An early Fantastic Four 'pin-up page'. Artist: Jack Kirby.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1961
Creator: Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)
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In 1961, charged with the task of putting together a superhero team to compete with DC's Justice League of America, Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee created …

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The Fantastic Four completely from scratch — almost. For one member, he borrowed the most successful elements of one of Marvel's most successful 1940s characters, The Human Torch. Lee's artist collaborator was Jack Kirby, who also collaborated with him on most other Marvel characters of the decade.

The new Human Torch was Johnny Storm, a hot-headed teenager who, along with the other members of the group, got his powers by riding an experimental rocket through a patch of cosmic rays. Those powers, like those of his predecessor, include the ability to generate flame from his body and to use the energy of that flame to fly through the air.

Also like his predecessor, this Human Torch took off like a ball of fire. From the beginning, he was the most popular of the foursome — and he became the first to be featured in a series of his own. A year after his debut, when Marvel began to convert its old monster/sci-fi titles to superheroes, The Human Torch landed a berth in Strange Tales. There, Lee continued to write his adventures, while Dick Ayers (The Avenger, Jonah Hex) drew them.

The Torch appeared in animated form in 1967, along with the rest of The Fantastic Four. But when the others were featured in their second animated series, in 1978, he was absent. Network lawyers claimed his habit of bursting into flame constituted "imitatable behavior"; and, fearing some young viewer might douse his body with gasoline in an attempt to "flame on" (as The Torch's battle cry goes), decided it was best to replace him with a cute little robot named Herbie (no relation). To date, however, no such incident is known to have occurred in real life, despite the fact that one Human Torch or another has been appearing prominently in comic books for over half a century.

Like most Marvel characters who start off young, The Human Torch was allowed to grow up, albeit slowly. By the mid-1960s, he'd graduated high school and entered college. Eventually, they even married him off, but as sometimes happens in the superhero world, his bride turned out to be a Skrull — that is, a member of a shape-shifting species of would-be conquering aliens.

The Fantastic Four has proven to be the most stable superhero group in comics. Although each member of it has, at one time or another, left the team temporarily, they always come back. After all these decades, The Human Torch can still be seen "flaming on" with his teammates in new adventures every month.


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Text ©2000-03 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.