Toro! Toro! Toro! – Fantasy Masterpieces #11
The Golden Age of comics wasn’t just a halcyon epoch in general, but was also a true era of distinction for one key aspect of the genre: the sidekick. In a time when even Batman, the solitary dark avenger, realized he had to have a junior partner, it was de rigueur for almost everyone in capes in tights to keep a young helper at their side. And for every Bucky there was a half-naked kid in their underwear being a little too familiar with their older half, so that while most of the audience saw merry crimefighting hijinks, the Frederic Werthams of the world saw depravity and catamites. And boy (no pun), some of these sidekick relationships could be more than a little weird — take the cross-gender pairing of the Golden Age Black Cat and Kit. (Though, really, what kid is going to complain about hanging out with a babe whose preferred method of subduing crooks is headscissoring them with her hot gams?)
So today we dig back into the old-timey yore of Marvel, to examine the debut of the sidekick to the original Human Torch. Will he be cool, or at least as cool as a blazing person can be? Or creepy? Enter Toro!First, a word in praise of Fantasy Masterpieces, one of several thick reprint anthologies that Marvel published regularly in its 1960s heyday. Their hosannas have already been sung in these parts, as they offered contemporaneous re-presentations of some of Marveldom’s finest offerings in its magical decade. But they could also be troves of forgotten goodness, of tales long relegated to the dustbin but relevant once more thanks to repurposings in the burgeoning shared universe of the House of Ideas. This issue of FM is no exception (it was also the last edition to bear that title, before the series became Marvel Super-Heroes), as the inside front cover — and a hefty helping of h-heavy Stan Lee hysterics — can attest:
Golden Age Namor! Golden Age Captain America! “Mr. Morgan’s Monster,” about as Jack Kirby a creature as you can ever get! Excelsior!
But, of course, it’s the Golden Age Torch that’s our focus today, and more specifically his youthful companion (in a story written and artified by Carl Burgos). As alluded to before, this era’s sidekicks were cast into a danger zone of suggestive taboo sexuality — but maybe Toro will be free of all that. I mean, the first page, indeed his very first appearance ever, won’t have any of this nonsense, right?:
And we’re off!
Toro, the half-naked boy with the mighty queer blazing body whose flame can only be doused by the Torch’s ministrations, is an act in a traveling circus, run by Pops, an affable enough fellow who’s a father figure to the orphaned boy and who immediately befriends the Torch. Which is good for Pops, because there’s a bullying strongman in his circus named Samson (of course), bedecked in the traditional animal skins, strappy sandals and Eastern Europeanish accent of his calling. Torch sends him packing:
This gives us a moment to flash back to Toro’s senses-shattering origin, in which his parents die in a fiery train wreck and he emerges unharmed from the flames:
Not only was his skin unburnt, but he was clutching a red-hot clump of steel, which was the first true indicator of his power. The couple who rescued him adopted him on the spot (no need for pesky agencies and background checks in those days), and since they were an act in Pops’ traveling circus, Toro had his calling all set.
But none of this impresses the Torch all that much:
Yeah, thanks for the empathy, Torch. (Douche.)
Torch sets about training Toro, harnessing his new-found abilities to maintain his immolation and developing the power of flight. Meanwhile, Samson has been plotting his revenge. He’s become a suit-wearing kingpin of crime, in a remarkably rapid transition from leopard-print undies that surely sets some manner of comic book land-speed record. He and his gang of wiseguy toughs set about sabotaging the circus, which means that Torch and Toro, in their first teaming, have to give him his comeuppance. This includes tossing a clump of fire like a baseball and singeing off his mustache:
The day is won, and Toro can look forward to his bright future as not only a circus act, but a righter of wrongs. And the Torch can look forward to having his hand menacingly close to Toro’s crotch:
There you have it — another Golden Age sidekick, another kid paraded around in his BVDs. Toro has popped in and out of Marvel continuity over the decades, including a central role in the Torch miniseries from several years back. But never were his doings as mighty queer as they were in this first appearance. Thank you, Fantasy Masterpieces. Thank you so very much.