Johnny Storm has always been one of Marvel's most popular heroes. In addition to being a mainstay of the Fantastic Four he also carried a successful solo feature in Strange Tales from 1962 to 1965. That, combined with his numerous appearance in these pages before, should make it no surprise when the Torch is tapped to replace Spidey as the star for the occasional issue of Team-Up.
Why am I reviewing this, you may rightly wonder, when there's no Spidey in sight? Mostly just for the sake of having turned in reviews on the whole run. I certainly wouldn't hold it against any Spiderfans that skipped this one.
Autumn in the Catskill Mountains is a popular time and place for people to enjoy camping out, but few of them travel to their campsites the way the gentelmen on our splash page do. Johnny Storm, better known as the Human Torch, is streaking across the sky followed by his old friend Wyatt Wingfoot, who keeps up courtesy of one of the FF's super high-tech sky-cycles. "Quick Johnny, look below us!" Wyatt warns. It's trouble all right, two truckers who's rig has skidded off the road and into the mountainside. Even worse, the truck is on fire and carrying a cargo of explosives! Wyatt quickly swoops down to lift the truckers out of harms way, while the Torch uses his flame to create a shield around the rig to contain the explosion. His plan works, and instead of widespread destruction the truck just leaves a crater in the road. Sealing up the hole with some well applied flame, Johnny and Wyatt resume their travels.
We join them again a short time later at their camp site, where Johnny laments that as much as he enjoys Wyatt's company it just isn't the same without Reed and Ben along (the FF are at this time going through something of a family crisis, alluded to last issue and fully detailed in their own book). His musing is cut short by an insistant alarm beeping on the sky-cycle. It's the "Contra Energy Alert Alarm" (I know, kinda sounds like something Adam West would have), and it signifies that one of the most dangerous menaces in the universe walks the Earth again.
And what is that menace, you may ask? Well, let's turn to a scene some miles distant to find out. In an isolated cottage we see Professor Paxton Pentecost at the controls of a menacing looking machine. He's bombarding a large capsule with some kind of energy beam, and anxiously awaits the results. He doesn't have long to wait... scant seconds later the capsule explodes and from it steps Blastaar, the Living Bomburst! Blastaar, you may recall, is native to the Negative Zone and has in his time held his own against the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Thor. He's no lightweight.
And he also has a viscious temper. He immediately turns towards the Professor and announces his intention to kill him (that's gratitude for you!). Paxton has planned for this, though, and at the touch of a button Blastaar is doubled over with searing pain in his head. Paxton demands servitude from Blastaar, and though the Living Bomb Burst is loathe to serve another he agrees, as it's the only way to stop the pain.
Paxton explains his plan to Blastaar, as well as how he revived him. Blastaar had been hovering near death and encased in that plastic capsule ever since a bout with the X-Men (X-Men v1 #53). Paxton revived him by bombarding him with carefully measured doses of gamma rays, and now that he's up and around Blastaar is to destroy F.A.U.S.T., a fully automated factory made entirely of adamantium. Professor Pentecost designed the factory and supervised it's construction, only to see it stolen from him by a "businessman" when it was complete. Paxton means to get his revenge by having Blastaar destroy the whole joint!
On that note we change our scene yet again, this time to a construction site on the New Jersey Palisades. This particlular site is going to be behind schedule today, because it's being visited by the incredible Hulk. Just passing through, the Hulk lands in the middle of the site. But his mere appearance frightens the workers, and when a well meaning crane operator bashes him with a wrecking ball to try to drive him off, the Hulk responds by trashing the crane. He's about to do the same to the whole site when he's distracted by a buzzing sound in his head. It's very annoying, so of course the Hulk sets off to find the source and smash it.
Back over at the F.A.U.S.T. factory, Blastaar and Paxton have arrived and are getting to work. Waves of concussive force shoot from Blastaars hands, pounding relentlessly at a factory wall until it collapses. He's about to move on to another spot when a barrier of flame erupts in front of him. The Torch has arrived! One shot from Blastaars hands knocks out Wyatt's sky-cycle, so he's going to be too involved making a safe landing to help out. The Torch engufs Blastaar in flame, but the beast from the negative zone is able to absorb it effortlessly. He then blasts the Torch, snuffing out his flame and sending him flying out of control.
Where he lands is in the hands of the Hulk, who happened to be headed towards the fight. Catching the still flamed-off Johnny, the simple minded Hulk utters a very funny line when he wonders why his enemies would "throw boys at him". Johnny starts to do some fast talking to avoid getting pounded when the Hulk grasps his head in pain and demands the buzzing stop. Thinking quickly, Johnny promises to show the Hulk who's making his head hurt. The Torch flies off with an eager Hulk following.
Back at the factory, owner Ferguson Blaine has arrived along with some guards. When he damands Pentecost clear out, he's met with the entirely predictable response of Blastaar zapping his whole security force. Paxton then has a robot goon squad he's brought along grab Blaine, so he can witness the destruction of his factory.
Blastaar sets back about bringing down the house, but he's interrupted by an irate Hulk. As the Hulk lays into Blastaar, we learn that although the Torch promised to show the Hulk the source of his pain as a ruse to get his help, it turns out he was unwittingly telling the truth. The gamma rays used to revive Blastaar have saturated his body and his powers, and the closer he gets to the Hulk the more they irritate the Hulks own gamma-altered physiology.
While the Hulk slugs it out with Blastaar, the Torch is checking the factory interior to make sure there are no survivors trapped inside. He finds Pentecost holding Blaine at gunpoint, and a little expository dialog what his complaint is. He and Blaine were partners, with Blaine supplying the money and Pentecost the ideas. While Pentecost was overseeing construction of the factory Blaine bought up "controlling interest" in the factory and had Pentecost fired as soon as it was completed. Pentecost will have his revenge by bringing the place down around his ears.
Of course, the Torch isn't going to let that happen. It's a simple matter for him to melt the gun in Pentecost's hand, removing the threat. It also brings Pentecost back to his senses, and he's almost overcome with remorse for having released Blastaar onto the world.
Turns out Blastaar isn't a problem anymore though. The Hulk has pounded him good, wrapped him in a ball of scrap metal from the factory debris and whipped him into the nearby ocean. Since that debris is adamantium, Blastaar is going to be down there for a while.
With that a happy and headache free Hulk goes on his way. Blaine tries to thank the Torch for saving his life but is rebuffed. The Torch gives him a good dressing down for the shabby way he treated Dr. Pentecost, then heads off with Wyatt, ending our adventure.
Next Issue: Spidey's back! Together with Ka-Zar he'll face the menace of Stegron the Dinosaur Man!
Some good and some bad in this one. In the plus column we have an excellent portrayal of the Hulk, with just the right combination of simple-mided innocence and unreasoning rage. His comment about his enemies "throwing boys at him" is just priceless.
On the down side though, this issue suffers from something that drives me absolutely batty... a stupid plot. First of all, Blaine is very unconvincing as an "evil capitalist". But what really makes no sense is that to build an entire factory out of adamantium would be so expensive that there's just no way you could ever recoup your investment. Think about it... the couple of pounds of the stuff lacing Wolverine's skeleton cost a few million, and it's probably less than a cubic foot. An entire factory built of the stuff would cost... hell, I don't know what it would cost but I know it would be cheaper by far to just build and maintain a conventional factory for a few hundred years.
The adamantium factor poses another problem for any regular Marvel readers. This fictional metal is supposed to be completely indestructable. I've read numerous references to a one-quarter inch plate being sufficient to withstand a nuclear bomb. Yet in this issue Blastaar knocks the stuff down, busts it up and tears through it. Then in the end the Hulk nonchalantly molds a ball of it around the bad guy. Big blooper guys, you just can't do that with adamantium. I'll expect my No-Prize in the mail.
Of course, the biggest problem is that there's no Spidey in this issue! We'll fix that next time though.
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: The Punisher is making his very first appearance in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man 129. Destined to guest star many times in Spidey books and headline numerous series of his own, I think he's second only to Wolverine in the category of background characters who made good. Also in that issue is the first appearance of the Jackal, which means that it's really the seed of the infamous "Clone Saga" that would cause so much grief for Spidey fans 20 years later.
And meanwhile, in the real world: Newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst runs away to join the Symbonese Liberation Army - a sensational story which spawned many Marvel Tales.
Well, this should really get zero webs since there's no Spider-Man presence in it, but on it's own merits I'll give it two webs, just below average.