Decades before Johnny Storm became the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, the Marvel Universe was defended by another living inferno using the same name. This Human Torch of the Golden Age wasn’t exactly human, though; he was an android known by the alias of Jim Hammond. But while the original Human Torch may not have been human in the strictest sense of the word, Hammond’s exploits in World War II and well into the modern age were an inspiration for many Marvel heroes.
Several years ago, Hammond sacrificed himself to foil the plans of Neo-Nazi supervillains, but writers Mike Carey & Alex Ross and interior artist Patrick Berkenkotter will reignite Hammond’s inner and outer flames for “The Torch,” an eight-issue miniseries that kicks off in September. CBR News spoke with Carey about the book, which like “Avengers/Invaders,” is produced by Dynamite Entertainment.
For Carey, one of the compelling aspects about working on “The Torch” was the chance to tackle a character whose true self is his superhero identity. “Most superheroes, when they put on a costume, are putting on a disguise. They become someone else, their real self being their civilian self. But there are another group of characters, that would include people like the Martian Manhunter and the Torch, who create their civilian identity to hide their true nature,” Carey told CBR News. “Their true nature is what they are when they’re in their superhero roles. I find those characters fascinating because with someone like the Torch, he has no real experience of begin human. He’s an adult who’s never been a child. Initially he knows nothing about human relationships or the way you conduct yourself in a whole range of social situations; the way your behavior has to change from one context to another.
“So he has to learn those things as he goes along. He adopted the name Jim Hammond very early on but I think it takes an awful long time before he becomes Jim Hammond; a person with a genuine human identity and perspective.”
While other artificial life forms from popular fiction strive and fight to be human, for the Torch it is just something that came about through his interactions with others. “He’s not like Data from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ or Pinocchio in the sense that being human has never been his overriding goal, but he has a curiosity and fascination about it,” Carey explained. “I think he was someone play acting the role of human and then at some point he becomes more human, perhaps through his friendships with people like his former sidekick Toro, and that leads to a gradual assimilation.”
For all intents and purposes, Hammond’s personality and perspective have become human, but the circumstances behind his resurrection in “The Torch” have a drastic affect on his life. “The last time we saw the Torch’s body in ‘Captain America’ #48, it had been severely abused. There’s very little left of him and what is left is in a really degraded state,” Carey said. “Resurrection is may not be the right word. What needs to be done is a substantial rebuilding at every level. And it’s not to be expected that he’ll come out of that process exactly as he went into it. There’s been too much damage done.
“In the first issue we see the reasoning behind that rebuilding. We see why it happens now and why it happens in the way that it does. It’s not like turning on a light switch: there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done before the Torch can exist again in any form.”
Another factor affecting Hammond’s outlook on life in “The Torch” is that he’s returning to life in a very different world; one where most people believe his friend Steve Rogers, the former Captain America, is dead, and the murderous psychopath Norman Osborn is in total control. “I think alienation is a good word for what the Torch feels,” Carey stated. “Not just for those reasons but for other profound reasons as well. We will see him very much alienated, isolated, cut adrift from his past while he tries to cope with a very strange, threatening and unfamiliar world.”
The story of how Hammond copes with this new world is told in three different acts in “The Torch.” “It’s an eight-issue miniseries with three distinct movements. The first one is about the Torch’s resurrection and his encounter with a very long established Marvel villain, someone he has a lot of history with,” Carey explained. “In the second of the three arcs there’s a crisis that has to be dealt with that arises directly out of the Torch’s resurrection, which brings the Torch and Toro back together again. Then in the third act the Torch is delving into his own past and that leads him to an entirely new villain who knows more about his origins than he’s ever known himself.
“Thematically the series is about that big question of what is a man? What is the Torch? Is he a man? Does he have a human perspective on the world? It’s about how you anchor yourself in your relationships with other people and how your identity depends on those anchors; the reflections of yourself that you get from other people around you.”
Mike Carey and his co-writer and cover artist Alex Ross have assembled an eclectic cast of supporting characters for the Human Torch to interact with. “We glimpse the Golden Age Vision at the start and end of the series. We’ll see Namor at a certain point, and as I mentioned before, Toro,” Carey said. “We also have the villain I hinted at earlier who we meet in the first issue, the Mad Thinker. Apart from that, the series primarily features new characters.”
While “The Torch” is very much a book about one of the Marvel Universe’s first superheroes, many of the characters and concepts involved in the series will come from the science fiction milieu. “I think he belongs in stories with more of a science fiction perspective,” Carey remarked. “That’s because as an android he’s more of a science fiction concept than your average superhero. So it’s fun to play with science fiction ideas around him. The Mad Thinker is cast from the mad/evil scientist mold. So there was an irresistible temptation to put that kind of context in the series.”
Collaborating with Alex Ross on “The Torch” has proven to be a very enjoyable experience for Carey. “One of the things Alex brings to the project is an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters and their back-stories. You can tell he’s been fascinated by the Torch for some time. Plus he’s told parts of the Torch’s past in other projects as well. So he’s a gold mine of information and ideas,” Carey explained. “He was thinking of something like this story for a long time before I came on board. So the first thing that happened when we started collaborating was that we had an e-mail exchange and then some telephone conversations where he basically gave me all the starting points he had; the ideas that he felt were going to be central to the story. Then I came back with a framework that incorporated those ideas and several of my own, which we talked about. Then we started on the creative process. We’ve got a back-and-forth style of collaboration with interaction at every stage of the planning process. I’m taking the lead on the scripts and when one is finished we go over it and revise it together.”
Carey is very happy with the work his other collaborator on “The Torch,” artist Patrick Berkenkotter. “If you saw his work on ‘Avengers/Invaders’ you know that he’s a great kinetic artist,” Carey remarked. “He can do really great action scenes, which you’ll see a lot of. Plus he’s great at establishing mood and setting.”
“The Torch” came about partly because 2009 marks Marvel Comics’ 70th Anniversary, so the company is happy to revive, explore, and showcase it’s three original superheroes: Captain America, Namor, and the Torch. Carey was especially excited to be given the chance to bring Jim Hammond back to the Marvel Universe and working on the series has proven to be nothing but fun for him. “I’m really happy to be part of it,” the writer said. “I think the Torch is one of the coolest superheroes in the Marvel Universe and it’s way past time he got his day in the sun again.”
“The Torch” #1 goes on sale in September from Marvel Comics.