Strange Tales #102 (November 1962)

You probably know by now, but I’m not really a fan of the standalone Human Torch stories. THIS one, however, was surprisingly much better.

Before I get into the story, I want to delve a little further into the Torch’s history with Marvel. Like Namor, he is a resurrected character from earlier Marvel days. The Human Torch originally debuted in 1939, and eventually ended up fighting Nazis during World War II. This wasn’t Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four though, but an entirely different character named Jim Hammond. He was an android who burst into flame, later displaying personality traits similar to The Vision. The original Human Torch eventually deactivated himself in 1954 (aka, the comic was cancelled).

Anyway, the idea of a human fireball wasn’t new, and interest in the Fantastic Four showed that people still enjoyed it. In fact, even characters in the comic were fascinated by the concept…just like the villain of this story!

Why the long face?

Right away I noticed that Jack Kirby must have used Bela Lugosi from White Zombie as his reference, stretching the face a bit so it didn’t seem so obvious. After all, White Zombie came out 30 years earlier.

Bah, nobody will notice!

The Wizard has a pretty cool setup though. He’s ridiculously smart and lives in a mansion full of different gadgets of his own invention, including a chair made of air (which he calls an AIR-CHAIR).

He can do ALMOST everything!

One night, after watching video clips of The Human Torch’s escapades depicted in Strange Tales #101, The Wizard goes home and broods. He determines that the only remaining challenge left for him in the entire world is “TO DEFEAT THE HUMAM TORCH.”

Wait…HUMAM?

The Wizard, aka, the Smartest Man Alive!

I do admire his plan though, which is the part that made me sit up and pay attention to the issue. The Wizard decides he will stage a highly publicized media event where he will use a machine of his own design to burrow to the center of the earth. At the time of this story, sci-fi tropes like this were still in vogue, even 100 years after Jules Verne wrote “Voyage au centre de la Terre”.

I feel like The Wizard is longing for a little of that Human Torch.

┬áSomething goes horribly wrong during the televised event, and Johnny Storm just so happens to be watching. His sister, Sue, tells him he had better go save The Wizard. Take note that they refer to this guy as “The Wizard” throughout the entire issue. Imagine if everyone just referred to Stephen Hawking as “The Brain” and you’ll see why it’s kinda strange. Maybe that’s why they call it Strange Tales?

For such a simple plot, I was entertained by how much they played up the drama.

Johnny Storm wants to be the good guy, but The Wizard is always several steps ahead. The reader is in on the trap, and you can’t help but feel bad for Johnny being taken advantage of. I’ll mark this issue as the first time I actually rooted for Johnny.

It’s such a chump move how The Wizard shoots a crap load of water at Johnny and then throws him into an asbestos lined room. Luckily, Johnny retains enough flame to keep his face disguised!

The Wizard realizes that the only way to defeat The Human Torch is to discredit his name while he is locked up. To do this, The Wizard creates a suit which will cover him in flame. The suit is cleverly lined in asbestos to keep him safe from the fire! Whew! It’s a great thing that the asbestos will keep him safe!

Oh shit.

I was on pins and needles towards the end. The Wizard is running around town setting prisoners free, melting famous statues, and just being a complete dick to everyone. How will Johnny escape?! Well, all he does is reveal he can turn his heat up a little more, which burns through the asbestos room. This is after he hangs out in there for a few hours, probably just tired of chillin. Then we get this foreshadowing panel:

1-800-DEFEAT-WIZARD. Wait, that’s too many digits. DAMN!

When he finally corners The Wizard, Johnny is given an ultimatum. The Wizard reveals that he has photographic evidence of his own evil deeds, but if Johnny wants the pictures he must kill The Wizard to get them. He knows Johnny is too good to do such a thing. Checkmate.

All of a sudden, MAGICALLY, The Human Torch floats the photos out of The Wizards hands. Johnny then exclaims “I HAVE VANQUISHED YOU!” Really…he just took a few photos away…

The Wizard’s world comes crashing down and he’s reduced to saying “I’M BEATEN.” On second thought, this ending sucked. The police don’t even question it. How do they know the photos weren’t faked?

Are you left wondering how Johnny magically stole the photos from The Wizard? It turns out that his sister was there the entire time only she was invisible. Good thing she answered her phone that day.

One last thing: don’t think we’ve seen the last of The Wizard! He goes on to be a minor reoccurring Silver Age Fantastic Four villain, eventually playing part in a team of villains known as The Frightful Four.

I can’t wait to see what his invincible gloves do, but if they’re lined with asbestos, I quit.

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