Monday, January 11, 2016


Story & Art: John Byrne | Lettering: Jim Novak | Coloring: Glynis Wein
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: George David Munson, an inmate on death row, is executed. His final wish is for the prison’s priest to deliver a letter to the Human Torch. Two weeks later, Father Vito arrives at the Baxter Building and gives the note to Johnny Storm. It turns out Munson went to high school with Johnny and, while he is guilty of many crimes, he says he was not guilty of the murder for which he was sentenced. He asks Johnny to posthumously clear his name of that crime for the sake of his mother.

Johnny sets out on a quest to exonerate Munson, and the trail of clues leads him to Maggia don Hammerhead. The Torch tries to get the truth from Hammerhead, but Munson’s name means nothing to him. Ultimately, Hammerhead escapes and Johnny is no closer to an answer -- until a police detective informs him that several of the Kingpin’s files were recently turned over to the authorities. With those files, Johnny is able to get Munson’s murder conviction overturned.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Johnny attended Glennville High School, and he notes that he became the Human Torch during his junior year there.

Hammerhead was believed killed in a storyline which ran through AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issues 157 – 159.

Hammerhead uses an exo-skeleton provided by the Tinkerer, also of SPIDER-MAN fame.

The Kingpin’s files were turned over to the FBI in DAREDEVIL 172, part of Frank Miller’s fabled run.

Is It Clobberin’ Time? The Thing has only a cameo appearance this issue, and while he tries to murder the Torch in a fit of rage (more on that below), this issue is not clobberin’ time.

My Thoughts: I like when a team book occasionally devotes an issue to a spotlight on a single character. In this case we see the rest of the FF for only five pages comprising one scene, and the remainder of the issue is devoted to Johnny alone.

I also like when heroes are matched up with villains from other characters’ rogues galleries; it’s fun to see them outside their normal realms and in this case Hammerhead is an especially random and interesting choice to battle the Torch.

So you'd think I'd like this issue, but unfortunately I find it kind of substandard. I want to enjoy it, and the Torch’s detective work and fight with Hammerhead are a lot of fun to read. But it all sort of comes apart over the final couple pages as Hammerhead escapes without revealing anything to the Torch, and Munson’s name is cleared only by the deus ex machina of the Kingpin’s files, which are part of a completely unrelated storyline in an entirely different title! What a bizarre way to end this thing. It essentially renders Johnny’s mission moot, and makes one wonder why we just spent a bunch of time reading about it in the first place.

But the journey is fun, at least, and there's one other thing to appreciate about this issue: John Byrne is well known for taking any series he touches “back to basics” (heck, that was the title of the previous issue), sometimes with less-than-stellar results. But here he takes that approach with the Thing, and it totally works. Ben Grimm as originally presented was a tragic character, cursed to live his life in a monstrous body, tortured by his very existence. But somehow, over the years, he became a big cuddly curmudgeon instead.

Here, in one scene, Byrne reminds us that the Thing hates himself for what he is, and brings the tragedy back in full force as we encounter Ben trying to kill Johnny over a joke about his appearance. It's a trifle extreme, maybe, but there's no mistaking Byrne’s intent: the Thing is back to being a self-loathing, pitiable character who merely hides his misery under a projection of jocularity. This is the Thing as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby conceived him, and this is the Thing as he should be.


  1. "He's gonna do himself an injury"... Has John Byrne ever heard humans talk?

    1. Byrne seems to enjoy putting weird old-timey slang in his characters' mouths now and then. (Though just looking at that picture, it appears Johnny lived in a weird old-timey world, too -- given how "Marvel Time" works, he should've been dressed for the early seventies, not the fifties.)

      This looked odd to me too, though in this case I wasn't sure if it was maybe just some colloquialism I'd never heard before.

    2. In the X-men comics I'm reading, from the start actually.
      Well the reboot, starting with Giant X-men 1 and X-men 94.
      I'm afraid I just cant get on with the 60's X-men. The casual sexism and chauvinism grates me.
      Those first issues from Claremont have had several concrete dates.
      Issue 98 has Jean referring to those sentinels we fought back in 1969.
      Storm was born in 1951 and her parents moved to Africa and were killed in 1956 during the Suez crisis.
      And x-men 138 has Jeans birthdate on her head stone as 1956 and the year of her passing as 1980.
      So how exactly does all that work with Marvels sliding time scale ?
      The Marvel universe takes place in an alternate 1985 ?

      But judging from these dates, maybe Johnny's 50's clothes aren't that out of place.

    3. As I understand it, the conceit of the Sliding Time Scale basically requires you to ignore references to concrete dates, or dated appearances/references. So if the President looks like Jimmy Carter, he's not. If Tony Stark references Vietnam, pretend he's talking about a vague conflict that could have happened in the last ten years, etc.

      It's all a bit silly, but it's also something some people care about (both pro and con) a lot more than me. In general, I just try not to think too hard about timeline stuff like that.

    4. Snowkatt -- I think that even concrete dates mentioned in an issue are to be considered questionable when looking at Marvel Time. We can infer that Jean was 24 when she died, not necessarily that she was actually born in '56.

      But, as Teebore puts it, it's really up to the reader to think or not think too much about it. Personally, from my perspective, everything happened when it happened even if the modern story is set later than it could be based on the earlier one -- meaning, for example, as far as I'm concerned, UNCANNY 94 occurred in 1975 and X-MEN 1 took place in 1991, but only five or six years passed for the X-Men in between, even though logically that makes no sense. This is the only way my brain can process this stuff.

      So I personally have no objection to Byrne's drawing Johnny as a teenager in the fifties, but I do believe that doing so runs counter to how Marvel Time is supposed to work -- and Byrne himself would seem to agree in his later years, as SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE and X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS, both set near the beginning of the "Marvel Age", used more then-contemporary topical references and styles rather than being placed in the sixties.

    5. This all brings up something I've considered for quite a while recently. I find that, as I get older, I wish comics could be set in some sort of "timeless" period. Not the present, not exactly the past... something like how BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES did it, with old timey architecture, cars, and fashions existing alongside modern day technology.

      I'd love it if Marvel just declared a blanket editorial fiat stating that, beginning tomorrow, all series must look like they're set somewhere between the thirties to the fifties, even as they take place in the modern day.

  2. I like that cosmic shenanigans guy can't just assume the mantle of a super-detective and instantly be good at it. It reminds that they need experience in addition to superpowers and slyly also excuses the various characters having their own niche. Sorry, "Jack Storm", but Daredevil solved this one, off-panel.

    1. I don't necessarily mind the Torch learning he's a lousy detective. My issue is just with the fact that his mission here turns out to be completely pointless and the case's solution is is delivered via exposition on the final page, describing something that happened in another series!

  3. Like, I enjoy it when team books take a break to focus on one member, though once again, I find it odd that Byrne chose to do so only two issues into his run. Seems like he'd want to spend a little more time with the FF as a whole before diving in to one of them solo. >shrug<

    1. I agree, it's very odd that he didn't establish the entire cast for a while first. This whole issue, while I mostly enjoy it, is a little odd.

    2. But not as odd as my using the terms "very odd" and "a little odd" in the span of two short sentences.