The Human Torch and back-up strip the Sub-Mariner pick up in Fall 1942, well into the US involvement in World War II. However, the assorted anonymous writers vary their output, so while there’s a fair amount of Nazi and Japanese foes, the latter drawn in the racist style of the times, there’s also an array of homefront and undersea action.

With the creators of both series called to the US army in 1942, writing credits are unknown, but it’s considered Al Fagaly drew the Human Torch strips (sample art left), while Carl Pfeufer (sample right) took on the Sub-Mariner back-ups. In the Torch’s case it’s a definite improvement, Fagaly having a neat, detailed style foreshadowing his later move into newspaper gag cartoons, and there are a couple of great almost Ditkoesque panels showing claustrophobia. Pfeufer isn’t great with people, and unfortunately his stories are packed with them.

These aren’t superhero stories as we know them today. The inclusion of what could be considered a villain with equivalent powers is rare. Instead, from the beginning the Human Torch adventures were primarily human dramas into which the Torch and Toro are inserted helping out where they can, like the opener here involving real estate swindlers and lynching. However, that’s now also the formula for the Sub-Mariner strips under new writers, which removes his uniqueness.

After the success of two previous battles between the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner seen in Volume 2, a third set-to is based on the wafer thin premise of a U-Boat Captain convincing the Torch that the Sub-Mariner is a Nazi agent. It isn’t a patch on the earlier confrontations. It also seems to have been shorter than commissioned, requiring fifteen pages of gag material to pad out that particular issue. Another page of Ray Houlihan’s polished cartooning is welcome, as is a page of Basil Wolverton, but the remainder is uninspired.

By the end of the collection the war is dominating. Separately the Torch and Sub-Mariner both have to prevent Nazi agents bombing New York, but which of them is a hoax? As Roy Thomas points out in his introduction, the foes of choice are Nazis and their agents rather than Japanese, which is unusual considering the US was more actively involved in fighting the Japanese forces at the time.

In the right frame of mind there’s a primitive energy to these strips, but they’re not good enough to delight as anything other than curiosities, nor goofy enough to be admired as ironic. There have been no further Masterworks volumes since 2010, but the Human Torch’s entire 1940s solo stories can be found in the 2019 Golden Age Human Torch Omnibus.