Monday, October 17, 2016


Written and Penciled by John Byrne | Inked by Al Gordon
Colored by Glynis Oliver | Lettered by John Workman
Edited by: Michael Carlin | Supervised by Jim Shooter

The Plot: Tommy Hanson, a thirteen year-old boy and the Human Torch’s biggest fan, has a bad day and goes home, where he lights himself ablaze using an eccentric neighbor’s radio controlled airplane fuel.

A month later, Doctor Janet Darling of the South Queens Hospital For Sick Children seeks out Johnny Storm and asks him to visit Tommy. Johnny agrees and arrives just as Tommy passes away. His final words are to tell the Torch that he lit himself on fire to emulate his hero.

Johnny returns to his apartment and tells Sue, Alicia, and She-Hulk that he plans to give up being the Human Torch. But the Beyonder appears and takes Johnny on a tour of Tommy’s past, showing him that the Torch and his exploits meant the world to Tommy. Johnny decides to remain the Torch after all.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Byrne plays up the Fantastic Four’s celebrity a bit this issue, featuring a Human Torch interview in an issue of –errm— Celebrity magazine, and showing a TV Guide listing for an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous spotlighting the team.

The FF are still living at Avengers’ Mansion following the destruction of the Baxter Building back in issue 279. Construction of their new headquarters is underway, a building which Reed declares will be three times as tall as the Baxter Building and feature a basement complex three times deeper.

Johnny and Reed discuss the Beyonder’s recent activity on Earth and Reed compares him with Galactus. In the same conversation, Johnny mentions their first encounter with the Beyonder and a footnote points toward the original SECRET WARS mini-series.

Also, note Reed's hard hat has the old FF logo on it. I guess the team didn't see much need in paying to rebrand such an infrequently used accessory.

She-Hulk makes vague mention of the fact that she can no longer revert to her human form, with a note citing the SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK graphic novel.

My Thoughts: I’m honestly not sure what I make of this one. Byrne’s trying to lean on the “poignant tragedy” button again, as he did in issue 267 when Sue lost her baby. And Tommy’s story pulls on the right strings, I suppose: he’s friendless, a target for bullies, with neglectful parents and an unhealthy vicarious obsession with the Human Torch.

But the story hinges on the idea that a thirteen year old boy would honestly believe dousing himself in rocket fuel and lighting a match could turn him into a Human Torch. Granted, his neighbor says as much — in jest — to Tommy, but I’m pretty sure that by that age, most kids would know better. I feel like this story would work better if Tommy had been played younger, like five or six years old — but that might have been a bit too dark.

(Also, I suppose it’s possible — and even probable based on his teacher’s reaction to his Torch fandom in one scene — that young Tommy has some sort of psychological break with reality going on, but if that’s the case, it’s not mentioned here.)

I’m also a little trouble by the ending, in which the Beyonder plays deus ex machina, shows Johnny Tommy’s life, and that snaps him out of his funk and returns him to action as the Human Torch. Is that really all it takes? It makes Johnny come across as kind of shallow and fickle.

That said, Byrne has groused before that the Beyonder was forced on him for this story by Jim Shooter, and his original intention was for Doctor Darling to play a larger role and help Johnny through the ordeal. Byrne has even remarked that he offered to redo the story in its originally intended form, for free, for future reprints, so dissatisfied was he with the final product — but Marvel declined the offer. But in any case, I can only imagine that the abrupt, somewhat insensitive ending comes from the fact that the story had to be changed after it was originally plotted.

Lastly, Byrne’s rendition of the Beyonder looks an awful lot like his Superman, just about a year away at this point.


  1. There is that urban legend 'explaining' HERBIE replacing Torch for the 1978 cartoon, although the real reason was because Irwin Allen owned the rights to the character.
    But seriously, it's a complex issue about what kids could do. People thought kids would think better than to take drugs, commit suicide, or shoot other kids, but real life has shown that such initially-thought contrived fairy tales have become real tragedies. Be sure to be aware now that you are a father, Matt.
    The last panel of Johnny flying does have him sadly smiling, suggesting he hasn't ignored the tragedy, but is moving on as an older, humbler, wiser person. Not a happy person, but a better one. Perhaps my view is tempered by his actions in FANTASTIC FOUR VS X-MEN and the Walt Simonson story that continues this character arc, where Johnny still bears the scars (he comments the Beyonder's words were like a band-aid to shrapnel wound), freaking out when he meets Rusty Collins (from X-FACTOR), thinking him another fan (and not a kindred soul he will learn).

    1. "People thought kids would think better than to take drugs, commit suicide, or shoot other kids, but real life has shown that such initially-thought contrived fairy tales have become real tragedies. Be sure to be aware now that you are a father, Matt."

      Thanks; I suppose you're right. We can really only parse these sorts of stories through our own life experiences. Just because I wouldn't have done any of that stuff as a kid doesn't mean other kids wouldn't -- because they most certainly did.

      I haven't read FF VS X-MEN in many years, and I've actually never read Simonson's FF, so for now I'll have to take your word on those stories. At any rate, it's nice to know someone picked this thread up and expanded upon it somewhat.