With the Fantastic Four set to join the MCU, fans may be surprised to know that an earlier version of one of their members – The Human Torch – has already made a cameo in a Marvel movie. This Torch is not Johnny Storm, portrayed by both Chris Evans and Michael B. Jordan in previous Fantastic Four movies, but an android named Jim Hammond.
Appearing way back in 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, the original Human Torch holds the distinction of being the very first Marvel superhero – preceding even Captain America. Yet while the original Human Torch has made a huge impact on both past and current Marvel Comics, casual fans may have never heard of him – so let’s take a look at this character’s origin and some of his most pivotal moments.
Created in 1939 by writer-artist Carl Burgos for Timely Comics – the company that would one day become Marvel Comics – the original Human Torch is a human-like android created by Professor Phineas T. Horton. When Horton discovers the android bursts into flames when exposed to oxygen, he seals it in an airtight capsule and buries the synthetic man. But the Torch escapes, develops a conscience, and soon gains control over his flames, letting him subdue criminals. Later issues of Marvel Comics (eventually retitled Marvel Mystery Comics) show the Torch adopting a human name, Jim Hammond, and even getting a job as a police officer.
The Human Torch may have been the first superhero featured in Marvel Comics #1, but he wasn’t the only one. In the same issue, writer-artist Bill Everett introduced Namor the Sub-Mariner, an aquatic superhero considered to be Marvel Comics’ first mutant. The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner initially appeared in separate stories, but in Marvel Mystery Comics #8, Burgos and Everett had their heroes fight each other in a three-part saga. By doing this, Burgos and Everett created a popular trope of superheroes battling each other. They also established these characters lived in a shared universe, which would come to define Marvel Comics and the MCU. Eventually, the Torch and Namor made up and joined with Captain America and other Timely heroes to form the superhero team the Invaders. And as the United States entered World War II, these early Marvel heroes also fought in fictional battles against the Axis powers.
When Batman’s teenage sidekick Robin proved popular with readers at National (later DC) Comics, Timely Comics decided to use the same tactic, by giving both Captain America and the Human Torch sidekicks. Captain America partnered with teenager Bucky Barnes (who would become the Winter Soldier decades later). The Human Torch, on the other hand, gained a partner in Thomas Raymond, a human boy codenamed Toro who somehow had the same flame powers he did. Later writers would explain this by first stating Toro was a mutant who got his powers from the radiation his parents were exposed to while working for the Torch’s creator Phineas Horton. Other writers claimed Toro had absorbed the artificial cells of the original Human Torch, giving him identical powers. Ironically, this makes the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm the third Marvel superhero with Human Torch powers!
While Marvel Comics frequently references real-life events (such as the Vietnam War and 9-11) in its comics, one Human Torch story puts a shocking twist on a well-known historical event. In What If? #4 Vol. 1, a story set in the mainstream Marvel Universe reveals that in the final days of the war the Human Torch burned Adolf Hitler alive when the Nazi leader attempts to kill the Torch and his partner with a bomb.
Enraged that he went out in such an undignified manner, Hitler uses his last breath to order an underling to lie and tell the world he committed suicide. Deciding this would be a fitting story to let the world rebuild, the Human Torch allows the deception to continue.
The Human Torch’s comic book was cancelled when superheroes went out of fashion in the post-World War II years, and later stories reveal his android body was deactivated after the war. However, when the Silver Age of Comics began in the 1960s, the original Human Torch made a comeback. In Fantastic Four Annual #4 (1963), the Torch’s android body is revived by the villainous Mad Thinker. Rendered amnesic, the Torch battles the Fantastic Four (and his successor Johnny Storm), but turns against the Thinker when he tries to kill the Fantastic Four, leading the Thinker’s computer Quasimodo to kill him.
Being an android, Jim Hammond eventually recovers years later and teams up with his partners Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner. He joins the Avengers West Coast and meets other World War II allies, including the British speedster Spitfire (who gained her powers in the 1940s from a blood transfusion given to her by the Human Torch). In Namor #12, Hammond reveals his android blood has additional powers when a second transfusion not only heals a now-elderly Spitfire of a bullet wound, but also regresses her into a sixteen-year-old girl.
While the original Human Torch remains mostly in the shadow of his more famous Fantastic Four-namesake, comic book creators kept finding ways to honor him. In the aftermath of the first Marvel superhero Civil War, all superpowered Americans were required to enlist in superhuman training camp. The camp ended up being named Camp Hammond after the Torch (who was temporarily dead again at the time). The camp erected a statue of the Torch, with the inscription, “Jim Hammond: The Human Torch. First of the Marvels. He Showed Us That Heroes Can Be Made.”
One of the weirdest stories of the original Human Torch is his strange relationship with the Avenger’s android member the Vision. The Vision of the MCU has a fairly straightforward origin in Avengers: Age of Ultron – he’s an android built by the villainous Ultron and given the mind of Iron Man’s AI Jarvis. However, the Vision’s origin in the comics is much more complicated. Like the movie, the comic version of Vision is an android who turns against his creator Ultron to aid the Avengers. However, the Avengers are led to believe Ultron used the remains of the original Human Torch to build the Vision’s body while the Vision’s mind came from the brain patterns of another Avenger – Wonder Man. This theory is seemingly debunked in Avengers West Coast #50 when the Vision examines the Human Torch’s grave and the Scarlet Witch accidentally resurrects the android. The Avengers later hypothesize that the Vision was made of the Torch’s “spare parts.”
It only got stranger from there. In Avengers Forever #8, the Avengers discovered the time-traveling villain Immortus traveled to a point after the Human Torch died following his battle with the Fantastic Four and used a “Forever Crystal” to split the Torch’s timeline in two – allowing one version of the Torch to be rebuilt by Ultron into the Vision while the other one remained inert until the Avengers reactivated him years later. Thus, in the comics at least, the Human Torch and the Vision are time lost versions of the same artificial being. Considering the Vision married the Scarlet Witch and fathered children with her (who may or may not be real), the Human Torch’s relationship to this extended family is likely even more convoluted.
Despite these bizarre stories, the constant inclusion of the original Human Torch in Marvel mythology shows that many comic creators have a soft spot for the android and constantly want to acknowledge the first Marvel superhero. Apparently, this reverence also extends to the MCU, as the Human Torch has already appeared briefly in Captain America: The First Avenger. In the scene where Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes attend the World Exposition of Tomorrow, the camera pans across the exhibition hall, briefly highlighting an airtight capsule with a mannequin dressed in the Human Torch’s signature red costume inside. The sign above advertises it as “Phineas Horton Presents The Synthetic Man.”
Could this be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s original Human Torch? Did he ever achieve consciousness and fight alongside the MCU’s Captain America in World War II? While the filmmakers kept the scene intentionally vague, with an MCU version of the Fantastic Four in the works, the pieces are in place for an even greater homage to Marvel’s first hero – the original Human Torch.
Read more: screenrant.com