Bronze Age Beginnings

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A girl named Frankie Raye

Face it tiger...oops, wrong redhead.

When John Byrne took the Fantastic Four Back to the Basics with Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #232 (cover date July 1981) it was a rather apt title considering his stance, in interviews at the time (if recall correctly), that nothing that came after Jack Kirby left the Fantastic Four with Vol. 1 #102 (cover date September 1970) ‘counted’, essentially ignoring the previous decade; or, to put it another way, the entirety of what we now fondly refer to as the Bronze Age of Marvel Comics. Byrne had sole responsibility for shaping the future of the Fantastic Four as both artist and writer, so he had to trust in his creative instincts; but it still seemed a tad disrespectful of all the other creators that came before him.

 It was a little odd, then, that in his first issue he used a character created by Roy Thomas and George Perez in Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #164 (cover date November 1975); Johnny Storm’s red-haired flame (pun intended), Frankie Raye. Frankie was Johnny’s only Bronze Age romantic entanglement after Crystal left the team (and later married Quicksilver), but only appeared a handful of times (the last being Vol. 1 #204 March 1979 – more than two years prior to the start of John Byrne’s run). Could it be that Byrne had been told something about the creation of Frankie Raye - that she was originally intended to be the daughter of Toro, the original Human Torch’s sidekick* - that he felt he could repurpose her for something else he had planned?** Do all red-haired girls have to ‘go bad’ in the end?

Johnny’s first date with Frankie (a’ lonely U.N. translator’ he met in a ‘ 2nd Avenue singles bar’) starts well as they wander from Art Fairs to Rock-Joints in New York’s Greenwich Village, but all good things must come to an end as The Crusader attacks. Johnny resists flaming-on - not wanting to reveal who he is to Frankie - but his hand is eventually forced; Frankie’s reaction shot by George Perez is a portent of what is to come.

The next time Johnny and Frankie meet up is in Fantastic Four #171 (cover date June 1976) at Central Park Zoo. They discuss why Frankie ran off the last time, and she explains that seeing Johnny become the Human Torch freaked her out. Unfortunately, just as Johnny tries to convince her that he is considering giving up the superhero life, and that she might just be the one, a spaceship lands and out comes Gorr – a giant golden gorilla. Johnny immediately flames-on, but then reconsiders and returns to Frankie, as the ‘police can handle that overgrown ape, soon as they get some heavier guns.’

A short time later, at Frankie’s apartment, Johnny overhears on the radio that his fellow teammates are helpless before Gorr, so with Frankie’s protestations ringing in his ear he flames-on and leaves. Frankie ‘suddenly knows the truth at last…that all this has happened to her…before!’

I wonder what that could mean?

It is another ten issues, in Fantastic Four #181 (cover date April 1977), before Frankie makes another appearance. Johnny is hanging around Greenwich Village in the hope of seeing Frankie again, and when he does she’s with another man. Johnny and Frankie argue, with Johnny making light of her fear of fire, so Frankie leaves. Johnny flies off, promising to ‘find out why you’re so traumatised by fire…if it takes forever!’

Considering this was Roy Thomas’ last issue, Johnny might be waiting some time.

Len Wein picks-up the Frankie and Johnny (non) relationship another ten issues later, in Fantastic Four #191 (cover date February 1978), when Johnny calls on Frankie - hoping to rekindle their romance - but is called away by the Fantasti-Flare before she can answer the door.

It is only another 13 issues until Frankie makes her last appearance during the Bronze Age, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, in Fantastic Four #204. Johnny bumps into her while enrolling at Empire State University, and while they discuss why they never quite got together in the past, Frankie gives her reasons as ‘never liked dating a superhero…or got used to you standing me up…or rushing off halfway through a date…or’ before being cut-off by an emergency call from Reed.

Presumably her next line was going to be ‘… or you turning into a human matchstick, and I hate fire’ but I suspect that plot point was being quietly buried.

Anyone that has read John Byrne’s 5 year + run on Fantastic Four knows that he eventually revealed Frankie to be the step-daughter of the original Human Torch’s creator, Phineas Horton. At the age of 14, she’d been accidentally doused in chemicals that gave her the power to burst into flame, but Horton hypnotised her into forgetting these events, while giving her a costume that mysteriously only appears when she is naked. Yeah, that never made complete sense to me, but it did give Byrne the chance to show the slightly salacious scene of Johnny gawping at a slowly disrobing Frankie.

Byrne teased his readers with the idea that Frankie might join the Fantastic Four, but over a few adventures he had Frankie show a disturbing propensity for violence and callousness, that ultimately culminated in her accepting a new job as Galactus’ herald, receiving the power cosmic, and becoming Nova.

While Frankie/Nova is apparently dead in current continuity, Byrne did originally intend to have Nova become the next Galactus, after another Big Bang at the culmination of his ‘ The Last Galactus Story’, the ending of which remains unpublished today.

I ask again, do all red-haired girls go bad eventually? Frankie’s sad fate has an echo of that other red-haired girl gone bad, Jean Grey/Phoenix, and I sort of wish that Roy Thomas had seen his plot for Frankie Raye through. Who knows, she might even be in the X-Men now, as the mutant daughter of Toro.

*I have only seen this referenced once online, as told to John Byrne by Len Wein, but can’t find anything else to corroborate it. It may be false, but given Roy Thomas’ predilection for using Golden Age characters and stitching them into then current continuity (see Giant-Size Avengers #1)…it has a ring of the truth to it.

**At a later date, Byrne also made reference to Frankie being Ann Raymond and Toro’s step-daughter in Avengers West Coast #50, so while it probably negates Roy Thomas’ earlier intent, it does at least acknowledge the connection.

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