Fantastic Four #285
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #285
The story is about a kid, Tommy Hanson, who loves super-heroes, and especially the Human Torch.
A really obsessive type.
Why, this kid is such a loser, i imagine if he had lived, he would have went on to create a website devoted to reviewing all his comic books.
And of course, he burns himself.
Johnny Storm is able to talk to him in the hospital before he dies, and hears why Tommy did it, and has to face Tommy's parents.
Stricken with guilt, Johnny burns out his flame.
That's when the Beyonder shows up...
...and walks Johnny through Tommy's life, and explains how Tommy's love of the Torch is what gave his otherwise lonely life meaning.
Byrne does a fantastic job showing Tommy dealing with bullies at school and then coming home to an empty house. It's a sad, sad story, but very moving.
Cameo by some of the Avengers, when Tommy calls trying to talk to the Torch (and he seems to have gotten through just fine).
Progress on the Fantastic Four's new headquarters continues apace.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: Mr. Fantastic says of the Beyonder that "it almost seems as if his purpose here, now, is to aid humanity -- and the whole universe as well!". This really implies that this issue takes place after Secret Wars II #6; prior to that, Mr. Fantastic wouldn't have anything to base that statement on. Based on that, and the development of the Beyonder generally, the MPC have chosen to ignore a footnote in Fantastic Four annual #19 that refers to this issue. The other option is to place this issue prior to Fantastic Four annual #19 and assume it takes place during Secret Wars II #3, after the Beyonder relinquishes control of the world and before he shows up at Avengers Mansion. It requires a glossing of the Beyonder's character development (his appearance definitely works better after SWII #6) but it has the benefit of not disregarding a footnote. Ignoring a footnote (and the meaning of Alicia's conversation with Johnny) really bothers me, and after a lot of back-and-forth i'm going with the option of placing this during SWII #3. It's ugly, though.
Crossover: Secret Wars II
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
This issue is often cited as one of the major problems with DeFalco's Lyja retcon. DeFalco implied Lyja couldn't sculpt humans but "Alicia" has no problem sculpting Jen in this issue.
Posted by: Michael | July 8, 2012 6:53 PM
Alicia isn't actually shown sculpting; i've added the scan. Did Lyja have some other way of producing statues during this time period?
Posted by: fnord12 | July 8, 2012 6:56 PM
Not that DeFalco mentioned.
Posted by: Michael | July 8, 2012 6:59 PM
Byrne has mentioned this issue as particular reason he disliked Jim Shooter's editorial mandates. This was originally not a SW2 tie-in, but Shooter mandated that the Beyonder be included. Byrne said he begged Shooter to delay the SW2 tie-in, and he'd create an all Beyonder issue, but Shooter had already pre-determined the FF had to have a tie-in for #285, and Byrne had already written the issue. It all sounds very weird, but clearly there was a major disagreement.
Posted by: Chris | July 8, 2012 9:10 PM
According to Marvel Comics: The Unknown Story, fear of kids setting themselves on fire is what killed the proposed Universal/CBS live-action Torch series before it even got off the ground. So it sounds like the story is basically true, it just doesn't apply to the animated series. (Incidentally, the link to Evanier's blog no longer works, but it's archived here.)
Posted by: Bob Violence | December 17, 2013 12:43 AM
At about this time, Marvel announced an Invisible Woman limited series written by Byrne and drawn by Mary Wilshire, but it never happened.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 11, 2014 2:49 PM
I remember a comic in which one of the Seekers (the Secret Empire mercenaries) says his kid died impersonating a superhero--I can't believe it's this issue since the dad in the story looks nothing like a mercenary, but can anyone remember what this was referring to (or if I'm remembering it right)?
Posted by: MikeCheyne | August 29, 2014 12:47 PM
You're thinking of Fantastic Four 342- the kid committed suicide "in honor" of Johnny.
Posted by: Michael | August 29, 2014 6:36 PM
Anyone notice Jim Shooter eating alone in the SW2 scene?
Posted by: Vin the Comic Guy | March 6, 2015 7:16 PM
The scene Vin's referring to is in Fantastic Four #282; you can see the scan in the Considerations section.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 6, 2015 10:12 PM
One of the best of Byrne's run and one of the few I read in real time because of the SW II tie-in. It might have been the best of all the SW II tie-ins and Byrne does a fantastic job of using the Beyonder. It's especially moving when you see how lonely and neglected the kid is and see how quick the parents blame Johnny, the parents who never cared about their kid.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 31, 2015 9:29 AM
@Erik Beck: Here's someone with the opposite view of yours: http://whenwillthehurtingstop.blogspot.com/2015/01/lets-look-at-secret-wars-ii-crossovers.html He hates this issue. What do you think of his reasoning? (Not rhetorical; honestly curious)
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 31, 2015 9:50 AM
I never saw Desmond Marrs as gay. He definitely had an incestuous lust for his sister but I never saw him as gay.
Posted by: Michael | May 31, 2015 11:50 AM
@ Thanos6 -
Michael pretty much covered everything I was going to say. I was, how shall we say, unimpressed with the guy's argument. Also, it's amusing as he actually like SW II. I didn't think such people existed. I mean, I like some of it, but to say you really like it?
One other thing that Michael doesn't mention - Johnny is, very early on, depicted as the kind of hero who goes out and does public service announcements. If not for his big talk, Spider-Man would have been done early on. So I imagine that Johnny must have done numerous PSAs in the MU about the dangers of fire.
I wonder what the guy thought of NM #45, one of the very few single issues I kept when I ditched my collection, because as Michael says, it treads on similar ground.
On second thought, I don't really want to know what he thinks of it. (Apologies to the guy who wrote it if he comments here - we just clearly have very different tastes.)
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 31, 2015 12:41 PM
@Eric Beck: Actually, I enjoy SWII as well. I even bought the Omnibus. So in that case, *slaps you in the face with glove* I challenge you to Super Soakers at ten paces, sir! ;)
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 31, 2015 2:49 PM
I don't agree with that person's arguments either, and think he is going out of his way to find offense in certain things.
But as a side note...Desmond Marrs? I don't know that I ever thought about him being gay. But since that article brought it up...yeah, I can see it. But I don't agree with the Byrne-as-homophobe viewpoint that reviewer is pushing. Sure, Northstar can be an arrogant and abrasive jerk--but he is also one of the heroes of ALPHA FLIGHT and Marvel's first ongoing gay superhero. I think Byrne was trying to do something gay positive there...but this reviewer seems to take the position that Byrne only puts in gay characters or subtexts in order to paint gays badly.
As I said before, I think this guy was going out of his way to look for things to be offended about.
Posted by: Dermie | May 31, 2015 4:07 PM
@Thanos6 - Um, if you want me to go into battle with you I reserve the right to bring along Adam Warlock inside the soul gem, just in case things get out of hand. ;)
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 31, 2015 6:57 PM
I never viewed this kid's death as a suicide, given his reality. He lives in a fantasy world in which the Human Torch is a real person.
In our world, the Human Torch is a fantasy character. In our world, nobody believes that setting oneself on fire will turn a person into a super-hero. Nobody believes that a person can be on fire without being burned.
In this kid's world, the possibility has been shown to be a realistic possibility, however improbable or implausible. Johnny Storm had shown that it's at least possible. This was a kid with immature judgment who made a bad choice and didn't get lucky. Examples abound of characters who risk their lives to gain or regain super-powers, and do get lucky, including every member of the Fantastic Four.
Posted by: jayzonely | July 4, 2016 12:52 AM
But in the context of the Marvel Universe, a normal person getting powers by setting himself on fire (as opposed to, for example, being exposed to cosmic rays) is for all practical purposes, impossible. So the kid was effectively committing suicide.
Posted by: Michael | July 4, 2016 9:16 AM
He's a kid though. He had no comprehension or context of the concept to argue he was committing suicide.
Posted by: AF | July 4, 2016 9:26 AM
That was my thinking too AF, plus, the guy with glasses and a blond ponytail had just told him that a fuel can within his reach could turn him into another Human Torch. His attempt at doing so was unreasonable, impractical, and implausible, but also understandable, given his context. His intentions were not to commit suicide, but rather, to "be like" the Human Torch, just as he stated to Johnny. That's my interpretation.
Posted by: jayzonely | July 4, 2016 9:49 AM
I don't fully agree with the linked critique of the story, but I think there's some merit to criticizing the way the Torch's inner conflict is resolved. Maybe Tommy did "live" through the Torch, but that's not really a *positive* thing given what happens in the story. Making the story a celebration of fandom doesn't really work when its example of a fan is a kid with a miserable life who ends up dying in horrible agony because he takes that fandom too far.
But the ending of the story seems to make it just that; it's treated as a message about how awesome the Human Torch and Marvel Comics are. There's a good story in the Torch realizing he's not to blame and that life can be awful sometimes, but that's not the story that winds up being told here. Instead, the idea that the Torch was some small solace to Tommy is treated as if it is an undeniable, unalloyed good.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | July 31, 2016 2:40 PM
I still wonder how the story would have worked without the editorially-forced Beyonder tie-in. Byrne said he originally intended to use the burn ward doctor to resolve the story instead.
With some considerable respect to Byrne as an artist and even as a storyteller, he's not a guy I'd entrust to guide my children's moral development. In the X-Men comic, he said he was just following his own impulse when he went against script to have Phoenix commit genocide on an alien race of asparagus people. In the FF, he treated Doctor Doom sympathetically as a benevolent despot, and Galactus the planet-killer as beyond moral reproach. Quirky writer, with interesting moral ambiguities for adults, but maybe a bit confusing for kids.
Hard to write such a story so as to appeal to older audiences while still remaining morally unambiguous to children. Different people will interpret such stories differently according to their own moral perspectives.
Always thought the man with the fuel can looked like John Byrne with a ponytail, wonder if that was deliberate?
Posted by: James Holt | July 31, 2016 10:09 PM
John Byrne's not the guy to go to for stories that resonate with older audiences. With or without the Beyonder, this story would just look wrong for a lot of people, for many different reasons.
The kid who sets himself on fire just so he can be like the Torch. The creepy guy who leaves everything out there unprotected so that the kid can set himself on fire. The idea that someone would set themselves on fire just because they want to be like the Human Torch. The obvious leading of the story to pound it into the readers' heads that... what? This is a bad thing? A good thing? A morally ambiguous thing? And then the Torch flies off in the end like he's a hero? For doing what?
This could have been a good story. And I don't blame John Byrne or Jim Shooter so much as the superhero genre they were building. It doesn't even rise to the level of a bad story, it's just a "meh." Any effort you spend on this story is your problem and not Byrne's, or Shooter's, or the Human Torch's.
Posted by: ChrisW | August 1, 2016 6:11 AM
That's for sure, wouldn't argue with that. Still can't help thinking the resemblance was deliberate, maybe another one of those last minute impulse things.
Posted by: James Holt | August 2, 2016 5:44 AM
BEYONDER: Hey, Johnny, don't feel bad! Sure, Tommy lost maybe 60 or 70 years off of his life because he was trying to be like you, but his worship of you got him through a few months' worth of depression! Totally a fair trade, am I right?
TORCH: Yeah, I'm a hero! It's better to burn out than fade away! Cool!
Another issue worth of "ugh", I see.
And LMAO at Sue "capturing" the Beyonder:
SUE (to Jennifer): Hold him while I wrap him in a neat little escape-proof invisible force-field…
ME: Hey, Suzie, how's about you slap the force-field on the "cosmic snoop" BEFORE you give a frickin' *speech* outlining what you plan to do? What, did your stint as Malice give you a chronic case of Super-Villian Unnecessary Exposition-itis, or something?
Or to quote Mr. B. Yonder himself: "How…sad." Yup.
Posted by: Dan Spector | March 17, 2017 4:32 AM
From a comment by one Cole Moore Odell on the review of this issue at Tim O'Neil's site (linked above by Thanos6):
"By this point in his FF run, Byrne had already told us that Latveria was way better off under the repressive, murderous dictatorship of Dr. Doom because Latverians were simplistic children who needed him, and that Reed Richards bore zero responsibility for saving Galactus' life so that he could go on to eat countless more planets. With this issue, JB hit the trifecta for despicable horseshit."
And with THAT, Cole Moore Odell gets a coveted spot on my List of Guys I Would Gladly Sexually Service, Even Though I'm Not Gay/Bi and They Probably Aren't, Either. (The original guy on that list is, of course, Eli Manning, for beating Belicheater and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and sparing us endless rhapsodies about how the Perfect Pats were the greatest team in all of sports, eVER.) Completely nailed it.
And "Despicable Horseshit" sums up my feelings about Byrne's entire 5-year ruin, I mean run, on this title, in just two words.
(Also? A great name for a band. I'm just saying…)
Posted by: Dan Spector | March 17, 2017 4:58 AM
Posted by: Andrew | March 17, 2017 10:54 AM
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