New Reviews of Old Comics
I’ve been seeing issues of The Human Fly floating around various flea markets, garage sales, bargain bins and overstock stores for about as long as I’ve been collecting comics, and they’ve never grouped with “high-end” titles like Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man or anything remotely recognizable to the average person. What gives The Human Fly such a bad rep; the silly name, garish costume, short run series? Probably all of the above. A few months ago I read and reviewed #17 from this series and it was better than my pre-conceived notions, so when I found a copy of #1 that looked virtually unread over the past 35 years, I had to get it.
Marvel’s go-to guy for all things licensed, Bill Mantlo, scribed “Death Walk!” with Lee Elias handling the art side. As is the case with most #1 issues, this is an origin story, all the more befitting because it’s also a character introduction. The main plot is a terrorist named Mercenary has hijacked a plane full of reporters covering The Human Fly’s latest stunt and if he isn’t paid a ransom he’ll just let it crash. Instead of performing his stunt The Human Fly and his team attempts to save the day, and in the process of doing so we learn a little bit about each of the main characters, how and why they came together. In the spirit of building some interest in the new title and character Marvel also added a special appearance by our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Does the Fly help deliver a happy ending, beating back evil and saving innocent lives while dazzling the audience below with death-defying stunts? What do you think?
If you had told me even six months ago I would be a fan of The Human Fly I would have said you were nuts, but I have to admit I really enjoyed this comic and will now actively look for the rest of the issues in this series. Lee Elias’ art was OK, at best, but Bill Mantlo’s story was very good; advancing the main story while jumping in and out of each character’s back story and wrapping it up with enough questions to make #2 seem appealing. Look, I’m not saying this issue ranks up there with Maus, Watchmen, or Dark Knight Returns, but for what comic book stories generally were in the late 1970s this was a decent read and decidedly better than I had expected.
On a related note Bill Mantlo wrote a text piece for this issue’s nascent letters column about the real life inspiration for The Human Fly; how he was severely injured in a car accident that killed his family and struggled to overcome his injuries to become an internationally famous daredevil, passing any money he earned on to charities for the disabled. The piece was particularly touching considering that 18 years after writing it Mantlo himself was severely injured by a hit-and run in 1995 that left him with debilitating brain injuries, living in a nursing home and dropped by his health insurance.