Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

If you were reading Fantastic Four in mid-1972, you were probably noticing an odd transformation of the Human Torch that artist John Buscema was having the character "try on." And it started with this scene in issue #122, where the Torch creates duplicates of himself to distract Galactus:

I don't know why Galactus seems so concerned with duplicates of the Torch, since the real Torch presented absolutely no danger to him--but back to business. The eagle-eyed among you have already spotted the blink-and-you-missed-it adjustment in the Torch's appearance; but for those who read the issue and didn't notice, it's understandable. After all, when he first appears in the story, the Torch blazes into action looking like he always did:

And near the end of the issue, nothing has apparently changed:

But let's take a look at him in the next issue, as Buscema plays around with the look a little more:

Spotted it that time, did you? Or are there still a few of you who are scrutinizing the Torch right now more closely than your tax return? Well, the time has come to let the cat out of the bag--because with the next issue, Buscema has made his decision and presents the change in all its glory.

You may want to grab onto something: 

Jeez, even Reed fainted.

I apologize to those of you who just fell out of your chairs. I tried my best to ease you into it. But yes, it's true--the Human Torch now has a full head of hair to go with those flames. In fact, there's so much of that hair now that Medusa may be calling her lawyers:

Wow. It's like the first thing you see, isn't it.

On the other hand, I know of no good reason why the Torch's hair should disappear when he flames on; in fact, there have been times I wondered why it did. I never knew what those weird vertical grid lines on his body were, either--I suppose they were meant to convey his torch-like quality by making him look like a grill? What do I know.

The Torch nor anyone else on the team ever remarked on the change. Galactus didn't, either, which really surprised me. "Your follicles have increased, I see." Something like that. Maybe not. But if we were to grasp for an explanation, we could chalk it up to Johnny's vanity (never in short supply, I think we'd all agree) and he simply decided to exert a little more mental control over his flames in order to reveal his hair and thus relate more to his fans. I think I should get a no-prize for that explanation. I mean, if the guy can control flaming duplicates of himself and have them buzz around convincingly enough to fool Galactus, having his hair appear should be no problem.

But even though it's a head-scratcher of a choice, I think Buscema's decision is a bold one, after all this time of the FF having a bald Human Torch in their midst. I think he might have struck a more subtle tone with it, and maybe gone the route that Jack Kirby did when he featured the original Torch:

Flames instead of actual wavy hair would make more sense, and certainly have been less distracting:

But before Johnny can become the Crystal Gayle of the FF, the change becomes moot with issue #126 when Roy Thomas takes the FF through their first real rebirth:

And the change in the Torch's appearance becomes more defined. The wavy locks are gone; the grid lines are gone; and there are more flames on his actual form in addition to those that just outline his flight, along with a more radiating appearance that sets him more apart from his partners:

Buscema (as well as inker Joe Sinnott, who no doubt added a great deal of his own flair to the Torch's new appearance) would carry this look through for another fifteen issues, when Rich Buckler took over pencilling. And Buckler seemed content to continue the Torch's revised style:

However, when George Perez came aboard, the Torch pretty much reverted to the way he was, though retaining some of the animation of his flickering body flames:

But I think we can at least assume that an in-house "thumbs down" vote was cast on the Human Torch's brief dalliance with shagginess, and he's fated to be the flaming Lex Luthor of the FF.  And if you'd like to take a crack at just why we can't see his hair, be my guest.  I've got a no-prize waiting with your name on it.


Hube said...

I first noticed this while reading the Essential edition which contained this issue. I was like, "WTF??" It's absolutely putrid. Almost as bad as when Iron Man was given a nose!

Anonymous said...

I agree that Torchie's hair and Iron Man's nose were a travesty. I will always prefer Kirby's Torch. I do, however, think that it's ok to update certain character's costumes. I mean, how long were we gonna have to watch Superman and Batman run around wearing their underwear outside of their pants?? I'd probably get arrested pretty quick If I tried that. C'mon guys, you're not circus strong men in the 1920's. (apologies to Siegel and Schuster, that might have been where they got the idea of the superhero costume from)
Some super-hero make-overs worked pretty well, DC comics in the '60's were based on these reboots, with the Flash, Green Lantern, and a bit later, two of my favorites, Neal Adam's newer versions of Batman and Green Arrow.
One of the worst things I've seen is what they've done to Thor over the years. I prefer the John Buscema version, and while I agree the winged helmet was a bad idea from the start, he looked a lot less silly than he did in the 90's, in the Rob Liefeld era of comics. I don't know what those guys were thinking.

Comicsfan said...

Adjustments to characters can definitely be hit-or-miss--and sometimes, as was the case with the Torch's overall look, the adjustment can last a good number of issues before another artist decides to go a different route. You might get a kick out of this earlier post which explores some other makeovers of various characters.

Miss Fantastic said...

I actually, and embarassingly*, had no idea that Johnny having hair while in full blaze occurred much earlier than the Volume Three/2000's era of Fantastic Four. That said, it took some time, but based on the uber-frequency of the Torch with hair nowadays and for fifteen or so years, I think Buscema won with his incorporating hair into the Torch's appearance. And not just in the comics, but also in Super Hero Squad Online ([shameless promo]catch me on there as Plastic Fantastic Fungus[/shameless promo])...the version of Johnny on that sports hair in his flamed on (and only) form:

* - As proud as I am of my F4 collection, there are still some glaring gaps. Notably quite a few of the early 100's issues...which really explains why I was never aware of Johnny's fiery hair making a much earlier debut than I thought. This would have burned me in a trivia contest, pun intended. ;)

dbutler16 said...

Maybe Fabio got the Torch’s powers for a few issues? Anyway, hilarious. I’ve never seen these issues before. Like Miss Fantastic, I have a gap in my FF collection in the early 100’s. I’d always wondered what those “grill” marks were for, too.
I prefer Kirby’s Torch, too.

karl said...

Buscema's Torch was far more dynamic. ..his absence of Kirby's grid lines made him sleeker and more elemental. He also seemed hotter too!

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