It's been 70 years since Marvel Comics #1 was published by Timely Comics, the early predecessor of Marvel Comics. Within that issue appeared the beginnings of a new universe, with characters like The Human Torch, The Angel and The Sub-Mariner emerging into the imaginations of readers.
To recognize the 70th anniversary of that milestone in 1939, Marvel Comics is releasing an eight-issue mini-series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting that tells the origin of the Marvel Universe. Taking the stories of different characters and linking them together in one epic tale of scientific espionage and wonder, Brubaker will give an insider's view of those early years, covering the era from the Depression through Pearl Harbor.
In the first three parts of our ongoing series looking at The Marvels Project, we spoke with Epting and then Brubaker about their roles in the project, as well as profiling the story's narrator, The Angel.
As we get closer to the August 12 release of The Marvels Project #1, Newsarama sits down with the creators to profile one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Universe, The Human Torch.
Secret Identity/Origin: A "synthetic man" who took on the identity Jim Hammond, The Human Torch was created by inventor Professor Phineas T. Horton. He was an android who burst into flames when exposed to air, something that surprised the audience present at his press-conference unveiling. Upon activation, he gained consciousness and although the fear of the public led to him being sealed in concrete, he escaped. He eventually learned to control his flame and decided to fight crime on his own.
"To me, he was one of the coolest characters because he was some kind of experiment. I like the idea of that Frankenstein kind of thing, where someone's trying to create artificial life. The synthetic man. And it goes wrong in that the guy catches fire all the time. And the city freaks out and the government freaks out," Brubaker said.
Powers: The Human Torch can use his ability to envelop himself in flames. He can use the power of heat energy to fly and throw flame bursts. He can also control fire and heat in his environment. He also has the cognitive thought of a human. "At first, he's really an infant with the intelligence of a full-grown man. He's sort of an existential question, which I find fascinating," Brubaker said.
Epting's Approach: "My approach stems from when I first tried painting fire on some Captain America covers. I took what I learned there and applied it to the figure," the artist said. "I believe this was Alex Ross' method as well, and the look he established for the Torch in the first Marvels series is definitely a big influence. At the beginning of our book he has very little control over the flames and has to learn to harness the power, so as the series progresses my depiction of him will probably change to reflect that."
First Appearance: "He's an interesting case because I think he was the lead story in Marvels #1," Brubaker pointed out. The character later ended up getting his own series, becoming one of the first superheroes to go solo. However, Marvels #1 states that The Angel was active before the debut of The Human Torch, so technically, the Angel was the first hero within the universe.
How He Fits in The Marvels Project: "He's the spark that sets everything off," Brubaker said. "He really becomes a focal point of our story because, through his early days, it's sort of a quest to figure out what the hell he even is. And at that time, it's sort of the birth of the Marvel Universe, and he's this important character.
"He's got a part to play in all the intrigue between countries. One of the things I'm doing in this story is going back and taking the established stuff and adding little pieces here and there, which I guess can be called retconning, in that I'm finding a way to fit them together and have them make sense," the writer said. "And one of the things, and I talked to Alex Ross about this a lot because they're doing their Human Torch series, and a lot of that is touching on some stuff to do with his origin, so we had to make sure this all fit together, but one of the things I did with the first issue was I had the government know that the Human Torch caught fire every time he was exposed to air. And they want that. The first time you see the Human Torch being exposed to air, he catches fire, and part of that is the government is hoping to scare the Nazis, because they know the Nazis are working on their super-human project. They're hoping this will make them afraid of what America can do. The idea of a guy who catches on fire is like, 'Whoa! The American's have a guy who can catch on fire!' You see that, actually, having repercussions. We never think about that. But it was, to me, really interesting, that we could go from that scene to a crazy lab in Germany where they're working, showing the global threat that comes out of this one hero's story.
"That's what I've tried to do through the early parts of the story," Brubaker said, "is to find ways to link all this stuff that makes sense all together in this big sprawling epic."