"FROM THE SHADOW OF THE GRAVE, HE ROSE TO BECOME THE GREATEST DEATH-DEFIER OF THEM ALL!"
The first issue of The Human Fly carried the unforgettable tagline: "The Wildest Super-Hero Ever -- Because He's Real!" This is the famous idea at the heart of the Fly's appeal, but it would ultimately prove too flimsy a vessel for the continuing adventures of a four-color action hero.
As we have seen, the Human Fly was indeed a real person. But the real Human Fly was not even slightly a super-hero -- from what evidence we gathered he was a daredevil with a death-wish. The implication that the Human Fly we see in the pages of this Marvel comic book is the same Human Fly who lives and breathes in the real world is patently absurd. This is not a documentary. The only thing that keeps the comics' Human Fly even slightly connected to his real life counterpart is the fact that neither Fly has super-powers. Other than that, this entire comic is nothing more than a flimsy tissue of lies.
The Human Fly #1, September 1977
The origin of the fictional Human Fly is fairly simple. The unnamed victim of a massive car crash in which both his wife and children perished, the man who would become the Human Fly is hospitalized with massive injuries. The doctors who attended to the Fly's injuries had a questionable idea of bedside manner, stating to the Fly as soon as he awakened from a coma:
"You are in a hospital -- in critical condition! We may be able to save your life -- but you will be a cripple for the rest of your days!
Now, I'm no doctor, but it seems like it might not be the best idea in the world to taunt the patients as soon as they regain consciousness. And then they're surprised when he starts to struggle and tries to scream?
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the
North Carolina health care system.
But apparently the strange North Carolina hospital where the Fly finds himself does not believe in physical therapy. Did physical therapy not exist in the seventies? I'm pretty sure it did. But I guess the Fly must have been in a Christian Scientist hospital or something, where the patients' recoveries were left to the hand of God. Because the Fly's recovery, the gradual renewal of his ability to move his limbs, is done under the cover of darkness. He's not supposed to recover, or something, I guess. The Fly seems to operate in a universe wherein doctors are dedicated to insuring their patients do not get better, and to prevent them from doing so at all costs.
Which makes his next choice strangely sensical: in order to inspire his fellow handicapped patients, he chooses to become the Human Fly. Instead of simply, I don't know, doing the exact same thing without a mask, he adopts a secret identity and chooses to become an anonymous inspiration. Which makes sense, because I guess if the doctors in the Marvel Universe knew who he was, trying to inspire their patients to get better, they'd try to kill him. Probably with giant robots or something.
It's always a good idea to hide
your true progress from your doctors.
But the really odd part of the Fly's set-up is that not only is his secret identity a secret to the world, but it's a secret from the readers as well. And, unlike books like Shadowhawk that have tried similar mysterious protagonists, the secret behind the Fly's identity is not supposed to be any sort of mystery to the reader -- rather, it's intended as a metaphor for the Fly's universally inspiring message. He could be anyone, so he could be everyone, is the logic. Which works well, to a point.
He just looks so proud.
Because the fact is that on the face of it the Fly's motivations aren't bad. Actually trying to make the world a better place is something that anyone would have a hard time criticizing. But the problem is that while this is undoubtedly a good idea for a potential masked daredevil, it's a horrible idea for an ongoing superhero comic book. The driving engine behind most modern superhero books is soap-opera stuff. A character who isn't a character so much as an abstract ideal is, in storytelling terms, a cipher. Even back to the Golden Age, when most super characters were portrayed as interchangeable ciphers, there was at least the illusion that the people behind the cowls possessed some kind of rudimentary interiority. But the Fly's goal-oriented existence defies the kind of interiority that Spider-Man and his ilk takes for granted: the Human Fly sees something to do, so he goes and does it. This type of behavior is more in line with the way a super-villain would conceive of the world.
Like Wolverine, Bullseye and Ulysses S. Archer,
the Human Fly is a proud member of the Marvel Universe's
Metal Bones For Men Club. He likes the metal bones so
much he bought the company.
Super-villains have concrete goals and ambitions, whereas superheroes cannot be proactive in terms of acting to alter their environments. So, structurally, the Human Fly is less a superhero than a super-villain working on the side of the angels, a being whose interiority is wholly subservient to his exterior accomplishments, and who fights crime only as it may impact his previously established plans. Therefore, in order for the series to have any real dramatic potential, the Fly needs to "accidentally" encounter crime or evil every issue, and the supporting cast will be required to carry the majority of dramatic exposition in the series. Lord knows he's not going to find a love interest while wearing that mask.
An authentic 1977 advertisment.