By Jim Beard
1939—A year that conjures up visions of a different time, a different world and most definitely a different breed of super hero. To continue their 70th anniversary bash, Marvel's turning up the heat on one of the most original creations to born in that most trendsetting of years: the original Human Torch
Out this May 6, the HUMAN TORCH COMICS ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL tells an all-new tale of Jim Hammond, the android known as the Human Torch, and his fiery beginnings.
"It was [editor Jeanine Schaefer's] suggestion that I pitch a story about the original Human Torch," says author Scott Snyder of this celebratory one-shot. "The appeal was immediate. I've been a big fan of the Torch ever since [Alex] Ross' MARVELS came out in  and prompted me to go back to some of the older lines featuring the Torch.
"There's so much that's interesting to me about him. On the one hand, he's got this All-American college football look—he seems like this confident, glamorous hero—but
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underneath he's like a one-year-old robot. The world [of 1939] is totally new and wondrous and infuriating to him. Plus, he's the world's first super hero, with all this pressure on him. Basically, he's a breed apart on all these levels."
The Human Torch blazed for the first time in the classic MARVEL COMICS #1 in 1939 before graduating to his own title, HUMAN TORCH COMICS, in the fall of 1940. Many Marvel fans might be more familiar with Johnny Storm, the Fantastic Four's Human Torch, but Snyder looks forward to his story drawing a clear definition between the two firebugs.
"It's funny, because to me at least, even though they look similar when engulfed in flame, Johnny and Jim seem sort of like polar opposites," the writer notes. "Johnny's got this great confidence to him; he's like a human hot rod and his abilities seem almost like an extension of that cocky, fearless attitude. But Jim is a stranger in the world. He's a robot under that human skin, and to me, there's always been something distant about him, even with Toro at his side in the old INVADERS title.
"In this story, I wanted to make Jim really vulnerable, to focus on this isolation by highlighting his newness, his innocence and confusion in that first year of life. We used some visual touches to get at this: his room is like a teenager's; he's got a kind of boyish look to him. His flame is often blue, too. Plus, halfway through the story, we strip his
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skin. One of my favorite things about the story is the chance it gives readers to see the Torch in all his 1930's robotic glory."
Likewise, Snyder aimed to concentrate on the feeling of 1939 with a country on the brink of world war and just getting to its feet again after a devastating financial crisis. Luckily, MARVEL COMICS #1 and the Human Torch came along at a time when the world needed heroes and thus stars were born.
"I'm really interested in the fact that the Marvel Universe began during the Great Depression—the notion that all these amazing super heroes were born during one of the darkest moments in the nation's history," Snyder muses. "That's one thing I tried to explore a bit in the story: the weird position the Torch is in, being the lone super hero in such difficult times, when everything's falling apart and people are turning on each other and him.
"Also, I've always loved stories that explore the secret histories between characters. So I tried to make the world of the 1930's Marvel Universe a place where the ancestors of the modern Marvel characters exist. You catch glimpses of Warren Worthington I and Howard Stark, Tony's grandpa; I tried to throw in as many secret connections as possible."
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In all, Snyder emphasizes the "human" in the HUMAN TORCH COMICS ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, a theme that he's no stranger to, as one can witness in his own prose work.
"Officially, I have a sort of literary background," he states. "Most of the characters I write about are on the darker side, guys who often struggle with themselves a bit. What was so exciting to me about Marvel comics of the early 80's and 90's was the way the writers humanized these characters I already loved by showing their flaws, their doubts and frustrations and inner-turmoil.
"My goal with the Torch was to try to come up with a story that would bring Jim face to face with his own inner demons, to show him at his most human, which is funny, seeing as he's stripped down to robot endoskeleton for most of the book. Still, to me at least, it's almost like he's at his most human when he's in robot form. Weird, but true."
Before celebrating the HUMAN TORCH COMICS 70TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL on May 6, check out Jim Hammond's very first appearance on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!
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