Spider-Man and a mind-controlled Human Torch renew their ancient teenage rivalry – The Fantastic Four #207
Amongst the Marvel pantheon, Johnny Storm has always been the fellow hero to bring out the worst in Peter Parker. Maybe it’s something about them both being testosterone-addled young men. Maybe it’s that the New York City megalopolis isn’t big enough to hold two youthful super-powered egos. Whatever it is, the most incongruous of Spider-Man’s early Silver Age appearances were his brief dealings with the Fantastic Four and their hot-headed junior member. Here was this generally mild-mannered youngster, raised well by his salt of the Earth aunt and uncle, a kid who may have wisecracked his way through the more death-defying moments of his crime-fighting career, but didn’t do so with a chip on his shoulder (not after poor Uncle Ben). And you put him in the same room with Johnny Storm, and things got hot, pun intended.
Look no farther than some of their earliest meetings. The first came, of course, in the very first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, but subsequent encounters amped things up. They fought due to a misunderstanding in the second Strange Tales annual (though they teamed to take down a villain) and their battle in ASM #8 was pure spite. Spider-Man sees how socially successful Storm is, with hot cars and hotter babes, and horns in uninvited at a party to strut his own stuff. Butted heads ensue, and the rest of the Four have to settle things down. The Torch, no shrinking violet, almost seems the rational easy-going sort in the exchange, the aggrieved party, whereas Parker evinces some variant of the Napoleonic complex, an irritated struggle to answer questions that no one is asking. He was nothing short of a prick in that backup story, and it always sticks out like a sore thumb whenever I yank the 500 pound ASM Omnibus off the shelf. It’s a different Spider-Man than the one we know and love, and Johnny is the catalyst.
The tension even carried over into over-and-done cameos in their by-day guises, as we’ve seen here before. It just never ends with these two. In light of all that, we may as well subtitle today’s comic “HERE WE GO AGAIN.” Though the two heroes aren’t at each other’s throats throughout, there’s definitely something boiling under the surface.
And their renewed contretemps isn’t the only attraction here. There’s also the Monocle, the reason for this story’s events, an evil-doer who has the dubious distinction of being one of the lamest villains ever to slime his way into the ranks of Marvel villainy. Doctor Doom and Magneto don’t have a lot to worry about from his corner, put it that way. He’s a German scientist who can hypnotize and fire energy burst with the single, eye-cavity-clenched lens that gives him his name. And he has a beard. This comic marks his last appearance (I think) in the Marvel U., and that should tell you something about the quality of his characterization. He’s a stinker. (His presence does bring up an interesting question, though: Why aren’t there more villains out there named after clichéd appurtenances of evil? The Waxed Mustache. The Bisecting Eye Scar. The White Cat on the Lap. The Beetled Brow. Yes, these sound silly, BUT THIS GUY IS CALLED THE MONOCLE. Why not?)
Marv Wolfman , Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott bring us this fight- and Monocle-infused tale. The Monocle gets things going in the story by brainwashing well-off youths at Security College to do his bidding (and in turn the bidding of the Enclave, the organization he’s working for), including the young Johnny Storm. Surely the following scene parallels what certain right-leaning people see as the conditioning imposed on students by left-leaning academe):
Meanwhile, Peter is out pounding the pavement, having been fired by J. Jonah Jameson. He turns to venerable but minor Spider-verse character Barney Bushkin for a job, at the Daily Bugle’s blood rival, the Daily Globe — the MSNBC to their FOX, the New Republic to their National Review. It’s an experience that has to have Peter wondering why he didn’t piss in Jonah’s coffee sooner:
His first assignment? Infiltrate the secretive Security College campus by posing as a student, and snap some pics of the goings on. Peter naturally runs into Johnny, and after being in comics together for close to twenty years by this point, Johnny still doesn’t have a clue about Peter’s second calling:
(Technically, I’d like to point out that, since Johnny still doesn’t realize that Peter is Spider-Man, the last time both parties would have knowingly met might have been the Fantastic Four issue I linked to above, and not the meeting in ASM #21, which had the Torch battling Spider-Man. They were both published in the same month, so this a bit of a gray area. – Jolly Jared.)
Hey, even guys named Monocle suffer under the yoke of middle management:
The Monocle’s plans for assembling weaponry and plans for the same are foiled by Spider-Man’s presence. Not even a mind-controlled Human Torch is enough to stop his do-goodery – here’s Spider-Man using a web-slinger’s take on Rock/Paper/Scissors to extinguish his momentary foe:
Now they both team up and nab that dopey Monocle, right? Wrong. Monocle, like all goofy comic super-villains in suits, has an escape rocket hidden in the campus ivy, one that repels the best efforts to stop it:
So the Monocle blows up for no damn reason. What a villain. We hardly knew ye. (Nice bit about Spider-Man and the Torch going to see Superman: The Movie, though.)
This was one of the few Fantastic Four comics I had as a kid, and I’d like to thank the Monocle for likely being the thing that poisoned that well for me until I was well into adulthood. The Fantastic Four were always passed over on the newsstand rack, and I hold Wolfman, S. Buscema and Sinnott totally blameless in this, placing the weight of shame solely on Monocle’s padded shoulders. As for Spider-Man and the Torch, at least they seem to be getting along here at issue’s end, and not geared up to slam heads like horny goats.
Still, in light of their history, the cover image seems like a natural state of affairs.