Collecting comics has a strange way of leading you down various paths – one day you’re collecting gga, the next motorcycle covers, and then superheroes, superheroes on motorcycles, etc.,

Through this evolution I decided having at least one representative of each of D.C and Marvel’s golden age “Big Three” would be a goal for my collection. I succeeded in procuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman from D.C.. I also succeeded in obtaining Captain America, Human Torch and Sub-Mariner from Marvel.

The Human Torch #5[b] (Fall 1941) (Reproduction cover)

Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America were the most popular heroes to emerge from the 1940s startup Timely Comics by Martin Goodman. The Marvel movie franchise we know today started with that publishers first issue, Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939).  It featured the first appearance of android superhero, the Human Torch by Carl Burgos. The issue is also the first major appearance of Namor, the Sub-Mariner by Bill Everett. That comic sold 80,000 copies which prompted a second printing (with cover dated November 1939) that sold approximately 800,000 issues.

My copy of Human Torch #23 (June 1946) is yet another classic Schomburg cover – complete with what might well be the “true” origin of Bender the robot. Interestingly the character Human Torch itself is actually a robot (“a synthetic man” or android) created by Professor Phineas T. Horton. The robot has a fascinating “defect” – when exposed to air it explodes into flame. Eventually it learns how to ignite the flame by using the words “Flame On.” One main vulnerability (to water, naturally) created a contrast with the Sub-Mariner (who lived underwater) that led to one of the greatest superhero match-ups in comic history.

The Human Torch #5[b] (Fall 1941) (missing cover and two outside wraps)

The classic Fire vs. Water battle between the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner started the summer of 1940 and raged over several issues in two different comic titles. The set up began in Marvel Mystery Comics #7 (May 1940).  When Sub-Mariner had been cheated by the Americans he decides to use Human Torch’s city of residence, New York, as his base for destroying the entire continent.  Written by character creators Bill Everett and Carl Burgos with John Compton the two superheros finally meet each other in the next issue (Marvel Mystery Comics #8 June 1940) and the Human Torch is able to drive Sub-Mariner away – for the time-being.  The story continues over two more issues with Human Torch standing in the way of Sub-Mariner’s plan to create world peace by flooding the entire planet. The epic ends with “The Result of the Most Famous Battle in Comic Magazines” in Marvel Mystery Comics #10 (August 1940).

The Human Torch #5[b] – Rathia the Atlantean, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch

The popularity spawned two additional subsequent match ups, both written by none-other than Mickey Spillane (an American crime novelist best known for his detective character, Mike Hammer).  The first of these match-ups was in The Human Torch #5[b] (Fall 1941).  This epic battle filled the issues entire sixty pages of content – “60 Thrilling Pages of the Human Torch Fighting the Sub-Mariner in a Life and Death Struggle.” The Sub-Mariner gets his imperial kingdom to join the war against the Axis Powers, but Rathia uses her sex appeal and Atlantean drugs to convince the Sub-Mariner to become the a Napoleon and conquer the world with her at his side. 

The Human Torch #8 (Summer 1942)

Not to be outdone, Spillane again scripts the six chapter Human Torch vs. Sub-Mariner in The Human Torch #8 (Summer 1942).  With the help of the Nazis, the Python breaks out of Alcatraz, but every time the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch make a move against the villain they wind up in an egoistic fight with each other.

The Human Torch #8 (Summer 1942) (back cover)

My copy has an “S” stamp on the back cover from famous San Francisco’s Fillmore street.

Human Torch was second only to Captain America for the most total appearances across Timely titles that included All Winners, Daring, All-Select, Captain America, and Mystic Comics.