June 12, 2024

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #405: The Human Flame

Who is the Martian Manhunter's archfoe? The guy with the flamethrower nipples!

Though often treated as a superhero all-star team today, the purpose of the Justice League was originally to shine a spotlight on some of DC’s lesser known heroes.  That’s why Superman and Batman, despite being members, rarely did much in the earliest adventures.  Of the other founding members, J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, was the last to get his own regular series, and that was decades after the Justice League first formed to take on Starro the Conqueror.  Even Aquaman got his own series in the Silver Age!  J’onn was mostly limited to back-up stories in various titles, and he didn’t really have much in the way of reoccurring enemies.

I mean, the only really memorable one was probably this pathetic guy called the Human Flame.

The Human Flame first appeared in one of those Martian Manhunter back-up stories in Detective Comics #274 in December of 1959.  He was basically this loser guy named Mike Miller who build a suit with six flamethrower nipples.  He called himself the Human Flame and took on the Martian Manhunter.  That makes a certain amount of sense.  While I don’t think the Manhunter’s fire weakness was common knowledge to criminals, it was still enough to make J’onn pause, but he still caught the guy and sent him to jail.  Granted, this was the Silver Age in a back-up story, and the Manhunter’s foes didn’t really reappear all that often.  So…this was the Human Flame’s only real appearance until 2008’s Final Crisis.

See, Grant Morrison was looking for a Martian Manhunter villain to use in that mini-series, and while flipping through reprints in Showcase Presents, they found the Human Flame and figured he looking like enough of a loser to fit the story being told.  The Final Crisis opened with, among other things, the mysterious Libra organizing a new Secret Society of Supervillains.  The idea here was the villains would help each other, and to that end, he started with the Human Flame, helping him get back at the Martian Manhunter by killing the hero with help from Dr. Light and Effigy.  A bit later, Libra revealed that he had a tie to Darkseid and demonstrated it with a helmet for the Flame that fed the Anti-Life Equation into the Flame’s head, making him a mindless slave for Darkseid.

By the by, the Human Flame was so pathetic, when the Spectre decided to start punishing supervillains, he opted to take down the ones who killed Martian Manhunter first.  That meant murdering in creative ways both Effigy and Dr. Light, realizing Libra was for some reason untouchable, and then…well, some other stuff happened, but the point was, the Human Flame wasn’t worth punishing for his part in all that.

Instead, he got a follow-up mini-series.  Titled Final Crisis: Aftermath: Run!, it basically showed the Flame was in trouble with, oh, everybody.  Heroes were after him for the Manhunter’s death.  Villains were after him because they blamed him for the whole “becoming mindless slaves to Darkseid” bit.  He eventually found a way to power himself up with help from General Immortus and Professor Milo.  That gave him regenerative powers and the power to absorb flame and fire, and after tricking John Stewart into dunking him into a nuclear power plant, came out as a the massively powerful “Inhuman Flame”.

Too bad for him Stewart, Firestorm, and Red Tornado, seeing how his steadily increasing mass left him immobile, just took the guy into outer space and tied a heat-dispersing rod to the big goober and left him there.

Since then, the Flame reappeared in a Martian Manhunter story with a new look but still probably the same old loser.

He kept that mustache.

So, that’s the Human Flame, the closest the Martian Manhunter has to an archenemy.  I mean, I think Aquaman and Green Arrow have more colorful rogue galleries…