Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #657

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This review was first published on: May 2011.

Background...

In Fantastic Four #587, Johnny ‘the Human Torch’ Storm sacrificed himself to save Ben Grimm and the kids of the Future Foundation from Annihilus and his annihilation wave. Peter, already grieving the death of Marla Jameson, has taken the death of his good friend pretty hard.

In Detail...

"Torch Song"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #657
May 2011 : SM Title
Editor In Chief:  Joe Quesada
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Ellie Pyle
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Marcos Martin, Nuno Plati, Stefano Caselli, Ty Templeton
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Javier Rodriguez, Marte Gracia, Muntsa Vicente, Nuno Plati
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Articles: The Beetle (FB)

Spider-Man swings to the Baxter Building and enters through a window, whereupon he’s immediately captured in a security tube, just as he was way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1. Reed ‘Mr. Fantastic’ Richards approaches, along with his wife Sue ‘the Invisible Woman’ Richards, and Ben ‘the Thing’ Grimm. Ben frees Peter from the tube, and Sue thanks Peter for “the talk you had with Franklin [as seen in Fantastic Four #588]. It really helped him.”

Peter, for his part, apologizes for missing Johnny’s funeral. “It’s just, I’ve been to too many funerals lately.”

Later, in the kitchen, the four drink coffee and reminisce about the good times the five of them once had. These reminiscences serve as one-off tales, each with its own artist:

In Ty Templeton’s tale, the Fantastic Five vanquish a “big, evil, cosmic pinata” named Krakatoom. The monster falls quickly, but Mr. Fantastic warns that he might “reintegrate himself” in a few days, necessitating the team to stay put and monitor the situation. Spider-Man, who never went camping as a boy, chooses to stick around. The Thing is skeptical, but quickly changes his mind: with Spidey around, he and the Torch can indulge their taste for childish pranks at each others’ expense, not the Thing’s. For a while, anyhow: the Thing’s idyll comes to an end when the two jokers rig up a wooden Krakatoom filled with a suspicious-looking brown “goop”, and trick Ben into clobbering it.

Good times!

Back at the coffee table, Ben assures Peter he’ll always be part of the family. “So if you need a brother now? You look to me. Got it?” “And that goes for me too, Peter,” adds Sue. “You can always think of me as your big sister.”

“Sue, please. I already do. And I always have.” I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean that - after all, he did take her out on a date once, back in Untold Tales of Spider-Man Annual 1996. “Well, except that one time...” No, he’s not talking about the date. He’s talking about... but Sue prefers to tell this story, as drawn by Nuno Plati.

It concerns a previously-untold confrontation between our heroes and the Frightful Four. With Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, and the Sandman facing off elsewhere in the city, the Torch and the Invisible Girl (as she was then called) are going after the rest of the supervillains, as is Spidey. The web-slinger spots Johnny taking time out to give autographs to his “cute teenage fans”, and Spidey decides to teach Johnny a lesson by pantsing him in front of everybody... everybody including the Wizard, the Trapster, and the Beetle (wearing his original, sucker-gloved armour). Spidey and the Invisible Girl enter into battle with the supervillains, but Johnny doesn’t, because he needs to don his trousers. “You don’t go into battle without your pants on. It’s a guy thing, okay?”

“Hm. You don’t say. Let’s put that to the test,” says Sue, and presto! the Trapster’s pants are invisible. This distracts him so much that Spidey is able to take him down with a mean left cross. Next goes the Beetle’s pants, and Johnny is able to melt his armour while the unfortunate villain is preoccupied. Finally, the Wizard’s pants go, revealing a leopard-print thong. The Wizard immediately shields his crotch with his hands, which means he can’t defend himself from the one-two punch from the Torch and Spider-Man.

Cue the police, who arrive to take the villains away... and the Invisible Girl too. Under what charge? “Indecent exposure. She pantsed three men in public. This’s a serious offense.” (Somehow Spidey gets off scot-free, though. I guess the male police officer considers pantsing a more serious crime when a woman does it.) Later, the Torch and Spidey bail the Invisible Girl out of jail, and she promises never to use her power in that fashion again.

For our final story, illustrated by Stefano Caselli, we hear about the time that Johnny invited Peter along “for the launch of [Reed’s] new faster than light skiff”. The conversation that follows is too delightful not to reproduce at length:

Peter: “I gotta thank you again, Doctor Richards. I never get to do this stuff... go into space and all. Not unless Thanos is about to destroy a moon or something. Then it’s always a last minute thing and there’s no time for-- I’m babbling, aren’t I?”

Reed: “It’s okay, son. I understand. How’s it coming, Johnny?”

Johnny: “Just adding the final touches. Gotta have flames on your ride. Makes it go faster. Whoosh!”

P: “Tell me he doesn’t actually believe that.”

R: “I’m not sure. He also puts fins on all our deep space vehicles.”

P: “But in a vacuum they wouldn’t do anything.”

R: “I know, but...”

J: “A little credit, okay? I also helped build the casing to the warp drive...”

R: “He also added the fuzzy dice.”

Out in space, Peter is geeking out at the sheer science thrill of traveling between the stars. Reed is quietly charmed by Peter’s enthusiasm, and Johnny is bored; frequent space travel has jaded him, so much so that when the skiff encounters a green star, Johnny is unfazed. Peter and Reed, however, are fascinated, because, as Peter says, “there are no green stars! At least not with the way stars give off light-- and how the human eye perceives it...”

Reed interrupts to observe that the star is about to go nova, but the skiff’s FTL engine has stalled. This, of course, is Not Good.

The team springs into action. Johnny leaves the ship and begins using his power to absorb the solar flares about to batter the ship. Meanwhile, Reed and Peter swing into action (metaphorically) to solve the problem. The artificial gravity fails, but thankfully Peter’s wall-crawling ability and Reed’s stretching power mean they can operate effectively in a zero-G environment. After a few rounds of Star-Trek-style doubletalk - “Uncoupling the Heisenberg compensators. That do it?” - the two are no closer to a solution, until Johnny suggests that the engine might be flooded.

And so it is! “[T]he principle’s the same,” says Reed; Peter adds that they’ve “got to clean out our ‘carburetor’”. Some fast repairs, and the ship fires to life and warps away from the nova just in time. Once the ship is at a safe distance, Johnny flies into the vacuum to dump the heat he absorbed, and Peter, watching, admits that Johnny is “actually a really bright guy”.

Reed lets Johnny have the last word, in a holo disc recording he made before his death. Yes, we’ve seen this before, in FF #1. But this is a special addendum, as yet unplayed, addressed to Peter specifically. In it, Johnny tells Peter that he well understands how difficult Johnny’s death will be for him, because Peter has lost family before. Accordingly, he’s leaving Peter the best thing he can: a spot on the team, a place in the First Family.

With a tear, Peter places his hand on the glowing image of Johnny’s. And the rest of the team does the same.

In General...

This issue is a nice farewell to the Human Torch - indeed, the only one, as Fantastic Four #588 focused on the team’s reactions to Johnny’s death, rather than reflecting on Johnny’s life. If I wanted to nit-pick, I’d point out that Johnny comes off as a one-note character here: a shallow prankster whose ‘bro-mance’ with Peter consists mostly of them eliding their feelings for each other. Elements of Johnny’s character that have more depth - his failed marriages and relationships, his growth into an adult with adult concerns, his heart-to-heart talks with Peter on the torch of the Statue of Liberty - aren’t mentioned here.

That’s okay, though, as this issue is about Spidey and the Fantastic Four, and in that dynamic, the Torch was always Peter’s affectionate rival and foil. And that’s the Johnny that is sent off here. The Krakatoom story isn’t great, but does evoke the juvenile nature of Spidey and the Torch’s rivalry in the 1960s (also the juvenile nature of many of the stories). The Frightful Three story and the space-travel story are stronger, but all told, the issue is a good read, and both the ending and the beginning evoke a sense of grief that the audience shares.

Overall Rating...

Another entry in Dan Slott’s run of strong, satisfying work on Amazing Spider-Man. Four webs.