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Recap / Marvel Mystery Comics 02 Human Torch

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Summary: Human Torch (1939) faces off against a racer who wins by making his opponents crash and burn.


The Torch is watching the Tipton Classic, an auto race. Suddenly, car 7 runs off the track and bursts into flames! He turns on his flame and runs across the track to try to pull the driver free, but he's too late. When he looks back, two more cars have burst into flames on the track.

There is an airplane buzzing the track, and the Torch realizes that every time it gets behind a car, the car bursts into flames.note  The winner of the racenote , Ross, leaps from his car and demands that the Torch be arrested for the murders of the drivers. A handy policeman immediately places the Torch under arrest, despite his objections that the plane is responsible.

The Torch snaps off his flame and allows himself to be handcuffed, but he is so warm that the cop burns his hand and the handcuffs start melting. He goes along anyhow, after he had proved that they couldn't hold him if he didn't allow it, proclaiming that he has nothing to fear because he is innocent.


He is thrown into a jail cell with another man, who recognizes him and immediately claims he has some interesting information for him. He says his name is Johnson, he was tipped off the Torch was coming, he knows he was framed, and that he used to work for Blackie Ross in the racing racket. According to him, Ross uses a plane to pump incendiary bullets into the other cars so that he wins.

Vowing to "get that guy!", the Torch immediately melts the bars and walks out of jail. He tells the Sergeant he'll see him again when he has the real killers. The police attempt to shoot him with machine guns, but the bullets melt in the aura of his heat. A police car chases him, so he throws a fireball to take out the tire. More police cars close in on him, and he leaps over them and makes his getaway.

The scene cuts to several days later, and the Torchnote  is looking at a poster for another race, the Anita Classic. He decides to go to the race, thinking that he may pick up Ross's trail there. He knows the police are there looking for him, so he climbs a tree outside the track to watch.


Shortly after the race begins, the same plane from before appears, circling the track. He puts on his flame and determines to catch it when it circles around again.

The plane fires its incendiary bullets into a car on the track, and the Torch leaps onto the plane. He melts through the motor as the car crashes in a fiery heap. The burning plane crashes in the inner field and the pilot escapes (to the Torch's surprise) on foot, running for Blackie's pitnote . The Torch throws fire that encircles him, and the pilot begs for his life.

But suddenly the plane explodes! The pilot immediately changes his mind, now that all of the evidence has been destroyed, and tells him to go fly a kite. And the Torch runs off as the fire department arrives on the scene.

The scene changes to a hotel frequented by racing drivers, several hours later, where the Torch waits, hoping to pick up Ross's trail again. A man crossing the lobby, who would call himself Rednote , recognizes the Torch and runs to the telephones to call Blackie and tell him about the Torch. He is instructed to keep an eye on him.

At Blackie's, Ross and a woman (later named Lola) are trying to think of ways to get rid of the Torch. The woman says she has a plan.

Back at the hotel, later, Ross's girl sits down next to the Torch, sobbing into her handkerchief. The Torch immediately asks her what's wrong. The woman says that the driver of the car that burned at the track was her brother, and it's all Ross's fault. The Torch jumps at the mention of his target and demands to know where he can find Ross; the woman tells him he hangs out at a garage, and when he asks for directions offers to take him in her car.

When they arrive, the woman stands back and tells the Torch he'll have to open the roll doors to get in. He does so, and immediately falls headfirst into a giant vat of water that is on the other sidenote . Blackie and Red load the vat into a truck, and Red drives off with Ross giving him directions and Lola riding with them.

After hours of driving, they follow a dirt road to the old lime pits. Red loads the vat up on a mining cart and the Torch is sent into the mine, and at the end is spilled into a pit of boiling lime. At the entrance, Blackie Ross comments about how they're now rid of the Torch, then startles as he thinks he hears laughter from below. Lola assures him he's just being jumpy, because no one could be laughing in boiling lime. Blackie agrees and they head out for Auson City, where they have the Birmingham Handicaps, a two day journey away. Lola asks him to promise there'll be no killing this time, and he does.

Later, nearby villagers see flames shooting from the old lime pit. Despite the reluctance of some who think that the mine is haunted, as it has been closed for ten years, a few men check it out the following day. They find the pit completely emptied of lime, saying it has been burned out completely, and no sign of anyone who was there but burning footprints leading away from the mouth of the cave.

In the town, the Torch, who has found some coveralls to look less conspicuous, reads a newspaper and find the information about the race and $20,000 prize moneynote . Unremarked-upon, the front page of the newspaper has the headline "Jailbird Escape", presumably referring to the Torch (or possibly his cellmate who could have gotten out using the holes he left).

The race is the next day, so he turns on his flames, to the amazement of the townspeople, and speeds and leaps on his way.

He arrives just as the race is starting. With no time for other methods, the Torch bursts through the fence and onto the track himself, passing several cars in an attempt to single out Ross. The judges call him a human rocket.

The Torch leaps onto Ross's car, causing him to lose control and careen into his pit. The pit crew open fire on him with guns, hoping to draw him away from Ross, and the Torch falls for the distraction and gives chase, into the stands. The stands burst into flames as he touches them, and the Torch, realizing that innocent people will be burned, lets out a long, weird yell, and the flames and smoke miraculously disappear completely; he says that the flames "know their master's voice".

An unusually fast car speeds away from the scene with Ross inside, and the Torch gives chase. The car swerves into a steel mill, and Ross and his gang pile out; he orders them to get into asbestos suits so they can fight the Torch. They all grab water hoses and spray down the Torch, the force of the water forcing him into a bucket, and Ross open the chute to fill it with molten steel. He declares that they've finally gotten the Torch, and now all that's left is to let it harden and dump it in the ocean.

But instead the steel erupts like a volcano, and the Torch leaps free, though still weighed down by the steel clinging to him. The gangsters try to escape, ahd he flings a fireball at them, which is so hot they can feel it through the asbestos and they're forced to turn back. One gangster begs for mercy, saying that he isn't Blackie, but the Torch points out that he helped kill innocent people as well, and shoots fire to destroy the suit's glass eye panel and blind him.

Suddenly the building starts to collapse due to the heat. Blackie and Red run through the wall as the Torch watches them, half-smiling, telling them they won't get far. They say that they have an ace in the hole if they can get to the car — the Torch doesn't chase, allowing them to get to the car, only to be blinded by a smoke screen that lets them get away before it's cleared.

At that moment a car rolls up; the Torch thinks it's a police car and he has to leave, but his cellmate Johnson is inside and asks what's going on. The Torch recounts the events, and Johnson says they must have headed for the airport. The Torch turns off his flame and asks him how he got out of jail, promising to send him out if he broke out, but Johnson reveals that he's an undercover man working on the case with the police.

Johnson drives them toward the airport, but the Torch feels that their 100 mile per hour speed is "creeping", and he turns his flame back on and goes on ahead. There's a wooden bridge that he knows he will burn if he tries to run across, so he leaps over it, and minutes later is at the airport, where he turns off his flame again so that people inside won't be hurt.

He finds Ross's plane taking off and can't catch it, but he has one final shot — he throws a fireball, which gets ahead of it and turns back, slamming into the propeller. The pilot inside tells Lola the propeller is melted and he'll have to land. On landing, the pilot and passengers spot the Torch and scatter, but the Torch, grinning, summons a ring of fire around the trio. It turns out that Ross is not among them. The Torch demands to know where he is. The pilot defiantly tells him to burn a hole in the ground, to which the Torch says he finds it more convenient to burn a hole in the pilot's jaw and punches him, leaving his jaw burned too badly to feelnote .

A car zooms up, and the Torch recognizes that it is Blackie's, and Blackie inside recognizes him. He declares this time, it's either him or the Torch, and guns his car at the Torch; his passenger (never identified, possibly Red) says he can count him out and bails from the moving car.

The Torch leaps over the car instead of being run over, and then dodged another attempt to hit him. Then he declares it's his turn and rips the hood off of Ross's car. He then blows up a tire with the point of his finger, and sends the car rolling. It lands upright, and Blackie says it's his turn again, and guns it for him again. This time the Torch burns a ditch into the field and the car hits it and is launched into the air.

Seconds after landing, the car's gas tank explodes. Ross is pinned to the wheel in the burning car and begs for help. The Torch demands that Ross sign a confession for all of the racetrack murders before he will pull him out. Ross agrees desperately, and the Torch tells him to stop screaming, reminding him that he's wearing an asbestos suit. He burns away the pieces of the car trapping Ross and retrieves him.

Later, Ross admits that he forgot about the suit, and hands over his written confession, noting that it's very thorough. Johnson and the police commissioner arrive, the Torch explains himself and hands over the confession, and receives an apology from the police commissioner, only for them to find that he has vanished, leaving nothing but his flaming footprints behind.

This issue provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Mine: The Torch is disposed of in an abandoned, boiling lime pit which has been closed for 10 years.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: The Torch extracts Ross's confession by saying it's the only way he'll save him.
  • Burial at Sea: Defied; the gangsters intend to dump the steel he's encased in into the ocean to dispose of him, but he melts it and escapes beforehand.
  • Buried Alive: The bad guys have no way of killing the Torch, so they dump him into a pit of boiling lime alive, thinking it will be enough to hold him. They are wrong.
  • Bus Crash: The first actual panel of comic (after the recap) establishes that the last scene of the previous issue (where he left Horton's home and it was not on fire) has been retconned, or something happened in between:
    Woman: I say, it was an awful crime for the Torch to burn up Horton's home and kill him!
    (disguised) Torch: Maybe it was his own fault, ma'm—
  • Cardboard Prison: To be honest, the prison is probably just fine for normal people, but the Torch can melt steel without even trying, so the bars are no more trouble to him than a beaded curtain.
  • Car Fu: Ross tries to run the Torch down at the end.
  • Decoy Damsel: Lola pretends to need the Torch's help to avenge her "poor lost brother" to lure him into a trap.
  • Defiant Captive: The (second) pilot, despite being captured by the Torch, doesn't tell him anything and tells him to go burn the ground, which comes off as a G-rated "go screw yourself".
  • Dehumanizing Insult: "Rat" seems to have been a popular insult of the times (at least judging by these comments), but the Torch also calls Blackie a murdering dog.
  • Easily Forgiven: After turning Ross in to the cops, the police forget all about the destruction and death he caused, and the fact that he melted his way out of jail and evaded arrest.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Cars burst into flames left and right.
    • Likely somewhat Justified — these are race cars from The '30s. In its youth, auto racing was a deadly sport.
  • Eye Scream: The Torch shatters an asbestos suit's glass eye panel while someone is wearing it and blinds him.
  • Fireballs: His throws fire, such as to take out the police car's tire.
  • Footprints of Muck: The Torch leaves behind footprints of fire.
  • Funetik Aksent: Some of the mobsters are written with "Joisey" accents.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The Torch punches out the pilot (with his flame on, burning his jaw badly).
  • Hand Blast: The Torch brandishes his pointer finger at the gangsters and shoots fire, which targets the asbestos suit's glass eyepiece and shatters it.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: There's a paper in the story about how he killed Horton, and he is immediately arrested for the racetrack murders and branded a killer.
    • Justified in that his previous appearances led to widespread burning of homes, buildings, and citizens, all the bad guy's he's crossed with to this point ended up dead, and he has apparently just killed his creator.
  • Hypocrite: The Torch tells Johnson that if he broke out of jail, he's going to send him right back, two days after breaking out of jail himself.
  • Idiot Ball: Ross completely forgot he was wearing an asbestos suit so (by comic book standards) wasn't in danger from the fire, so didn't have to give his confession to be saved.
  • Immune to Bullets: The pit crew fire on him utterly ineffectually; bullets tend to melt when they get near his flame.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Not over the top "improbable", just very impressive: the pilot at the end lands the plane safely with a melted propeller and a dead stick.
  • In a Single Bound: The Torch leaps out of danger, over the police cars and several blocks away, as well as streams, bridges, et cetera.
  • It's Probably Nothing: Ross convinces himself that the laughter he hears from inside the mine where he just buried the Torch "must have been the wind".
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The Torch wants to know where Ross is, and the first thing he jumps to when he gets a defiant answer is punching while his fist is on fire.
  • Just Toying with Them: The Torch intentionally lets Ross and Red get to the car when they think they can escape, then also plays Ross's game of chicken at the end.
  • The Mafia: The bad guys are generic racketeer mobsters with Joisey accents.
  • Magical Gesture: The Torch waves his hands in circles to summon circles of fire distant from him.
  • Narration Echo:
    Narration: Thrown into a cell, the Torch walks around like a trapped animal.
    Cellmate: There's no use walking around like a caged animal.
  • No One Could Survive That!: In spirit, if not in exact words: Lola assures Ross that he's hearing things, because "no one can laugh in boiling lime!"
  • Only in It for the Money: Ross has tons of people killed, but it's only to win races (and prize money).
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Ross declares that he'll do anything if the Torch saves him from the burning car. The price is a confession. The first pilot also says he'll do anything if he's saved, but immediately goes back on it when the evidence against him vaporizes.
  • Pop the Tires: The Torch takes out the police car chasing him by shooting a tire.
  • Previously On…: The first / title page page is a collage of panels from the previous issue, recapping the story of the Torch's origin with a "journal" overlay by his creator, Horton. This is unusual, and later comics don't do this.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Seemingly averted in the beginning, when he's wanted by the police and judged for being a killer, but by the end the police are apologizing to him and the fallout of all of his actions is forgotten.
  • Ring of Fire: The Torch summons of a ring of fire to encircle the bad guys at the end.
  • Roboteching: The Torch's fireball goes straight ahead of the plane, then improbably curves back on itself to land a direct hit on the nose. Possibly Justified by his control of flame, but he has never at this point shown the ability to manipulate fire this way.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!: The Torch is still using his power for good, but that doesn't mean he has any problem committing wanton destruction of property, escaping (and destroying) jail, resisting the police, killing the bad guys (or just not caring if they die because of him)... His mindset is that because he's right and going after the real bad guy, the actual law doesn't matter.
  • Smug Super: The Torch toys with Ross and Red near the end, sure that he has them, only to be fooled and have to chase them down again. He is also usually grinning or smiling (according to the narration) when he's using his powers to bring the bad guys to justice.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: At the end, the Torch vanishes without a word while the police are talking to him, leaving only his flaming footprints behind.
  • Super Speed: The Torch is faster than the cars in the auto race.
  • Super Strength: He rips the hood off of a moving car with his hands.
  • Villains Want Mercy: The pilot begs the Torch not to burn him, he'll do anything he says.
  • Wreathed in Flames: His primary power is the ability to be on fire at will.

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