Android’s Dream: Human Torch

Posted by CB Droege

Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids - artificial men and women - have been a common element.

When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for "the other." When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thus, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at Human Torch

Human Torch is a mechanical man in the Marvel Comics universe. As comics have notoriously poorly maintained canon, it’s tough to pin things down sometimes, but The Human Torch has a comparatively clear chronology.

According to the story, the Human Torch was crafted under as a life-like android in the laboratory of Phineas Horton, who apparently created androids simply because he could.

The materials he used to fabricate the flesh, however, were not tested well enough, and when the android was activated during a press conference, it burst into flames, and could only be quelled by being encased in concrete.

The Human Torch escaped, however, and struggled to control his flames. Eventually, after being shunned from society, and declared a menace by the press, he learns to turn the flames off. His creator has disavowed him, however, and moved on to other projects.

The Human Torch, under the identity Jim Hammond, is forced to integrate with society on his own, eventually joining the police as a way to help humanity. At first, he tries to hid his flame abilities from the other police, but eventually, he lets his hero flag fly, and starts fighting crime for the police as the Human Torch.

It’s clear that the story begins in homage to Frankenstein: The creature shunned by society due to a defect of his design, runs away from his creator, and tries to find a purpose for himself. Weather it was intended that the story continue to mirror Frankenstein any further, we’ll likely never know. As different artists and writers come and go, comics canon changes significantly, but there are a lot of firsts in this tale.

The Human Torch was the first Marvel superhero, appearing in Marvel #1, a series published by Timely Publications. Eventually the comics division of Timely would split off and become the Marvel we know today (which is now owned by Disney), but at this time, it was just one comic-book series.

He was the first hero to have a cross-over comic when he and Marvel’s second hero, the Sub-Mariner get into a scuffle. Later, after his popularity grew, he was the first hero to have a series of comic books named for him, with intention of featuring exclusively his stories - something we see as a normal part of the comics industry now.

Elements of his story also become standard fare. Looking back, we feel like this was pretty standard comics formula: Guy gets powers accidentally, is initially shunned by society as a danger to the citizenry, then chooses to aid mankind in a secret identity. The Human Torch was the first hero to do all these things, and history influenced a myriad of heroes to come later, both in and out of the Marvel universe.

Although his name (and power) was reused later for one of the Fantastic Four characters, he did not disappear from the Marvel universe. According to a series of retcons, he deactivated himself in the middle of the Mojave Desert shortly after setting Hitler on fire in his bunker. He was later awakened twice. First a villain reactivated him in an effort to destroy the Fantastic Four, to which his response was to refuse to do so, and then deactivate himself in the desert again.

Later, he was reactivated by a woman who had married a man whom she later found out to be an android of the same model. He tooled around with the Avengers for a short time, but was finally "killed" during the Civil War story-line, in which Marvel heroes were forced to face-off against one another.

Interestingly, like Daneel, the Human Torch never seems to desire humanity, despite seeming human much of the time; at times even more human than the actual humans around him.

He is also never treated with any kind of discrimination. The other heroes seem to trust in his humanity fully, never treating him like a machine at any time. They even erect a statue to him after the war, something you certainly wouldn’t do for a tank or a gun or any other machine.

Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be Rosie.  If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.