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Comics You Should Own – Spider-Man/Human Torch

03-06-2014 05;05;20PM

More comics from that wacky Dan Slott!

03-06-2014 04;11;32PM 03-06-2014 04;13;23PM 03-06-2014 04;15;02PM

Spider-Man/Human Torch by Dan Slott (writer), Ty Templeton (penciler), Nelson (inker, issues #1-3), Tom Palmer (inker, issues #2-4), Drew Geraci (inker, issues #4-5), Greg Adams (inker, issue #5), Felix Serrano (colorist, issues #1-3), John Rauch (colorist, issues #4-5), and Dave Lanphear (letterer).

Published by Marvel, 5 issues (#1-5), cover dated March – July 2005.

03-06-2014 04;16;48PM 03-06-2014 04;18;39PM

Very minor SPOILERS below – this isn’t really a comic that can be spoiled, and I don’t get too into it, but there’s a tiny bit of it. I shouldn’t worry, though.

Continuity has become a dirty word in comics, from people who claim that writers ignore it too much to people who say that no one should be beholden to it. 03-06-2014 04;29;45PMIt’s one of the more charming things about mainstream superhero comics, however – the idea that no matter who is writing the characters, they’re the same people who have experienced everything that has ever been published. It becomes tangled, of course, and messy, but one of the “inside” pleasures of reading DC and Marvel comics is when you realize a writer is referencing stories that you might have read a decade or more earlier. As the characters’ histories get longer, continuity becomes messier and messier, and it’s not a bad thing to free the writers from it, but for long-time fans of comics, it can add some fun to the reading experience.

Dan Slott is one writer who seems to enjoy continuity and is fairly decent about using it, and it makes this mini-series a pleasure to read. Some of these Comics You Should Own are for anyone – people who have never read a comic can pick them up and, I hope, enjoy them. Spider-Man/Human Torch is not one of those comics. 03-06-2014 04;36;17PMThat’s not to say that if you’ve never read a comic before, you will hate the book. But it’s steeped in a history that is closely linked to Marvel history, as it tracks a friendship over the many years of the Marvel Universe. I’m certainly not going to say you can’t like it if you don’t know anything about Marvel history, but I imagine it’s much, much better if you do know a good amount about it.

What also makes this such a good story is that it’s about the friendship of two characters in the mainstream Marvel Universe, which is, unfortunately, somewhat in short supply these days. Have you ever noticed that not many characters in the mainstream superhero universes seem to like each other all that much? And if they do, they don’t seem to, you know, just hang out with each other? It happens, certainly, but not as often as it should (in my humble opinion), and while Slott doesn’t write five issues of Peter Parker/Spider-Man hanging out with Johnny Storm/Human Torch, he does show us the evolution of their friendship from a quasi-rivalry to a more complex relationship. While this is one of those strengths of a shared universe – the idea that characters’ relationships can evolve over decades – Slott telescopes that into five issues, but he’s a good enough writer that he’s able to get to the crucial stages of their relationship without making it feel forced or rushed. 03-06-2014 04;41;49PMAlong the way, he drops in some nice continuity touches (Peter is the one who makes Paste-Pot Pete change his name to the Trapster, for instance) and some retcons that don’t contradict anything (Captain Stacy is much more obvious about knowing Peter’s secret than he ever was in the “real” series, at least as far as I can remember), all while telling entertaining superhero stories. The focus isn’t the superhero stuff, but he gets in quite a lot of it.

Peter and Johnny teamed up a lot in the 1970s, which is where the basis for their friendship comes from. Over the years, other writers have built on that, and Slott uses that to go back to their early days and show how they developed. He tells self-contained stories from different eras, but each story adds a bit to the ultimate conclusion, which is that the two men don’t really understand each other. Peter and Johnny envy the other, for the same reasons that they think their own lives aren’t too great. So in issue #1, Johnny hires Peter to be his photographer, but when he doesn’t do anything noteworthy for Peter to take pictures of, he decides to go after Doctor Doom, with predictably bad results. Peter gets him out of the pickle, but at the cost of his own (already damaged) reputation. In issue #2, Johnny, who’s standing right next to his hot girlfriend Crystal, thinks about how Peter is lucky because Gwen and Mary Jane are fighting over him. Meanwhile, Johnny lets Flash Thompson goad him into making a “trade” with Peter – the Torch will go around fighting street crime, while Spidey will join the Fantastic Four on one of their weird journeys. It doesn’t go well for either of them early on, but Johnny recovers and becomes a hero in the city, while Peter is shown the door by the rest of the FF. 03-06-2014 04;44;29PMIn issue #3, Peter gets an internship with Reed Richards, but because he “shares” the access codes to Reed’s lab with “Spider-Man,” Reed fires him. Johnny helps out the Black Cat in issue #4 while Peter believes she’s stealing things again, but in the end, Spidey and Felicia end up making out. Finally, in issue #5, Peter is forced to reveal his secret identity to Johnny, which brings out their jealousy of the other. Slott does a nice job keeping things light even as they move into some more emotional areas – the book is essentially a comedy, but it’s nice that the two men acknowledge that they’ve had some issues with each other over the years. The fact that Johnny now knows Peter’s identity (even though many others found out first, including Reed) allows their friendship to be more out in the open, without all the cases of “mistaken” identity, like when Felicia was kissing Spider-Man and making Johnny mad, because he knew she was dating Peter.

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Slott, as I noted, gets to the black heart of a lot of current superhero comics – the lack of meaningful friendships. 03-06-2014 04;47;24PMWhen Chris Claremont was building the X-Men into a sales powerhouse, the idea of superheroes fighting each other at the drop of a hat became more of a cliché and the idea of them being friends became more accepted, and during this era at Marvel, it became more common for superheroes from different books to actually be friendly with each other. This even bled over into DC. During the “grim-‘n’-gritty” era, that kind of comics universe started to fall out of fashion, and everyone became angry again. In 2005, that attitude still prevailed, even in team books, where characters often tolerated each other for as long as it took for one of them to leave a toilet seat up, which would spark a multi-issue war to end all wars. Slott bucked that trend in this comic, as nothing Spider-Man and the Torch get into is all that serious, even the Doctor Doom scene, so that the superhero part is not terribly dramatic. It’s exciting, but Slott doesn’t go for any histrionics when it comes to the bad guys. They might have some temporary setbacks, and in the final issue, Slott actually injects the tiniest bit of “realism” into the series when bad guys threaten Peter’s school, but the action is just a way to move the plot along. Slott writes the two characters very well, but another reason why this is such a refreshing comic is because it stands as an oddity in a superhero world where everyone is always gritting their teeth at each other.

The foundation of the comic is also what makes it a Comic You Should Own, even though the humor is the icing on it all. I don’t want to give away all the jokes, but Slott generally nails them. One thing about working with long-standing characters is that you can highlight some of the goofiness of their histories, so of course we get the Spider-Mobile in issue #3. 03-06-2014 04;52;09PMIt’s the more subtle humor, however, that stands out, because it flows from the regular conversations that the characters have. In issue #1, Slott makes a joke about Johnny not remembering who Peter is even though they’ve met before, and it shows how immature Johnny is. The idea of Peter always having attractive women drooling over him is played for humor, as long-time readers know that Peter was always bemoaning his lack of a love life, while Slott shows that he had it better than a lot of people (in the interest of time and space, I guess, Slott ignores the many other women Peter hooked up with – he sticks to Gwen, Mary Jane, and Felicia). Slott makes fun of Peter’s parallel parking woes – why would someone who lives in New York and doesn’t own a car know how to parallel park? He takes time to set up a Hostess Fruit Pies gag, which has become a cliché but wasn’t as much of one (if at all) in 2005, and because Slott takes his time with it and it’s actually germane to the story, it lands better. The writing is so crisp that the dialogue flows like a well-written sitcom, which is hard to do in comics. Slott does a very nice job blending in the comedy with the reality of life as a superhero (it’s not surprising that he has to have a scene where Peter talks to the dead Gwen Stacy), so that the ending doesn’t feel like a “very special episode,” but the culmination of a heartfelt journey.

Part of the reason this series feels old-school is because Ty Templeton draws it, and Templeton has a very old-school vibe to it. He’s not a flashy artist, but he’s a very good storyteller, and he draws the characters very well. When he wants to, he can do some cool things – when Spidey goes off with the Fantastic Four in issue #2, he gives us some nice Kirby Krackle as they zip across dimensions (he does this in issue #3, too). He draws a crowded New York City, which works really well, because Spidey is such a New York hero (the Torch is too, but a bit less so) that it’s nice to read a comic that has such a good sense of place. Obviously, as this is a comedic book, his art has to work with Slott’s comic timing, and his body language is really nice. When Spidey meets Paste-Pot Pete, Templeton gives us this page of him laughing so hard he falls down:

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03-06-2014 04;59;56PM

As the two stars are often angry with each other, Templeton does a good job showing them overreacting to every situation. 03-06-2014 05;12;11PMHe needs to make them look angry in a comedic way, and his smooth line work is perfect for that – even as Johnny and Peter are raging at each other, Templeton’s work makes it clear that they’re more like friendly rivals or siblings, not people who actually hate each other. 03-06-2014 05;02;29PMHe draws lovely women, too – his She-Hulk in a French maid’s outfit is tremendous. What’s nice about his women is that he can draw beautiful women without making them too sexualized – even She-Hulk, even Felicia, even Mary Jane in her model days – so that they fit the more universal vibe of the book. This isn’t exactly a comic for kids, but it’s certainly not something you’d be worried about your kids reading. Templeton keeps the eras in mind – despite the fact that, due to Marvel’s sliding time scale, none of this actually takes place in the 1970s or 1980s, he gives Johnny a very 1980s haircut in issue #4, for instance. Gwen and Mary Jane wear their hair in the classic John Romita style in the early issues, while Felicia’s hair in issue #4 is a bit longer and wilder. In issue #5, Mary Jane’s hair is longer and curlier, showing her status as a super-model. They’re subtle differences, but Templeton does really nice work with them. Templeton’s art is probably not going to blow anyone away, but in this series, he does a very nice job with the tone that Slott is going for.

Spider-Man/Human Torch is offered in a trade, of course, and it’s well worth a read. It’s the kind of comic many fans say they want but rarely get – it’s both fun and funny, it focuses more on the characters than endless action, and it has a lot of nods to past continuity without being enslaved to it. If Slott and Templeton can do it, why can’t others? I guess we’ll just have to read this instead!

Don’t forget that the archives are big and getting bigger! There’s always something fun to find there!


To me, this is still Slott’s masterpiece. I’ve enjoyed a lot of stories he’s done across She-Hulk, Spider-Man, and his criminally short run on The Thing, but Spider-Man/Human Torch seems to cut right to the core of what I like about him so much; his love of the Marvel Universe, his great humor, and generally a sense of light-hearted fun crafted with a modern sensibility.

And I disagree it not being new reader friendly. In fact, this is the kind of accessible superhero story I give to just about everybody and they enjoy it. Not knowing who exactly She-Hulk is or Black Cat only seems to pique their interest.

Great writeup. I have this series in singles but haven’t read it since its release. With a week vacation coming up, it’s the perfect time for me to dig through the back issues. Hurray, synchronicity!

I’m guessing Suicide Squad is coming up (right after Spider-Man: Torment). Hopefully, by the time you put that piece up, DC will have made a surprise announcement that they’re finally going to reprint the whole series. Cmon DC, they’re gonna be in Arrow for fuck’s sake! Seize those TV dollars.

Captain Haddock

March 6, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I think when all is said and done, Slott may be right up there with Stan Lee and Roger Stern as one of the best Spidey scribes of all time. And as much as I enjoy James Robinson, how cool would it have been to have him as the regular FF writer.

Glad to see this feature back.

I have not read this since it came out, but I do agree that it was a very fun read, even more so if you know the continuity.

Speaking of continuity, which I agree with Jeremy is not at all a problem with this story, continuity is only a problem for bad and lazy writers and editors. If you need to avoid getting “bogged down” by continuity, write a story with original ideas in the characters present. Do not try to ‘improve’ past works or show previous creators ‘how it should have been done,’ do not insert new facts into the character’s pasts and origins to make your story more important, and do not use established characters if you do not understand them, have not researched them or need them to act out of character to move your story along. Tell an original story. End of rant.

Jeremy: You may have a point. I just meant that there are a lot of in-jokes, so while I think it can be read and understood without a lot of prior knowledge, I’m not sure if it would be as funny as it would for people with a long history with the characters.

Cass: I’m not sure if you were reading back then, but I already covered the McFarlane epic.

Yeah, it would be nice if DC could get the Suicide Squad trades out. It can’t be too hard!

Captain Haddock: I haven’t read much Slott’s current long run on Spider-Man, but the few I have read are pretty good. It’s a mess in the trades, but I should try to start getting them together!

kdu2814: Thanks! They’re my favorite things to write!

I think if they really wanted to manage continuity over time, instead of relying on single editors, they should create some sort of ‘archive committee’ that keeps track of and documents everything. It would’ve really saved us a bunch of Crises on Infinite Earths and Flashpoints.

I love this series so much. It’s probably my favorite work by Slott, coming in just ahead of Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. The way everything builds to the final issue is perfect, and the scenes at the end with the two families are golden. (Especially Peter telling Franklin that “I have it on good authority that Uncle Bens are almost always right.” Damn, right in the feels.) If people dug this, I highly recommend they check out Amazing Spider-Man #590 & 591, which is a sort-of-sequel by Slott & Barry Kitson.

I really want to write a thematic follow-up to this mini that takes the same approach, focusing on the relationship between Spidey & Daredevil through the years.

This is the story that made me a fan of Dan Slott’s. I got back into comics after 15 years away when I read this series, and then discovered that Dan was taking over Amazing Spider-Man. I’m even going to give his new Silver Surfer a try, and I was never a huge fan of the character. Dan’s had a great run on Spidey and I hope it keeps on going.

I actually just reviewed this a few months ago over on Collected Editions (shameless self-promotional link: http://collectededitions.blogspot.com/2014/01/review-spider-man-human-torch-hardcover.html).

We’re on the same wavelength; this is easily one of the best Spidey stories ever told. As I did in that review, I would recommend Christos Gage and Mario Alberti’s “Spider-Man/Fantastic Four”, which takes place in some of the gaps of “Spider-Man/Human Torch”. It even fixes the ending of Walt Simonson’s “New Fantastic Four” story.

Black Doug: I remember the Spidey/FF mini, but I didn’t get it. I remember seeing some art from it, and it looked pretty cool. Now I have to pick up that trade!

Black Doug: I was also going to also recommend to those who like the Torch/Spidey series should check out Christos Gage and Mario Alberti’s “Spider-Man/Fantastic Four”. I found it highly entertaining, especially the the opener with Namor showing up for some overdue payback Doom for turning on him in Fantastic Four #6.

This is a great, GREAT book. One of the best books i’ve read of the past 20 years I’d say. I’d totally buy it as an ongoing series. I als heard great things about Gage and Alberti’s Spidey/FF, which I forgot about until Black Doug mentioned that. Gonna have to track that down.

It’s not only available in trade but, better still, as an oversized and VERY reasonably priced hardcover.

oz the malefic

March 6, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Adore this comic. Like many, made me super excited when Slott came on board for Amazing Spider-Man. Whilst I enjoyed many of his stories in the ongoing, nothing was ever as good as this.

oz the malefic

March 6, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Also, it’s a simple thing, but damn panel 6 in the Paste Pot Pete interaction makes me smile. He really killed the art in the series.

I think if they really wanted to manage continuity over time, instead of relying on single editors, they should create some sort of ‘archive committee’ that keeps track of and documents everything. It would’ve really saved us a bunch of Crises on Infinite Earths and Flashpoints.

From the late 1980s into the mid-1990s. Peter Sanderson was Marvel’s fullt-time archivist. Over at DC, E. Nelson Bridwell was the unofficial “continuity cop” for years, and Mark Waid did something similar when he was an editor.

In fact, when Slott did a promotional panel for his Avengers: The Initative book a few years back, Sanderson was the moderator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKDW7TlmCDI

In part 3 of the above video series, Slott and Sanderson discuss continuity; in one of the later parts, Slott talks about some unused covers for the Spidey/Torch series.

You really nail it, with this article, that superhero friendship was one of the cool things about the Marvel NYC club. Spiderman and Daredevil, Spiderman and the Human Torch, Spiderman and the Thing, really it was Spiderman who brought a lot of the disparate heroes from all over the five boroughs together. I especially like this set of books because you’re picking on two of the younger super guys, as the time and their opposing lifestyles. Really nice article, well done.

Another piece of great writing by Slott is Arkham Asylum: Living Hell which I expected to be just another Batman mini to suck my dollars away, but I was really impressed with how well constructed the story was.

Starman next, right?

dayfan: Yeah, Arkham Asylum is a good book. I own it in trade, so it will be a while before I re-read it, though.

Mike VG: Possibly! I have some things to read before it that might – just might – make the cut!

I’ve been wanting to buy this for ages, but I think it’s out of print.

This comic was my first exposure to Slott’s writing. I always appreciate how he inserts tiny continuity facts that wouldn’t confuse new readers, but make them more intrigued. Like, in Slott’s ASM, he casually mentions that John Jameson was a former Quinjet pilot to the Avengers and knows Cap America on a personal level. It makes Slott’s writing so rewarding.

Still have this set in my collection. It was ok, nice last issue. Overall,like slotts writting.


March 10, 2014 at 6:17 am

Thanks so much for this article Greg! It’s hit me just at the right time. I’ve been collecting FF titles for my ‘Library’ for a while now, starting with all the usual suspects; the Stan & Jack and Byrne stuff as Omnis, the Waid/Weiringo (which were some of the first comics I ever read as a kid) in the Ultimate Collection TPBs.

Since then I’ve been picking up a few of the odds and ends. The Thing seems to have come off quite well there; I enjoyed Johns/Kollins ‘The Thing: Freakshow’ and I’ve finally managed to track down Slott’s ‘Thing’ run on TPB for an agreeable price – looking at the Byrne ‘Thing’ titles next. Torch was next on my list, especially with the Skottie Young run coming out in trade soon. Had never head of this Slott run though…it’s just jumped to the top of my list!

Are there any others that I should be looking into here guys?

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the Fantastic Four, so I don’t know all the stuff they’ve been in over the years. It’s mostly by accident that I’ve come across good comics starring the characters, so I can’t really say what else is good that the individual members might have been in.

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