delicate job, and to illustrate his point, he accidentally (as far as I can tell) chips Johnny's hair right off! Johnny flies back to the Baxter Building and begs Reed to reattach his stylish 'do, but Thing ruins it when he's clowning around. Spidey snaps a pic of the no-longer-hirsute Johnny from outside and takes it to Jameson, thinking that a front page photo of a bald Human Torch will make it all worth it. But Jameson prints the photo of Spidey (on the same roll of film) groveling to Dr. Doom instead, robbing Peter of his revenge, and making the Torch livid at being bumped from the front page by Spidey yet  again.  

Osvaldo: I had not read this series in some years, but remembered it fondly. However, upon starting with this issue the humor seemed a little heavy handed and I was worried that it did not hold up. Fortunately, Slott seems to get a handle on the tone and dialogue by issue’s end and it is not so much a problem for the rest of the series. I have a similar (non-)complaint about the art. There are moments in this issue where it looked a little muddy, like the inking was a little too heavy. The rest of the series also has heavy inks, but the lines while heavy remain clean and the art is bright and fits the comedic/nostalgic tone of the series, so it ends up not being a big deal.  The Paste-Pot Peter scene was worth the price of admission though.

M.S. Wilson: I’m more of a “writing” guy than an “art” guy, so Templeton’s art to me was … fine. It isn’t spectacular, and it isn’t horrible--it’s good, generally speaking. I agree about the Paste-Pot Pete scene, which I think actually fits roughly into continuity, since Pete first used the name Trapster in FF #38.

Osvaldo: Oh, in general I like the art quite a bit! I think Templeton’s rendition of well-known characters and how they dress in those eras is spot on, and the “cartoon-y” style fits with the series tones. The coloring by “Nelson” (I assume this is not a reference to the terrible band) is also very good.

M.S. Wilson: The whole notion of jealousy, which runs through this mini-series, gets started here, as we see Spidey’s familiar envy of the Torch, but surprisingly Johnny finds himself jealous of Spidey and Peter Parker. He’s mad because Spidey’s adventures keep pushing him off the front page, but he’s envious of Peter Parker because of the close relationship Peter has with Aunt May. Johnny’s parents are dead (as are Peter’s), but Peter has Aunt May as a surrogate, where Johnny doesn’t have anyone quite like that in his life.

Osvaldo: Except for Sue, right?

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, and Sue did sort of act as a “mother figure” (especially in the early days), but I’m not sure Johnny ever really saw her as a surrogate mother, the way Aunt May is for Peter; Sue was just his loving-but-annoying big sister most of the time.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #2: “Catch You on the Flipside.”

Issue #2 of SM/HT opens with Johnny Storm making quick work of the Vulture.  Spidey’s usual struggle with the flying codger is easily avoidable when you can just set his feathers on fire and let him plummet to the ground. Meanwhile, Crystal (Inhuman, and sister of Medusa) is waiting for Johnny at the Coffee Bean, where a uniformed Flash Thompson decides to hit on her.  The fact that Crystal is Johnny’s girlfriend, Flash is in his Vietnam Era uniform and Captain George Stacy is around sets the story between Amazing Spider-Man #56 and #90 and before Fantastic Four #105 (when Crystal returns to Attilan “for good”)—so between 1968 and 1970. Captain Stacy is at the Coffee Bean to pick up coffee for his men and to slip a lead to Spider-Man via Peter Parker. The tip is given in the guise of something to snap pictures of for the Bugle, but Captain Stacy knows Peter’s identity, but is not letting on that he knows, even to Peter (reinforcing his admission as he died in ASM #90).  This switch from the Ditko era of ASM (in the previous issue) to the Romita, Sr. era is also made clear by Johnny’s noting that somehow Peter Parker has it made, since both Gwen and Mary Jane are fawning over him. Johnny doesn’t know that Peter and Spidey are the same person (something that becomes an issue throughout this series).

Flash and Johnny get into an argument over who is the better hero, Spider-Man or Human Torch after Flash’s failed attempt to hit on Crystal, but when Johnny is called to join the rest of the Fantastic Four for an interdimensional mission, he has to abandon his argument to join them. As he flies to the Baxter Building, he is interrupted by a quick-changed Spider-Man who calls him out for badmouthing Spidey and saying he could do anything Spider-Man can (as evidenced by taking out the Vulture that morning). They decide to switch for the day. Johnny follows up on the lead about drug-dealers provided by Captain Stacy, while Spider-Man joins the Fantastic Four on their adventure. The limited window of opportunity for the FF’s adventure means there is no time for the rest of the FF to object, as Spidey shows up with moments to spare and they rocket off to explore a “subspace fissure.”

Of the two plot threads in this issue the Spider-Man hanging out with the Fantastic Four is not nearly as interesting as Torch doing Spidey’s thing. Essentially, Spidey’s actions are played for laughs. He make constant jokes, freaks out  when the world goes “trippy” as they travel between dimensions, annoys the other members of the FF, and in the end when the team could have used Torch’s powers to siphon off extra heat from “dimensional meta-friction,” Spidey saves the day by insulating their ship by covering the entire interior with his webbing. The problem is this covers/ruins most of Reed’s sensitive instruments for the better part of an hour and the fissure is only going to remain open for 62 minutes! In other words, because of Spider-Man they only get two minutes of data collection.  The old Parker luck, I guess. You actually get to see Reed Richards lose his cool, which is a rare sight.

The Human Torch plot thread is more interesting. He quickly discovers that it is difficult to sneak up on underworld thugs if you are literally on fire (everyone runs away before he can get close enough to grab them), so he approaches the warehouse in his civilian garb and is quickly knocked out and taken prisoner.  Tied to a chair with a gun to his head, Johnny worries that he can’t raise his heat fast enough to melt a bullet before it kills him, but he tricks the criminals into thinking that an invisible Sue Storm is in the room, and uses the distraction to “Flame On!” and take them out. It turns out Kraven the Hunter is behind the drugs. There is a funny scene where Johnny and the cops do some play-acting to fool a member of Kraven’s gang into giving up their boss’s location (an abandoned zoo, where else would you find Kraven?).  Johnny takes to acting, because he uses a similar trick to fool Kraven into thinking he is dying of venomous snake bites (but he isn’t, since he can boil his blood Johnny is immune to that kind of venom). Thinking the hero is about to expire Kraven admits who else he was working with (members of the Maggia), and the stalling Torch gives up his act to capture the hunter as well.

The issue ends with Spider-Man being shown the door by the rest of the FF and Johnny Storm being given the key to the city and coming back to the Coffee Bean with it to gloat. However, in sticking with the Archie-like comic gimmick/punchline at the end of these stories, Flash makes sure Torch is served coffee laced with laxative.

M.S. Wilson: The jealousy theme continues here, but this time it's more along the lines of "anything you can do, I can do better;” each one thinks the other has it easier...or is happier. A scientist like Peter would love to be seeing other dimensions and so on (or "Thursday" as the FF calls it), while Johnny obviously doesn't appreciate it in the same way. Meanwhile, Johnny seems to actually BELIEVE that fighting Spidey's enemies would be easier (and more fun) than what the FF has to deal with. The Coffee Bean scenes are interesting with Captain Stacy obviously knowing Pete's secret, Flash defending Spidey (and his hilarious "revenge" at the end on Spidey’s behalf); I thought it was a little weird for Johnny to be jealous of Pete "fighting off two of the hottest women I've ever seen" when Johnny's there with Crystal, supposedly the love of his life! In the end it seems like they both realized that things aren't as easy for the other guy as they look, but of course, it works out OK for the Torch...not so much for Spidey.

Osvaldo: I thought of the “two hot girls” thing as a wink and a nod in recognition of the drastic change in Peter’s social life and how beautiful everyone suddenly looks when Romita, Sr. takes over art duties. The only “problem” with this story (and it is hardly a “problem”) is that in the end Johnny seems to be right that Spider-Man’s job is easier for him. He has the reputation and connections to do things in a way Spidey has to struggle to do (like his relationship with the cops) and does not have the burdening sense of responsibility that might rob these adventures of their fun for him. The Coffee Bean scenes are my favorites.

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, I always liked the “hanging out” scenes in the old Spidey comics. They blended well with the action stuff. I guess the “ease” with which Johnny handles Kraven and the mobsters shows that Spidey’s job is even harder than it looks. He doesn’t have public opinion or the cops on his side, so he really is alone. I’m not sure any of that actually occurs to Johnny though … he seems too full of himself to figure it out. Considering how arrogant he is, he deserves to drink Flash’s laxative!

Osvaldo: Flash’s love of Spider-Man and dislike for “puny” Parker is one my all-time favorite incarnations of the consequences of a secret identity in superhero comics. Slott does a good job of capturing the former aspect, though in the Vietnam Era the dislike portion began to fade (something Jeph Loeb follows up in in his Spider-Man: Blue series).

That is all for today. In part two we jump to 1974 and then 1984, in the era of the Spider-Mobile and the Black Cat respectively. Hope to see you there!


ColinBray said...

Hmm, I was buying a lot of new comics in 2005 yet somehow missed this.

Odd given how much I like both Slott and the Spider-Man/Torch team up.

Thanks for the great review, I will definitely pick this series up.

Redartz said...

Mike and Osvaldo- excellent job on this review! I had heard good things about this series and finally found issues 1,2,4 and 5 last month at a local flea market (still hunting for issue 3, I still enjoy the old back issue hunt). So glad you two chose this series to discuss.

You are quite right about the light tone in the series. Dan Slott captures the earlier eras of Spider-man nicely. Actually, Dan's writing was the primary reason I kept buying Amazing Spiderman up to issue 700, despite some unfortunate turns in plot and character. You note the sequence with Captain Stacy; he was a great member of the Silver Age Spidey cast, and his knowledge of Peter's identity made for some dramatic scenes. Slott lets us know that Stacy knows, without actually coming out and saying so.

As for the art, I first enjoyed Mr.Templeton's work on the beautiful 80's indie series Mr. X. He does a nice job here keeping the visuals styled for the eras presented. Nice, clean work, and the story flows easily.

Again, great team-up review; looking forward to part two!

david_b said...

Looks like a great series.., a nice improvement over the original Silver stories which is the ultimate praise for these revisits.

Excellent review.

Doug said...

I don't mind these sorts of things when they get it "right". Of course, that is a statement that is purely subjective. For examples, I didn't care for the second 8-issue Avengers mini-series that looked at the period around the introduction of the Vision and Hank's mental breakdown. I also read a Teen Titans Year One sort of series that didn't resonate with me, either. As in today's subject matter, if the creators respect the source material then I can get on board.


William said...

I had this mini-series, but I sold it along with the rest of my Spider-Man collection.

However, about a year ago I picked up the hardcover pretty cheap on Amazon or eBay (I forget which one). I've been meaning to read it again, but I haven't gotten around to it. I may to go ahead and do so, so that I can better comment on your reviews.

As I recall it was a pretty good read (pretty good, not great). However, I will reserve my final judgement until I read it again.

I think my problem with things like this is that I absolutely LOATHE ret-cons in any way, shape, or form. However noble the intention of the writer, and even at their best, the ret-con still sends the message that "What you thought you always knew is wrong." (Even if it's just a little bit). And I don't like any writer going back and mucking with the stories that other writers have written, and trying to change what they did. (Especially the really classic stuff).

That being said, I recall that this series wasn't too bad in that respect. However, I seem to remember a couple of instances where I was like "meh" in regards to some of what was done.

Dr. Oyola said...

Redartz, you HAVE to find issue #3, as you will see in the next installment of this overview, Mike and I agree that it is the best issue!

Doing this series was a lot of fun and lot of work, but having someone to work with meant we could include a lot of detail and have different perspectives on the same issue. I'd definitely team-up with someone again.

William, I don't see these stories as ret-cons, but more like "Lost Tales" or "Untold Tales"

Edo Bosnar said...

Really nice review, Osvaldo & Mike. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and now you've got me interested in the series (oh, yeah, like I need to spend more money and add to my now officially crippling "to read" pile).
Generally, I have to say I like stories like this - with the caveat mentioned by Doug, i.e., provided that they're done right. It seems, based on your review and the panels you provided, this one looks like it has that elusive quality. And I also like Spidey's first confrontation with poor ol' Paste-Pot Pete.
I agree with Osvaldo, by the way: these don't seem so much like retcons as simple supplementary stories. I would add that I don't mind retcons, either, if they're what I call 'soft' - meaning that they don't fundamentally or drastically change a given character's backstory but just add some little new facet or wrinkle to it. (Heck, I don't even mind some of the bigger retcons if they're done well, like the ones Miller did in Daredevil...)

Karen said...

It's a lot of fun to see a different pair of partners doing a comic review on the BAB! I've been looking forward to these reviews, and Osvaldo and Mike did not disappoint. This series looks like something i might want to pick up. I always liked the relationship between Spidey and Johnny, although it was never explored that much, especially in the Bronze Age. If Marvel Team-Up had continued as planned and featured the two of them together who knows what we might have seen, perhaps even Peter revealing his secret ID? But ultimately I think the rotating team ups were a better direction.

great review guys. Looking forward to the rest!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd agree with Osvaldo...this is more of an Untold Tales kinda thing than a retcon, and Slott does a good job fitting everything in between what we've already seen.

I also enjoyed our "Marvel(ous) Team-Up", Osvaldo...especially since you did most of the heavy lifting...I just had to throw in a few pithy comments!

Mike Wilson

Dr. Oyola said...

As I thought I mentioned in this part, but it must be in part two or three, I see these stories as apocryphal. . Are they part of canon? Who knows? Who cares? They are good stories that capture the feeling of the various eras in which they set. Maybe they "didn't happen," maybe they "happened differently". . . They're like war stories, but less serious. . . Hmm, not I want to write a post for my blog putting Tim o'Brian's "How to Tell a True War Story" from The Things They Carried in conversation with comic "canon."

Dr. Oyola said...

Ha! Mike it must be a good sign of our partnership that I feel like you did the heavy lifting! :)

Anonymous said...

Haven't read this, but just wanted to ask... I'm curious about the reference to the Marvel rolling timeline. Is this the only mention of it in the text of an actual story? Like, the 60s being ten years earlier - are there other Marvels that refer to specific events in the continuity in that way?
Just curious.

Generally, I have a soft spot for "lost" stories, although a lot depends on how the creative team juggle pastiche and dramatic irony.... Not sure how well the Templeton art really captures the Kirby/Ditko era beyond a general cartooniness - at least from the samples shown here - but... I am curious to read it after this piece.


Dr. Oyola said...

The comic doesn't really mention the rolling timeline as such, except for the narration which says things like "10 years ago," or "A few years ago" referring to things we know happened in the 60s or 70s.

I think in comics today any reference to past "big" events are always said to have been "a few years ago." I think the general PoV is it has been as few as 10 years and as many as 15 years ago since the FF began the Marvel Age - but I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Osvaldo... seems like I'm a bit behind the times and its all quite standard stuff now.
Personally, I don't see the point in trying to explain away the passing of time, and find that approach to continuity a bit annoying. I mean, when did WW2 happen in the Marvel universe - a couple of decades before the millennium?

I'd much rather see a story set around the early 60s actually reflect the setting and have it be a period piece. And as to how the characters can still be around so much later... well, as you put it, who knows? Who cares?


Anonymous said...

Nice write-up, guys! I have the hardcover and enjoyed it. I like how Slott balanced the humor with an emotionally satisfying payoff.

Anyone else a fan of Untold Tales of Spider-Man? There's a Torch team-up issue that would fit right in with the Slott/ Templeton/ Nelson material.

As for rest cons/ untold tales... If they're good, I'm for them. The sliding timeline doesn't bother me. I dislike most rest cons done for shock value (e.g. Hydra's been running SHIELD all along! Wha...?) but I'll usually give "stories that took place between other stories" a chance.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments, everybody. To expand on Osvaldo's thoughts about the "sliding timeline", I think he's right; Marvel basically wants us to believe that everything, all the way back to FF #1, took place within the last ten (or so) years. That obviously doesn't work if you really study the comics and note the passage of time, but I guess it's Marvel's way of keeping their characters perpetually young. DC basically did the same thing with their Zero Hour timelines, saying everything took place within the last 10 or 12 years, even though the stories don't support that interpretation.

I'm not sure if Spider-Man/Human Torch is apocryphal or not, but I hope it "counts"...especially issue #3; it's just too cool not to be true!

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Thanks Mike and Osvaldo ... Very nicely done. Sorry i am late to the party; work calls and problems to solve. I saw this book on the stands and was tempted but never bit. Now I am going to have to find these. I liked the era of the Coffee Bean hangout and the interaction of Torch and Spidey back in the day. Since then I have enjoyed the Slott writing that I have been exposed to.

The changes in time, sliding time, and those impossibilities never bothered me much. I guess I was aware of them but breezed by the thought.

I look forward to your second part. How long did it take you to collaborate and compose?

Dr. Oyola said...

Thanks Marti!

It took us about two weeks maybe? Mike can chime in and correct me.

Part of the issue was that I had unexpected oral surgery and my mom was in the hospital for part of it (she's home now and recovering), which severely limited the time I could dedicate to this and other work.

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