Beyond Spider-Man : 2001 : Come Back Howard... All Is Forgiven!
Now that Howard Mackie is gone, it is time to be nice to him again. He was only doing his job, after all, and it could have been worse, you know. How? Well, um... I don't know. But at least he wasn't writing stories like this one I stumbled on. It's the lead story from The Human Torch #33 (November 1948) and it's called...
Review Not RequiredHuman Torch #33
Date TBD : No Spider-Man
Story: "The Ray of Madness!"
And I'd like to add that I am not making this up! (Though somebody did.)
Somewhere, in a comfortable home, a "man's face freezes in horror" as his cat (Tabby) attacks him. (Rather than just throwing the cat out for the night, the man actually recoils and yells "Help! Help!") A few miles away, a farmer is "harnessing his faithful old horse to his wagon" when old Nelly rears up and attacks! Soon, the radio warns people to chain up all domestic animals. For reasons unknown, they are killing people by the thousands. But don't worry because "the nation's foremost scientists are working on the problem."
And what do these famed scientists discover? That "this strange phenomenon is caused... by the effects of rays emanating from the Planet Jupiter!"
At the Jeffersonian Institute in New York, Dr. Jefferson (the fellow who made the Jupiter announcement) has called in Captain America, the Human Torch and Sun Girl. (At this point in time, according to current Marvel continuity, Captain America is probably the Patriot, since the real Cap is frozen in ice, the Human Torch is not Johnny Storm but the Golden Age android Torch, and Sun Girl is... who the heck is Sun Girl, anyway?) Cap asks the Doc if there is any way to "offset the effects of the ray". Jefferson says the rays can only be stopped at the source. Unfortunately, there is no way to reach Jupiter. To make matters worse, "calculations show that this ray will soon affect human beings". In other words, "we will all go mad and destroy each other!"
Cap thinks there is only one person who could possibly get to Jupiter and he volunteers the Torch for the job. The Torch isn't sure if his flame will last all the way to Jupiter but he is willing to give it a try.
The next day at La Guardia Airport, the Torch prepares for his trip. He tells Cap to "please take care of Sun Girl" if he doesn't come back, then he "flames on" and flies up into the sky. Dr. Jefferson invites Cap and Sun Girl to the observatory where they can track the Torch's progress. When Sun Girl expresses worry, the Doctor agrees that "we can't tell just what will happen up there in the stratosphere!" (Yeah. Not to mention airless space!) "High above the clouds", the Torch plugs away. His flame is holding out so far. "Here's hoping!" he says.
Meanwhile on Jupiter (which is composed of yellow dirt, blue ice-like stalactites and stalagmites, red clouds and a white sky), strange creatures sit around a black lake emitting pink smoke. (The lake is emitting the smoke, not the creatures.) The creatures look like giant wingless bats with green dinosaur-like spikes on their backs and long thin tails. These are the "nomad creatures of madness, the parasites of the universe" and the lake is "the red hot pool of peril... from which comes the ray of madness!" The nomad's leader Kleezar (gesundheit) senses some force "drawing close" which will threaten their "life-giving pool of madness". And, sure enough, at this moment, the Human Torch has arrived at Jupiter! Good thing it didn't take longer than about ten minutes because his flame burns out just as he lands on the surface. Immediately, the Torch can sense the power of the ray of madness and is led directly to the pool of peril. The nomads watch from behind some blue rocks and, just as the Torch reaches the shore of the pool, they strike! The Torch fights valiantly, putting the fist to the creatures but his flame is still exhausted and he is eventually taken prisoner.
The Torch tries to explain to the creatures that the "pool of madness" is harming life on Earth but Kleezar could care less. "Fie on your Earth people!" he cries. If the pool is destroyed, his people, "the scavengers of the stratosphere" (so, Jupiter is in the stratosphere?) will perish. The nomads plan to put the Torch swiftly to death. Fortunately for our hero, a sudden storm of "fire-rain" arrives. What is fire-rain, you ask? "Deadly, hot pellets of molten fire, left over from the constant formation of the planets of the universe - the one destructive terror that can threaten all infinity!" OK?
Anyway, the fire-rain hits and kills everyone except the Torch and Kleezar. (You see, fire can't hurt the Torch, though I suppose a huge falling rock could. As for Kleezar, I guess he just got lucky.) The enraged nomad advances on the Torch and our hero trips over a rock as he tries to sneak away. The Torch still can't flame on. Kleezar grabs him and gives him a vicious bear hug. Then, just as a big green bird flies by, the Torch's flame returns. He breaks Kleezar's grip, flies to the pool of peril, and melts its edge to release the water. (No, I don't know what this means either. It's not like it's an aboveground swimming pool in somebody's back yard. It's a lake, for God's sake. But it sounds good, I suppose.) The released water washes over Kleezar, killing him. (And I've got to repeat this caption: "But the judgment of the universe passes a swift and awful punishment on Kleezar, the parasite of Eternity!" Yeah!) Then the Torch zips around through the fire-water somehow destroying the ray of madness. (Like he knows what he's doing.) His job done, he heads back to Earth.
At the observatory, Sun Girl asks Cap if there is any sign of the Torch. And Cap replies with my favorite line from the whole story. "None! and it's been hours since he left!. I'm really worried!" Dr. Jefferson reminds them that they know that the Torch succeeded in destroying the ray of madness because Earth is back to normal. Then, Cap looks through the big telescope and sees the Torch up in the clouds, his flame dying out while he is still far from the ground. When the flame goes, he starts to fall like a rock. Cap, Sun Girl and Dr. Jefferson run outside and see the Torch falling straight for them! Cap braces himself and breaks the Torch's fall by catching him! For a second they both lie on the ground and Sun Girl is sure they are both dead. "But Captain America and the Human Torch are made of stronger stuff!" Both are alive and Cap lightens the moment by telling the Torch, "do you know you gained weight?" Sun Girl says that the Torch and Cap are "the bravest men on the face of the Earth". That old humble Cap counters with, "but the Torch is also the bravest man on any other planet, too!" And, friends, "once again... the universe is restored to its normal way of existence!" (Except, of course, all of the nomads are now dead.)