Bronze Age Beginnings

Monday, 25 April 2011

From out of the past! The lovely, lethal Asbestos Lady!

I was a complete sucker for Golden Age characters growing up; I think it was a mixture of miss-placed nostalgia, and the implied history/continuity of the heroes I'd only recently discovered. So, The Invaders, by Roy Thomas, was a nascent fan-boys dream. And regardless of what seems popular opinion, I absolutely adored the art of Frank Robbins; Robbins art perfectly captured the 'look' I expected of Golden Age characters and stories (at this point I'd only seen a few in the pages of Fantasy Masterpieces).

As you probably gather from the cover, this issue chronicles the never before revealed origin of Toro. Or, rather, a Roy Thomas' retcon. While I grew to, not hate, but certainly disdain retcons as I grew older, then I absolutely adored these secret histories and whatnot.

The Invaders are returning to England from various missions in the Third Reich, with a severely injured Toro in tow. This is a perfectly suitable, though slim, excuse for Roy Thomas to reveal the origin of the Human Torch's young ward - and what a mixed up origin it is.

Toro's parents used to work in various sciences, his father (Fred Raymond) being an expert in flame-proofing, and his mother (Nora) indulging in a spot of hazardous experiments with Radium.
You just know that isn't going to end well.

So, despite both becoming sick, they decide to marry and have a baby! Along comes Toro (named as such for reasons unknown, but I'm going to guess that they just wanted him to suffer), and they get progressively sicker until The Asbestos Lady turns up wanting Fred's help in her quest to further the criminal possibilities of asbestos (!) The Human Torch arrives to prevent Fred's kidnapping, and is then told all about the remarkable Toro who exhibits invulnerability to flames. Nora calls him a mutant (a result of their hazardous careers).

Sheesh! First they decide to have a kid when they both know they're dying, regardless of any possible complications (like a mutant gene), and then call him Toro into the bargain. He never had a chance. At least his mutant gene only made him flame-proof, eh?

Anyway, Fred gets a call telling him that Nora's only got a few weeks left, so sensibly he decides to take them all on vacation. Watch out for that tree trunk on the tracks, Fred.....too late. Toro survives the crash (because flames are his friend), and, erm, gets taken in by a kindly fire-eater couple from a passing Circus. They hide him from the authorities, because, you know, they want a son.

Now I know why Fred and Nora called him Toro - they were planning ahead for his future career in the Circus!

Then, one night, the Human Torch comes looking (because he's a bit lonely for his own kind - sorta), and his mere presence (and intense heat) causes Toro to burst into flame too.

And start calling the Human Torch, erm, Pappy.

Despite all the ridiculous elements, this comic exhibited the same charm I found so endearing when I was 12 years old. Roy Thomas knew he had a mountain to climb to try and make some sense of Toro, and he did what he could. Unluckily, if you come looking for the wonderful art of Mr Robbins, you'll be disappointed - the issue is drawn by Jim Mooney and inked by Frank Springer. They do a good job of capturing the existing feel of The Invaders, but lack Robbins' crazy anatomy.

1 comment:

  1. 'The Asbestos Lady'? Presumably she died of asbestosis before she could do any harm.

    This sounds awful! Well, apart from the Mooney pencils - love that guy. With Frank Robbins, it's more a case of appreciating his work.

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