The Torch and Toro make an entrance. Artist: Jimmy Thompson

THE HUMAN TORCH

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Carl Burgos
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Superheroes of the 1940s came in all shapes (e.g., Plastic Man) and sizes (e.g., Doll Man). But few of …

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… them differed from the norm quite so much as The Human Torch, whose super power was that he could burst into flame at will, and never be consumed by it. Even the other guys with fire motifs, such as The Flame, Wildfire and Pyroman, couldn't hold a candle to him.

The Torch was introduced in the first Marvel comic, Marvel Comics #1 (November, 1939), in a story written and drawn by cartoonist Carl Burgos. Despite the name, he wasn't actually human, but an android created by Prof. Phineas Horton. His fiery demeanor was an error on Horton's part, and the creature was a menace to everyone around him until he got his flame under control. At that point, he went into the superhero business, even going so far as to adopt a human secret identity, police officer Jim Hammond, in the fourth issue. (The Hammond identity was later dropped.)

He was a big hit, and the first character from Marvel Mystery to get an ongoing comic of his own — which he did within a year of that first appearance. The Torch's first issue (Human Torch #2, Fall, 1940 — the first issue starred an obscuro called Red Raven) introduced his kid sidekick, Toro, a circus performer who, for reasons only vaguely explained, suddenly acquired Torch-like powers of his own.

The Human Torch was a party to what is very nearly the first superhero crossover in comic books, a great battle between Fire and Water (in the person of The Sub-Mariner) that sprawled across Marvel Mystery Comics #s 8 and 9. Subbie and The Torch eventually reached an accord, and guest-starred with each other from time to time. In 1946, both were members (along with Captain America, Miss America and The Whizzer) of the short-lived All Winners Squad.

While superheroes flourished, The Human Torch, one of the most spectacularly visual of the lot, blazed along, appearing in more individual comics than any other 1940s Marvel character except Captain America. He outlasted most of the others, too. Still, by 1949, with the genre virtually a memory, even the addition of an attractive female sidekick, Sun Girl, couldn't rekindle his ability to enflame the imaginations of readers. After Marvel Mystery #92 (June, 1949) — a recap of his origin, ironically enough — he was seen no more. There was a brief revival of Marvel's big three (Cap, Subbie and The Torch) in 1953, but that lasted less than a year.

In 1961, Marvel got back into superheroes for good. The flagship title of the new wave of long-underwear guys, Fantastic Four, featured a new guy using the name and motif of The Human Torch. It wasn't until 1966 that the original Torch re-appeared, and then, it was only so he could be killed off.

But superheroes seldom stay dead for long — especially when they're only androids to begin with. Soon, the story was being put across that his android body had been refurbished and reprogrammed as The Vision, a long-standing member of The Avengers. When this turned out to be false, The Avengers tracked down The Torch's real body and revived it. He then became a member of West Coast Avengers until losing his powers, whereupon he reactivated the Hammond identity and retired.

But retirement is no more a barrier to continued superheroing than death. We may not have seen the last of the original Human Torch.

— DDM

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Text ©2000-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.