Strange Tales (1st series) #120

Issue Date: 
May 1964
Story Title: 
“The Torch Meets the Iceman!” (1st story)

Stan Lee (deftly written by), Jack Kirby (dazzlingly drawn by), Dick Ayers (dramatically inked by), S. Rosen (distinctively lettered by)

Brief Description: 

(1st story)
When Johnny Storm, the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, reads that newspapers are calling Iceman “a frozen version of the Human Torch,” he decides he must meet the X-Man. That very night, Johnny takes his girlfriend Doris on a river cruise around Manhattan Island. Iceman, discouraged that his teammate the Angel has asked out their fellow X-Men Jean Grey before Iceman could, is also on the ship looking to meet women. Iceman, in his human form of Bobby Drake, approaches Doris while Johnny is getting the couple drinks. Johnny and Bobby meet but, while Johnny is publicly known as the Human Torch, neither Doris nor Johnny realizes they are talking to the Iceman. The cruise ship is then intercepted by modern day pirates, lead by Captain Barracuda. Iceman and the Torch both spring into action against the pirates. The two heroes disarm a couple of pirates quickly, but Barracuda’s tactics allow the pirates to fight back. First they use a water hose to trap Iceman in a block of ice, then trick the Torch into getting close to the ships rails and push him into the water. Luckily, by this time, Iceman is free and able to both douse the flames and defeat several pirates. However, Barracuda counters again by using gasoline to melt part of Bobby’s ice cover. The Torch then returns, having dried off in a smoke stack. He traps half a dozen pirates with a flame lasso. Barracuda is left alone, but he uses Doris as a shield and escapes on this boat. However, when Barracuda crashes into an ice jam created by Bobby, Torch is able to save Doris and Barracuda is left for the police. The pirates defeated, Iceman walks back to the shore alone while Doris and Johnny enjoy the rest of their date, talking about Iceman and assuring themselves that a guy like Iceman must have dozens of girlfriends.

Full Summary: 

(1st story)
Johnny Storm is amazed at all the publicity the X-Men are receiving lately. He stares at a newspaper that has the banner headline “X-Men Battle Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!” The other three members of the Fantastic Four stand around him, holding various pieces of electronics equipment but are listening to him read out loud.

Johnny would like to meet the Iceman, who the papers are calling the frozen version of the Human Torch. Reed points out that it won’t be easy, as no one knows the X-Men’s real identities. Sue thinks the X-Men are fascinating and would like to meet all of them. Ben asks them all to clam up. How is he supposed to test Reed’s new equipment if they all keep acting like it is a get-acquainted club?

Johnny is still reading the newspaper and pondering the description of Iceman as a “frozen version of the Human Torch.” He doesn’t think that line is funny. Reed tells Johnny it was probably meant as a compliment, while Ben, lifting a piece of heavy equipment nearby, complains that he’s doing all the work while the rest yak, yak, yak. Johnny finally throws the paper at Reed and dashes off, as he has a date with his girlfriend Doris for a romantic boat ride around Manhattan Island. Sue comments that her little brother is growing up.

Meanwhile, at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester County, New York, three uniformed members of the X-Men are dispersing. Warren tells Marvel Girl to put on her dressiest duds so they can step out. Iceman observes and complains to Professor X that whenever he gets the nerve to ask out Jean, Angel, Cyclops or somebody else beats him to it. In response, Professor X suggests that Iceman go to New York City for the day. Iceman eagerly accepts the suggestion and spots a brochure for Gotham Boat Line’s daily cruises, where he thinks there’ll be a lot of swingin’ teens. In his room, Iceman transforms back to Bobby Drake.

Minutes later, Bobby is in the back of a cab stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The driver tells Bobby that, with the heavy traffic, they will never make it to the dock before sailing time. Bobby gets out to run for it but he sees the boat already pulling away. He decides that only Iceman can catch it. Since the street’s deserted, he transforms back to his ice form. He makes an ice path and slides down the dock. As he approaches the end of the dock, he fashions a frozen vaulting pole and leaps onto the deck of the ship. Now he just needs to change back into his civilian clothes before the moon comes up.

And so, having changed into a jacket and tie, Bobby is unnoticed in the crowd of teenagers. There are a zillion chicks, but they all have dates. Suddenly, he notices a woman standing alone by the railing. He walks over and introduces himself but the woman interrupts him mid-sentence to say the answer is no. She explains she’s on the boat with a date and no one is his match, pun intended. Bobby asks her forgiveness but wants to know what makes her date so special.

Johnny Storm arrives to answer Bobby’s question, tracing a flaming number 4 in the air. Doris takes a soda and tells Johnny to not be mad, that Bobby thought she was alone. Johnny isn’t mad, but quite happy about the good things Doris said about him. Bobby tells the couple he’ll leave now, but he mentally grumbles about Doris’ boasts that Johnny is the greatest. Unnoticed, Iceman uses his powers to freeze the soda in Johnny’s hand. When Johnny finds his drink frozen solid, Doris tells Johnny can just use his powers to unfreeze them. Johnny warms up both sodas with his hands, but still wonders what happened.

Bobby is stomping away, dejected but wishing he could introduce himself to Johnny because that would have opened up Doris’ eyes. Johnny’s head is down and he walks into two heavies dressed in suits. He apologizes for not seeing them but they respond by calling him shrimp and squirt. Iceman is already walking away, telling himself Professor X wouldn’t want him getting into a fight on his day off, so he doesn’t see the two men pull out weapons. They break into the ship’s communication room, cutting off all means of ship-to-shore communication. One of the thugs announces it is time to signal the Barracuda to attack.

On a small boat near the larger cruise ship, half a dozen men wait armed with revolvers and machine guns and dressed like modern dockworkers. On the lower deck of the cruise ship, a man flashes a light. One pirate points out the signal to Captain Barracuda. The Captain orders his men to begin their attack.

The Barracuda, dressed all in blue with an ammo belt, machine gun and eye-patch, is the first over the rails onto the cruise ship. He announces himself to the crew and then he and his armed men herd the terrified passengers to the rail. Barracuda demands the men’s wallets and women’s purses and jewelry. If no one resists, he says, no one will get hurt. The passengers cannot believe there is piracy on the Hudson River.

A pirate grabs Johnny by his lapels, pointing a revolver into his chest. When Johnny warns the pirate to stop pawing his clothes, the pirate say he’ll teach the helpless teenager a lesson he’ll never forgot. Johnny had the same idea about him and melts his gun with a fireball. Johnny hurls a few more fireballs at the fleeing pirate and proclaims that the pirates are going to face the Human Torch in a couple of seconds.

Johnny pushes Doris into a side room. He tells her to stay in there where she’ll be safe while he sees what’s going on. Doris warns him to be careful because, despite his power, there are many pirates. Johnny crouches in a darkened corner of the ship, taking off his jack and flaming up. Start being careful? That’ll be the day!

Not far from the Torch, Iceman has frosted up. He observes that this trip isn’t going to be as dull as he feared. He dashes off, talking to himself that if Doris was impressed by the Torch, wait till she sees Iceman in action.  

Meanwhile, the pirate whose gun Johnny melted is warning Captain Barracuda about the Human Torch’s presence. The Captain boasts they’ll take care of the over-rated nuisance.

Just then, both Iceman and the Human Torch appear. A pirate aims his machine gun in their direction but Iceman’s shoots out a bolt of cold that freezes the gun and half the pirate’s arm. The Torch then flies close by, accidentally thawing out the gun so the pirate can open fire on both Torch and Iceman. Iceman whips up an ice shield to deflect the bullets. Torch says the bullets will melt before the hit him anyhow, but is still impressed by Iceman’s powers.

Captain Barracuda orders two of his men to train a fire hose on the two heroes. The pirate underlings are skeptical but release a jet of water as their captain commanded. The result is Iceman frozen inside a solid block of ice as the water freezes around him. Seeing Iceman unmoving, the pirates declare Barracuda a genius. Torch tells Iceman not to worry, as he uses a low intensity flame to start to thaw him out. Torch says that, by the time Iceman’s free in a couple of minutes, Torch will have everything under control.

Barracuda yells for his men to fan out, since the Torch and the Iceman can’t be everywhere at once. He fires wildly and promises they’ll stop the Torch before Iceman thaws out and then they’ll polish off Iceman too. As the Torch flies past a line of gun totting pirates, one complains that the Torch can melt their bullets. But Barracuda says the Torch’s flame will burn itself out if they keep firing. The Torch assures Barracuda that he has plenty of tracks up his sleeves. The Torch spins around, creating a fiery pinwheel that melts all of the bullets being fired from the guns around him. The pirates retreat at the unbearable hot flame.

Barracuda has another idea. He barks at his men to bring over a canvas. He commands them to toss the canvas over the Torch. He’s happy when his men blanket the Torch, but one of his men complains that the Torch will burn right through it. After all, it’s not asbestos. But another pirate insists the Barracuda knows what he’s doing it.

The Torch does burn through the canvas, but Barracuda’s plan starts to work. Torch notices the burning canvas fall to the deck, lighting the ship on fire. He turns away from the pirates to gather up the flaming debris. The Torch knows that the Barracuda wants to distract him from attacking, but he can’t let a fire start aboard a ship. The Torch carries the canvas towards the rail. He leans over to drop it into the water when the pirates push him over the rest of the way. Johnny’s flame goes out as he sinks into the ocean, worrying that he’s left the ship unprotected. Johnny pulls himself out by a rope attached to the ship but he’s drenched. He wonders how can Iceman battle all of the Barracuda’s men on his own?

Back on the ship, Captain Barracuda is ordering his men to put out the flames before they spread. One pirate is battling the flames with his jacket. He wishes they had not pushed the Torch overboard, since he could have stopped the fire.

As the panic spreads throughout the ship, the hostages pled to be let go. One of the pirates guarding the passengers thinks the pirates should all save themselves, but the other says the Barracuda will have their hides if they desert him.

The Iceman is finally fee. He also knows the Torch is helpless until he can flame up again, so Iceman focuses on dosing the flames. He creates several giant snowballs that he rolls towards the fire. The snowballs melt over the deck, extinguishing the flames. The giant snowballs also smack into two of the pirates. Iceman uses a smaller snowball to knock the gun out of the hand of another pirate. The pirate bends over to pick up his gun, but Iceman freezes his hand to the ground. When the Barracuda sees yet another pirate get his foot frozen, he comes up with another idea to fight the superhero.

Barracuda grabs a tank of gasoline and pours out a stream towards Iceman. Iceman smells the fuel and tries to move out the way, but the gas burns the ice off his foot. He jumps up in pain and clings to the side of a lifeboat. He decides to stay up there until he can think of his next move.

Barracuda orders his men to get the Iceman while he’s off balance. Suddenly, fireballs quickly smash their weapons. The Human Torch is firing down from a smoke stack. He used the hot chimney to dry off faster than anyone expected he would. The Torch whips up a flaming lasso and uses it to encircle half a dozen pirates, trapping them in between the flames. At this moment, with the odds shifted, the formerly cowed teenage passengers surge forward and overcome the last two pirates who were guarding them.

The only one left is the Barracuda, who has taken Doris as a hostage. The Torch watches as the Barracuda backs towards the railing with Doris as a shield. The villain is escaping in his small boat, firing at the retreating Human Torch, who warns the Barracuda that if any harm comes to Doris, there won’t be a place on Earth far enough for Barracuda to hide.

Captain Barracuda smiles widely as he steers the boat. He laughs at the Torch’s dramatic speech, but gloats that he is the only man ever to beat both the Torch and the Iceman. However, a few seconds later, Barracuda’s laugh is interrupted by his boat crashing into an ice jam. He doesn’t understand how that can be happening, since the temperature is way above freezing.

Captain Barracuda thinks he’s going mad, as a tall mound of ice rises from the water, trapping his escape craft atop its peak. Torch sees his chance and flies in to rescue Doris. As Torch flies off with Doris, they leave the Barracuda begging not to be left alone up on the ice mound. Doris asks Johnny what happened. In answer, Johnny asks Doris if she forgot about their frozen friend, Iceman. He also promises Barracuda he’ll send back a police ship.

Iceman is alone on the water, walking on a path of ice floats he has created. He says there’s no more reason for him to stick around, since the fire’s out and the pirates are all caught. The lone figure walks back to shore, telling himself that those guys and their dates will have something to talk about for months… and Iceman will just return to the X-Men.

Back on the boat, Johnny has changed into his civilian clothes. He’s searched the ship but the Iceman has vanished. Johnny tells Doris it’s too bad the X-Men guard their secret identities so zealously. Johnny would like to get to know Iceman better. Doris wonders if they had seen him on the boat without even realizing who he was. Doris also asks Johnny if he thinks Iceman has a girlfriend. Johnny assures her that someone like Iceman must have a dozen of them. That thought reminds Johnny that the night is still young. He put his arm around Doris’ shoulder, as the two gaze at the New York skyline and the river bathed in golden moonlight.

Characters Involved: 

The Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, The Thing (all Fantastic Four)
Professor X, The Iceman, The Angel, Marvel Girl (all X-Men)

Doris, Captain Barracuda

Pirates, ship passengers

Cab driver 

Story Notes: 

This issue was published the same month as X-Men (1st series) #5. The X-Men battled the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in X-Men (1st series) #4 and #5.

The male members of the X-Men frequently fawned over Marvel Girl in the X-Men’s first five issues. She expressed some preference for Cyclops in X-Men (1st series) #3, only to have Angel whisk her away. In that same issue, Professor Xavier confesses in a thought bubble that he is in love with Jean. This subplot was immediately dropped, but was brought back up again during the Onslaught crossover decades later.

This is Captain Barracuda’s first appearance. He next appears in Sub-Mariner (1st series) #10, in which an editor’s note cites back to this issue.

The Fantastic Four read about the X-Men’s exploits again in Fantastic Four (1st series) #28. When Reed and Sue read the newspaper with an X-Men headline, Johnny mentions him and Iceman’s defeating Captain Barracuda a few months before.

Bobby’s bad luck with women became a reoccurring character feature over the following decades, leading some readers to wonder if he might actually be homosexual. Decades later, in Uncanny X-Men #600, Bobby’s sexuality is clarified when he reveals he covered his being gay because he did not want to be persecuted for every part of his life. He also confesses to finding Angel incredibly hot.

Asbestos was long used in construction for its fireproofing and heat insulating properties. It became infamous in the 1980s as its toxicity became widely known and the subject of tens of thousands of lawsuits.

Written By: