Just a few years after Spider-Man's debut in the pages of Amazing Fantasy, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would have their somewhat infamous falling out with John Romita taking his place on the artistic chores of Amazing Spider-Man. Under Romita's watch a number of new additions to Spidey's rogues gallery were made, most notably The Rhino and Kingpin. Peter Parker also finally got to go on his blind date with Mary Jane. Meanwhile Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's run on Fantastic Four would continue to gain in popularity reaching such high points as the debut of the Black Panther and best of all the coming of Galactus & the Silver Surfer.
Meanwhile DC would get an unparalleled amount of mainstream spotlight when Adam West starred in the Batman TV series premiering in 1966. Alas some fans would be turned off by the show's campy tone and Neil Adam's dynamic work on the character would change the face of Batman for generations to come. Adams would also team up for Dennis O'Neil for a highly influential, politically charged run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
Things weren't great for everyone in the comics industry though. Over the course of the decade Archie, Dell, Gold Key, and Harvey would all try their own comic book superhero lines in attempts at imitating Marvel & DC's success but all would fail. Japan also saw a boom in their comics industry, spurred by the international success of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy. In 1968 a company named Shueshi Publishing jumped into the fray launching a weekly comics publication called Shonen Jump which in later years would gradually become Japan's most successful manga anthology.
Our story begins with Spider-Man swinging about looking for The Vulture. It seems that his latest crime-spree have been hitting the headlines all week, and well maybe if he can snap some pictures of him he might be able to make rent. Right on cue the Vulture manages to rob a high-rise restaurant, only to be confronted by the Human Torch instead. Adrian Toomes is promptly defeated in humiliating fashion as his feathery wings prove to be highly flammable.
Meanwhile at the Coffee Bean Johnny's girlfriend Crystal is waiting for him. Flash Thompson, fresh from basic training and looking sharp in an army uniform spies the nubile Inhuman. Flash tries a few lame pick-up lines, but Crystal wants no part of it and summons a rainstorm over the guy's head.
"Ha! Can you dig it? Looks like somebody's all wet." Mary Jane says.
"The Flash-Man caught in a Flash-Flood." Gwen Stacy replies in groovy 60s Teenage Slang. Harry Osborn meanwhile just figures one of the pipes in the ceiling must have burst, but admits that Peter is going to die when he hears he missed this. Much to Flash's chagrin Johnny Storm walks in to meet Crystal and recognizes the guy as the president of Spider-Man's fan club and one of his biggest detractors. Flash insists that Johnny couldn't cut it against guys like Doc Ock and the Sandman, while Johnny correctly points out that he's fought Sandman numerous times. Meanwhile Captain Stacy walks into the tore to pick up some coffee for the guys at the police station. He asks Gwen if she's seen her boyfriend around.
Cue Peter Parker to walk through the door as Johnny Storm wonders how the guy ended up with two girls. Flash contends that Johnny wouldn't last a moment in Spidey's world and he's the Ringo of the Fantastic Four.
"No Wait, The Zeppo! Yeah Zeppo the Human Zippo!" Flash taunts the hot-headed hero. Captain Stacy on the other hand wants to have a conversation alone with Peter. Stacy asks if Peter may have a tip about one of the super-criminals he takes pictures of all the time. It seems there's a new drug out there called ZMB or "Zoomers" on the streets and a known villain is working with the Maggia as the supplier. Gwen seems to have some reservations when Peter investigating this case, but her father has the utmost confidence pointing Parker is a very capable young man.
Johnny on the other hand has be dragged away from his argument with Thompson by Crystal.
"You are so lucky she is here, Thompson! Or they'd be changing his name to Flash-Fried!" Just as he's about to change into his costume, Parker overhears Storm fuming about how wrong it was to be compared "to a loser like Spider- Man" and well that's just more than Spidey can take. Without warning the Fantastic Four Flare Signal goes off as Johnny explains that Reed wants to explore the doorway to a dimension that can only be opened once every one thousand years.
Spidey suddenly ambushes the Torch with a giant net and after a brief heated exchange of words between the two, Spider-Man has a proposition to make. The two agree to trade places for one day. Torch agrees to investigate the drug case while Peter goes along on Reed Richard's expedition.
"A joyride with the FF? Man that'll be like going on vacation! Have fun saving the city!" Spidey says while swinging off. "The City? You'll be with the FF! Good luck saving the universe! Serve him right if he goofed up." Storm snaps back.
"Wait... maybe this wasn't the best idea." The Torch suddenly thinks to himself.
Peter then swings to the top the Baxter Building to see Reed, Sue, and Ben working on the team's new Rift Racer ship. The team isn't particularly pleased with the decision Johnny made but with the window of opportunity closing they have no real choice. The group hops into the Rift Racer and the ship takes off into the dimensional rift as the art goes all crazy Kirby-esc. "Aaaah! Did you see that? The whole world went trippy! And the lights! And what's with the big black dots everywhere." Spidey reacts. "Spider-Man please. We're just crossing the Space-Time Threshold." Reed responds.
"And how is this not freaking you out?" Spidey replies, his Spider-sense being set-off. "Because he have a term for this in the FF, right Ben?" Reed says. "Yup. It's called Thursday."
While this is going on, Johnny decides to investigate the Old Kane Warehouse where the apparently some drug deal is going down. But just as Johnny is about to fly in and investigate the crooks bolt away leaving Storm to reconsider his actions. Posing as a regular teenager he walks up to the dealers and asks where he can find some zoomers. The two thugs quickly recognize Storm as he's been on the cover of nearly every magazine and one of them knocks him out with a quick bop to the head.
Elsewhere in the Rift Racer, things aren't going too well as Dimensional Meta- Friction is causing the ship to overheat. I hate it when that happens. Thinking quickly Spidey sprays down the insides of the ship with his webbing making some makeshift insulation. The ship is saved, but unfortunately with Reed's scanners gummed up with webbing Reed won't be able to do any of the data collection he set out the trip to do. He's pretty steamed, particularly when he realizes that the rift will stay open for only another 62 minutes and Spidey's webbing lasts about an hour.
Things aren't looking good for Johnny as he comes to as he's tied to a chair in the warehouse and at the mercy of the gang's leader. The thug menacingly waves a gun at Storm's head asking if he brought any of his Super-Friends with him. "No it's just me, me and my sister! Go get 'em Sue!" the gang panics looking around the room for wherever the Invisible girl might be. This gives Johnny just enough time to flame on, and escape. Quickly taking the upper hand, he demands to know who is in charge of the operations, and the mooks quickly rat out their boss as Sergie Kravinoff. Alas Johnny isn't the most creative interrogator and isn't able to tell them where Kraven is. He quickly drops off the goons at the police station and explains to Stacy the deal he made with Spider-Man. Johnny asks if the cops have arrested any other members of Kraven's gang. The police lead a thug by the name of Mullens into the interrogation room where he sees a man that the police have apparently set on fire. Not wanting to share his fate, Mullens quickly cracks and confesses that Kraven's working out of an old abandoned zoo. Storm's performance as the so- called victim pays off and he flies away to find the zoo.
Storm wonders "And what is up with all these "Old Abandoned Hideouts?" I swear it's like all of Spider-Man's adventures have come in under budget. I mean you hang with the FF, you get some Big Blockbuster set pieces. Medieval castles, Super Hi-tech Labs, Vast Alien Vistas.. But this? Sheesh and it smells like a toilet or a petting..." In mid Seinfeld-esc musing Johnny is stopped by the sounds of dozens of metal doors opening. "Zoo Oh, Yeah Alright." Suddenly without warning Johnny finds himself surrounded by Lions, Tigers, & Bears along with all kind of other animals. How very convenient for Kraven that they abandoned the zoo with the animals intact. Kraven quickly jumps out of the trees to challenge Johnny Storm, who taunts the villain as being "the master of spotted pants" and "a poor man's Tarzan" as he chases him. Kraven manages to lure Johnny into a bunch of trees whose leaves soak the hero in a sap that douses his flame. Suddenly with his flame out our hero finds himself surrounded by dozens of serpents.
"You like my pets, Boy? They are the deadly Zmbuku. The rarest and most poisonous snake in the world!" Kraven gloats gleefully. "Your flames are dying... soon you shall join them." As Johnny makes a seemingly futile struggle with the snakes, he asks. "Wait!, ZMBuku?" To which Kraven explains that their venom is indeed the source of ZMB and diluted it's quite a powerful hallucinogen. "However in it's natural state it only takes one bite... to kill!"
Storm cries out in pain as a snake bites him, while Kraven continues to gloat about his soon demise. He asks if Johnny has any last words, and Storm tries the same Invisible Girl bluff he had successfully pulled off earlier but it fails. He then weakly asks Kraven who his Maggia associate is, and Kraven says he's Nino Villanova, assuming Johnny will take his secret to his grave. Unfortunately for Kraven Johny's wearing a two-way radio on his collar. Worse still for Kraven it turns out that Johnny's somehow survived his snakebite. "See Poison isn't all that effective... on a guy that can boil his own blood!" Up close and personal, Johnny has little trouble taking the guy down.
Back at the Baxter Building the Fantastic Three + Spider-Man arrives safely from their journey. Alas thanks to Spidey's intervention were only able to get in a couple of minutes of research and well despite his best efforts at cooling things over the team's not happy with him.
The next day at the Coffee Bean Peter Parker is exasperated to learn that Johnny Storm has been awarded the key to the city for his efforts. Storm gleefully arrives at the Coffee Bean, Crystal in toe to gloat about his victory in the bet. Johnny gets perhaps his most satisfying reward, a free coffee on behalf of Spidey but it looks like Flash Thompson might be the one getting the last laugh.
The second issue of Spider-Man/Human Torch is just as good as the first but suffers from a few logic problems in the plot. (Like the strangely inhabited abandoned zoo.) And the 60s teen dialog seems a bit cheesy in retrospect. Still considering the source material that might be the point. This series continues to be a very loving homage to both character's respective history.
Next Issue: We flash-forward to the Gerry Conway era as our next story involves The Spider-Mobile... this can only end in tears.