I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
Sometimes I begin one of these posts by conceding that I’m about to abuse the word “youth.” Given the limited series Spider-Man/Human Torch, written by Dan Slott and drawn by Ty Templeton, made its debut in 2005, well past the point I could reasonably claim a fresh-faced innocence, I should probably be offering that sheepish qualifier now. Instead, I’ll note that “youth” can be a relative term. At least, the right comic has the possibility of reviving that inner piece of myself that decided a long time ago that four-color adventures were a good way to misspend my time.
Though I can’t remember the precise circumstances, I know I bought the Spider-Man/Human Torch collection at a low moment. It gave me the the boost I needed, precisely because of how expertly Slott’s storytelling tapped into years of the brightest, boldest, most effervescent bits of Marvel Comics continuity. As cliche as it is to term a modern story a love letter to what’s come before, that’s fitting in this instance. At a time when the main Spider-Man title was mired in the ret-conning ugliness of writer J. Michael Straczynski’s “Sins Past” arc, which took unseemly delight in inserting a rape subplot into the melodramatic but whimsical overarching storylines of the nineteen-sixties, Slott realized what was really needed was some quality time with the Spider-Mobile.
The long-established friendship between the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch and Spider-Man, which Stan Lee undoubtedly landed on back in the day because both characters were high school teenagers, provided the framework of the limited series. Hopping across decades of continuity, Slott and Templeton tapped into all the joy and wonder of Marvel Comics, the sense of constant and fearless invention that set the publisher apart in the first place, with sly meta-asides to the reader, such as Spider-Man’s direct acknowledgment of abundant Kirby Krackle as he joins the FF on an interdimensional adventure.
The creators’ commitment to every bit of Marveldom that represented delight and innocence is exemplified by their cleverness in managing to logically draw one of the old Hostess ads, a mainstay of comics in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties, into official continuity.
What truly sets Spider-Man/Human Torch apart from the other Marvel comics of its time, and almost all of those that have followed, is an appreciative embrace of the full-to-bursting fictional history shared by all of these character. It doesn’t just stand on the shoulders of that history or, worse and far more common, acknowledge it with a grudging disdain. It values what came before, finding a warm-hearted sentiment in little grace notes, like the Fantastic Four owning a copy of Webs, the book of Peter Parker’s photographs that was part of nineteen-eighties continuity, or Peter and young Franklin Richards bonding over the fact that they each have a beloved Uncle Ben.
Slott and Templeton tapped into precisely why I adored comics in a way I could never quite escape. To borrow an observation being smartly applied to a different pop culture offering these days, it didn’t capture the tone of those old comics as much as it did the feel of reading them. That’s a comfort I needed when I first read it. I’m equally glad to know I can pluck the series off the shelf whenever I want. Like many of us, I suppose, I still do need that feeling from time to time.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.