Balls Deep in the Golden Age: Human Torch Marvel Masterworks #3

I don’t often buy random comic book reprints, since I’m currently trying to collect several series already (All Star Comics Archives, Doom Patrol Archives, Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks, etc.), but if I’m searching on Amazon or e-Bay and I see one sitting there for less than $15 USD shipped, I usually will take a second and snag it. That’s what I did last week when I saw the third Golden Age Human Torch Masterworks sitting in the Amazon Marketplace for ten samoleons.

Golden Age Human Torch Marvel Masterworks #3I kinda thought it was a mistake, since this one was in the original MM trade dress, and they seem to go for more money than the regular, but it showed up yesterday all shiny and orangy. I just started paging through it when I opened the box, not intending to read much of it, but for some reason, the book drew me in and there I was starting the second issue just before breakfast. During the day, I kept going back to it and ended up finishing the book late last night.

The one thing that the Marvel Masterworks reprints have over most of the DC Archives is that they normally reprint series over characters; The golden age volumes reprint entire issues, not just all the features starring one character. Mind you, I enjoyed the Doctor Fate Archives and the Black Canary Archives immensely, but I would love to have seen entire issues of More Fun Comics or Flash Comics instead.  This volume reprints Human Torch  #9-12, and while only #10 is really as feature-laden as an issue of Marvel Mystery Comics, the whole comic books are reprinted, meaning the book is really a Human Torch/Sub-Mariner book (like the GA Sub-Mariner MMs are Subby/Angel books).

I’m not sure why I was enthralled by the book. It wasn’t even the regular creative team on the Torch feature (if “regular” could be applied to any Golden Age team besides Simon and Kirby). Carl Burgos and Bill Everett, the creators of the Torch and Namor, were serving in the military, so the majority of the art chores on the main features went to the often and undeservedly derided Al Fagaly and Carl Pfeufer, two workhorses of the Timely era. Personally, unless I’m being scholarly and actually looking, I rarely notice a lot of difference in Fagaly’s Torch and Toro, except for a little less detail in the presentation. Pfeufer’s Sub-Mariner does take a bit to get used to, with that triangle-shaped head, but he just has a more cartoony style than Bill Everett. And it’s hard for ANYONE to look outstanding when compared to Bill Everett, even today.

The stories were all very good, even considering the normal jingoism and racism of the era. It was wartime, after all, and comics were an important source of propaganda both on the homefront and for the armed forces in the midst of the action. Even the text features in these books were given over to tales of normal joes doing their best to help the war effort. It is quaint and a tad humorous to see the now-immensely regal Prince Namor of Atlantis breaking the fourth wall to tell folks to buy war stamps.

Issue #10 features a bunch of more lighthearted humor back-ups along with the main Torch and Sub-Mariner tales, including a humor filler by Basil Wolverton – always welcome in ANY comic book – and an adventure of Jimmy Jupiter. I like that strip, just because it proves that any old golden age feature from the Timely Era is still game for modern writers, as Jimmy (a young boy with a VERY active imagination) was an important player in the 2011 Captain America comic book.  Issue #12, the final issue in this volume, also stands out, with a strangely-gory cover, even for the pre-code era. The Human Torch is shown saving a young woman from a Japanese executor by grabbing the man’s arm and literally burning the flesh off it to the bone. Even without the later standards the CCA applied to comics, it just seems like someone wasn’t looking too closely when they sent this one off to the printer. There wasn’t even a story in the issue that was even remotely like the cover, as the Torch stopped Hitler’s ultimate V-2 from destroying New York and rescued a Russian sniper who was on a goodwill tour. Heck, even Subby was tackling Nazi u-boats; they just weren’t in the Pacific Theater much yet.

Golden Age Human Torch Marvel Masterworks #3  is just a very enjoyable blast from the past. As with most of the MM  GA reprints, it really shows how much Marvel/Timely had on the ball even back then, in the pre-“Excelsior!” days, and shows how a lot of veritable “unknown” writers and artists, at least to modern comic book fans, took up the torch and keep the home fires burning.

Oh jeez. I’m sorry. That pun really sucked. I’ll try to light up a better one later.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

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