Doug: We hope everyone had a great weekend. Summer's awesome, isn't it? Today Osvaldo and Mike W. are back with their second installment of their review of a series they both liked. Take it away, boys!
Here is part two of our overview/discussion of the Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series, covering issues #3 and #4.
Spider-Man/Human Torch #3: “Auto Motives”
Spider-Man/Human Torch #3 (May 2005) is written by Dan Slott, penciled by Ty Templeton with inks by Tom Palmer and Nelson. This issue starts with Peter Parker reminiscing about some of his recent adventures. We see Punisher, Hammerhead, and the bizarre plot of Doc Ock almost marrying Aunt May, so this must take place after Amazing Spider-Man #132 or so (he also mentions the Spider-Mobile, which will be the REAL star of this issue!) He swings away, and we find out he was on the Brooklyn Bridge, talking to Gwen Stacy in the last place he saw her alive. Later, at the Baxter Building, Johnny Storm hits on an attractive Russian scientist (Nina Pushnikov), who's there as an intern for Reed Richards. Unfortunately, the Russian beauty is more impressed with Peter Parker (Reed's other intern) and Johnny's kind of jealous of Peter excelling in yet another area: science. Reed shows them his latest invention (a gravity localizer), but after the Russian scientist leaves, we find out she's working for the Red Ghost, Reed's villainous Russian counterpart.
Peter soon returns to the Baxter Building (as Spider-Man) to see Johnny about teaching him how to drive the Spider-Mobile ... like many New Yorkers, Peter never learned. Johnny agrees to teach him and hijinks ensue. They stop for a break on Yancy Street, where Spidey devours some Hostess--er, sorry, I mean MOSTESS--Fruit Pies; why do I mention the fruit pies, besides simple nostalgia? You'll see. After the Yancy Street Gang steals their hubcaps, Spidey gets the idea to add Reed's gravity localizer to the car so they can literally drive each other up the wall! He claims that Peter Parker told him about it. While working on the car back at FF headquarters, Spidey and Johnny have a heart-to-heart talk about Crystal and Gwen. Spidey doesn't name Gwen, of course Johnny (he still doesn’t know Peter and Spider-Man are the same person), but he confides to that the love of his life is dead.
They take the car out to test its new gravity-defying ability, and the Red Ghost and his Super Apes attack, determined to get Reed's device. After a short but entertaining fight, the Apes steal the Spider-Mobile, but Spidey manages to distract them with--what else--some delicious Mostess Fruit Pies! They use the gravity localizer to catch the intangible Red Ghost, but Peter is let go from his internship, for "sharing" Reed's passcode for access to the device with Spider-Man. The issue ends on another comedic note, with Spidey doing donuts on the side of the Daily Bugle Building ... right outside Jonah Jameson's office!
Osvaldo: I think this is my favorite of the five issues. The anti-gravity car is not that interesting, but the jokes about the Spider-Mobile and NYC traffic and an orangutan being able to parallel park while Spider-Man can’t are funny as hell, as is the call back to Hostess Fruit Pies. I may also be biased by the fact that Red Ghost and his Super-Apes are among my all-time favorite villains. Of course, their origins and the other intern/spy further jumble the timeline here, since these events are tied to the Cold War and Soviet Russia.
M.S. Wilson: This is my favorite issue of the mini-series as well. I have a soft spot for the Spider Mobile because I had the toy as a kid. It’s nice to see Carter and Lombardo again … Carter looks like Stan Lee, but is Lombardo supposed to be Roy Thomas? I also liked the young Dan Ketch cameo (reminiscent of the one at the end of Marvels #4); maybe this is where Ghost Rider got the idea to drive his motorbike up walls? We see more of the jealousy theme; this time Johnny’s jealous because Peter is a science whiz. And you’re right about the jokes … this one has a zinger on practically every page! I also like the quieter moments, when Spidey confides in Johnny about Gwen, and admits that Johnny’s the only one he can talk to about that sort of thing. Strangely, the first time I ever saw Red Ghost and his apes was in a Spidey comic (Amazing #223, I think); I wasn’t an FF fan, so I had no idea he was one of their villains … I just assumed he was a new Spidey baddie! The Cold War feel is here, but it’s not overwhelming (at least not to me). Maybe Slott was trying to evoke a general sense of the times without getting too deep into it. With Marvel’s sliding timeline, I guess we have to assume the Red Ghost showed up after the fall of the Soviet Union, but that he’s still a scientific rival of Reed Richards (hence his attempts to steal Reed’s device).
Osvaldo: Yes. The balance of madcap fun and human moments makes this issue shine in a way that the others don’t (though the Aunt May scene in #1 is close).
Spider-Man/Human Torch #4 – “Cat’s Paws”
Spider-Man/Human Torch #4 (cover dated June 2005) takes place between Amazing Spider-Man #252 and #258, since Spider-Man still has the symbiote suit he got in Secret Wars, but doesn’t know that it is in fact a symbiote yet. The story opens with a flashback to “A dozen years ago” (so earlier than the events in issue #1) depicting a man trying to steal a sacred headdress/mask from the Wakandan Embassy and setting off the alarm, thus he must flee before getting caught.
The next scene is captioned “A few years ago” and finds Johnny Storm waiting for She-Hulk to arrive (recent sub for the Thing who was still on Battleworld) to go to a costume party. Johnny is dressed as classic red and blue costumed Spider-Man, but She-Hulk shows up in a French maid’s outfit (a few sizes too small), and when the Torch comes on a little too strong, suggesting they “stay in” rather than go to the party, Shulkie balks and leaves. Johnny is left feeling like he can’t win in the ladies department. He flies off in a huff and discovers what appears to be Peter Parker on a roof arguing with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. Just moments before the two of them handed over a webbed up Beetle to Jean DeWolfe, but fell to arguing about what to do next. Black Cat wants Peter’s help to steal something from the Wakandan Embassy and he refuses. Once again Johnny is blown away by the women Parker seems to attract, but in the sleeze mode he occupies through most of this series, he takes the opportunity of a lovers’ tiff to agree to accompany Felicia to an event at the embassy and help her out.
That night Peter arrives at the Wakandan Embassy to cover the event for Daily Bugle wearing an impromptu tuxedo courtesy of the symbiote-suit’s camouflage powers (something played for a laugh in several scenes later in the comic). He is there when Johnny Storm and Felicia Hardy arrive together and Peter confronts them, certain that Black Cat is just using Johnny and Johnny is too stupid and/or horny to know better. When Johnny uses his relationship with Black Panther to get him and Felicia a closer look at the mask in the display case, Peter decides to try to stop them by having his alien costume replicate the uniform the guards are wearing including a beret in order to move through the embassy unimpeded. Unfortunately for Peter (but fortunately for good taste) the symbiote suit cannot make Peter look black, so despite his uniform he is spotted by the guard accompanying Johnny and Felicia. When the guard gives chase, the two would-be thieves are left alone with the mask.
After another failed attempt to “blend in” that leaves Peter exposed in a some kind of traditional Wakanda tribal get-up, he transform to Spider-Man and ends up being a great inadvertent distraction for the others while he is confronted by T’Challa himself.
Meanwhile the Human Torch is using his powers to suck all the heat out of the room to mess with the heat sensors while the Black Cat disables them and put the cameras to play a loop of an empty room, and then he uses a focus of heat to distort the lasers around the mask itself allowing Felicia to squeeze through. Of course, there is a gratuitous need to make her strip down to her underwear to be able to squeeze through the laser bars. When she cuts through the glass case the mask is in the alarm goes off, but by the time the distracted guards and the Black Panther arrive the two thieves are long gone, but what is this? The mask is still there! Spider-Man slips away.
Confronting the Human Torch and the Black Cat on a nearby rooftop, Spider-Man says he doesn’t care that they didn’t get away with their heist, he is still mad at them. It is then that the Black Cat reveals when she really came there for, her dad’s lucky lockpick. He was the man in the original flashback who failed to steal the mask. He dropped it when the alarm went off and it was hidden among the mask’s plumage. Felicia had noticed it when she saw a photo of the mask in the paper, but Peter Parker had never given her a chance to explain what she really wanted. It was just “more fun” to try to steal it than to use Johnny’s connection to the Black Panther to ask for it. Torch explains that he and the Black Cat were using both Spider-Man and Peter Parker (remember, he still doesn’t know Peter’s identity), knowing that Peter would be there to cover it for the paper and that he’d contact Spider-Man when he saw them, thus causing the distraction.
While he is explaining, he turns his back to the couple and when he turns back around Spidey and Black Cat have reconciled and are making out. Human Torch is outraged that Spider-Man is making time with Peter Parker’s girl, and takes off, but not before letting Felicia know she can still call him up to go out.
M.S. Wilson: Johnny is still having no luck with his love life, and gets jealous of Pete and Black Cat this time, after striking out with Shulkie. The scene of Johnny hitting on She-Hulk was weird...did he expect her to just jump him? And the remark about Starfox seemed kind of “slut-shaming” to me. Was Slott writing She-Hulk at this point? I think he was the one who wrote the “Starfox on Trial” issues, so it seems a bit weird here, but I suppose it’s meant to illustrate how bad Johnny is when it comes to women; Dorrie, Crystal, Frankie Raye, now Shulkie … I guess he and Alicia weren’t an item yet?
Osvaldo: Maybe Slott just wanted to avoid one of the most hated plot lines in Fantastic Four continuity: Alicia and Johnny as lovers and then Alcia’s retconning into a skrull! Anyway… Yes. Slott was writing a She-Hulk series at this same time, which I mostly love and wrote about over on The Middle Spaces. The She-Hulk/Johnny Storm interaction here was an awful choice by Slott that he didn’t think through. Not only does it come off as slut-shaming, but when She-Hulk says that “This’s probably my fault” I cringed and felt bad for She-Hulk, and that is not the the reaction you want to evoke in a book with a comedic focus. To make thing worse, when Johnny storms off (no pun intended) the focus of the story is on his feelings. “Woe is me! I keep striking out because I assume all women should want to sleep with me at all times!” It just comes off as so arrogant and creepy that left a bad taste in my mouth. This is just the kind of thing when I find in comics that I cannot ignore. As someone who loves comics I think it important to address this stuff. There were plenty of ways to handle that scene in a romantic farce kind of way that would have gotten the character where he needed to be narratively without reinforcing negative ideas about women’s sexuality.
M.S. Wilson: Yeah, it seems like Slott was just using She-Hulk because she’s got the reputation of being … uninhibited when it comes to sex, shall we say? He probably could’ve used Tigra and gotten the same result. It does really make Johnny look like an asshole (more than usual), so I’m not sure what Slott was going for exactly. Is this the first time Johnny’s been attracted to her? I mean, her regular costume isn’t exactly conservative; I hope Torchy isn’t ogling her in the middle of a life-or-death battle with Annihilus or whoever. I’m assuming maybe Slott was just trying to show how crappy Johnny’s luck is when it comes to women (another reason to be jealous of Peter Parker!), but there had to be a better way to do it than this. And if Johnny’s that crass with women in general, maybe that’s why he’s still single!
M.S. Wilson: Anyway, this plot is a bit strange (probably best not to scrutinize it too closely); Pete thinks Felicia wants to steal a Wakandan tribal mask that her father failed to get years ago, and when he refuses to help she gets Johnny instead … classic hijinks, right? But if she'd just explained things in the first place (I know Pete didn't give her much chance, but still) the whole mess would've been avoided. There are a lot of plot contrivances in this one to make it work: Pete not giving Felicia a chance to explain, Black Panther assuming Spidey is a bad guy, and especially, Johnny assuming Black Cat is cheating on Peter with Spidey instead of putting two and two together and realizing Pete and Spidey are one and the same. I know Johnny's supposed to be kind of dense, but he really comes off as being thick as a brick here. The shot of Black Cat in her underwear was gratuitous too--I mean, she looked good, but it really wasn't necessary to the story; it might have fit better in a story that was originally published in the 90s.
Osvaldo: Still, despite this, the issue still works. Slott manages to keep Black Cat as the “bad influence” character, but instead of an actual robbery the ridiculous aim of getting a lockpick fits with the comedic tone of the series. My favorite part is the symbiote suit trying to help Peter “blend in.” I did like the inclusion of Captain Jean DeWolfe at the beginning of the issue and makes me miss her. I wrote about the “The Death of Jean DeWolfe” story line last year, and one of my conclusion was that it was a shame she had to die for that crappy story. Black Panther mentions that he has met up with Spider-Man twice before at this point. Do you think this is an a reference to two actual team-ups at this point? Knowing Slott, it must be. He must be referring to Marvel Team-Up #20 from 1974 and #87 from 1979, but surely they have met up other times in the intervening years? Any ideas?
M.S. Wilson: The only other places I can think of are in some of the “group scenes”, like The Death of Captain Marvel Graphic Novel, the Contest of Champions, and the Hulk’s presidential pardon from Incredible Hulk 277-279; Spidey and the Panther were present at all those events, so we could assume that they interacted in some way, even if it wasn’t specifically shown (especially at Captain Marvel’s funeral). But maybe Slott is assuming they didn’t and is just going by the stories as published … in which case, Panther’s suspicion follows from their last meeting in Marvel Team-Up #87, where he was really suspicious of Spidey if I remember correctly. In fact, that story always bothered me; you’d think Panther would’ve known by then (or other heroes would’ve told him) that Spidey was OK. Then again, I suppose it fits with the later retcon of Black Panther being suspicious of everyone and joining the Avengers just to spy on them.
Osvaldo: By the way, if you accidentally do a search for “Spider-Man Human Torch slash” like I did you will find a bunch of fan written stories that solve Johnny’s love woes by putting him and Spidey in a whole other kind of relationship (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
We hope you’ve been enjoying our journey through Slott’s exploration of the development of Spider-Man and Human Torch’s friendship. We have one more issue to review, when Slott and crew handle the crappiness of 1990s Marvel Comics in the only way anyone should…by ignoring them! See you next time!