SILVER SURFER #1
I liked the Dan Slott/Mike Allred collaboration in their previous Surfer series, and since this new book is a direct continuation of the old, it stands to reason that I’d like this book, too. And I did! But this Silver Surfer is substantially different from the golden Silver Age version. For one thing, he’s considerably less grim … and he should be, given he can now roam the cosmos at will, and even “silver down” to become flesh & blood and eat candy corn (which happens in this issue). The original surfer surrendered his humanity to save his own people, and then suffered exile here on earth when he saved the human race — and those things are core to the character — but I was surprised to see that the Surfer could evolve beyond those precepts, and still remain the Surfer. In this I take the opposite of my position on Spider-Man, who I condemned to perpetual adolescence. I suppose the difference is that the Surfer’s circumstances so limited the character, while the core elements of the kvetching Spider-Man seem such an evergreen. Whatever. If you go into this series, be prepared for a Surfer with a young lady companion, Dawn, (echoes of Doctor Who, there), and, yes, art and story that can be a bit twee — but all is forgiven, when Dawn decides the Surfer’s board must be named, “Toomie.” Not your father’s Silver Surfer, to be sure. Anyway, this particular issue is more of the same; I like it plenty, but I can see where it’s not for everybody. Bonus points for this issue including goofy-looking aliens who literally steal earth’s culture.
Approachability For New Readers
Not so great. You really need to have read some recent Silver Surfer to know what is going on. And you still won’t know why the heck Ben Grimm is in outer space at the end of the issue.
To me, issue two!
Read more about the Silver Surfer on Longbox Graveyard
- Silver Surfer Gallery
- The Power And The Prize
- To Me, My Board!
- Marvel Comics — A Space Odyssey
- Silver Age Gold
Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1
The Paradox of Theseus asks if a thing remains what it was if all of its parts are replaced. In this reboot we have the Paradox of Peter Parker — is Spider-Man still Spider-Man if he’s no longer short on cash, worried about his aunt, juggling needy girlfriends, on the run from the cops, vilified by J. Jonah Jameson, misunderstood and disrespected everywhere, and getting his ass kicked on a daily basis (before bouncing back to triumph, of course)? After reading this reboot, I’m not convinced you can take all or most of those things away and still have Spider-Man. Writer Dan Slott has guided Spider-Man for the better part of a decade, and has forgotten more about the character than I will ever know, but I didn’t warm to his vision of an adult Peter Parker, heading a multi-national corporation that’s made its fortune selling Spider-Man technology, with Peter himself a sort of kinder and gentler Tony Stark. Peter still has his insecurities, and he remains the same deeply caring guy that he’s always been, but it is as if the science geek side of the character has ballooned up to crowd out every other aspect. It may well be that Marvel’s (frankly, bloated) new line of multiple Spider-Verse books has no room for a kvetching post-adolescent Peter Parker (maybe that role is reserved for Miles Morales?), but even if that is the case, so fundamentally changing this flagship Spider-Man book solves a publisher problem at the reader’s expense, which is rarely a good idea. Despite my griping, the storytelling is strong — artist Giuseppe Camuncoli draws Spidey’s new corporate world in an expansive, big-shouldered fashion, and Slott keeps the pace up (and keeps the quips coming) while managing a swirling constellation of supporting characters. (The back up stories were mostly disposable). It’s a good book! It’s just not my flavor.
Approachability For New Readers
So-so. Weirdly, the less you know about Spider-Man, the more likely you are to jump into this tale, because you won’t be tripping over your assumptions. It will be tricky for fans of the movies, cartoons, or (most of) Spidey’s comics to merge into this one.
No. Not my Web-head!
Read more about Spider-Man at Longbox Graveyard
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- Top Ten Issues of Amazing Spider-Man
- Spider-Man Covers Gallery
- Spectacular Spider-Foes Gallery
- Top Ten Loves of Peter Parker Part 1 and Part 2
- Spider-Man’s Bottom Ten Bronze Age Bums
- Steve Ditko’s Spider-Faces
- Face-to-Face With … The Lizard!
- Spider-Man Gallery
- Best Frenemies Forever
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles Part 1 and Part 2
Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.
By now, you all should be familiar with the musings of Mark Ginocchio, the creator of the Spider-Man focused Chasing Amazing blog and the author of past posts on Longbox Graevyard such as his retrospective on Marvel’s Secret Wars mini-series and his two-part post on Spider-Man’s greatest battles. This week, Mark is writing about his two favorite Silver Age teenage superheroes – one of which is of course, the Amazing Spider-Man, but the other is the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm/Human Torch. Take it away Mark:
During the Silver Age of Marvel comics, one of the more fascinating relationships featured two characters from different titles. Spider-Man and Human Torch, Peter Parker and Johnny Storm respectively, were Marvel’s flagship teenage superheroes. But rather than team together to create crazy pubescent hijinks a la Archie and Jughead, Spidey and Torch started out as bitter, heated rivals before finally evolving into (a more fan-friendly) sibling rivals.
The dynamic between the two characters is a phenomenal example of what made Marvel’s cast of characters so unique and different from the Distinguished Competition during this era. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had an inherent understanding that teenagers were unpredictable raging vessels of hormones and thus couldn’t always be counted on for behavior that was conventional for “traditional” superheroes. Parker and Storm had different social and economic backgrounds and went about their superhero business in starkly different ways (Johnny could be out in the open about his Human Torch identity, while Peter had to live in secret). Marvel couldn’t just plop the two of them on the page and expect reasonable synchronicity. And while I’ve always been a Spidey superfan, I also have a huge soft spot in my heart for Johnny Storm precisely because of this wonderfully comedic and occasionally heart-warming dynamic.
The two characters interacted early and often. The entire Fantastic Four team guest stars (and is featured on the cover) of the inaugural issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and in ASM #3, a despondent Peter Parker, having been recently defeated by future greatest nemesis Doctor Octopus finds inspiration to fight on in a speech Storm gives at his school. While Torch doesn’t realize it, by saying “don’t be discouraged if it sometimes seems tough,” he essentially gives birth to one of Spider-Man’s most popular personality traits – his never say die, regardless of the odds, spirit.
The first comic to actually focus exclusively on the Spidey/Torch dynamic was one of Marvel’s old monster magazines, Strange Tales. In the ST Annual #2, which, depending on your source, chronologically took place between ASM issues #3 and #4. In this comic, Spider-Man travels out to the suburbs of Long Island to solicit help from Torch, “a teenager like me,” after being framed for a robbery. But again, rather than going the obvious route and make a Bosom Buddies style comedic romp to clear Spidey’s name, Lee/Ditko/Kirby created a more hostile relationship.
Johnny is ticked off that Spider-Man is featured on the cover of “Live” magazine – a curious editorial choice considering what a bad rap Spidey always got from the media – and whines to his sister how whenever he does any good, the credit goes to the entire Fantastic Four team. When Spider-Man arrives at his doorstep, Johnny “flames on” first and asks questions later, putting the Web Slinger back on his heels, calling his teenage colleague “some kind of nut.” The barbs continue after Spidey outsmarts Torch and traps him in cement, swinging off and calling Johnny “stupid.”
This certainly wasn’t how two superheroes ever talked to each other before. I don’t even think that’s how heroes and villains talked each other, despite the copious amounts of hokum that filled Stan Lee’s comic book bubbles during the Silver Age. And yet that’s the early Spider-Man/Human Torch dynamic in a nutshell: some “poopy-head” level insults before they inevitably and reluctantly helped each other out of a jam.
By the time Torch catches up with his new adversary in ST Annual #2, Johnny is stewing over Spider-Man’s “showing off” (similar words would eventually be used to describe Spider-Man’s opinions of Storm). Spider-Man meanwhile accuses Torch of only caring about “headlines” (we just saw the inverse of that earlier in this comic) and not wanting to share the attention. When the two finally put aside their differences, they meet up for the first time at what would later become their trademark rendezvous spot, the top of the Statue of Liberty.
Chronologically, the next big Spider-Man/Torch story came in ASM #8. Interestingly enough, Lee/Ditko made the decision to portray Spider-Man as a petty creep in his very own comic book series. He crashes a party at Johnny’s girlfriends house and tries to win over the Torch’s entourage. In a “Pete Best forever, Ringo never” moment that would then be flipped on its ear during the inaugural meet-up of the Spidey fan club in ASM #17 (a gathering that Torch crashed), Johnny’s buddies want nothing to do with the Amazing Spider-Man. It’s worth noting that in a pretty “groovy” Ditko splash page that looks like something out of a 60’s teen flick, Spidey watches Torch from outside his home and stews about him “showing off” for his friends (I told you we’d revisit that insult from the other hero’s perspective).
As these meet-ups happened with more frequency (and in the pages of ASM, they happened nearly every other issue) what starts to become clear is that Spidey thinks of Johnny Storm as the super-powered version of Flash Thompson, Peter Parker’s high school bully and nemesis. Torch has it all – a pick of teenaged women to date (though sadly, none were drawn by John Romita Sr. and thus didn’t have those comic book pin-up qualities that defined Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson in the mid-to-late 60s) and an adoring public that doesn’t think of him as a criminal. Meanwhile, despite having so much good in his life, Peter resents how Storm still acts like a goofy egotistical teenager and doesn’t adopt something similar to Spidey’s “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra. Given that Ditko, who plotted the bulk of these issues, was a renowned follower of Ayn Rand and her objectivism philosophy, it’s no shock that Spider-Man would deride the less “serious” superhero.
But it’s not like Spider-Man is an innocent bystander in all this. Torch often calls him out for being a “creep” and justifiably so. As Spidey’s biggest fan, I can’t find any kind of defense for a “hero” crashing a party thrown by another hero’s girlfriend. I love ya Spider-Man, but if you’re going to pass yourself off as so self-assured, why are you constantly stroking your own ego and asserting your dominance over Human Torch?
Considering how Peter always had to pull his punches with Flash because if he really ever socked it to him with all his Spider-strength, he’d probably kill him, it’s interesting to see this nastier side to Parker when he’s wearing a costume and attempting to stick it to another super-powered teenager who can probably hold his own in a fight.
As the stories transitioned from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age, the Cold War between Spider-Man and Torch would thaw, and the barbs would evolve from petty sniping and insults, to a more big brother/little brother rapport. In what may go down as one of the funniest panels in Spider-Man comic book history, Torch digs up an old Fantastic Four costume and a brown paper bag for Spidey when the Web Slinger learns his newly found black suit from Battleworld is actually a living being hosting on him, and thus needs to be destroyed. Spidey is non-too-happy, but telling “flamebrain” that he’s going to “get you for this,” feels a lot less tense than crashing his house party and trying to make him look like an idiot in front of all of his civilian friends.
In modern comics, the Spider-Man/Human Torch dynamic has been explored by writers with mixed results. In 2005’s Spider-Man/Human Torch five-issue mini-series, penned by current Spidey scribe Dan Slott, new information and adventures featuring the duo was retconned to provide more depth about the relationship. The series, which takes place in the past but features previously unpublished adventures, displays when and how the rivalry evolves into a friendship. In ASM continuity, in the wake of Gwen Stacy’s death, Spider-Man is asked to build a “Spider Mobile” (this is a topic for another post) and he gets Torch to help him out with some of the mechanical engineering elements. In Slott’s mini-series retcon, Spidey and Torch have a somewhat touching moment when the Web Sligner admits that the only person he can talk to about his “loss” is Johnny Storm since he can remain completely anonymous about his guilt (something that Peter couldn’t just talk to Flash Thompson or Mary Jane about without admitting the reason he felt guilty about Gwen’s death is because he’s Spider-Man and he couldn’t save her).
Then, in one of the series most memorable moments, Peter reveals his secret identity to Johnny in an effort to save an auditorium full of kids from some New York gangsters. After the two heroes save the day, Peter and Johnny have a heart-to-heart where all of their grievances are aired. Johnny believes Peter “has it all,” superpowers, a model wife and brains, while Peter scoffs at the idea and talks about how he has always envied Johnny for having superpowers but no responsibilities. Yes, Slott is basically hammering the reader over the head with 40+ years worth of subtext from the likes of Lee, Ditko and Kirby, but it’s a refreshing moment all the same to have these ideas out in the open.
Another one of my favorite modern-era Peter/Johnny that I believe really defines their odd couple pairing, interestingly enough was born out of one of my least favorite Marvel editorial decisions of the past few years. When Johnny is presumed dead during Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, Spider-Man becomes the fourth core member of the newly-named Future Foundation, leading to a 12-issue run of comics where Spider-Man was horribly misused and miscast by Hickman as a one-note jokester with no tangible heroic qualities that would help the FF. Fortunately, Hickman redeemed himself in the pages of Fantastic Four #600, when Johnny returns from the Negative Zone and the first person to find him is none other than Spider-Man. Rather than run up to Spidey and give him a big hug to celebrate his resurrection, Johnny’s first words were, “Pete? What the heck are you wearing?”
It’s the most fitting way to craft that reunion. Even in his return from what was believed to be his death, Johnny couldn’t resist ribbing Peter, while simultaneously saying what everyone following the FF/Fantastic Four series was thinking: “seriously, what was Marvel thinking trying to replace Human Torch with Spider-Man of all people?” If the Silver Age taught us anything it’s that just because two characters are the same age, doesn’t mean they should automatically be interchangeable parts. Superheroes, like people are all different. Some have power, and others have power AND responsibility. Some have secrets to hide, and some can be public celebrities. And there’s only one Spider-Man and one Human Torch.
Thanks again to Mark for another terrific Longbox Graveyard column! Mark will be back in a couple weeks with an article about Bronze Age Spider-Man (or is that the “Dark Age?”). In the meantime, be sure to catch Mark over at his home blog — Chasing Amazing!
MORE Spider-Man On Longbox Graveyard
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- Top Ten Issues of Amazing Spider-Man
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part 1)
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part 2)
- Face To Face With … The Lizard!
- Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Faces
- And Don’t Forget The Human Torch: Flame On!
IN TWO WEEKS: #106 Panel Gallery: Captain America Speeches
- Spider-Man Movie Costumes Comparison (ironspidersuit.wordpress.com)
- ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ Movie Spoiler Roundup: Everything You Need to Know Before Andrew Garfield Swings by Comic-Con (latinospost.com)
- Best Frenemies Forever (bermanj1forchange.wordpress.com)
- The Amazing Bag-man Suit (allspidermansuit.wordpress.com)