Now that the Fantastic Four are back it’s a good time to build up your knowledge of these characters. There’s no telling where new Fantastic Four writer Dan Slott will mine his stories from, and the 1951 Strange Tales stories are a good place to start. Marvel Comics recently rereleased the 520-page collection which has three very good reasons to read it.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
After the groundbreaking debut of Fantastic Four, readers couldn’t get enough of Marvel’s innovative new heroes – especially the Human Torch! So Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave the fi ery teen sensation his own series in the pages of Strange Tales. After a hot streak of solo stories, the Torch was joined by the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, and the two teammates tackled some of the wildest ne’er-do-wells of the Silver Age: the Wizard, the Sandman, the Rabble Rouser, Plantman and the one and only Paste-Pot Pete! Also featuring Marvel’s first fi re and ice battle between the Torch and the X-Men’s Iceman and guest stars Spider-Man, Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman and a Famous Foursome named John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Can I jump in easily?
This is classic comics so it very much is easy to jump in. Stan Lee and company made it easy for anyone to pick up any issue and have a blast. In fact, in the first issue in this collection (Strange Tales #101) we get a full rundown of how Human Torch and the Fantastic Four got their powers.
Reason 1: So many weird and wacky villains.
There are so many villains in this book it’s a shock to the system. Doubly so because most of them are totally unknown and seemingly random. Plantman, Destroyer, The Asbestos Man, The Eel, and the Rabble Rouser all make appearances, and all of them are about is weird and obscure as they come. It seems like Stan Lee and the merry Marvel writers were attempting to create a flavor of the week bad guy only to grow tired and try out another in the next issue. The Wizard is one of the only characters who pops into these stories multiple times and he’s incredibly creepy. Other characters like Namor and Kang make appearances too, but for the most part the conflicts come from rarely used villains.
Reason 2: Human Torch is a real hot head.
The Human Torch is the main character in nearly every story (The Thing co-stars once or twice) which makes this a good collection to read for early Johnny Storm character writing. His most defining trait is his temper which gets him into trouble more than once. Take for instance an issue where his girlfriend finds Captain America dreamy, which literally causes Johnny to burst into flame he’s so angry. His temper seems to get him into trouble quite a few times too, like when he loses it over Spider-Man and does a lot of damage to nab him, or in another issue where he basically attempts to murder Namor. In each case we learn a bit more about Johnny — like in the Namor issue, we learn Namor grows a newfound respect for the character knowing how powerful he can be.
Reason 3: Human Torch leads the show.
The title of this collection suggests The Thing is a lead character but really it’s all about Human Torch until later in the run. That gives readers ample time to dig into the character, see how fast and loose he lives, and get a sense for his somewhat childish personality. His ego is on full display throughout the collection, but it’s not your customary villainous ego we see in comics — it’s more of a young teen who hasn’t figured things out yet. That’s a defining trait for the character through and through. It’s exemplified in cases where things get weird too, like in the issue collected here where he meets the Beatles.
Reasons to be wary?
Wacky and weird villains can grow a bit tiresome. The flavor of the month adventure is great to pick up and enjoy, but reading this in one sitting can grow repetitive. It’s also written in that older, verbose style which makes it a slog at times to get through. That comes with the territory with these massive complete collections from the earlier eras of Marvel Comics.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
The villains are so weird I couldn’t help but get a kick out of this collection. Many of these villains are bottom of the barrel sorts of obscure villains, but they’re prime examples of strange characters that could be modernized for comics today. It just takes a brave soul and a good idea. It’s also a collection that has a lot of Human Torch characterization to fully enjoy.