Alex Ross Lights "The Torch"

CBR got the early scoop on "The Torch" series from writer Mike Carey when it was announced by Marvel Comics, but with the revival of the publisher's original superhero blazing towards fans this September 2, it became clear that cover painter and co-writer Alex Ross needed to be tapped for a full picture of the project.

Spinning out of the work Ross and frequent collaborator Jim Krueger did on "Avengers/Invaders," the new "Torch" miniseries (drawn by Patrick Berkenkotter) doesn't traffic in the same time-travel mechanics. Instead, the mini re-establishes the humanoid creation known as Jim Hammond within the Marvel Universe proper for the first time in years.

"It seemed an organic outgrowth of the relationship starting with 'Avengers/Invaders,'" Ross told CBR, adding that no character in the Marvel canon deserves a place more than the Torch. "If you're going to go back to these characters, let's put all these guys back on stage. It seems an awful thing that of all the classic characters of Marvel's creation that these odd number of them remain retired for all time. We know that the Human Torch was replaced effectively in a namesake sense by Johnny Storm, but ultimately there's still something unique to this character created at the very first conceptual stage of comic character creation.

"One of the first, most dramatic responses to the creation of Superman was to create this elemental force as a character, and there's very little symmetry and relationship to that being a Superman knock-off. By contrast, Batman looks much more like a Superman knock-off than the Human Torch does. There's something to celebrate about him being a lead hero; one of the leading lights of Timely Comics, then Marvel. Why should that be lost to the ages?"

The first step in reestablishing Hammond came with resurrecting Toro in the pages of "Avengers/Invaders." "We always knew we wanted to build up to it, but the particular way of using the Cosmic Cube to effectively have a wish post-dated to revive this character was something I had thought of an actually pitched to Ed Brubaker as part of collaborating on him with the Captain America costume with Bucky," Ross revealed. "I'd always thought his being revived and becoming the Winter Soldier and all those bizarre flukes that helped him survive that bomb blast really happened because of the Cosmic Cube. Brubaker didn't jump on the idea with any particular passion as it applied to his work, but that left the idea for us to us it with Toro. And that's where we got what we got."

More importantly, Ross felt the event did the character much justice since "when they killed Toro off in the late '60s, he was killed in a one-issue oddball story. It was the most inglorious of deaths." Ross added that those few stories of the Silver Age that included the original Human Torch and his sidekick helped determine who the big bad of this new series would be. "No modern day villain is more important to the Torch's history than the Mad Thinker. The Mad Thinker is the one who, for one thing, was responsible for the death of Toro, who he had previously kidnapped and brainwashed into believing he was the original Human Torch [and] used his attack Sub-Mariner. And then at some point after he's regained his awareness, Toro goes after Mad Thinker's escaping ship and somehow gets killed in the blast of the exhaust of the ship's jets or something like that. When the character was just brought back on stage into the new Marvel Universe...Boom! He's gone. One issue and out.

"And the one time that Jack Kirby played with the original Human Torch in 'Fantastic Four' in the '60s, he's revived by the Mad Thinker and in the course of that story put into conflict with the Fantastic Four. Of course, by the end of the story they all realize who the true villain is and get Mad Thinker on the run. But the Torch is presumably defeated and somehow his flame is expunged. He's got no more energy in his artificial frame, and so he's left by the Fantastic Four and the Mad Thinker in a laboratory they should have sent the National Guard to or somebody."

Alex Ross and Mike Carey worked in concert to craft a story that not only revived the Torch and reunited him with Toro, but also found plausible explanations for the gaps in the character's history. "Assembling a plot can be one of my strong points I can work with a writer on. What's really impressing me about Mike is how bright of a guy he is, so that when he puts in that pseudo-science - which may for all I know be real science mixed with a little creative thinking - it is something that seems entirely credible," Ross said. "When the Mad Thinker is describing what he's doing and his part of dissecting the body of the Human Torch, you really do have a sense that what the character is saying and what the author is doing is entirely legitimate. What he's effectively doing is grounding our series very thoughtfully, very intelligently in the new Marvel that is a very though-out product."

Part of the question that Ross really wanted to explore within the series is exactly what the makeup of the character is and how that affects his personality. "The Human Torch was always treated like and characterized as a physical man, so we've tried in our series to really get to the root of that in 'How manlike is this Human Torch?' Much like the creation of the Frankenstein monster, how organic did this creation get?" Ross said, noting that some writers' choices to portray the character as a robot falls far off the mark. "If you look at the 'Invaders' series he obviously has veins and can give some kind of blood transfusion to save the life of the woman who would become Spitfire. You have that very character in the Marvel Universe whose powers come entirely from the idea that the Human Torch has something much more closely approximating the human form.

"It's coming up for a justification on 'Why the hell would you call this guy human?' We can understand why a writer and artist did this back in 1939, but what logic do we have today for calling an artificial man the Human Torch? I think that being that there's a tie between him and his human partner that somehow grounds him in a way we'll divulge a theory for in our execution. The idea is that in a way the tether to humanity has expanded his artificial soul to be that more legitimate. Maybe the behavior of the character is expanding how we view him through that partnership. This first reuniting in over 50 years of Human Torch and Toro in this first series is a crucial component to the characters' design and execution."

In the end, Ross hopes to find a place for Marvel's oldest creation beyond a simple legacy name handed to the more familiar Human Torch. "The very physicality of the Human Torch was worth resuscitating immediately when they rebirthed the Marvel Universe or created what was called the Marvel Universe," Ross concluded. "There were so many convoluted things that happened over time, and there was a disconnect between what happens with his very origin - the fact that this is a synthetic man, an artificial creation designed for that purpose in his origin just to get him going, and then ultimately everything was done to forget that part of the character in the '40s. They didn't characterize him based upon his beginnings. So if you're not going to use the idea of an artificial man at the core of the way you're writing the character, then why is that in there? That only confounded the use of the character where Johnny Storm can always act like a punk teenager because that's what he was."

Joker: Year of the Villain Gets a Maniacal Mike Mayhew Variant

More in Comics