A running gag throughout the glory days of Stan Lee’s work at Marvel Comics was that his two most popular teen heroes – Spider-man and The Human Torch – did not get along at all. This gag continued over the years, with the two being frenemies before that term was coined. Spidey saw Johnny Storm as a spoiled rich kid whose super powers gave him fame and fortune without any of the responsibilities Peter Parker had to cope with every day. The Human Torch was similarly jealous of Peter Parker’s more stable home-life, an intelligence that even Reed Richards respected, and the honest love that Parker seemed to inspire in the women around him compared to the gold-diggers and fame-seekers that The Human Torch attracted.
This conflict of personalities lies that the core of The Amazing Spider-man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid. Spread across five chapters, each one set at a different point in Marvel Comics history, the main plot focuses upon the conflicted relationship between Peter Parker and Johnny Storm as well as the relationship between Spider-man and Johnny Storm. And yes, there IS a difference, for Johnny Storm is completely oblivious that Parker and Spider-man are one and the same.
Dan Slott’s script is packed with humor and those expecting a darker, brooding Spider-man would do well to look elsewhere. Slott perfectly mimics the style and tropes of the classic Stan Lee stories while poking fun at them in a loving fashion, with female love interests who fall apart upon seeing their boyfriend talking to another woman and Communist spies who can’t walk down the block without having an internal monologue about the capitalist fools around them and how they will all soon pay for their decadent ways. Hijinks ensue and there is much hilarity, yet there is a heart to these stories that is rarely seen in modern comics. Perhaps the best example of this is a brief scene in which the two young heroes discuss the loss of their respective love interests while working on the construction of a Spider-mobile.
Artist Ty Templeton applies a similarly retro feel to the artwork of this series. He proved that he could ape Bruce Timm’s art style during his years working on the Batman: The Animated Series comic book. Here, Templeton does a fair job of altering his style to resemble the artwork of the period in each individual chapter. The first story, for instance, set when Peter Parker and Johnny Storm are still teenagers, resembles a masterful fusion of the styles of both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
The series is rated A, for readers 9 and up under Marvel Comics’ ratings system. There’s nothing too objectionable, though one chapter does involve The Human Torch agreeing to help the heroine/ex-thief Black Cat with a heist and she does wind up in her underwear at one point. I’d suggest librarians place the book in their Young Adult section, merely because they’ll appreciate the sly humor a bit more than younger readers.