What I always found interesting about the Human Torch was that he couldn't simply set himself on fire, but he actually had to say "Flame on!" in order to do so. Was it just for show, or was he physically unable to light up without the magic words?

It's an interesting question. All one would have to do to incapacitate the Human Torch would be to gag him before he could say anything. Or give him a particularly sticky toffee. Or some Novocaine. Or cut his tongue out.

What use is a super power if you have to say something to activate it? You never hear Superman yell "I'm going to fly away now!" before he leaps into the air, and Batman would rather die than holler: "Activate Devastating Karate Chop Action!" I'm almost certain that the habit of pronouncing attacks in most anime ("Super Power Laser Cannon of Shining Death Fire NOW!") and Pokemon ("Pikachu! Use your Hyper Mega Thunder Death Ray!") is just for show; the extra emphasis that this is going to hurt.

I'd like to give the Human Torch some Novocaine and see if he was yelling "Flame on!" all those years just for show. Besides, it's funny watching anyone trying to speak on Novocaine.

TheBooBooKitty has just informed me that the pronouncing of one's super power is known as Invocation, according to Hero System. Also, Captain Marvel had to say "Shazam!" to activate his super powers. This had a dual effect, as most opponents died of laughter. Likewise with Isis and "Oh Zephyr winds that blow on high, lift me now that I might fly!" (a bit before my time, so thanks to dutchess for the info.)

Give me "Flame on!" anyday.
The issue of whether saying "Flame On!" is a requirement for Johnny Storm to become the Human Torch goes to the source of his powers. Storm, along with his sister, her boyfriend, and a pilot, blasted off in a rocket ship of the boyfriend's design. Because of a cosmic storm that the shielding of the ship was unable to block, the four were given massive doses of cosmic rays that changed them into the Fantastic Four.

The fact that their powers were derived from science seems to suggest that there would be no need for clever phrases and secret words for them to activate their powers. But remember this was the golden age of comics and their stories were written by Kirby and Lee. The need for battle cries and such were nearly a requirement. For this reason, the Thing began the use of his famous line "It's Clobberin' Time!" and the Torch began to cry "Flame On!" when he, well, flamed on.

In contrast, heroes like Captain Marvel, Johnny Thunder, and The Demon all have powers based completely on magic and therefore have a mystic phrase or word that must be spoken before their powers are activated.

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