The Fred Hembeck Show: Episode 27

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The Fred Hembeck Show: Episode 27

Post by Rik » Thu Feb 02, 2006 1:04 am

Enter The Fly.
by Fred Hembeck
September 13, 2005 -

Jack Kirby. Curt Swan. John Rosenberger.

Back in 1962, these were the three top super-hero artists at the trio of companies then currently publishing super-hero comics.


Well, Jack Kirby we ALL know about. He was responsible for most every cover — and seemingly nearly every interior story as well — from the fledgling, as-yet-unnamed Marvel Comics group.

Curt Swan? He merely drew every cover for every book that fell under the umbrella category of The Superman Family — AND quite a few of the stories to be found inside those books as well.

And John Rosenberger? Simply put, John Rosenberger WAS the Archie Adventure Series line! From the moment I first picked up an issue of The Adventures Of The Fly in 1961 and up on through midways into 1964 — save for a few stray fillers by John Guinta — Rosenberger pencilled and inked every issue of The Adventures Of The Fly, The Adventures Of The Jaguar, The Adventures Of Young Dr. Masters, and even the first few issues of the Archie version of The Shadow (after which, Paul Reinman took over and whose radically different style would soon define the look of Mighty Comics, as the line would subsequently be re-christened — but THAT'S a whole 'nother story...). Look, I was a neophyte comics reader — somehow, his pervasiveness across this admittedly minuscule line elevated Rosenberger's stature in my young eyes to a far loftier level that perhaps he really deserved.

These half-forgotten reflections all came back to me a few weeks ago when the studio here at The Fred Hembeck Show (i.e., my house) suffered an unfortunate infusion of actual flies swarming throughout. My efforts to eradicate these unwelcome insects was told in gut-wrenching detail (warning: some flies WILL be harmed in the recounting of this anecdote) in the August 16th, 2005 entry of my "Fred Sez" blog (scroll down if interested, please). Looking for the proper graphic to illustrate my little tale of woe, I decided upon scanning in a detail from the cover of the September, 1961 issue of The Adventures Of The Fly, number 14...
Here was a comic I hadn't held in my hot little hands in years — decades, maybe — and yet that cover was as familiar to me as nearly anything else I bought that year. And why not? It suddenly occurred to me that, not only was it my initial encounter with The Fly, it was also the first super-hero comic I had ever picked up that WASN'T published by the folks then clearly setting the industry standard, National Periodical Publications (that's DC Comics to you, pal!). Yup, that meant that months before I'd stumble across Fantastic Four #4, I'd somehow mistakenly equate The Fly (and The Jaguar, too) as being on a near equal level with the far more iconic characters coming out of the button-downed Lexington Avenue offices that gave birth to the likes of The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman (okay, okay — maybe Aquaman not so much...). It was easy to see why I might've been fooled into thinking this way, as The Fly's adventures during the period between his Simon and Kirby orchestrated origin in 1959 and his later transformation into Fly-Man (complete with ersatz — and wrongheaded — Marvel Comics type script and art) were nothing if not modeled on the template laid out by the folks selling all those Superman comics!

(By the way, I didn't learn of the hand that the legendary team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had in creating the character until shortly after the Reinman version had bitten the dust in 1967, ferreting out this otherwise obscure information thanks my then recent immersion into the world of comics fanzines. I was very surprised to discover Jack Kirby — the great King of ALL comics, but particularly Marvel ones — had ANYTHING to do with such a seemingly minor hero. And yet, the evidence was right there under my nose the entire time. Check out this logo:
Yup, that's Jack Kirby. Meaning, along with the first chapter of the Challengers Of The Unknown's initial appearance reprinted just weeks earlier in DC's 1961 Secret Origins #1 giant, this would've been the very first time I'd've laid eyes on the work of the man who would soon be expanding my imagination on a happily regular basis — although in neither case did I quite realize that this was also the same illustrator who drew those creepy comics about giant trees from outer space with names like "Groot" that my friend Chucky would occasionally buy, ones that I was having none of because, quite frankly, they, um, SCARED me! John Rosenberger's artwork, on the other hand, wouldn't scare, well, a FLY, y'know?...)
Of course, that was probably the way the artist would've wanted it. I didn't realize it back in 1961, but the cartoonist's true forte was the romance genre. Simply put, John Rosenberger drew quite the luscious babe, something that would have been clearly evident right there on that very cover had I been looking for it — if that giant fly hadn't managed to distract me from the debut of Fly-Girl!

Fly-Girl. Is it any wonder I immediately assumed these Archie Adventure Series books had an undeniable affinity to the DC Comics of the day? Superman, Supergirl. Batman, Batwoman. Congo Bill, Congo Jill. (Okay, so I made that last one up, but still, the Fly, Fly-Girl duo seemingly fell right into line, y'know?...)

So I'm looking at this book and I decide maybe it'd be a good idea to crack it open and read it, see what kind of warm rush of nostalgia floods over me as I revisit one of my earliest funny book experiences. Unlike a lot of my other oldest books, this was one I had scant memory of. Probably because, unlike a lot of my other oldest books, this wasn't one that I read over and over again, like I did my Marvels and many of my DCs (particularly the aforementioned Superman Family titles — after all, who needs to wade through the works of Shakespeare when one can be introduced to the realm of dramatic tragedy via the sad plight of Hyperman?...). I was about to (re)discover the not-quite-secret reason why this was, why this issue — why NONE of my Fly, Jaguar, or even Dr. Masters issues — ever found themselves in heavy (or even light) rereading rotation.

The stories just weren't very good.

Oh, they weren't horrible, by any means, just overwhelmingly generic, which was pretty standard for the period. I'd put them in roughly the same league as those found in DC books overseen by editor Jack Schiff (excluding the Batman material). The Adventures Of The Fly books were as competently assembled and professionally produced — and nearly as forgettable — as any circa 1961 issue of Blackhawk, Challengers Of The Unknown, Rip Hunter, Time Master, Tomahawk, or any number of other second (and third)-line DC titles (many of which, I should hastily note, improved noticeably after Schiff's two assistants, Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, graduated to full editor status in 1964 — but that's merely another tangent diverting us from the topic at hand, isn't it? Sorry...)

Best as I can determine, the man who wrote most (all?) of The Fly stories during this phase of the character's career was the seasoned comic book veteran, Robert Bernstein. Bob, it should be noted, chalked up a unique hat-trick when he worked with all three of the previously named iconic artists on some of their signature assignments roundabouts the same time: besides providing stories for Rosenberger, he also wrote several Human Torch and Thor stories drawn by Jack Kirby (under the barely serviceable alias of "R. Berns" — Clark Kent had himself a better disguise that THAT!...), and regularly cranked out various Superman Family episodes for Mort Weisinger, some of which, by all odds, just HAD to be illustrated by Curt Swan! Quite the impressive resume, Mr. Bernstein! As for the stories themselves, well...

Let's just deal with the cover story in this issue of The Fly, okay? (There's a thoroughly inconsequential five-pager backing up the lead — which weighs in at a hefty twenty pages — and I really have nothing more to say about it, so...) Titled "The Menace Of The Metal Monster" (the cover blurb, calling it "The Secret Of Fly-Girl", isn't actually a contradiction, be advised, but rather the title given to the SECOND chapter of this massive escapade), it's neither interesting nor goofy enough to get the all-out plot synopsis treatment from your humble (if nonetheless still long-winded) host. Rather, we'll just touch on a few of the high — and (even better!) low — points...

Things start out with our hero perched on a reviewing stand, next to the mayor of Capital City, taking in a parade (and giving artist Rosenberger the opportunity to delineate a delectable if incidental drum majorette in the process). Suddenly, the tanks in the procession seem to take on a life of their own, but luckily The Fly is there to foil the plans of The Metal Master, who angrily watches these events play out on a video screen located in an apartment located elsewhere in the city (more on THIS genius later...). What follows is the sole sequence that evinced any recognition at all from my initial reading during my formative years of this decidedly less-than-classic tale...
Even at eight years old, THAT caught my attention! Put a stop to menacing machinery, and in all likelihood, a gorgeous blonde'll rush up out of the crowd and plant a big ol' wet one on you! THIS you didn't see in DC Comics! But who the heck WAS this cutie, and what was she doing there? I needn't have worried overmuch — some ever helpful expository panels were directly on their way...
Yipes! You can't get away with dialog like THAT today, can you?

(Well, I guess you CAN — only with all its implicit innocence drained from of it..)

Anyway, The Fly is quickly enlisted to appear in Kim's movie, only to soon have the large prop monster — the large prop monster made out of METAL — come to life and cause havoc! Good thing the producers weren't too fussy about their new recruit's lack of a SAG card, as The Fly is on hand to handily take care of the situation. Apparently, however, this new menace has the denizens of the dimension housing Fly World concerned enough to send their emissary, Turan, off to find The Fly some back-up. And if she just happens to be a shapely blonde movie star, all the better...
Silver Age super-heroes — and heroines — didn't waste any time, so a mere one panel later, this newly-minted crusader is swiftly on scene, ready and willing to aid her male counterpart...
Did you see it? Did you get yourself a good gander at Rosenberger's OTHER great talent — besides conjuring up beautiful women — in that panel? Did you? If not, check out these two scenes from the second chapter...
Do you get it yet? Huh? Do you?

Take a good close look at The Fly's kisser in those three panels. Have you ever — EVER — seen such convincing expressions of impotent bewildered befuddlement on the face of a male costumed do-gooder? Maybe it was all those years of illustrating romance stories wherein the cuckolded boyfriend inevitably walked in on his sweetie in the arms of another man that allowed artist Rosenberger the opportunity to hone this startled deer-in-the-headlights look to absolute perfection, because for my money, NOBODY did it better!

On the other hand, get a load of the so-called Metal Master (aka, "Metal Monster")...
As Count Floyd might say, "Oooo, scary!"

And as Wayne might add, "Not!"

Okay, enough with the dated comedic references. Can you believe this creature was what passed for a monster back in 1961? His inane appearance can't ALL be heaped on the back of the artist, though — monsters of that era just COULDN'T be threatening. The Comics Code wouldn't allow it. The alien life forms filling the pages of DC's House of Mystery and Tales Of The Unexpected, for example, looked just as silly as this fellow. It was the tepid tenor of the times.

And the explanations for these otherworldly menaces weren't much more sophisticated than the one found in this flashback sequence, where we learn, if nothing else, how The Metal Master got himself hooked up with Capital City's top gang boss...
Okay, friends, I know what you're thinking — insert your own NRA/Levitra joke here.

Turns out this strange visitor from another dimension wasn't being entirely truthful — actually, he fled to our world in an effort to escape execution for committing a little thing called murder on his. Which I suppose sorta justifies Fly-Girl's subsequent actions — while being held bodily captive by The Metal-Master, she cranks up her insect powers to give off the "blinding radiance of millions of fireflies", the terrific heat of which is more than enough to melt out friend — er, fiend!
Good job, indeed, Fly-Girl! Brutal, non-human killers most definitely deserve what they get, y'know?

And so ended the beauteous Fly-Girl's first adventure — and MY first encounter with the Archie Adventure Series. Y'know, the fine folks in charge of the Archie archives have, in recent years, issued a pair of slim trade paperbacks featuring The Fly, one focusing on his Simon and Kirby roots, the other on his latter day Mighty Comics incarnation. Maybe, just to fully complete the picture, they might consider a THIRD volume, packed with the best (okay, okay — the most tolerable...) of the Bernstein/Rosenberger episodes? And should that modest l'il idea appeal to the powers that be over at Archie Publications, when it comes to writing an introduction for said tome, might I, ahem, suggest MYSELF for the task? Don't worry — I can always LIE, y'know...

After all, who else you gonna get — Peter Sanderson? (Though I suppose HE can fib, too — AND include suitable quotes from Henri Matisse, to boot!...)

Ah well. I'm happy to report that the fly infestation that overtook the facilities surrounding the Internet juggernaut that is has long since ceased to be a problem! And luckily, it doesn't take a swarm of spiders crawling about to get me to pore over my Spider-Man comics!...

Copyright 2005 Fred Hembeck
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Mighty Crusaders, from the Golden Age to today.