Itâ€™s extremely interesting that the first thing the readers see when they pick this book up is a wonderfully rendered representation of the original Human Torch depicted in a striking crucifixion pose. This charter character, who in every sense is the â€œguiding lightâ€ of the Marvel universe, was the solid foundation for everything that came afterwards. There could be no Johnny Storm if Jim Hammond hadnâ€™t been created by the scientist from Brooklyn. Professor Horton lit a beacon that is still shining strongly seventy years later.
Still, since his creation this comics progenitor has not always been well served by those who were entrusted to chart his literary progress. He has been a martyr to deficient writing and several differing ret-cons over the decades, which may just explain why cover artist Alex Ross, chose to portray the Torch as a Christ-like figure. It shows us how much this character has greatly suffered for our art appreciation and that its perhaps time for his redemption back into the mainstream Marvel fold.
However if that was the case then it may seem a little peculiar to some people that if you are writing a mini-series about this seminal person in comics history that you start the tale off by focusing on his erstwhile partner, Mr Thomas Raymond, better known as Toro, instead of the hero whose name is prominently displayed in the books title. Still this is exactly what the writer Mike Carey does and I think I know why this particular plotting path was chosen. Remember that the majority of our knowledge of the Messiah comes from the Gospels written by his disciples and it was through their eyes we got a more rounded picture of Christ. So who better to lead us into what may turn out to be the definitive Torch tale than his trusted companion in both war and peace.
Following the events in the Avengers/Invaders maxi-series, we find Toro bemoaning his fact that he has been brought back from a deceased state by his friend and fellow teenage sidekick, Bucky. He is obviously pleased that he is once again above ground and breathing air but what the Cosmic Cube could not give him is the other precious parts of his existence that he had before his death; such as his loving wife.. He does have his life-force back again but he feels that there is no actual â€œlifeâ€ left in it. Through a series of strong visual sequences and dialogues with the original Golden Age Vision we slowly see his understandable resentment turn to anger and the desire to punish the person who placed him in this predicament. Cue the entrance of the Mad Thinker!
So where exactly would you expect this B-list member of the villains roster to be holed up at the start of this tale. Well everyone who placed their bet on a laboratory setting have just lost all their stake money. Instead we find him attending a job interview at A.I.M for the position of â€œcreator of town sized mass destruction weaponsâ€, on their offshore base, (whose name throws an offhand reference to C.S Lewis). It seems that there is a form of peer group admiration amongst manic scientists and the Thinker has established himself as someone who is a genius level cranium for hire. During the job discussion the A.I.M representatives are so impressed with the interviewees insolent arrogance that they not only hire him for the job but also pay him more cash that they originally planned. And so off to his grisly work he goes.
It is at this point, the co-plotters Mr Ross and Mr Carey, join these two divergent plot threads together. Toro talks the Vision into transporting them to the aforementioned bad guysâ€™ floating base. However, his impetuosity causes him to be swiftly captured and he finds himself in the hands of the man who was the first to reactivate the original Human Torch and was also responsible for Mr Raymondâ€™s death in a plane crash during a previous battle. This unexpected twist allows Mr Thinker to conduct experiments on his captive and I particularly liked this particular plot development. For a change in comics, we actually get to see someone behave like a real actual honest-to-God scientist. The people who work in this branch of human endeavour start off by having a theory and then checking the facts by experimentation. If the data does not match the theory then the assumption is changed and a new hypothesis is created. This is exactly what we see the Mad Thinker doing by conducting several invasive procedures on his very unwilling guest. From the new information that is gleaned itâ€™s only just a small step from there to the final scene in the book, where we find the Thinker orchestrating a high tech grave robbing team at the final resting place of the spiritual son of Professor Phineas T. Horton, where he hopes to learn even more important information.
For a story that is mostly a collection of talking head sequences with a couple of action scenes thrown in for good measure this is a surprisingly well told tale. Mike Carey has managed to pull off that extremely rare trick of making the reader look closely again at a character whom they thought they knew everything about. With just a few well written dialogue boxes this writer has managed to make me believe that the Mad Thinker is actually a genius instead of second rate heroic cannon-fodder. I still believe that the Thinker is a homicidal maniac but itâ€™s the intellectually rational part of his personality thatâ€™s at the forefront here and it really breathes new life into someone who has been little more than a mere cartoon throughout recent years.
On the other hand, Patrick Berkenkotterâ€™s style has not changed much, if at all, since his work on the Avengers/Invaders. If you liked it there then I am sure that you will still like it now. In my opinion, itâ€™s not really top level comics delineation but it still fits in well enough with what is required for this particular tale and to be totally fair the artistâ€™s depictions of the classic Golden age heroes are historically accurate. Timely, you might even say.
This book gets three and a half stars, mostly because the multi-layered script kept meÂ â€œthinkingâ€ about the story long after I had actually finished reading the book itself.