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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

NEAR-MYTHS: ["HUMAN TORCH'S ORIGIN"] (MARVEL COMICS #1. 1939)



In a couple of essays like this one, I've established that I don't think Carl Burgos' Human Torch feature ever lived up to its potential. While no one would expect an early Golden Age superhero to excel into didactic or dramatic terms, some of them are quite good in the mythopoeic department. The Torch, unfortunately, generates more heat than light.

There was a lot of potential for mythic "light" in Burgos' reworking of Mary Shelley's novel FRANKENSTEIN. Was Burgos aware of the book's subtitle, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS, and that the subtitle referenced a Roman modification of the Greek Titan's history, one that gave Prometheus the ability to make men out of clay? If so, that might have provided the association between Prometheus the fire-thief and Prometheus the maker of artificial men-- resulting in the idea of a fiery android.

Or maybe the inspiration came from Universal's Frankenstein films, three of which had come to the big screen by the time of the Torch's first appearance (cover dated October 1939, meaning that it came out a few months previous). The cinematic monster had a legendary fear of fire, and so its possible that this eventuated in the idea of an artificial man who incarnated fire-- though personally, this seems to me more of a leap than the previous associational chain.

In any case, the first half of the origin is a masterpiece of potential myth. For no well defined reason, Professor Horton creates his flammable android, and is almost immediately convinced to seal him away, not unlike a guilty mind concealing a forbidden sin.




For a moment, Burgos gets some of the emotional sense of what it might be like, to be a man whose very body caused conspicuous destruction. 

However, the moment Burgos injects a common crook for the Torch's first real enemy, the story devolves into mediocrity.



I've read only a smattering of the original Human Torch's adventures, and though they display some interesting moments of grotesquerie, the feature never developed beyond a very basic pulp-action concept. Its strength depended almost entirely on the kinetic appeal of a man made of fire, flying through the air, tossing fireballs, and absorbing the flames of random fires. Even in his crossovers with the Sub-Mariner, the android comes off like a penny-ante hero, with no strong character of his own.

Given that the second Human Torch also didn't do too well in his own feature, it may be that the true myth of this "Promethean Frankenstein" has yet to be told.

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