Comic Book Legends Revealed #486
Welcome to the four hundred and eighty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and eighty-five. This week, oddly enough, is a Human Torch theme week. Did Marvel omit the Human Torch from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends over fear of kids setting themselves on fire? Speaking of kids setting themselves on fire, was John Byrne’s classic Fantastic Four issue on that topic originally written WITHOUT the Beyonder in it? Finally, did Captain Marvel (Billy Batson) have a team-up with the Human Torch (the android version) during the 1960s?!? In Brazil?!!
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: The Human Torch wasn’t on Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends over fears that kids would set themselves on fire.
STATUS: I’m Going with False
Last week, I dealt with a legend involving the early 1980s series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and Firestar’s role on the series.
The discussion about Firestar turned to what role, if any, the Human Torch originally had on the series.
One popular theory, advanced even by the late, great producer of the series, Dennis Marks, was that Marvel was going to have Human Torch on the series but were afraid about kids setting themselves on fire after watching the Human Torch.
This was a very popular rumor at the time, even among people who worked on Marvel’s shows, but it was the same exact rumor that was debated for the Fantastic Four series of a couple of years earlier where the Human Torch was replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E. In the 1978 Fantastic Four cartoon series, the Human Torch’s absence was actually based not on a fear of fire but over a rights issue (as discussed in one of the very first Comic Book Legends Revealed). Seeing as how Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was created just three/four years later, it seems likely that, again, the rights problem was the issue. In addition, the stories about the fire fear are so similar to the ones from a couple of years earlier that it seems hard to believe it was anything but the same stuff being repeated a couple of years later. When you add to this the fact that, under this theory, Marvel was afraid kids would set themselves on fire if they used the Human Torch so they replaced him with ANOTHER hero who sets stuff on fire, Firestar, it just doesn’t make sense, It looks like rights to the character was always the issue. Although honestly, I would not be surprised if a desire for diversification would have won out even if there wasn’t a rights issue (you know, better to have one female character and two male than three males).
A more interesting discussion is whether the Human Torch was EVER involved in the series. The rights issue had just come up in 1978, so it seems unlikely that Marvel wouldn’t be aware of it in 1981/82. In addition, as Marks has noted (and I cited in last week’s column), when he came aboard the series, nothing had been agreed on except the very basic concept of the series, and by this time, Firestar was already part of the package (this is another reason why I tend not to take Marks’ theory about the fire issue too seriously. Just like other people who have repeated it, like show writer Christy Marx, he was telling a story well after the fact and when he was not directly involved). In other words, there never was a show with the Human Torch that was then changed to Firestar. If the Human Torch was ever considered, it was dismissed at such an early stage that I don’t think that it would be fair to say that Firestar REPLACED the Human Torch, as the Human Torch was never really part of the project. He might have been considered, and he was certainly the inspiration for the Firestar character, but I think just simply in terms of “Okay, we can’t use the Human Torch, so let’s create a female version of the Torch.”
This, then, goes to a suggestion by reader V last week, who asked whether the animation for Mary Jane existed when the show was going to star the Torch but then it was switched to being Firestar when they made the switch to Firestar (Here is how he put it:
Regarding the Firestar/Mary Jane thing, the way I heard it was that the Human Torch was initially going to appear on “Amazing Friends” in Firestar’s place, but as the animation rights to the character were held by another company, the show producers chose to use the Mary Jane design originally created for the show as a basis for the new character, Firestar’s, civilian identity. Mary Jane was going to appear on the show when all three of the Amazing Friends were male, but was written of the show when her design was used to create a female Amazing Friend.
Again, though, since Firestar was part of the original, very general “Here is Spider-Man his super friends” pitch to go with the networks request for a Marvel version of DC’s popular Super Friends series, I don’t think that there was ever an issue. Oh, and Rick Hoberg, who also helped work on the original design of Firestar, specifically has said that Mary Jane had nothing to do with Firestar’s design, except, of course, a general “Romita drew her like Mary Jane” (Hoberg suggests that even that was likely more coincidental than anything, as Romita’s women tended to have a certain distinct look to them).
When you couple the following together:
1. Marvel couldn’t use the Torch just four years earlier in 1978 because his rights had been optioned in 1977.
2. When the main producer and writer of the series came on board, Firestar was already part of the show
3. Firestar was part of the original pitch for the series
4. No one at Marvel has ever actually said that the Human Torch was originally part of the show
I tend to go with the theory that the Human Torch was never actually part of the show, besides perhaps in a very general brainstorming way early on. But even if I’m off base on that, I think it is pretty clear that his absence was not due to fear over the use of a fire character.
Thanks to V for the question! Thanks to Spider-Friends.com, Dennis Marks and Rick Hoberg for information!
Check out the latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Star Wars edit in violent scenes (including a severed arm) to turn their original G rating to a PG rating?
On the next page, was John Byrne’s classic Fantastic Four issue about kids setting themselves on fire originally not a Secret Wars II tie-in?