Friday, June 15, 2007

A Day at the Races (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #543 When: January 2007
Why: Paul Pope How: Paul Pope

The story so far...
Famous glamour boy and superhero, Johnny Storm, is heading down to the weekend racetrack to tear up the track in his custom hotrod, which is a good thing too!

Peter Parker, ever at the mercy of his Daily Bugle boss, J. Jonah Jameson, has orders to bring in new photos of Spider-man as well as commercial newsgrabbers like the flaming hothead from the Fantastic Four!

Looking for a better vantage point for shots of the race, Parker hits the webs as Spider-man, but when Johnny spots him from the racetrack, it looks like it's more than rubber that's going to get burned! Let the rivalry continue!

Previous Form:
Spider-man (#1): Recent victories over the likes of Rhino, Shocker & Green Goblin.
Human Torch (#13): Aided Spidey in defeating Mysterio, Wingless Wizard & the Sinister Twelve.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Spider-man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Spider-man 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Human Torch 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Human Torch 7 (Solar Power)

I know, I know! More Spider-man! Hey, it's not like Spidey isn't a hot favourite right now with the readers, but in my defense, I picked the FF features before Web-Slinging Wednesdays kicked off, so I didn't at all anticipate the sheer saturation of the character. To those arachnaphobes out there, an advanced apology!

So, there's the matter of a little thing we all like to call the tape!

There's always those result changing details that are unique to certain combinations of characters. The things that aren't rated by the patented, ever-reliable Haseloff system. Things like certain chemistry and rivalries between pairs of heroes and villains that bring history and emotions into it.

So, those of you coming out of the theatres still chuckling over the antics of Johnny Storm and his rocky pal, the Thing. Imagine the friendly rivalry between those two, and then make it a little bit more bitter, and you'll roughly have the relationship between the Human Torch and Spider-man.

They were both two of the youngest heroes to come from the 1960s modern era of Marvel comics, and they've both gone a ways to grow-up, but when they get together, you're never quite sure if all that maturing will be for naught.

At the end of any day, Human Torch's fantastic fire powers make him a pretty tricky adversary for Spidey. Special concoctions aside, he can burn-up Spidey's synthetic webbing, as well as any part of him, should Spidey go close-quarters.

No matter how heated their confrontations get, you can usually count on Johnny being the decent human being. He's not about to reduce Spidey to smouldering ash, or put him in the burns ward, but that doesn't mean victory isn't his.

It generally comes down to the practical jokes with these two, and that's where the trusty Haseloff system comes good again. Y'see, Spidey's a natural born prankster, and the tape clearly shows it: He can scale any type of surface with ease, giving him an all-access pass to just about anywhere, and an easy and silent escape route.

Plus, Spidey's got that freaky agility for hiding things in hard-to-reach places -- and his spidey-senses ensure any prank will be set-up with ninja-like precision, because nobody can walk-in at an unexpected moment and bust him!

So, after all that? Well, it's probably fair to say in a fight it's fifty-fifty, but for the sake of the argument, I guess I'll make my call...

The Math: Spider-man (Meta Class)
The Pick: Human Torch

What went down...
Getting shoved around like a schmuck in the adoring crowd, Peter Parker tries desperately to get a shot of Johnny Storm and his entourage of Wyatt Wingfoot, Crystal and Gorgon, Johnny's Inhuman girlfriend and her royal guard.
Spying a radio tower, like any good Spider-man, he gets an idea... Big mistake!

Literally burning with rage, a miffed Johnny Storm bursts into flames upon spotting Spider-man, reducing his custom wheels to high-priced slag!
With his spider-senses alerting him of the danger, Spidey begins to swing down toward the track, but quickly regrets it.

The Human Torch circles Spidey leaving a trail of flames, promising to burn the mask from his face as soon as he puts out the hazardous fire from his car.
Using his cosmic-borne powers, Johnny sucks up the flames from the vehicle, and quickly goes about redirecting it toward the red and blue wall-crawler!

Spidey leaps and bounces around the on-coming racecars, as the Human Torch follows in the air blasting flame in a rage.

The Torch hits the ground, and catches Spidey in a swirling array of fire streams, but with the proportionate agility of a spider, Spidey leaps out of it in a dashing action pose -- great for the camera!

Flying around above the racing cars as they come around for another lap, Spidey does his best to further dodge the swirling assault of the Human Torch, and his deadly fireball projectiles of doom!

Feeling the all too serious burn of the Torch's flames, Spidey heads for the crowd, hoping to give the hothead a chance to cool off. Spider-man comes to a crouched landing at the feet of Crystal, inciting the Torch's further jealousy.

He rattles of a barrage of fireballs, which Spider-man easily deflects with a quick-smart web shield, but his cocky retort is short lived. Spidey mocks the attack as all too familiar, but this time it provides an unceremonious distraction...

His vision impaired by his trusty web-shield, Spidey is caught unawares by the Human Torch's incoming swooping boot attack! Mmm, tastes like burnt rubber!

Before the fight can continue, Crystal interjects, berating her flaming boyfriend.

"Hey, Butane-Breath, ever notice our fights always end with some sensible blonde tellin' us to cool it? Why don't we just take her advice and call it game-and-match?"

And as the Human Torch flames down and agrees, a peaceful resolution seems to have been reached, until... As they move to shake hands, Johnny Storm pulls his hand out at the last minute in a blaze of spitefilled glory!

And as Spidey web-swings away, "I'd join the Girl Scouts before I'd join any group that had you as a member, Popcorn!" And the next day, the Thing is able to pick up the baton at the breakfast table, reciting the headline, "Human Torch Wreckes Priceless Sports Car in Track Mishap, Disrupts Formula Race -- Pictures on Page Six."

The hammer...
No! Not a dream! Not an imagined story!
As Uatu so rightly proclaimed, it is in fact, a draw!

If you're looking for more Spidey/Human Torch odd couple fun you might like to check out their reviewed battle with Mysterio and the Wingless Wizard! [Amazing Spider-man Annual #4]

I had a few choices for the Human Torch when it came to solo battles, but I decided to go with this one; A) because it was the 45th anniversary issue spectacular, and B) because it represented something we haven't seen a lot of on Secret Earths, and that's the friendly rivalry.

The hero-on-hero fights are often the most popular on the site, but many of them revolve around much flimsier storytelling techniques like cosmic mandates, and cases of mistaken/misunderstood identity. This story, however, harkens back to the good old days of a Stan Lee style friendly rivalry, where two heroes could just legitimately rag on each other, even if it meant making up at the end to do the right thing for the good of mankind.

In some ways, this is perhaps the entry that will most resonate with the fans of Return of the Silver Surfer and the first movie, which hold the comedic timing of the FF and playful family dynamic as their strongest positives.
Hopefully through Fantastic Fridays we've been able to take a look over several of the familiar faces of the Fanatstic Four branding. Fun for fans new and old, and a positive entry point for those of you coming from the movie.

I mentioned elsewhere that one of the most surprising things about the new FF movie has been the lack of traffic it's generarted for us. Spider-man 3 and the Web-Slinging Wednesdays series brought in a barrage of hits, with many of you interested in facts and fun relating to Spidey, Sandman, and in particular, Venom!

Even the space faring Silver Surfer has struggled to attract the interests, which really makes you wonder about the appeal of these movies. I suppose the first movie proposed a strong demonstration of the mainstream appeal of superhero films, with many of the comics reading fans less than pleased with the treatment. I myself didn't see it until quite some time after release, on rental from Blockbuster no less, and I wasn't thrilled, either.

Even so, the film grossed over three times it's budget, putting an end to a box office slump at the time, and the expectant criticisms of many film critics and fanboys. Perhaps the strongest argument for the film's success would be the family contingent, with children presumably the driving force behind the success.

Which is something the Fantastic Four have always been good for.
During my childhood reading comics, the FF were always among the favourites, and maybe from this we can take a step back from the grim and gritty, ultra realism of other properties, and remember that the readers we so keenly seek, may want an opportunity to experience these properties like we did.

Even if most would have to agree, the film represents the greatest faux pas in comic film history. Dr. Doom represents one of the greatest villains of all time, lording even over big screen big bad, Darth Vader, a character the good Doctor is well known for having influenced. That's probably a discussion for the fifth Friday, though.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5.5

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