Welcome to the third and final part of our overview/review of the Spider-Man/Human Torch limited series!
Spider-Man/Human Torch #5 (July 2005), like the four previous issues are written by Dan Slott and penciled by Ty Templeton. This time inks are by Drew Geraci and Greg Adams. The final issue (which seems to take place a little while before House of M and Civil War) starts with Spidey and Torch meeting in "the usual place"--the Statue of Liberty. They reminisce a bit about some of their earlier adventures (like their first meeting at the Statue from Strange Tales Annual #2) and they neatly recap the previous four issues of this series. Torch brings up a bunch of other adventures, but Spidey says that wasn't really him, it was his clone; they agree to "skip over that whole period". You're preaching to the converted, guys. Finally, they get to the reason behind this particular meeting, and we get an extended flashback of what led them here.
At the school where Peter teaches, Johnny is a special guest. He and Pete trade insults (and Johnny is blown away when MJ shows up with Peter's lunch and he realizes she's Pete's wife). Unfortunately, someone else is there to see the Human Torch, but he's not a fan, which he makes abundantly clear when he sucker punches Johnny from behind. He's a mobster named Carmine Villanova (whose son Johnny caught in Spider-Man/Human Torch #3) and he wants revenge, because his son was killed trying to bust out of prison. Naturally, Villanova blames the Torch, as well as District Attorney Blake Tower, whose son (coincidentally) goes to this very high school. So Villanova's goons hold everyone hostage as they search for Tower's son (luckily for him, their photo is out of date). One of Villanova's men has the high ground and could spray the auditorium with bullets if Torch tries anything. Peter knows he can take out the guy on the balcony if he has a distraction. So he finally (!) decides to clue the Torch in on his secret identity. He (and MJ) engage in some exaggerated pantomime to get the point across. After Johnny gets over his initial surprise (and chagrin), he provides the necessary distraction, Pete takes out the goon on the balcony, and Johnny makes short work of the rest. He leaves a flaming message in the sky for Spidey to meet him at the usual place...
...which brings us back to the Statue of Liberty. Johnny still can't believe that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and is understandably upset when Peter catalogs all the other heroes who already know his secret. Johnny expresses his disbelief (and envy) that Peter could have everything going for him (a loving Aunt, a great job, scientific genius, and beautiful women falling all over him) and then be Spider-Man on top of it all--Johnny refers to it as "the Parker luck", which obviously means something quite different than when Peter says it about himself. Peter then confides that HE has always envied Johnny for his style, his adoring fans, no secret identity, his opportunities to explore other worlds ... and then having super powers on top of it all. They both realize that they've got it pretty good, and Johnny invites Peter (and his family) to the Baxter Building for supper. Pete, MJ, and Aunt May show up and we get some great scenes of the two families interacting. When asked how to tag the photos of the event, Reed sums it up perfectly when he says: "...place this and all future Parker files under 'Friends and Family'."
Osvaldo: The nostalgia is a bit thick in this issue. It even invents nostalgia for the series itself, as if the stories it has been telling really are from issues back in the day. Still the two families coming together is sweet, and captures what works about the Fantastic Four-that it’s a family first. I love the “Uncle Bens are always right” line that Peter tells Franklin about the Thing, and the reference to the coffee table book Webs. I LOVE the joke about the 90s and the clone stuff, but the irony to me is that the very time this issue takes place in (married to MJ, Aunt May knowing his identity, living at Avengers Tower) has been ret-conned away to a great extent, while the clone stuff is still canon (kind of).
M.S. Wilson: Well, obviously Slott didn’t know when he was writing this that everything was going to be swept away a few years later. I’m glad they mentioned Webs too … that seemed to be a forgotten part of Peter’s life, but it was a major subplot at the time. I liked the callback to their original Statue of Liberty meeting in Strange Tales Annual #2 … it gives it a nice sense of continuity. I’m not sure about the references Johnny makes to his adventures with the clone … are those real, or just made up? The Diablo one sounds vaguely familiar, but I didn’t read any of the Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider stuff, so I have no idea if those are published adventures or just a bunch of stuff that Dan Slott made up. The jealousy theme is kind of wrapped up here, when both of them realize that their own lives aren’t so bad when seen through the other guy’s eyes. It’s weird that Johnny is so surprised at Pete being married to MJ; I’m sure Johnny’s met them before (Web of Spider-Man #73 comes to mind). By the way, what happened to Blake Tower? He used to look like Steve Rogers and now he looks like Jarvis! All those interactions with super-heroes have taken their toll, I guess.
Osvaldo: Where did Blake Tower appear previously? I don’t recall the character.
M.S. Wilson: Tower was the District Attorney for (I guess?) Manhattan. He appeared in a bunch of Daredevil issues (his first appearance being DD #124); also in some Power Man/Iron Fists, and a few Amazings, among other places. Tower was the one who offered Spidey the pardon in (I think) Amazing #186; he also appeared at the poker game with Ben Grimm, Nick Fury, Carol Danvers et al. in MTIO #51.
Osvaldo: It looks like Slott knows his Marvel continuity very well. Better than I do, anyway. But I think the key to handling that stuff well is managing to make it work for the reader whether or not they are familiar with the detailed backstory and previous appearances of characters. In other words, a comic should (without resorting to burdensome exposition) have character appearances make enough sense in any particular context so that as far as a reader is concerned the character could have been made up for the particular story (like you felt about Red Ghost when you first came across him and his Super-Apes), while a reader familiar with all the continuity stuff gets the pleasure of recognizing it (without needing to). I think this series accomplishes that.
M.S. Wilson: Yeah, I agree with you there. Previous continuity should be used to spice up the new story, but if you make the new story dependent on it, you risk losing readers who aren’t familiar with the references. Longtime readers can get a kick out of spotting the Easter eggs, and newer readers won’t know the difference. As you said, Slott does it quite well … you can tell he’s actually read those old Spidey stories--for fun, not just as research. Kurt Busiek also did it pretty well in Untold Tales of Spider-Man; on the other hand, something like Bendis’s Spider Woman: Origins just muddled her past up even more than it already was.
Osvaldo: My hope is that in a post-Secret Wars/Battleworld (whatever the heck they are calling it) comic universe there will be more room for these kind of retro-feel apocryphal stories that don’t have to be so strongly tied to current continuity as to lose the feel of the time in which they are supposedly set.
M.S. Wilson: It’s hard to tell where they’re going with the new Secret Wars thing, but it seems like you might get your wish. Personally, I’d love to see a (non-canon) series devoted to retelling the early years of Marvel with a modern sensibility … like a cross between Marvel Saga and Marvels; some of those old stories could be snazzed up a bit, plus extra continuity could be retrofitted in. But I agree with you … we definitely need more stories like this one!
Osvaldo: I’d love something like this for Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One. New old stories told in the style and setting of the period the original comics came out, but with a contemporary self-aware sensibility.
We hope you enjoyed this extended review of Spider-Man/Human Torch. There is a collected edition called “I’m With Stupid” for those of you interested in this series, but that don’t want to hunt down the original issues. Excelsior!