Fantastic Four (1st series) #342

Issue Date: 
July 1990
Story Title: 

Danny Fingeroth (writer), Rex Valve (penciler), Chris Ivey (inker), Ken Lopez (letterer), Nel Yomtov (colorist), Ralph Macchio (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

The Human Torch remembers a dark period in his life: He is at Chuck's Auto Repair with Alicia Storm, his wife, when over the radio he hears about a sixteen year old high-school drop-out called Theodore Bannion who committed suicide by self-immolation, and the note he left stating that he can never gain the greatness of the Human Torch, so he wanted to go out in a fitting way – as a real Human Torch. This devastates Johnny, who unintentionally sets fire to the auto repair garage. When he realizes what he has done he is able to contain the fire. Johnny and Alicia leave, and Johnny tells his wife that this reminds him of Tommy Hanson, a introverted kid who idolized him and who was bullied, so he set himself on fire hoping to becoming another Human Torch. Johnny decides that he has to go to the town where Theodore Bannion was from, so drives there alone, and upon walking up to the high school is recognized by students, including Theodore's sister who verbally attacks Johnny, but another student comes to Johnny's defense. This student takes Johnny to meet some others – a gang of Theodore's friends who take Johnny to their meeting house in an auto-wrecking yard. There, Johnny is shocked to learn that given the current state of the world they all have death-wishes and all plan to leave this mortal plane in spectacular displays. Johnny tries to reason with them but they aren't interested. Upset, he leaves, while the students think he was just putting on an act. Also in Floral Ridge, Herb Bannion, father of the deceased Theodore Bannion, decides that revenge is in order, and enlists his brothers to help him. Johnny returns to Four Freedom's Plaza where he tells his teammates – Thing, Crystal and She-Thing – that he is never going to use his powers again. Alicia is with them and she tries to talk to him but he wants to be alone, and goes for a walk in Central Park, where a young man rushes over to him. Thinking it is an obsessed fan, Johnny is rude to him and tells him to go away, but realizes what he has done and calls the young man back. He tells him that he is going through a lot that he wouldn't understand. The young man starts to explain that he would, when they are attacked by Herb Bannion and his brothers wearing suits of armor – they are the Seekers. They warn Johnny that he is going to pay for the death of Theodore Bannion, and trap Johnny with the powers of their suit. Not wanting to break his vow never to use his powers again, Johnny doesn't fight back. Luckily for him, the young man who approached him has powers of his own, and is able to use his flame based powers to free Johnny and temporarily trap the Seekers. Johnny and his companion rush to a taxi, and after forcing the driver out, the young man introduces himself to Johnny as a trainee of X-Factor, Rusty Collins, and reveals how when his mutant powers manifested they nearly killed a woman. Within the relative safety of the cab though, Johnny and Rusty are still at the mercy of the Seekers who fly after them and dowse Johnny in an fire-retardant substance, some of which blinds Rusty as is splashes into his eyes. He crashes the cab, and they run into a furniture warehouse. The Seekers continue their chase, and seeking refuge in another room, Johnny comes up with a plan how to stop the Seekers. They put this plan into motion and when the Seekers find them, the now-darkened warehouse is lit up by a powerful surge of flame, which the Seekers think comes from Johnny, but is in fact courtesy of Rusty who engulfs himself in the flames, appearing to them as if he was the Human Torch. The Seekers are taken out and the authorities arrive to apprehend them. Johnny assures the authorities that it was his power that defeated the Seekers so that the armored men would not seek vengeances against Rusty. Herb Bannion swears revenge still, before he is taken away. Later, at Four Freedom's Plaza, Rusty gives Johnny some encouraging words about not giving up. Johnny realizes Rusty is right and flames on. Later, at his home, Johnny is alone, when Spider-Man drops by for a visit after hearing about Johnny's recent troubles. Spider-Man also gives Johnny some encouraging advice and reminds him about how he used to visit schools – one such school was the one Spider-Man attended – where he gave inspiring talks. A few days later, Johnny returns to Floral Ridge High School to give such a speech, which is listened to by the gang members. Johnny wonders if he is getting through to anyone, but knows that if he didn't try, that would be the saddest thing of all.


Full Summary: 

Four Freedoms Plaza, Manhattan, where, only moments ago, the world-famous Fantastic Four have returned from a mind-bending adventure in a future reality:

 'You look exhausted, Johnny. This must have been a terrible ordeal for you' Sharon Ventura a.k.a. She-Thing remarks to her teammate, Johnny Storm the Human Torch. 'Nahh, I'm all right... it's no worse than having to look at Ben's ugly face every morning' Johnny replies. Ben Grimm tells his friend 'That's real funny, Matchhead. If it wuzn't for a guy like me providing a good example, you'd probably be out stealing hubcaps somewhere!' She-Thing frowns, and remarks that to have been so totally under Nebula's control, helpless, it must have felt like that time he lost control of his flame. 'Oh... yeah...' Johnny frowns, rubbing the back of his neck. 'Shary...' Ben tells She-Thing. 'That ain't no way to bring the kid out of his funk, honey. You know he almost quit being the Torch after that'. Sharon tells Johnny that she is sorry, 'What was I thinking? How could I have forgotten?' she remarks, adding that it wasn't even all that long ago.

Chuck's Auto Repair, where Johnny stands under a car that has been raised into the air, and as Chuck the mechanic tinkers with the engine of another car, Johnny uses a light flame on the underside of the car above him. 'I tell ya, Johnny – if the FF ever lets ya go, ya can work in my shop anytime!' Chuck exclaims. Johnny thanks Chuck, before asking if he is so good, then how come he can't find the problem in his Jaguar's transmission, yet? 'Ah, here it is!' Johnny then declares. 'Oh, gee, must've taken ya all of two minutes to find it!' another mechanic jokes, while Johnny's wife, the blind sculptress Alicia Masters, sits nearby.

Johnny concentrates on the problem with his car, 'There. A little pinpoint weld in this spot ought...' he begins, when suddenly, a news report transmitted over the radio in the auto repair catches his attention: '...and in Floral Ridge, New Jersey today, a story of tragedy, as a sixteen year old highschool drop out commited suicide by self-immolation. The young man, Theodore Bannion, left a note behind which told of his admiration for Johnny Storm, the Human Torch'. Johnny looks shocked, and stops using his power to weld the car 'What?' he utters.

The news announcer states that young Bannion wrote “I know I can never achieve the greateness that the Torch has attained and knowing that, I see no point in going on. So I've gone out in a fitting way – as a real Human Torch!”

Horror spreads across Johnny's face, 'NOOO!' he screams. He powers up, and fiery energy dashes around him, 'NOOOOOOOO!' he screams again as he destroys the car above him. 'Johnny! What happened -? What's going on?' Alicia asks as Chuck exclaims as he takes Alicia by her arm and leads her out of the auto repair garage. The other mechanic runs alongside them, as Chuck exclaims 'He flamed on super-hot! Blew up the Jag! And the whole place is catchin' fire now! Come on – we gotta get out before this place becomes an inferno!'

Johnny looks around as the flames spread throughout the auto repair, 'No! What've I done?' he asks himself. He quickly flies out of the garage so he can absorb as much of the flame as possible into himself and expel it into the air so that it doesn't destroy the whole block. 'There! The fire's taken care!' Johnny announces as he succeeds in pulling the flames upwards out of the auto repair.

But Johnny knows that the garage is a total loss, but is relieved that it was the only building that caught – and they were the only ones in it, so nobody got hurt. The Human Torch drops down in front of Alicia, Chuck and the other mechanic, and tells Chuck that, even so, he knows there is no apology good enough, but he was so shaken by that news report, he let his flame get out of control – way out of control. He adds that it hasn't happened since his earliest days with the power, and assures Chuck that he feels awful. 'You ain't the only one' Chuck remarks. Johnny tells Chuck that he knows it is no consolation, but the Fantastic Four will pay for his damages. 'Sure, that's great. Just give me a second to recover... my whole life – all gone up in smoke!' He looks back at the ruined garage, while the other mechanic suggests to Johnny that he should go now, as Chuck is pretty freaked. Johnny picks up Alicia and calls the other mechanic Bill, stating that he will check by tomorrow. 'Flame on – No!' Johnny exclaims as he stops from powering up. Alicia asks Johnny what is wrong. 'You know I trust you not to burn me' she tells him. 'I know... I just think I'd rather walk' Johnny replies.

And soon, Johnny and Alicia walk down a street, as Alicia tells Johnny that he can't blame himself for what that kid in Jersey did. 'You act responsibly as the Torch' she reminds him, adding that it is not his fault they live in such bizarre times that people twist the good things he does into a rationale for insane behavior. Johnny thanks Alicia, but tells her that it doesn't change the fact that a kid died imitating him. 'And it's not the first time either' Johnny adds. His memory wanders back as he asks Alicia if she remembers Tommy Hanson, a shy, introverted kid who idolized him – it seemed like following his career was the only thing that gave him any joy – because his family, his schoolmates – they all treated him like dirt. The Human Torch – who he had never even met – was all he had. Johnny adds that even though everybody – even little kids – know that he only has his flame powers due to being saturated years ago with cosmic rays, Tommy somehow got the idea into his head that he could become another Human Torch by setting himself on fire. Tommy survived long enough for the Human Torch to be contacted, and visiting the bandaged boy in hospital was the saddest moment of his life when he heard the boy's last words - “I only did it to be like you”. Johnny was traumatized and vowed never to use his flame powers again – then, the all-powerful Beyonder appeared and showed him Tommy's past and how idolizing him was the only source of joy in his life, that he should be proud of that, not forever guilty over what he finally did to himself.

Johnny explains to Alicia that that helped him get through the crisis, and to remember how much good he does as the Torch – but it was like putting a band-aid on a shrapnel wound. He adds that with their wedding, the formation of the new FF and all their recent adventures, he has been able to put the whole incident out of his mind – but then he heard that news report and it was like a dam broke in him. He tells Alicia that he feels like he has to do something, but he doesn't know what. Alicia suggests to Johnny that he could go to Floral Ridge and see what really happened, as she bets the media has blown this whole thing out of proportion. Johnny tells Alicia that she is right – he has to go out there and face whatever the truth is. Johnny looks up at the beckoning sky, flying, he could be in New Jersey in minutes. But, he hops into his new pickup, telling Alicia that he has been keen to try it out and this will be a good opportunity. Alicia stands on gthe sidewalk and asks Johnny if he wants her to come along, but Johnny tells her that he has to face this alone. Alicia tells Johnny that she understands, and kisses him on his lips, telling him that she loves him. Alicia hears the engine's roar fade away in the distance, her loving smile fades into a face of worry and concern. 

Thirty-five minutes later, Johnny walks down the main street of a suburban town – but soon, outside Floral Ridge High School, he is noticed by a student. 'Wow! He's the Human Torch!' the student exclaims. 'What's he want here?' another wonders. 'You're the best, Johnny!' a student grins. 'Go home, creep-o! We're not good enough for you here!' one of them shouts. 'Monster!' another screams. A punk girl with white hair rushes over and pounds her fists on Johnny's chest, 'My brother's dead because of you! Dead!' she exclaims, adding that her brother never hurt anyone in his life, and now he is dead. 'I hate you! I hate you!' she cries. Another punk goes over to the woman and calling her Lois tells her to chill out. 'You never gave a hang what Teddy did. You got no right to be ragging on this hero' the punk points out. 'Hah! Look who's so high and mighty! If Teddy hadn't started hanging out with lowlifes like you, Joey, he'd still be alive today!' Lois snaps back. Still crying, Lois starts to run away, 'Go ahead! Worship your hero! I gotta get out of here!' she calls out. Joey tells Johnny not to mind Lois, as she – and the rest of her family – never understood Teddy the way his real friends did. He then informs Johnny that everyone in the gang wants to meet him.

Shortly, Joey brings Johnny to meet the gang, several more punks who are sitting about on a flight of public stairs. 'The Torch! Right on!' one of them exclaims. 'He's even more gorgeous in person!' another declares, while a third remarks that they can't believe he is here, live, in Floral Ridge. 'Hey, hot stuff – light my Lucky' a punk girl with a pink mohawk exclaims, holding her cigarette towards the Torch, who announces that he didn't come here to clown around. 'I wanted to talk to you guys' he tells them. 'Why waste time talking, cutie?' the pink mohawk woman asks as she moves her lips  towards Johnny's. 'Hey – stop – stop!' Johnny tells her. Joey tells Johnny that Lisa is cool, she's just fooling around, Joey then tells everyone to chill out, and suggests they take Johnny to the Baxter Building, thinking he will really dig it there. 'The Baxter Building?' Johnny asks, confused.

Soon, at an auto-wrecking yard just outside town, the gang are inside the back of a large truck, and one of them tells Johnny that this their “Baxter Building”, adding that their brother is the yard boss here, so he lets them use this old wreck as a meeting place. Johnny announces that he still doesn't understand why Teddy did that to himself. One of the gang members tells Johnny that he has to understand all of them, including Ted, see life for the absurd joke that it is, and the other kids at school think they are all freaks because of their attitude. Joey adds that there is no point to anything – they know that. A guy like Teddy though, he wanted out sooner than the rest of them. Joey reveals that they have all made a pact – they are all gonna go by 1991 and they are all gonna do it like their hero – the Human Torch. Johnny declares that he can't believe what he is hearing. 'You guys are wrong! Sure, these are weird, scary times...but it's always been rough, always! So you take the good with the bad and you go on, you gotta!' Johnny adds that Teddy's way was no answer. 'Sure it is!' one of the women exclaims. 'We're never going to be like you – famous, living the high life. We got one shot at glory in our lives – to go out in a big flame – like a super nova!' she explains.

Johnny begs the gang to give up that crazy pact. 'Don't do what Teddy did!' he asks them. 'Look, Torchie Boy... we've thought this all out. If we don't die young, we're gonna end up like our parents – slaves to rotten jobs and a million bills – you name it. Now, that's death!' one of the women declares. She tells Johnny to save his breath. 'Can't you just dig that we're so inspired by you?' she asks him. 'No, I can't “dig” that kind of hero worship. I'll do anything I can to stop it! From this moment on, I swear I'll never use my flame powers again!' Johnny announces. He tells the gang that they have now got nothing to imitate, and leaves the junk yard, getting into his car, he drives off, thinking 'The way they've perverted everything decent I thought I stood for – made it into something sick... it's too much. Maybe... maybe I got through to them. But what if it's too late?' The gang watches as Johnny drives off, 'Whoo! Some act! Didja catch the fake tears?' one of them remarks.

Meanwhile, on Rose Petal Lane in Floral Ridge, home of the Bannion family:
'No, I haven't been drinking too much. How can ya drink too much when your kid sets himself on fire?' Herb Bannion remarks to someone on the phone as he sits on his sofa, empty alcohol bottles and cans scattered around him. 'But what can ya expect when a creep like the Human Torch is always flying around – showing off his blamed flame powers? Kids're gonna imitate him – and get themselves killed!' Herb Bannion mutters, adding that if his son's gonna be dead, then someone's got to pay for his grief, and for their family's grief. 'And you two, you're my brothers – Teddy's uncles! Are you in this with me or not? Cause if you're not, then you can find yourselves another family – you're in? Good. Then it's time to destroy the Human Torch!' Herb Bannion declares, pushing a button on a special remote-control device, revealing a suit of armor behind a wall panel – the means of destruction!

Later that day, a lone figure stands atop Four Freedom's Plaza, headquarters of the Fantastic Four, Johnny stands on the edge, looking down to the ground, 'It'd be so just jump off...not flame on...' Johnny thinks to himself. He adds that suicide is a tantalizing fantasy for everybody at some point or other, but to actually do it – he can't understand that at all. He knows he can't stay up here all day, he has to go tell the others.

Inside the training room:
'Give it up! You don't stand a chance against the Thing!' exclaims the mutated rocky-form of the Thing. 'and Ms Marvel!' Sharon Ventura adds as the two attack some machinery. 'Oh, I don't know. When you've got elemental power over water... you can take care of yourself pretty -' Crystal begins as she uses her control over water against the machinery, but she stops herself as Johnny enters the room. 'Look out!' Crystal calls out to him. 'What'd you say, Crystal – whoa!' Johnny utters as scraps of metal falls towards him. 'Whew! That stuff just missed me! I really am distracted!' Johnny declares. Alicia Storm is nearby working out with some weights, and thinks to herself that this Jersey thing really has got Johnny down, otherwise he would have joined in the workout using his flame to evade or destroy those old machine parts. Johnny calls out to his teammates, informing them that he has an announcement. He declares that he is going to keep his word to those kids. 'I'm too dangerous a role-model to certain people. I will never use my powers again!' he reports. The Thing tells Johnny that those kids are intent on hurting themselves, there is nothing he can do to change that. 'You quit being the Torch, they'll just latch onto some other nutty thing' Ben points out. 'Maybe so, Ben. But if there's even a small chance you're wrong – that doing what I'm doing will save even one kid – then I've got to do it. I won't have any more deaths on my head' Johnny replies. He tells Alcia that he will see her at home tonight, as he needs to be by himself for a while, so he is going for a walk. 'All right, Johnny' his wife responds.

Shortly, in Central Park, Johnny walks across a grassy area, 'That was the hardest decision I ever made. But it had to be done, and that's all there is to -' he thinks to himself, when suddenly, 'Torch! The Human Torch! Oh wow!' a voice calls out. 'Oh, no – not now! Not a nutcase fan now!' Johnny thinks to himself as he looks over and sees a young man with red hair rushing towards him. 'I'm sorry, Mr Storm, I hope I'm not disturbing you, but you've always been such an inspiration to me and -' the young man begins, but Johnny interrupts him, angrily telling him to get out of his face. 'I've had it with being on the top of every psycho's love list! Beat it!' Johnny snaps. 'I – I... I'm sorry to have bothered you' the red-haired man replies, dejected, he turns away, 'Me and my big mouth. It just meant so much to me -' he tells himself, when suddenly, 'He, kid!' a voice calls out. 'Huh?' the young man remarks, turning around, he sees Johnny standing there. Johnny tells him that he is sorry he blew up like that, adding that it has been real hard being him lately. The young man shake's Johnny's hand and tells him that it is no problem, before introducing himself as Rusty Collins.

Rusty informs Johnny that he read about that kid in Jersey, and he can really relate to how he feels. 'No offense, kid, but I doubt it. I mean, I'm sure you'e got your own problems, but I'm a super-powered person... and yet, instead of helping people, I'm inspiring them to kill themselves'. Johnny explains to Rusty that it is too heavy for him, so he has pledged not to use his powers again – he won't be responsible for another death. Rusty tells the Torch that he is looking at this all wrong. 'Let me tell you my story, and maybe you'll see – omilord!' Rusty gasps, 'Move it, Johnny!' he calls out, pushing Johnny to the ground, as several grenades are thrown towards him, but they miss him as he lands on the ground, and the grenades splat against a wall. 'Real heroic, kid. But it won't do you any good!' someone in a blue armor, Chain Lightning, exclaims as he, someone in a green armor, Sonic, and Herb Bannion, Grasp, in the gray armor drop down around Johnny and Rusty. 'That's for sure. We've got plenty more fire-retardant grenades where those came from!' Sonic, announces. 'Face it, friend... there's no escaping the Seekers!' Herb boasts from inside the gray armor.

Rusty gets to his feet and shakes his fists at the Seekers. 'You guys better leave me alone! I won't go quietly!' he exclaims. 'Huh? You must have delusions of grandeur, kid! I don't know you from Adam!' Grasp replies, announcing that they are here to make the Human Torch pay for the death of Ted Bannion. 'Sonic – do it!' Herb calls out to his brother. 'One sound-cannon blast coming up!' Sonic replies as he fires the cannon, which knocks Rusty and Johnny back into some trees. Johnny tells the armored men that they are crazy. 'I didn't kill Ted! And this kid here – leave him out of it. He's got nothing to do with the whole situation!' Johnny points out. 'Whoever sent you can't actually think killing me will solve anything -' Johnny begins, as one of the Seekers reports that nobody sent them, that this is purely self-motivated. 'Hold him, Chain!' the Seeker calls out, as Chain wraps a heavy-duty shackle that coruscates with electric energy around Johnny, trapping him against the tree. Grasp approaches Johnny triumphantly, 'Nice going, men. We attacked him so quickly, the Torch didn't have a chance to use his rotten powers!' Grasp boasts. 'If I wanted to...I could've given you three a real fire-fight!' Johnny replies.

Tears start to form in Johnny's eyes and he announces that since he found out about Ted, he has sworn never to use his powers again. 'Isn't that punishment enough?' he asks the Seekers. 'Not nearly enough! The only fit punishment for what you did to my son... is death!' Herb Bannion boasts as his hand reaches fro Johnny's face. 'Holy – this isn't a mission-for-hire for you! It's a vendetta!' Johnny gasps. Grasp's glove connects to Johnny's neck and Grasp tells Johnny that he can keep that one, as he has a replacement in his suit. Johnny struggles as the glove gets tighter and tighter, and the electrified chain continues to hold him in place, and it starts to get hotter. Rusty watches and realizes that Johnny is so down on himself that he is going to let that glove strangle him. 'I can't let that happen!' Rusty declares. He concentrates, and in seconds, the gauntlet bursts into flames, melting, relaxing its deadly grip. With a supreme effort, Johnny then slips free of Chain's shackle. 'Did it – but the charge was so intense...can barely stand!' Johnny exclaims. 'Right, Johnny. We've got to get away!' Rusty exclaims as he rushes over and helps Johnny. 'Hey – now the ground's flaming! I thought he swore never to use his powers again!' Chain calls out. 'He lied, jerk! And now we're stuck in this melted path's tar!' Grasp points out as none of the Seekers can chase their quarry. 'Our boot jets are gunked up!' Grasp adds, when suddenly, a wall of fire appears around the trio. Grasp tells the others to get their jets unclogged, then they can fly over the fire.

Just outside the park, Rusty hails a taxi, and one of them stops. He opens the passenger door and pushes Johnny into the cab. 'Hey, no passengers in the front – seat?' the driver begins, until Rusty creates a small burst of flame, 'Sorry to do this, pal – but my friend Johnny's in trouble. Get out!' Rusty orders the deiver. Rusty gets into the driver's seat and apologizes again to the cab driver, adding that this is one ride he doesn't want to be on. Johnny suddenly passes out from his ordeal, and Rusty eases the cab out onto Fifth Avenue, where it joins the street's traffic, another cab among hundreds. Ten seconds later, the Seekers fly over the Central Park wall. 'We're too late! They're gone!' Grasp declares. Chain tells him to calm down, and suggests they go back to the van and take their time tracking them down. 'Don't forget – once my power shackle touches a victim, I can trace its residual energy for days' Chain points out. 'I don't need days. We nail him before the hour is up!' Grasp announces.

Fifteen minutes later, on the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, Johnny starts to wake. 'Where... where are we?' he asks Rusty, who explains that he has brought him to Queens, as he thought the Seekers might catch them if they headed towards the Fantastic Four headquarters. Rusty adds that he didn't know if he would be able to generate a hot enough flame to melt that glove, and adds that it took a lot out of him. 'You did do that, huh? At first I thought maybe I subconsciously did the glove trick... but when I saw the other fire tricks, I knew it was you. But how?' Johnny asks. Rusty informs him that he is a mutant, one of those in training with X-Factor. He adds that is why he thought the Seekers were after him, he figured they were mutant hunters. Rusty informs Johnny that he never knew he had flame powers until fairly recently, his power first erupted without warning, and he hurt somebody real badly – nearly killed her. With tears in his eyes, Rusty explains to Johnny that is why he knows what it is like to have a great weight on your conscience about having flame powers, but X-Factor helped him to realize the good he could do with that power is worth doing in spite of any potential bad. 'The good I do – the lives I've saved – that's a reason to go on, to not give in to the doubts, the fears...' Rusty's voice trails off.

Johnny tells Rusty that he knows in his head that he is right, but his heart, it is sick with guilt, and part of him wanted to let those Seekers kill him. 'Glad to oblige, Storm!' a voice calls out, as the Seekers fly around the cab, and Chain fires some fire-retardant into the cab, striking Johnny and getting Rusty in the eyes. 'That stuff – stinging!' Rusty exclaims as he crashes the cab. 'Nice shot with the fire-retardant, Chain – now let's get 'em!' Grasp orders, as a blast from Sonic's sound cannon destroys the cab, Johnny hustles Rusty out of it in time, and then run for cover, but the Torch is hit and totally saturated by another retardant-foam grenade. As Rusty and Johnny run into a furniture warehouse, civilians rush away in fear. 'Lemme outta here!' one of them shouts, as the Seekers start firing at Johnny and Rusty, who asks 'What's going on?' Johnny tells Rusty that they are trying to blast them with repulsers. 'Just stay with me! We'll be okay!' Johnny assures Rusty. He knows that he can't use his flame even if he wanted to, because the retardant has soaked him all over. Grasp informs the Torch that if he leaves the kid, he won't get hurt. 'All we want is you!' he declares. Rusty tells Grasp to forget it, as they are in this together. 'But, Rusty -' Johnny begins. Rusty interrupts him, telling him that he trusts him. 'I don't trust them' he adds. 'Okay, kid. Let's move' Johnny agrees.

'You picked the wrong side, Red – the losing side!' Grasp exclaims as he releases his gloves, which blast forward and slam into a support pillar. 'Down, Rusty!' Johnny calls out, pushing Rusty to safety. 'Rusty – get ready to move!' Johnny calls out as the pillar collapses, and the young heroes dodge the debris just in time. Rusty hears a noise and realizes that Sonic is attacking again. 'I'm helpless, Johnny. You've got to use your flame to save us!' Rusty calls out. Johnny pulls Rusty after him and tells him that they are going down a flight of stairs, so he needs to follow his lead. Johnny adds that the Seekers must suspect, but he didn't want to stay up there, he couldn't flame on even if he wanted to because he is soaked in the retardant. 'Then – then we're dead!' Rusty gasps. Johnny tells Rusty that he has an idea, but he must do exactly as he says. 'Sure, Torch. Sure' Rusty replies as they enter another room. Johnny knows that Rusty is scared, panicky, and he doesn't blame him. 'Sightless and outnumbered, but he's our only hope' Johnny thinks to himself, adding that now that he has seen the hallway and this room, he can remember their layouts.

Johnny informs Rusty that to his left there is a fusebox and instructs him to burn it out. Rusty does as requested, and Johnny tells him thatr he is burning the fusebox. The basement is then plunged into darkness, and seconds later, in the adjoining room, 'We're not gonna make it, Johnny! I'm blind! We don't have a -' Rusty begins, but Johnny tells him to shut up and declares that nobody is dying today. 'We're gonna get out of this – I swear it to you!' Johnny declares, while telling himself that he is going to deliver. But outside in the hallway, the Seekers are guided by search-beams in their armor, they fly into the darkened basement, where Johnny tells Rusty to get ready. 'Lost a few seconds getting my gloves back – but our prey's down here somewhere! They can't escape us!' Grasp calls out. 'They turned the lights out! Look out or some kind of -' Sonic begins, while Johnny shouts 'Now, Rusty!' '- trap!?' Sonic concludes as Rusty releases a burst of flame which engulfs the Seekers. In flaming purpose, Rusty has become, 'The Torch! He found a way to neutralize the retardant!' one of the Seekers exclaims.

'We never imagined – there could be heat this intense! Our suits' insulation – it's failing rapidly!' Sonic exclaims. 'Another few seconds – and we'll've had it!' Chain declares. Grasp announces that he doesn't care, he would rather die than admit defeat. 'He killed my son!' he shouts. Johnny knows that he can't let the Seekers be hurt by Rusty's flames, and calls out to the Seekers, assuring them that if they take off the suits, the flames will stop. Johnny tells Rusty that the Seekers are doing it, and that he can turn the flame off. 'Okay...' Rusty replies as he ends the flame. Johnny tells Rusty that they did it, they beat the Seekers. 'And you controlled your flame's range so there was minimal damage to the building!' Johnny adds. Herb Bannion declares that he can't stand the heat anymore, and removes his Grasp armor, adding that he failed – he let his boy down. 'Whew! Just in time!' the Bannion brother in the Chain armor exclaims as he removes his armor. 'You said it!' the other brother remarks as he removes the Sonic armor.

Seconds later, 'Freeze! NYPD SWAT team! Warehouse workers called us! What's going on?' a SWAT officer declares as several burst into the corridor and hold their weapons to the Seekers. Johnny introduces himself as the Human Torch. A SWAT officer replies that he knows, as he reads the papers. 'Who're the others?' he asks. Motioning to the Seekers, Johnny explains that they were trying to kill him. Motioning to Rusty, Johnny explains that he is just a civilian friend of his who got involved by accident. Johnny turns to Herb Bannion and tells him that he is truly sorry it came to this. He adds that he wishes Teddy were still alive. 'More than you'll ever know' he tells him. 'Yeah – I believe that' Bannion replies, warning the Torch that one day they will meet again, only next time there won't be any warning, any chase. 'Next time, you'll just be dead!' he declares. Johnny ignores Bannion's threat and makes his way up the stairs, telling Rusty to come on, that they can get out of here. Rusty climbs the stairs and thinks to himself that the Torch had him use his full-body flame so the Seekers would think it was him, so that he wouldn't made any new enemies, and it looks like it worked. Rusty adds that he is glad he wore his specially-treated clothes today, otherwise he would be pretty embarrassed after that last stunt.

Later, at Four Freedoms Plaza, in the gym, Johnny and Rusty stare into a mirror, and Johnny tells Rusty that he is relieved his sight-loss was only temporary. 'You and me both, Johnny. But you're avoiding the main issue. The retardant's worn off you...well?' Rusty points out. 'I...I don't know' Johnny replies. Rusty tells him that he can't give up. 'You showed me that today. Now show yourself'. 'But I – okay' Johnny replies. 'Flame on' he declares, and flames slowly start to cover his body. His Fantastic Four costume appears, 'You're doing it, Johnny!' Rusty calls out, before Johnny is completely engulfed in flames. 'It is the right thing, Rusty. I know the good I can do outweighs the bad' the Human Torch declares, adding that it is going to be a constant struggle to remember that. 'For both of us, Johnny. For both of us' Rusty replies.

And later, home alone, Johnny sits on a sofa chair, book in hand he thinks 'Whew! What Aristotle says here about responsibility to your fellow man – it's dense stuff – not exactly the latest Danielle Steele novel – but I think he's saying that you've got to keep slogging through, no matter what! Like Rusty helped me see today -' Johnny thinks to himself, when suddenly, there is a tapping noise at a nearby window. 'Huh? That tapping at the window? It can't be the Seekers back already – can it?' Johnny wonders. 'You!' he exclaims as he sees Spider-Man hanging upside down outside the window. 'Sorry, we don't talk to door-to-door salesmen!' Johnny smiles as he opens the window. 'Hey, is that anyway to greet everybody's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?' Spider-Man replies, adding that he made a special trip here to see how Johnny was doing. 'I read about that kid in Jersey and his dad. Figured that if I was in your shoes, I'd want to talk to anybody I could' Spider-Man adds. 'And you came over here? You're okay, Web-head. You know that? C'mon in' Johnny tells his ally. 'I thought you'd never ask!' Spider-Man replies as he swings through the window, and asks Johnny how he is doing.

Johnny explains that it was bad for a while, he went through a real crisis, but with some help, he came through it, he thinks. Johnny adds that the hardest thing is not knowing what he can do to keep other kids from doing themselves harm like Ted Bannion did. Spider-Man informs Johnny that early in his career, he got trashed by Doctor Octopus, and he was ready to hang up his webs forever. 'But you came to my high school to give a talk and your lecture was so inspiring, it turned my life around' Spider-Man reveals, suggesting to Johnny that maybe he chould go around to schools again, show kids what he is about, what life is about. 'It isn't about giving up – but taking what life fishes out and doing your best despite it' Spider-Man points out. Johnny tells Spider-Man that he likes that, and suggests to his ally that he write an advice column in the Daily Bugle. 'Yeah, I'm a real Doctor Ruth' Spider-Man replies, adding that all this advice-giving is making him hungry. 'How about a snack for the ol' Wall-Crawler?' Spider-Man asks as he opens the fridge. 'Help yourself, buddy' Johnny smiles.

A few days later, in the auditorium of Floral Ridge High School, Johnny stands on the stage, looking out at the students, among them, the punk kids who he met on his last visit. 'You all know why I'm here. It's because of Ted Bannion' Johnny announces, adding that it is also because of all of them – those who thought what Ted did – how he lived and died – was great – and those who thought he ended a misguided life in a stupid way. Johnny states that he never met Ted, but that if he had, he would have told him that no matter how awful his life may have seemed, there is always hope to change it. 'But if you kill yourself, that hope is gone!' Johnny declares. In the audience, 'He...he came back here, even after Dad tried to kill him. Maybe he's not just a stuck-up glory-hound. Maybe he can help some kids...' Ted's sister thinks to herself as she watches and listens. 'If you're going to hold me up as some sort of role-model, then I wish you'd think of the times I've helped save lives' Johnny announces. The punk called Joey think that Johnny is too straight to be real, but his heart is in the right place. He wonders if Teddy made a mistake.

Johnny continues, he begs the students to ride out the tough times, as they almost always get  better. 'Hey, Mike pp think I can reach him from here with a spitball?' one of the female punks asks. 'Shh! I want to hear this!' another kid snaps. Johnny continues, telling the students that there are places they can call – hotlines, crisis centers – all sorts of people and groups that are there to help. 'Don't be afraid to contact them, everybody needs help once in a while. 'Believe me – everybody does'. Johnny wonders if he is really getting through to anybody, and knows that only time will tell. Johnny tells himself that if he doesn't even try, he wouldn't have any hope of helping kids like Teddy – and that would be the saddest thing of all.

Characters Involved: 

Human Torch II, She-Thing (both Fantastic Four)
Ben Grimm

In Flashback
Crystal, Human Torch II, She-Thing, Thing (all Fantastic Four)
“Alicia Masters” (really Lyja impersonating her)

Rusty Collins

Daniel Bannion / Sonic, Herb Bannion / Grasp, Thomas Bannion / Chain Lightning (all Seekers)
Chuck and Bill, mechanics
Joey, Lisa, Lois and other punks
Taxi driver

In Flashback Images
Human Torch
Tommy Hanson

In Rusty's Flashback
Rusty Collins
Emma la Porte

Story Notes: 

The main story, told in flashback, takes place between Fantastic Four (1st series) #317 and #318, and also between pages 6 and 7 of Fantastic Four Annual (1st series) #21.

The story with Tommy Hanson took place in Fantastic Four (1st series) #295.

The story with Rusty and Emma la Porte took place in X-Factor (1st series) #1.

The Seekers first appeared in Iron Man (1st series) #214.

Written By: