Thursday 25 April 2013

The Greatest Death-Defier of them all!

Welcome to part 2 of 

Where we get treated to a First Fantastic Issue cover courtesy of Al Milgrom…

In which we see the fly performing no fewer than 4 death defying feats:-

We see the Fly hanging upside down from a helicopter…

Walking a tightrope across a very high edge right next to a waterfall…

Hit a shark across the nose with his baton, while underwater…

and stand on top of a jet plane as it hurtles along at speed…

Only 2 of these things will actually unfold within the contents of issue one, so this a rare example of a cover showing you what is also yet to come… in the comic at least

But out of these things, which if any of them happened for REAL (as the cover copy implies…)?

Before we can look into that, let's start from the beginning by asking the fundamental question - Was The Human Fly Real?

The Human Fly Comic book was licensed from Human Fly Spectaculars Ltd…

A quick search on the internet shows that this company did exist …

On Friday, July 30, 1976, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for THE HUMAN FLY by HUMAN FLY SPECTACULARS LTD.-LES SPECTACLES DEL L'HOMME VOLANT LTEE, LEONARD,QUEBEC HIR 1R9. The USPTO has given the THE HUMAN FLY trademark serial number of 73095118. The current federal status of this trademark filing is EXPIRED

and it lists as


Also a little bit more of search turns up a scan of the filing for Human Fly Spectaculars Ltd

And as you can see the picture in the filing is almost the same pose as the the corner box drawing from the cover…

That aside we have already made our first connection between the comic and real life, namely The Human Fly being "strapped to a flying aircraft"…

Which is where we will start looking into a bit more in-depth, next week…

Last week, you read Bill Mantlo's very own words on The Human Fly and I remarked upon the parallels between Bill's real life story and the Human Fly's possibly more fictional one

I will cover at a later point at which point those parallels converge but for now… in researching for The Human Fly I came across a simply stunning and poignantly written article about Bill Mantlo which sums up everything so well it is a article which deserves to be shared

Its is also, unsurprisingly an article which has won awards and rightly so

So with very kind thanks and much appreciation to Bill Coffin, over the course of this project I will be quoting parts of Bill Coffins"Tragic Tale"

You can read the entire article here and of course it comes highly recommended

Take it away Bill Coffin!

"Tragic Tale
Bill Mantlo was a legendary writer for Marvel Comics in the 1970s and 1980s. But today, he inhabits a broken body abandoned by both the health insurance industry and the federal healthcare reform meant to help people like him. This is his story.

The neighborhood of Far Rockaway, Queens, N.Y. is the picture of urban blight, a crammed mixture of public housing blocks, shuttered storefronts, brownfields and small churches in what used to be homes. Most of the fences are topped with razor wire. Large piles of garbage lay scattered on broken sidewalks. The most recent sign of commercial development is a billboard advertising $300 divorces. No spouse signature required.

Tucked away on Beach 19th Street is the Queens-Nassau Rehabilitation Center and Nursing Home, a bare-bones geriatric and head-trauma facility. Small and tightly quartered, its halls are partially blocked by old, frail-looking patients wearing ragged clothing. 

Bill Mantlo is one of them. At first glance, there is nothing to suggest that he is different from his fellow patients, nothing to suggest the unusually high-profile career he once had, the near-fatal car accident that ended it, or his tortuous transit through the healthcare system from the outside world to Queens-Nassau. And certainly nothing that would point out how his life’s remarkable reversal of fortune illustrates not only some of the worst deficiencies of modern healthcare, but of the effort to reform it, as well.

Bill is gaunt, almost skeletally so. His skin is pale and pasty, the product of getting very little time outside. His short hair is lank and unwashed. His teeth are yellow and have not been properly cleaned in some time. He turns 60 on Nov. 9, 2011, but he looks more like 80…"

NEXT WEEK:- Join me as I look into the "Airplane walking" Human Fly for real and we see more of Bill Coffins seminal "Tragic Tale"

Thursday 18 April 2013

The Making of A Hero!

Welcome to Images Degrading Forever

Starting this week, I embark on a new project examining a rather unique comic and one which you may not have heard of or been aware of

This is a comic that was based on a real person, that featured things that person actually did, yet paradoxically the comic was firmly in the realm of fiction

The parallels between the fiction of the comic and what appears to be the fiction of the actual person make for an very interesting subject

How much of what the this person did as being real and was this person real as the comic said?

Was this just some guy in a costume or did he really do these things?

The next parallel which I want to look at is the parallel between the persons fictitious or not fictitious origins and the real life experience of the comics writer - Bill Mantlo….

The comic and the person i am talking about is of course THE HUMAN FLY… as written by Bill Mantlo.

This week to start us off let us hear from Bill Mantlo himself, from his essay "The Making of a Hero" as published in issue 1 of The Human Fly…

A tentative explanation by BILL MANTLO

The Human Fly is me.  He’s also you and millions of other people you’ve encountered every day of your life since the day you were born.  The Human Fly is a concept, and idea.  The truly wondrous thing about him, though, is that he’s real!  We said that on the cover, we said it on the title-page, and folks, we meant it!

You may have read of his exploits, featured in newspaper and on TV from Montreal, Canada to Milano, Italy.  You may have heard, with a sense of awe and wonderment, of a young canadian who was hosted to the top of a DC-8 jet aircraft which proceeded to take off on a 200-MPH flight over the burning Mojave Desert... with the Human Fly still standing up top!!

You may have heard and dismissed it as impossible - but it happened pilgrims!  The Human Fly is real!

It began some six years ago in a head-on car crash on a lonely road near Ashville, North Carolina.  A young man driving the first car was seriously injured.  His wife and children were killed instantly and he, on being rushed to hospital, hung for days between life and death... fighting inwardly to survive, summoning all his will in a fierce desire to live.  Two Weeks later, this man, broken in body, was taken off the critical list.  It was said that he would remain a cripple for the rest of his life.

In the months and years to come, this young man underwent countless operations, financed by the father of the driver of the second car.  These operations replaced a substantial amount of the skeletal frame with steel, seeking to supplant scientifically what the body itself was no longer capable of recreating.  Doctors still remained skeptical of his chances of ever walking again, though he had regained some power of movement. For this young man, such an existence was a living hell.  It was more than he could accept... and he was determined to prove his doctors wrong - or die trying.

The determination grew.  He would strain to rise, to move from his bed.  So aggressive did his actions become that doctors were forced to sedate or strap him down out of fear that he would harm himself.  Realising that this was proving counterproductive, he calmed down, lulling his doctors into a sense of security that he at least accepted his irreversible condition...

...while every night, under cover of darkness, the victim of an accident that would have left most others for dead or paralysed for life began to secretly exercise his unresponsive body... until it became responsive, until it became his body again...and perhaps something more than it had been before.

Four years later, the man sat up in bed, then stood, then walked... to the amazement  of his doctors who had long ago given him up for lost.

He was released from the hospital, carrying with him a body partially rebuilt... and the memories of walking the hospital corridors unseen at night and witnessing, first hand, the hopelessness of others like him.  Veterans, missing limbs and maimed from Vietnam.  Workers, torn in industrial accidents.  Those born to disability and all separated from the mainstream of life.  He had fought against that separation and won.  They had lost, because the motivation was not there and was not being supplied by the world without.

It was then that this victim determined to supply the motivation,  the hope to the disabled of the world that they could rise above their disabilities, they could triumph over infirmity, they could succeed... for, hadn’t he?

He knew the world, knew that if you wanted to reach people with a message you had to do it flamboyantly, colourfully.  He remembered tales of the daredevils of the Depression Era, the 1930‘s when flagpole-sitting or walk up the side of a skyscraper or the exploits of a super escape-artist would excite the imagination of millions... give hope to those without hope... raise them above the crushing problems of everyday life for one brief shining moment so they would see, for themselves, that anything is possible if you just dare to try!  He knew he had been spared for just that purpose.

The Human Fly was born!

The stunts began.  He walked atop high-flying jets going at speeds man had never before dared unprotected.  He spoke of fighting man-eating sharks, of death defying races.  He kept his identity secret because he wanted to be identified as a ‘everyman’... not as as a lone,glory-seeking, self-serving individual.  Money raised by his stunts was all turned back into charity, into research so that cures might be found for disabled people the world over.

His stunts were spectacular, but so was the coverage in papers all over this continent and Europe.  His analysis had been correct.  Color demanded attention --- and got it!  Drama hooked the media and, though they concerned themselves with the spectacle, the flamboyance... the message, the reason behind the Fly’s exploits came through.

And people reading of him from hospital bed, or wheelchairs, or in Braille - or even normal people suffering a sense of hopelessness in a world grown too big, too impersonal for them - began to sit up, to open their eyes, to take notice... to find hope.

He became the “space-age Daredevil”, the living bionic man, compared to Captain America or Spider-Man in media presentations throughout the world.

“I’ve never been terrified or scared in my life” said the Human Fly.  “And I’m not fighting to walk to the bank with millions of dollars for myself.  I’d like to make millions for the kids!”
Comics, as we all know them, have been pressing that kind of glorious altruism for decades, and no-one but wide-eyed kids or adults who regretting leaving childhood goals in the face of the harsher realities of life would agree with them. Until the Human Fly.

“I’ve got 50,000,000 kids out there depending on me.  I’ve got a lot of people to support... youngsters in hospitals, struggling against cancer, polio, cerebral palsy or whatever. I’ve got a lot of people to support.”

“And this is my way of doing it!”

And we couldn’t agree with the Fly more."

NEXT WEEK:- Some of the Human Fly's incredible stunts get the cover treatment !

Thursday 11 April 2013

I am not a number, I am a free man!

Welcome to this short interlude into the realm of the location called "The Village"

A place where we have awakened into, without any recollection of how we got there, where it is and with no way out

A place that paradoxically appears to be quaint and beautiful, peaceful even, but under which is lurking a dreadful, unseen and unspeakable menace

Menace which takes form in confrontations of constant questioning and asking for information, when we have no answers

To be constantly referred to not as person with a name, but as number completely abstracted of any personality or emotion

To be held against your will by a nameless faceless corporation

We are of course Prisoners just like the Tv show "The Prisoner…"

The obvious allegory is that everyone at one point or another has felt trapped, trapped by their conscience, trapped by guilt, trapped by circumstance, forced into doing things they find morally objectionable or reprehensible, acted in a way because they had no other choice, because it was the only way to survive or because they wanted to fit in, to belong, to "conform"

So it should hopefully be little surprise "The Prisoner" remains a all time cult classic and its influence was far and wide and captured the imagination of many people including Jack Kirby

One could say Kirby's affinity with "The Prisoner" starts in Fantastic Four Issues 84-87 in which Doctor Doom Traps The Fantastic Four within Latveria

Who's populace behave in a rather odd yet instantly familiar (to any fan of "The Prisoner") way…

and things get progressively weirder…

But in this case the power behind all these machinations is very clear and very much larger than life in the form of Doctor doom….

Who's machinations are obviously defeated at the cost of a place called "The Village"

After this of course the years roll by and Kirby leaves Marvel for DC but finds the situation at DC possibly not that much better so again he quits to start over  back at the place he started out in…

Yet paradoxically still find himself hopelessly restrained, shackled to the dictates of editorial decisions, unable to express himself how he would wish, all energy and passion, a creative force beyond measure, being tamed like a docile circus lion…

Forced to retread the same steps over and over when all he wants to do is invent and make something completely different and new

Until, possibly for the briefest of brief moments an opportunity presents itself for Kirby to allegorise his hopeless entrapment, to discourse in the questioning as to to why he left (either time) in the perfect vehicle to do so…

A comic based on "The Prisoner"

Above: My attempt at recreating Jack Kirby's first page of the unpublished "The Prisoner" comic

But of course, one could argue that the chance to make the comic in itself was just a trap, the comic was never published, the comic pages that was drawn was not even completely finished and the comics actual existence went into the realm of urban legend / myth

Yet exist it does and one can only wonder just how wonderful and fantastic Jack Kirby's "The Prisoner" would have been, it is a sorry state of affairs to acknowlege that we will never know

If any one lesson can be taken from this,  it is you can never work for a corporation and openly question that self same corporation not in any public way certainly, not even by allegorising

But why is that so? It can only be that that corporation knows its wrong. If they are so right then they would not object to any questioning themselves as they would already have the answers to show how wrong thinking or feeling that way is…

But of course I am dreaming and this is just a fantasy world I am describing, nothing like this would ever happen in reality would it?

Be seeing you

NEXT WEEK: It's a all-new project - Join me for my look back at Bill Mantlo's The Human Fly!

Thursday 4 April 2013

Never The End

Welcome to the 12th and Final Part of

In which Chief Inspection Dai Thomas finishes his presentation to his superiors and is rather brusquely dismissed, just look at his expression on this page which I have attempted to recreate from Alan Davis's fantastic original art…

Speaking of Alan Davis, it's long past time we heard from him as I and probably quite a lot of people would consider him to be the definitive Captain Britain artist as well as fantastic artist and storyteller overall!

So what did Alan Davis think of Captain Britain at the point he joined? From Alan's introduction to Captain Britain Volume 5: End Game. We join Alan just as Paul Neary had offered Cap to Alan:-

"I have to admit I was less than enthusiastic when Paul (Neary) told me I would be working on Captain Britain.

I wasn't a fan.  I had wanted to like the original Captain Britain like so many other young comic readers but I could never see the costume as more than a few patriotic emblems pasted onto a composite of Daredevil, Spider-Man and Thor.  I persisted and brought every issue but it was the same as Space 1999, frightened to miss an episode in case it achieved its promise but always disappointed."

So after all the relaunch with David Thorpe and the more famous grand epics of Alan Moore, Cap was given to Alan Davis and Jamie Delano to launch a brand new title, Captain Britain Volume 2

But how did that work out for Alan?

"I supplied Jamie with an overview for the long story I had pitched after Alan (Moore)'s departure and promised editorial it would be business as usual.  Nobody wanted to change an already successful formula.

Jamie is an excellent writer but freely admitted he has little fondness for the superhero genre so I needed to constantly rework his scripts to fit the direction agreed with editorial.  This was obviously very demoralising to Jamie.  By the time the situation reached crisis point my DC deadlines had tightened to the degree where I was already considering quitting Captain Britain. I contacted editorial with a few suggestions for my replacement only to be told Captain Britain was to be cancelled.  I agreed to write and pencil an additional extended episode to give the series a tidy conclusion"

The last issue with that extended episode was issue 14 of Captain Britain, which as a monthly comic, lasted just over 1 year…

And thus ends our little journey through the publishing and narrative history of Captain Britain as encapsulated within the story I have attempted to reproduce 

Throughout we have seen numerous creators refer to problems and the difficulties of working on the title and or the state of the character or what they thought before they inherited it and its hard to think that overall the conclusion doesn't appear to be that positive

But to my mind the central point is this - the character had history - all it took was the right pair of eyes to look over it and represent it in a way which showed the promise and then went onto to fulfil that promise and Alan Davis delivered that just in this one issue alone

None of the history was overlooked or forgotten, it was used to clarify the point that the character had been through tough times but was now something more as a result of making it through that struggle

There was no need to intensely focus or be bogged down on every part of the history within the comic story itself, but just show enough to make people stop look and want to explore that history for themselves

And that is all - my friends  - and Marvel and Dc really need to do, no erasing, no it never happened, just focus on what is necessary and use it to tell a great story and have the great story be the most important part of all


Of course Alan Davis had a bit more to say

"Never once did I consider that Chris Claremont was already plotting Captain Britain's next revival or that I would be involved."

But this is of course, possibly a story for another time?


NEXT WEEK : I am not a number, I am a free man!