Comic Book Review: The Torch #1

I have high hopes for The Torch #1. My love for Golden Age characters knows no bounds and I am looking forward to this mini-series that focuses on the original Human Torch and Toro. Mike Carey is a talented writer and I have faith in his ability to craft a quality read.  Alex Ross and Mike Carey are both credited with “The Story” while Carey gets the credit for “The Script.” I have my doubts about how much Ross contributes on these titles where he gets co-credited for the story or plot.

The artist on this title is Patrick Berkenkotter. I have never heard of Berkenkotter, but hopefully he has the chops to deliver a fine looking issue. Let’s go ahead and do this review for The Torch #1.

Creative Team

Story: Mike Carey and Alex Ross
Script: Mike Carey
Artist: Patrick Berkenkotter
Color Art: Carlos Lopez

Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Toro sitting on the roof of a building. Toro thinks about how fire never scared him even before he learned he could burst into flames. Toro thinks about the fire from the Hindenburg crash when he was 13. Toro thinks about a factory fire that happened when he was 14. Toro then thinks about the first atomic bomb that was dropped and caused massive fire. Toro thinks how trouble always started for him once the fire went out.

We see the Vision (Golden Age Timely Comics version) appear next to Toro. Vision tells Tom that he should not linger here. We see that Tom is staring into the window of his wife’s apartment. Toro’s wife is sitting on the sofa with her new husband. Toro says that he was killed by the Mad Thinker long ago and that nobody in the present day knows who he is. Toro says he is a ghost haunting the life that he used to have.

Vision replies that Bucky held the cosmic cube and undid Toro’s death in the only way that Bucky knew would leave the logic of history intact. (See Avengers/Invaders #12). Toro is angry while looking at his wife with her new husband. Toro says he just wants to sow the whole damn world with salt. Vision replies that Tom’s wife has found happiness and consolation in her second marriage.

Toro rages that he just wants what he had before he died. Toro asks what is the point of coming back to life if his life is simply erased. Tom wonders what he is to do with his new life. Vision replies that Tom is to do what all people do: Live. Fight. Strive. Bear witness. Toro is irritated with the Vision and tells him that he will see the Vision later. Toro then flames on and flies off into the sky. The Vision says that he will meet with Tom again, soon.

We cut to the Mad Thinker at an AIM facility meeting with several AIM leaders. The AIM leaders want to hire Mad Thinker to create a weapon that is versatile, programmable, fast acting, city-sized and not traceable to AIM. The target is Vretik, Estonia.

Thinker agrees to take the contract with AIM. The AIM doctor assigned to work with Thinker is Eugene Toussaint. Eugene takes Thinker on a tour of the lab and the facilities which is stocked with every possible piece of tech and machinery. Thinker tells Eugene to get him a cup of coffee and to leave him to his work.

We see Tom going to where his sister used to work. Tom is informed that Elaine Raymond retired three years ago and never mentioned having a brother. Tom then goes to try and find a job but is informed that without any papers, no one will hire Tom.

Tom thinks about what it means to be alive. Is it breath? If that is the case then Tom has that. Tom wonders if life is thought. Tom can still think and that “there’s still someone looking out from behind these eyes.” Tom wonders if life is something else. A spark. A spark that he has lost. We see Tom enter a bar.

Tom proceeds to get drunk at the bar as he drinks shot after shot of whiskey. Suddenly, the Vision appears next to Tom. Vision tells Tom that this is not him. Vision says that this is not Tom’s path. Tom tells Vision to shut up. Tom says that none of this makes sense. That he feels out of place like a page that fell out of a different book. Tom says that there is not context here for him.

Tom points to the television which is playing a news report about the Dark Avengers. Tom says that the modern world has plenty of super heroes and that Tom would look silly in the modern outfits that super heroes wear nowadays. Tom says he is going to stay here and get drunk. The Vision then teleports away.

Tom continues to drink and watch the news report that talks about global warming, a serial killer stalking a city and a corrupt senator who is stepping down from his position in the Senate. Tom then leaves the bar. As Tom is walking down the street, Tom calls out for the Vision. The Vision then appears on the scene. Tom says that he has thought of something that is worth doing. Tom tells the Vision to take him to the man who killed him.

We cut to the Thinker working away in his lab. Eugene constantly second guesses the Thinker at every step of his work. This increasingly irritates the Thinker. We see The Vision teleporting himself and Tom into the Thinker’s AIM facility. Suddenly, our heroes are attacked by AIM soldiers. The Vision tells Tom that he will see Tom again when all of this is over. The Vision then teleports away from the scene.

Toro then flames on and begins to kick ass on the AIM soldiers. We see Toro melt through the wall to the lab where the Thinker is working. Toro introduces himself as Toro, Tom Raymond, the man that the Thinker killed. The Thinker then pushes a button on his watch and suddenly Toro’s flames go out. Thinker then blasts Toro with a concussive blast. Toro falls to the ground unconscious. Thinker tells Eugene to take Toro to the operating room.

We cut to Toro waking up and finding himself strapped to an operating table. The Thinker says that when he had Toro and the original Human Torch captive he was able to conduct tests on both of them. The tests showed that Toro’s powers were genetic and that the Torch’s powers were chemical based. Thinker says that it seems unlikely that a mutant and an android, both firestarters, would meet by chance and become firm friends.

The Thinker continues that there is a principle in both science and logic called Occam’s razor. This principle states that out of all the possible explanations for a given phenomenon that the simplest is the most likely to be correct.

Thinker states how Phineas Horton has no intention of making a weapon. That Horton only wanted to be God. In 1939, Francis Crick and James Watson had not yet discovered the double helix. Alan Turing had not constructed the first programmable machine. The infrastructure was not there for Horton. The digital and organic routes to artificial life were closed to Horton.

Horton was always coy about the details, but he did talk in great lengths about the composition of the human cell. Horton hinted that he had found a way to replicate the structure of the human cell by using a variant of the polyurethane plastics synthesized by Otto Bayer.

Of course, Horton lost control of the situation during the public unveiling of his creation when his synthetic man burst into flame. Horton’s creation became the Human Torch and was used by the military to battle the Nazis in World War II. Thinker says that Torch would never have been given so much autonomy and freedom had he not been so useful in the war effort.

The Thinker says that he has formed a hypothesis over the years since testing on the Torch and Toro. Thinker takes a DNA sample from Toro. Toro says that he would rather die than help the Thinker. Thinker replies that Toro may just do both.

We zip forward to the Thinker examining a cell sample from Toro. The Thinker exclaims that he may have found the smoking gun. The Thinker says that Toro’s cells are not human. That they are Horton cells made of long chain plastic/carbon polymers. The same cells that the Human Torch was formed from.

Thinker says that Toro is a mutant, but at some point he must have been exposed to the Horton cells. Thinker states that they must have affected the expression of Toro’s mutant powers. Thinker says that this raises some fascinating and exciting possibilities. Thinker says that they shall keep Toro alive and conduct some further investigation.

We cut to Arlington Cemetery where we see an AIM ship arrive on the scene. AIM soldiers descend on the Human Torch’s grave. They dig up the Torch’s casket. We cut back to the Thinker’s lab where the AIM ship is unloading the Torch’s body. The Thinker investigates the Torch’s body. The Thinker says “History repeats itself, my dear friend. The first time as tragedy. The second time as business.” End of issue.

Commentary

The Good: The Torch #1 was a fantastic read. This issue was tailor made for my tastes. I continue to be pleased with Marvel’s concerted effort to re-establish their Golden Age characters within the 616 Universe. I am having a blast seeing all the assorted fantastic Golden Age characters from Timely Comics appearing on the various Marvel titles this year. I hope this is a trend that we see continue even after Marvel is done celebrating their 70th anniversary.

Unlike DC’s Golden Age characters, Marvel virtually ignored their Golden Age characters when the 616 universe was being constructed. The 616 universe’s continuity really only begins between 1961-63 with the creation of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk and the Avengers. This huge gap in their continuity allows Marvel more freedom in expanding their continuity to include all the Timely characters within the 616 universe without conflicting too much with the current continuity stemming from the early 1960’s.

The Torch #1 performed all the necessary duties of a set-up issue. Carey lays a strong foundation for this eight-issue mini-series. Since The Torch #1 starred several Golden Age Timely characters, Carey was at a disadvantage in that many readers know next to nothing about characters like Toro, the original Human Torch, the Vision and Professor Horton. Even the Thinker is not the most well known villain. However, Carey did an excellent job giving enough back-story on all the various characters and doing it in a seamless fashion that never broke the flow of the story. The Torch #1 is certainly new reader friendly.

The Torch #1 was a wonderfully written issue. Carey constructs a deep and complex read. This issue has plenty of substance and layers for the reader to delve into. The reader easily gets lost in this story. Carey’s use of language was impressive. Carey’s descriptions and use of imagery were excellent. The level of attention to detail that Carey places into each sentence was remarkable. Carey crafted plenty of wonderful dialogue. Toro’s inner narration that ran through large portions of this issue was brilliant.

The level of detail that Carey puts into The Torch #1 is much appreciated. In particular, I loved the way that Love the way that Carey describes Professor Horton’s daunting task in creating the Human Torch. Carey’s use of all of the various real world scientists and their inventions and discoveries is an example of how Carey did his best to give this story plenty of depth and texture. This use of real world figures in science serves to give this story a more realistic and full feel. This is also consistent with Marvel’s effort to root their 616 universe firmly in the real world.

The well-crafted dialogue and narration helped bring these characters to life. The character work on this issue was well done. All of the character work in this issue was centered on Toro and the Thinker. The reader gets a fine sense of the personalities of both characters. I particularly enjoyed how Carey wrote Toro’s character. Carey conveys the sense of emptiness and loss as well as the rage inside of Toro’s soul in a passionate fashion. The reader gets a good sense of how completely displaced Toro feels in this present day era. The description of Toro being a ghost in his own life was perfect.

Toro shifts between loneliness and depression to anger and rage concerning losing his wife to another man. Toro’s rage finally finds an outlet in the form of the man who killed Toro: The Thinker. Toro’s reaction to his new lease on life was well done and made sense. I also appreciate that Carey did not go overboard with Toro’s reaction to his new life. The story was just dark enough, but never crossed the line into melodrama.

I liked how Carey handled the Thinker’s character. The Thinker is a classic Fantastic Four villain created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Thinker used the original Human Torch to fight Johnny Storm back in Fantastic Four Annual #4. The Thinker ended up killing Toro in Sub-Mariner #14 in 1969. Carey is able to make the Thinker a legitimate and menacing evil threat. The Thinker has no conscience and is capable of awful and brutal acts in the name of his own brand of science.  Carey is able to make the Thinker “mad” enough without making him an over the top caricature.

I also liked how Carey gave this issue a little comedic relief in the form of Eugene and the way that Eugene continually got under the Thinker’s skin. A little bit of humor was necessary in an issue as generally somber as The Torch #1. I also appreciated that the humor was in proper context and done within character. The humor never de-evolved the Thinker into a punch line of a villain.

I enjoyed how Carey employed the Vision in this issue. The Golden Age Vision was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and first appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 in 1940. The Golden Age Vision is a pretty neat character. Carey has the Vision play a cool Phantom Stranger styled role in this issue. The Vision is a useful character and I would like to see more of him. The Vision is not a character that could carry a title. But, the Vision is a fine plot tool that could be utilized across the Marvel Universe in trying to warn or help heroes in his own mysterious fashion.

The Torch #1 was a well plotted and focused issue. Carey clearly outlines the mission objective for this mini-series and gets it underway with a fine hook ending. Carey teases the reader with the plotline involving what the Vision has planned for Toro. Vision cryptically states that he will see Toro once again after Toro is done with the Thinker. I am interested to see what “path” the Vision believes that Toro should be taking with his new lease on life.

The other main plotline involves the mysterious connection between Toro and the Human Torch. Carey delivers the stunning revelation that Toro has the Horton Cells inside of him. We know that Toro is a mutant. When he was a boy, Toro survived a train wreck that killed his parents. This was due to Toro’s mutant ability that made him invulnerable to fire.

Toro’s fire starter powers did not surface until he came into contact with the Human Torch. It is possible that Horton used the Horton Cells to give Toro powers like the Human Torch. Carey totally hooked me with this plot and I cannot wait to come back for more with the next issue.

Patrick Berkenkotter does a fine job with the artwork in this issue. Berkenkotter’s style of art was a perfect match for the Golden Age characters and the mood and tone of Carey’s story. Berkenkotter’s art has a distinctive painted style that some readers may find too stiff. Berkenkotter was able to create an rich looking issue that was able to carry the story despite the lack of any real action.

The Bad: The Torch #1 was a typical set-up issue in terms of what it had to accomplish. Unfortunately, that means The Torch #1 also suffered from many of the defects that set-up issues possess. The Torch #1 was a slowly paced read. Carey took his time to introduce and establish the various characters. There is practically no action at all in The Torch #1. All the reader got was a very brief two-page fight scene. The Torch #1 was certainly a character driven issue. The lack of action and the slow pacing are sure to turn off some readers.

Overall: The Torch #1 was a well crafted and enjoyable read. Readers should not let their lack of knowledge of the various Golden Age characters prevent them from giving this issue a chance. This issue is quite new reader friendly. The Torch #1 was a character heavy read that offers a textured and substantive read that gives the reader plenty to digest. I would not recommend The Torch #1 to action fans. However, to everyone else, I would recommend giving The Torch #1 a try.

1 Comments

  1. WTF? Why did AIM wanted to shoot Estonia.I live in Estonia.

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