cover #1The Saga of the Original Human Torch

(1990 - four issues, published by Marvel Comics)

Writer: Roy Thomas. Pencils: Rich Buckler. Inks: Danny Bulandi, Alfredo Alcala, Romeo Tanghal..

Given comics often represent years of accumulated continuity -- sometimes dating back decades -- it then can give rise to projects that exist mainly to recap what's gone before, particularly in the case of old stories that would be hard to trackdown for the average reader.

Sometimes these projects deliberately reinterpret or re-imagine past events, or at least reshape disparate threads of continuity into one straight forward story arc. Sometimes it can be fun and enjoyable and result in an epic adventure drawing upon years of stories. And sometimes it can feel a bit bland, like a school assignment where you are expected to summarize an article in your own words.

Roy Thomas is no stranger to such enterprises -- arguably one of comicdoms premiere nostalgists and frequently given to drawing upon decades old stories, or trying to patch over continuity problems that invariably arise when multiple writers and artists write disparate stories over decades. He's also no stranger to simply adapting another's work -- from his many years as a writer on Conan The Barbarian (often faithfully adapting the original prose stories) to various comic book projects (such as DC' 1990s Secret Origins series which often did seem to involve simply retelling past origin stories).

And, unfortunately, the Saga of The Human Torch falls into the bland category.

It focuses, not on the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm, but on the original Human Torch -- the android super hero who had continued to crop up in comics periodically (including the Roy Thomas written WW II-set series, The Invaders) despite having been technically killed off in the mid-1960s. But around this point, the Torch had been officially resurrected in modern continuity, and so Thomas -- or the Marvel editors -- presumably thought it made sense to offer some sort of definitive work to familiarize readers with a character whose solo adventures were from the 1940s and 1950s and largely out-of-print!

But though Thomas does a competent job, and artist Rich Buckler is in particularly good form (nicely aided by solid inkers), it does end up feeling like all Thomas is doing is simply recapping the entirety of the Torch's Golden Age adventures across 4 issues. Despite filtering the scenes through the Torch's narration and reminiscences, it's not like Thomas has set out to dig beneath the old stories, to layer on extra meaning and nuance to these simple tales, or to flesh things out much with supporting characters or anything. For the most part, I believe most of the stuff chronicled here really had been depicted in past comics.

There are some additions. A 1950s sidekick, Sun Girl, apparently at the time had no real origin -- so Thomas adds in the idea she starts out as The Human Torch (& sidekick Toro)'s secretary. But, honestly, that doesn't really add a lot to her character!

Thomas creates a reasonable flow to the narrative, to the point where often it's hard to tell where one old comic might have ended and another began, as Thomas effectively slides from one to the other (well, until the final issue when it does become more obviously just a highlights reel). But without him bothering to craft (or introduce) a story thread or arc, or add extra layers to the personalities, it has trouble sustaining interest as an actual narrative.

As I say, Thomas has been this route many times before (including in the similarly titled Saga of the Sub-Mariner, as well as America vs. The Justice Society), and sometimes effectively -- but maybe that's because he usually couched his re-telling of old comics within the context of some plot original to him. Here it just feels like a simple rehash of old stories that were not, themselves, exceptional to begin with.

Funnily enough -- and maybe because that stuff was being sorted out by other writers in modern continuity -- Thomas' narrative stops before it gets into the questions that might really be plaguing a reader: like how did the Torch survive his "death" in the 1960s, and if he still exists, what body does the Vision have (since long time lore had it be the Vision inhabited the android Torch's old body).