Many us born between 1920 and 1960 probably have fond memories of a particular genre of comic books dealing with a type of character known as the “Super Hero.” Super heroes are essentially twentieth-century incarnations of legendary demigods such as Heracles, Gilgamesh, Samson, Cu-Chulainn and Beowulf, reinvented by comic artists who dressed them in tights and usually, but not always, gave them a cape. Clark Kent, a.k.a. “Superman,” is the quintessential modern Super Hero, but there have been many others, each with his/her own special powers. And of course, every Super Hero had to have his/her own personal nemesis, a Super Villain. One such Super Villain, who appeared in the August 1963 issue of Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales #111, was Dr. Orson Kasloff, better known as “Asbestos Man.”
A gifted chemist embittered by failure and rejected by the criminal underworld with whom he sought to ally himself, the evil Dr. Kasloff designed a special suit made from “Super-Asbestos”, a compound of chrysotile, calcium and iron that was impervious to flame as well as bullets. He also wore some kind of mask, but did not appear to have a supply of oxygen. Donning the suit as Asbestos Man, he then issued a challenge to the local Super Hero, none other than Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Asbestos Man easily defeated the Human Torch, who found that his flame was useless against the Super-Asbestos suit. Asbestos Man then went on to a lucrative criminal career, supplying technology to bank robbers and other shady characters. Eventually however, the Human Torch returned, trapping Asbestos Man in his laboratory. He used his flame powers to consume all the oxygen in the room, forcing Asbestos Man’s surrender. As the defeated Asbestos Man is taken to prison, the Human Torch taunts him: “Remember, Professor, you can never play with fire without…Getting Burned!” Unlike Lex Luthor or the Joker, Asbestos Man never made a comeback, although the Human Torch had frequent encounters with one Victoria Murdock, the infamous “Asbestos Lady”, yet another evil scientist run afoul of the law. The fates of Victoria Murdock and Orson Kasloff were never revealed, but many classic comic book fans speculate that they eventually contracted pulmonary carcinoma or asbestosis and expired.