Marvels Snapshots #1 is the first issue in a new anthology series curated by Kurt Busiek in the style of the 1994 hit series Marvels, featuring tales from the Marvel universe told through the eyes of ordinary people. In the case of its first Fantastic Four issue — and second issue total — that story is about Johnny Storm, as told by his high school flame Doris “Dorrie” Evans.
Marvels Snapshots: Fantastic Four #1
Jordie Bellaire (Color Artist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Benjamin Dewey (Artist), Evan Dorkin (Writer), Sarah Dyer (Writer)
March 25th, 2020
Marvels Snapshots: Fantastic Four #1 opens with a news report that sets the scene for where we are in Marvel continuity, detailing the Red Zone attack, an incident involving Daredevil, and Cyclops and Beast’s investigation into the death of mutant fashion designer Jumbo Carnation. But none of that really matters. What’s really important is that it’s Johnny Storm’s ten year high school reunion and that Dorrie has been asked to give an interview all about what it was like to grow up with the famous Human Torch. Joy of joys.
I think most overly dedicated comic book fans have That One Character. Nobody gets them like you get them. You’ve read every appearance in every issue and took umbrage with at least one third of them. There are somewhere between three to three dozen industry professionals you would fight, depending on your beloved’s popularity. You have other favorite characters, perhaps much more popular ones, but the flame in your heart burns brighter only for this one. For me, that character is the Human Torch. Listen, I love Spider-Man, but I would throw Peter Parker under a bus in a second for Johnny Storm. Sorry not sorry. As a longtime Human Torch fan, I was pretty excited to see Dorrie again. Although she was a supporting character in the early days of Fantastic Four and Johnny’s solo stretch of Strange Tales, Dorrie’s appearances quickly dwindled. She’s only appeared in a small handful of issues since the ‘60s and never before featured as the main character of an issue.
The artwork by Benjamin Dewey is filled with little Easter eggs that make the world these characters inhibit feel wonderfully connected: Dorrie’s daughter brushes a Medusa doll’s hair while at her feet lies a box boasting Jan Van Dyne’s 75 collectible outfits. A statue of Sue and Johnny outside of Glenville High was sculpted by Alicia Masters. The issue even establishes that there’s a museum dedicated to the Storms in their hometown of Glenville, Long Island. The references to past canon feel seamless, like when Dorrie mentions during her interview the time she was kidnapped by the Beetle in Amazing Spider-Man #21, or when her father jokingly references the time Johnny accidentally destroyed the Evans’ kitchen floor in Strange Tales #114.
Other featured characters are Marcia Hardesty, videographer, who first appeared in Marvels #4, and Mike Snow of the 2003 Human Torch series gets name dropped. It feels tinged with affection and nostalgia, and wildly different than the way Dan Slott has been employing past canon references in his Fantastic Four run, name dropping Princess Pearla of Sub-Atomica or Wendy from Fantastic Four #239 as if to say, “Look at me, I read all this!”
Marvels Snapshots also doesn’t shy away from hinting at Johnny’s sexuality, from a conversation Dorrie, who in her early appearances often lamented Johnny’s “flaming on” and wished he could be more like the other boys, talks about how she saw the Torch as an enemy, as someone who “took Johnny away from me.” It wouldn’t exactly be a far jump on the sexuality metaphor train, even without a later conversation where one of Johnny’s classmates says to another, “You managed to stay in the closet longer than [Johnny] did,” in reference to the brief period of early Fantastic Four canon where Johnny tried to have a secret costumed identity. Johnny’s appearance in the skies over Glenville High has one man in the crowd announcing, “He’s totally hot.”
The ongoing will-they-or-won’t-they game Marvel has been playing with Johnny’s sexuality for years — Johnny had a semi-canonical sexual relationship with Wolverine’s son Daken on top of years and years of spectacularly unsubtle queercoding, including his appearance in Dark Reign: Zodiac where he’s the victim of a homophobic assault — it’s nice to see Johnny acknowledged as the object of gay male affection, especially when his “Flame on!” catchphrase has been used for years not only in gay jokes, but in jokes in gay media, from the 2012 romcom Gayby to Marvel’s own Iceman solo series. This is especially welcome right now, when Johnny, after being told to “be brave” about his romantic future, has been forced into yet another no-build up go-nowhere heterosexual relationship he’s depicted as literally miserable about in Slott’s Fantastic Four. Yay.
Where the issue really excels for me is in its thoughtful, nuanced characterization of Johnny Storm. I never thought I would have one single issue I could point to to explain the differences between Johnny’s public and private personas and how this divide extends past his role as a superhero and into the realm of celebrity, but Marvels Snapshots: Fantastic Four #1 pulls it off brilliantly and with perfect pacing. The Johnny who finally appears at the reunion seemingly revels in his fame, signing autographs (and a woman’s arm) seemingly much to the chagrin of his former classmates, many of whom are now taking the opportunity to malign him on camera. (One of them memorably accuses Johnny of setting his shoes on fire in high school.) But as the party wears on, it becomes clear that everything isn’t quite what it seems.
One of the things that makes Johnny such an interesting character to me is how the same assumptions about his persona plague him both in and out of universe. Casual Fantastic Four fans will blithely refer to Johnny as a skirt chaser, a playboy, an airhead, while within the title people who don’t know him personally will do the same. Here, Johnny and his friends use those false assumptions about him for the protection of their hometown, keeping careful distance between their ordinary lives and his extraordinary one. The act is a double-edged sword: the plan goes off without a hitch but Johnny suffers for it. His sacrifice is clearly worth it for him, though — later he celebrates on the beach with his real friends, kept safe from the dangers a superhero spotlight can bring by their carefully put on public disdain for Johnny. It’s bittersweet but lovely.
Writers Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer perfectly capture Johnny’s brand of sweetness and the earnest good heart that lies underneath his celebrity showboat act while also fleshing out this part of his world that we’ve seen so little of since the 1960s. The world of the issue feels well-lived in but still roomy. It’s the sign of a great one-shot when it leaves you both perfectly satisfied and wanting more. I’d happily turn the main Fantastic Four title over to Dorkin and Dyer in a second if it meant we got thoughtful, perfectly characterized, and incredibly enjoyable stories like this every month.