Dan Slott spent much of the 90s in anonymity working on cartoon tie-ins like"The Ren & Stimpy Show" and "Batman Adventures" along with a few C-tier projects, such as Venom: Sinner Takes All. Things, however, started to change for Slott when following an acclaimed run on "Batman Adventures" he was given a dream project in "Arkham Asylum: Living Hell", a book that proved to be one of the surprise smash hits of 2003.
Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Marvel signed Slott on to a run on She-Hulk that attracted great reviews and a large cult following. Now Slott has reunited with one of his longtime Batman Adventures artists, Ty Templeton, for a five-issue mini-series that spans Spider-Man's and the Human Torch's careers from the silver age to modern times.
Set the Wayback machine to 1963 Sherman. Comics only cost 12 cents, JFK is the president, and a writer by the name of Stanley Lee was cranking out hit after hit title after hit title for Marvel Comics. Our story begins with the caption "10 years ago... One thousand miles beneath the Earth's Crust..."as we see The Fantastic Four battling it out with the minions of The Mole Man who has stolen countless great paintings. The Human Torch manages to trick the underminer into removing his glasses, allowing Johnny to blind him with a sudden burst of light. This gives the team the moment to burst free of the Moleman's minions and save the day. Naturally, the fact that the he managed to save the day has left a pretty big chip on the kid's shoulder.
The next day, in Johnny Storm's home, the young hero is fretting to his girlfriend Dorrie Evans as to whether he had sent the wrong photograph to the newspaper or not. Alas, much to his disappointment, Spider-Man and Mysterio are the day's top cover story, not the Fantastic Four's adventure. Meanwhile, at the Daily Bugle office, Peter Parker is upset that the headline is claiming that Spidey is in league with Mysterio, when he in fact has evidence to prove otherwise. Alas, Jonah won't have any of it. An irate Peter storms out of J.J.J.'s office, changes into his outfit and slings home. He just misses Betty Brant, who was interested in asking him out.
Peter arrives home and is stunned to be informed by his Aunt May that there's a special visitor who would like to meet him. Our hero panics, worrying if this might be that Mary Jane girl his aunt's been trying to hook him up with, but much to his surprise, it turns out to be Johnny Storm. Johnny explains that he's a big fan of Parker's pictures, but not so much of his subject material, and offers to make him his personal photographer. Peter, not being too impressed at first, wants no part of the deal, but his Aunt May tells him in private that she's concerned about him following a "dangerous hood" like Spider-Man. More importantly, he notices some past due water and electricity bills that need to be paid off. Peter shares a hug with his beloved aunt and accepts the offer. Watching the two, Johnny can't help but lament being barely able to remember his own parents, and he sometimes wishes he could trade being the Human Torch for something like that. He wonders if Peter knows just how good he's got it.
"I can't believe this guy! He's got it all!" Peter thinks as he snaps some photos of Johnny on his date. "Super powers but no mask. A girl like Dorrie Evans. A bottomless wallet..." "And he's still too cheap to buy two sodas. Sure glad we set the rate ahead of time." Dorrie feels a little bad for the group's new third wheel and invites Peter to take a break. Alas, while the two are talking, Betty Brant spies them and assumes she must be Peter's girlfriend, and why he has no time for her. Before Peter can explain anything, a bank alarm goes off, and both heroes have to run off and leave Dorrie behind. Peter explains to Dorrie he's got to find a better spot to snap pictures of her boyfriend. The Torch seems to outclass the gun-toting crooks, but one of them proves clever enough to realize that ol' flame face isn't bulletproof. Spidey suddenly yanks a gun out of a thug's hand but...well, The Torch isn't quite happy to see him and accuses him of stealing his spotlight. Spidey leaves the scene in an angry huff. A few moments later, Peter approaches Johnny about selling the photographs, but Storm insists that he did not pay the guy to take pictures of Spider-Man. He even suggests that Peter might have tipped Spider-Man off to the scene. The two agree to try again tomorrow as Peter wonders how he can do this job without having to spend too much time with Johnny's ego.
Later that night, Peter invents a new Spider-Tracer that can withstand the Torch's intense heat. The next day, Parker suggests to Johnny it would be better if he hung back away from him as his photos would be more candid if Storm didn't know he was there. He agrees and flies off, prompting Peter to switch quickly into his Spidey costume, deciding it's best if he trails his fellow hero with a long-distance lens. Spider-Man trails the incendiary hero only to confront The Human Torch's greatest foe, Paste-Pot Pete. Peter almost dies laughing, and the conflict is resolved without violence as Peter Petruski storms off angrily vowing to change his name.
Meanwhile, Johnny Storm has come to the conclusion that if he's going to make it to the front page of the paper, he's going to have to do something big, like single-handedly taking down a major-league villain. Alas, he doesn't know where any of them hang out... or does he? Spidey lies in wait to see where Torchie is heading before pausing in shock. "Oh no! Please tell me... he couldn't be that rash that reckless that... well.. Stupid?!! Could he?" It looks like he definitely could be, as Spider-Man reluctantly follows The Human Torch to the Latverian Embassy to see Storm trapped in a block of ice by Dr. Doom's custom-built security devices, giving Doom ample time to gloat over his captured foe. Spidey, meanwhile, worries that Johnny is about to get just what he wishes: a front page story, that unfortunately will double as an obituary. Realizing there's no time to get help, Spider-Man desperately rushes in to save the overzealous hero.
Remembering that the last time they met, Doom asked him to be his partner, Spidey kneels before Doom saying that he's reconsidered his offer. However, mere words are not enough to persuade Doom. So Doom asks for Spider-Man to take an action that will prove his loyalty. Spidey offers to destroy the now-frozen Torch, seeing as how the embassy is technically Latverian soil and Doom could easily pardon him for doing such. Doom agrees, and asks him to dispatch the Torch. This prompts the wall-crawler to rip the Human Ice Cube from the ground and hold him over his head, preparing to smash him against the ground. However, at the last moment, instead of throwing him to his untimely demise, Peter swings away, carrying Storm to safety.
Moments later, Spider-Man manages to ice-pick a semi-grateful Human Torch to freedom, but things go awry in a manner that I dare not speak. To make the long story short, Parker manages to get a snapshot of Storm at his must humiliated, sells it to a greatful Jameson, but unfortunately J.J.J. manages to twist things around in a manner that leaves neither hero happy.
The first issue of this mini-series is a real delight. Ty Templeton's pencils for this issue are a mixture of Ditko and Romita, with little signature details of both artists, even including Spidey's lil' armpit webbings. Dan Slott's script is smart and snappy with lots of little references from the period. Candid readers will spot numerous references to the two heroes' earliest adventures, and there's even a tiny little cameo by Mary Jane Waston prior to her inevitable meeting with Peter.
My one complaint is with the digital coloring done by F. Serrano, which is beautiful, but looks too modern and slick for the book's retro-feel. I think a coloring approach similar to Spider-Man's Tangled Web would have been more apt for this title. Still, this book is a delightful treat for fans of any age.
Next Issue: Kraven The Hunter, Gwen Stacy, Crystal, and a trip across the time-space threshold as we visit the wild world of the late 60s. Be there next time, Spider-Fans.