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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #143

This is the one-hundred and forty-third in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and forty-two. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel brought Wonder Man back to life because of the introduction of Power Girl.

STATUS: True.

In honor of the release of Avengers Classic #9, retelling the debut of Wonder Man…

AVNCLA009.jpg

let’s discuss the oddity of Wonder Man’s return from the dead.

Now, for the first part of the story, I cannot speak as to the veracity. Whether it is true or not, what matters is whether Jim Shooter felt it to be true at the time.

Now, according to Shooter (courtesy of an interview at the awesome Wonder Man website by Mitchel), DC was irked when Marvel introduced Wonder Man, because of their character, Wonder Woman. Says Shooter:

The story I heard at the time from Stan and others was that, in the early sixties, DC had objected to Wonder Man because of Wonder Woman, and had threatened legal action if Marvel didn’t cease and desist using the word “Wonder” in character names. Wonder Woman is, and was, one of DC’s top several licensing properties (though the book never sold very well), and it makes sense that DC would fight to defend the “Wonder” franchise.

avengers9.jpg

So Marvel did not use Wonder Man much after that point.

However, in 1975, Gerry Conway introduced Power Girl at DC…

powergirl.jpg

Marvel, of course, just the previous year had renamed their title Luke Cage: Hero for Hire, Power Man…

powerman17.jpg

So, while going under the presumption (whether it was true or not) that while DC had given Marvel guff over using a Wonder Man while DC had a Wonder Woman, DC went off and had a Power Girl when Marvel had a Power Man.

So then, in a response to DC introducing Power Girl, in Avengers #151, Marvel brought back Wonder Man (it was at the end of the issue, so I’ll show you the cover of #152, as well)…

avengers151.jpg

avengers152.jpg

Power Girl debuted in early 1975, and Wonder Man was back by late 1975. I asked Jim Shooter (editor and co-writer of the issue in question) if the return of Wonder Man was because of the introduction of Power Girl, and he said, “Yes.”

Interestingly enough, due to scripting delays, Gerry Conway (and Jim Shooter) ended up writing part of Avengers #151, so Gerry Conway was credited on BOTH Power Girl’s intro AND Wonder Man’s return!

Thanks to Mitchel and Jim Shooter for the information!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Grant Morrison is angry at Ken Kneisel over the Flex Mentallo incident.

STATUS: False.

In a previous installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, the commenters all had some fun at the expense of Ken Kneisel, who was the guy who sent an e-mail to the Charles Atlas company about the Flex Mentallo character, telling them that they should check out this neat comic that was inspired by Charles Atlas. The company responded by attempting to keep DC from publishing a trade paperback of the Flex Mentallo mini-series (which, to this day, has still not been released, although the character’s appearances in the Doom Patrol have).

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Now, I’ve seen a number of places talk that Morrison is angry with Kneisel, and for the most part, it is based on fan supposition (you know, “I would be mad at him!” etc.), but to the contrary, that is not the case.

Matt Maxwell sent me a link to a piece he wrote back in 2003 (Ken, himself, by the way, ended up writing in soon afterwards, telling me basically the same thing), featuring Ken telling the story of his meeting with Grant Morrison, and their discussing Emma Frost (who, as noted in the earlier installment, was suggested by Ken for Morrison to use in his X-Men run)

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when Morrison surprised Ken by telling him that he felt that Emma Frost was Ken’s karmic balancing act for his role in the Flex Mentallo situation.

Cute, eh?

Here‘s a link to Matt’s piece, in its entirety.

Thanks to Matt and Ken for the information!!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The Human Fly in the Marvel comic book was an actual real guy.

STATUS: True.

A few folks have asked me to look into this over the years, but only one did I have written down, handy. A reader named “Willie Lumpkin” asked back in August of last year:

How about the story behind the Human Fly? My brother loved that book when we were kids. Was he a real guy?

If you don’t recall the Human Fly, it was a comic by Marvel in the late 70s, by Bill Mantlo and Lee Elias.

humanfly1.jpg

It starred a man who was in a horrible accident, and had to keep his face bandaged. He decided then to wear a mask and become a stuntman for charity events, going by the name the Human Fly.

Part of the promotions for the comic involved the conceit that the Human Fly actually existed. Marvel contained photographs of him in the comic.

But was he for real?

Well, besides the whole fictional backstory, yeah, he was for real. Rick Rojatt was a stunt driver who went by the name “The Human Fly,” and he wore a getup just like in the comic books.

Ky Michaelson, known as the “Rocketman,” for his expertise in building rockets for stunts and for movies, has a piece up on the time he developed a rocket for a bike the Human Fly used to jump over about two dozen buses.

Here’s the bike…

HUMAN-FLY-BIKE-FINISHED_s.jpg

Here’s Ky with the Human Fly…

Human-FLY-with-Ky.jpg

And finally, here is the Human Fly using the rockets…

HUMAN-FLY-JUMP.jpg

Oh, for good measure, here is a link to Ky’s write-up of the events.

Thanks to Willie Lumpkin for the suggestion, and thanks to the Rocketman for the pictures!!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for all this week’s covers!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

See you next week!

57 Comments

The only possible way DC could have grumbled about Wonder Man at the time is if they had foreknowledge of the character. Considering that 1) WM died in his first appearance, and 2) it was not the practice at the time for death to be a revolving door, I don’t think there was much cause to make a fuss over it.

If they did fuss over the character, they were being incredibly aggressive. The name was similar, but the character was completely different. There would have been no way Marvel would have been found guilty of copyright infringement. This would have been DC trying to bully Marvel & show ‘em who’s boss.

Always dug the HUMAN FLY comic myself, as young GarBut was the the right age to be astounded at the idea of this guy really existing. But I’m curious, Brian, as to whether Rick Rojatt was “in a horrible accident, and had to keep his face bandaged”? Am guessing not, but wonder if you could clarify? Thx.

He was in a horrible fashion accident, does that count?

I think the eyelashes are kind of pretty.

Does he use them to hypnotise bad guys into thinking he’s a laydee, like Bugs Bunny? Cuz that would be awesome.

I always loved that Gerry Conway wrote both books. I have occasionally wondered if at some point during the Avengers story conferences he squirmed in his chair like a schoolboy and mumbled, “Uh, you guys… about the Power Girl thing… you knew that was me, right?”

I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about the story about DC’s threatened legal action regarding Wonder Man, largely for the reasons that Avengers63 mentions. I’m also somewhat doubtful about Wonder Woman being “one of DC’s top licensing properties” circa 1964. There had been a wave of superhero licensing, including some featuring Wonder Woman, about ten-fifteen years earlier, but aside from Superman (who had been featured in the 1950s tv show), I don’t think there was much comic book-related licensing until the Batman tv show a few years later. I don’t think Wonder Woman didn’t really take off as a licensing commodity until the Linda Carter tv show in the 1970s.

Furthermore, although the character died after his first appearance, Wonder Man kept cropping up in the Avengers over the next decade, probably because Roy Thomas always loved working historical references into his stories. In particular, Wonder Man was part of the back story of two Thomas-created characters, Vision (whose artificial intelligence was somehow based on Wonder Man’s) and the Grim Reaper (WM’s brother, who wanted revenge on the Avengers). A year or so before his revival, he showed up to fight the Avengers in Kang’s “Legion of the Unliving.” So it’s not like Marvel only brought him out of mothballs when Power Girl was introduced.

None of which is to say that Marvel circa 1975 didn’t believe the story about DC’s threatened lawsuit, was unhappy that DC used the word “Power” in a character’s name so soon after the Power Man name was introduced, and retaliated by bringing back Wonder Man.

Myth #1 reminds me of What If #34 (vol.1), the all-humor issue. Marvel directly acknowledges the copyright angle by posing the question “What If Power Man Was a Girl, and What if Wonder Man was a Woman?” The Marvel “Power Girl” was actually kinda cool looking (the navel baring yellow blouse and tiara looks better on a female) but the Wonder Woman was a bit off. It was a single panel gag with a humorous “note” from DC lawyers, IIRC, saying that Marvel shouldn’t run it.

avengers 63, Rob M:

I can believe DC would threaten legal action over Wonder Man. Remember, DC used to be very litigious when it came to perceived copyright infringements. The original Wonder Man, a Golden Age character created by Will Eisner, only appeared in print once because the company that would eventually be called DC sued the publisher for creating a character who was too similar to Superman. And then, of course, there’s the famous legal battle between DC and Fawcett over the similarities between Superman and Captain Marvel. That one went on for years. So no, it doesn’t surprise me that, even as late as the 60s, DC would call in the lawyers at the slightest perception of a copied idea.

Clearly, though, this attitude was relaxed by the 70s, allowing for the Power and Wonder characters to coexist.

Who owns the rights to the fictional Human Fly? I only ask because any guy who fights off a shark with a scepter is overdue for a comeback.

“Hello? Human Fly here! Come on! I stayed up all night dying my underwear!”

Simpsons are great.

Ken Kneisel is a giant among men, both literally and kind of.

We are, all of us, walking in his shadow.

Hey…does anyone remember a kid from the Legion Of Super-Heroes named Jed Rikane?
Perhaps not.
He was better known as “Power Boy”.
Remember him now?
He wore a yellow shirt and blue pants. His skin color was purple. His powers were strength and invulnerability. All that’s missing is some kind of headgear and something that isn’t normally used as a belt…I dunno…like a tiara and chains.
A case could be made that his skin was colored purple in relation to the book “The Color Purple”, but I think that’s stretching things.
Anyway, upon retrospect, it seems TPTB at DC didn’t give up on the whole Wonder/Power thing.

Hmmm…a quick check on Wikipedia shows me that there were 3 DC characters with the Power Boy name.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_Boy
But still, Jed Rikane first appeared in 1978. A little too close to be coincidental, for my liking.

According to Steve Englehart the return of Wonder Man was scripted by Conway but plotted by Englehart himself. While it makes a better anecdote for Gerry to have brought in both Power Girl and Wonder Man, Steve really deserves the credit here.

Mad Monkey, I remember Jed Rikane but never made the connection between his costume and that of Cage before. Funny!

I actually own that copy of All Star Comics #58 pictured above. I bought it off ebay several years ago. I think that the scans from that auction are the most prevalent pictures of All Star #58 on the ‘net. If you do a goodle image search, that’s the copy that always turns up!

Ken Kneisel is a giant among men, both literally and kind of.

STOP THIS MADNESS NOW FOR THE LOVE OF KRYPTO!!!

(Sorry, found this Ken Kneisel joke exceedingly tiresome the last time he was mentioned in an item. Could we have a moratorium on Kneisel items from now on please?)

Humourless with the flu,
Graeme

Re: Human Fly

Okay, but where is Rick Rojatt now? There are only a handful of web-sites on the Human Fly out there and none of them seem to know what happened to Rojatt after his stunt-riding career ended.

The best info I could find was: “Rojatt presumably faded into obscurity”.

There’s really no info on this guy, except that he was the Human Fly. There are also no known photos of him without his mask.

Brian from Canada

February 22, 2008 at 12:10 pm

I don’t think there was much comic book-related licensing until the Batman tv show a few years later. I don’t think Wonder Woman didn’t really take off as a licensing commodity until the Linda Carter tv show in the 1970s.

TV didn’t have many choices, and most of the characters were tied to product promotion (such as Rocky & Bullwinkle with Trix — the rabbit and Cap’n Crunch both designed by Jay Ward). Superman, incidentally, was still tied to Kellogg’s Pep cereal, which was vanishing off the shelves due to increased competition.

Things changed very quickly in 1965, following the upsurge in popularity of superheroes as “pop art.” Filmation does The Aventures Of Superman in 1965, followed really quickly by Marvel Superheroes in 1966. (Haven’t watched my Aquaman DVDs yet for its year.)

1966 also saw the debut of the Batman TV series, and in 1967 we had the classic Spider-Man cartoon. Comics from that period show a lot of ancilliary products with superheroes on it — underoos, anyone? Pez? — that were around at the time.

DC wanted to follow up Batman with a similar series around Wonder Woman. Camp, though, had passed and DC had to deal with being purchased by WB in 1971. At **THAT** time, WB planned a three-pronged revenue stream from DC: 1/3 comics, 1/3 movie & TV through WB, and 1/3 licenses.

They never quite got there, but that helps to explain why we’ve seen a much bigger emphasis on licenses since 1965 — WB wants to make their profit back.

I just want to say ‘fuck yeah!’ for the human fly for strapping a rocket to a motorcycle and using it to jump over buses.

I mean, read that sentence twice!

[QUOTE]Ken Kneisel is a giant among men, both literally and kind of. [/QUOTE]

[QUOTE]STOP THIS MADNESS NOW FOR THE LOVE OF KRYPTO!!!

(Sorry, found this Ken Kneisel joke exceedingly tiresome the last time he was mentioned in an item. Could we have a moratorium on Kneisel items from now on please?)

Humourless with the flu,
Graeme [/QUOTE]

Please, for the love of all that is precious stop!

I have more than made ammends.

Just chiming in again to say how much I love this feature. It really make my Fridays. Keep it up, Cronin!

Has Wonder Man died more than once? I wasn’t very familiar with the character when I started reading WCA, I think, and it was referred to once or twice. I thought it had happened more recently at the time.

This probably isn’t an urban legend, and I could probably easily find the answer myself (although I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it here), but when Bob Kane passed away, I thought I read that his vision of Batman was closer to the original tv show than anything that came after it. It kept me from being interested in any Silver Age stories and most pre-CoIE stories. I like my Batman dark, brooding, and full of angst.

Reguarding Wonder Man, I don’t buy the story, At the time Wonder Man first appeared DC didn’t even own Wonder Woman, she was still owned by the Marston estate and DC more or less had a lease on her. Also Wonder Man died in his first appearance and Marvels sales weren’t big enough at the time to be considered a threat, according to people working in the industry at the time most DC editors didn’t read Marvel comics, (and according to Roy Thomas Stan didn’t read DC comics either).
Steve Englhart plotted the story that brought Wonder Man back and he has never mentioned in any interview that the story was done to piss off DC, he has mentioned once or twice that he had plans for the Vision, Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch that were never seen because he left the book (and the company) around the time the story was published.

Reguarding Power Man, DC did have a Power Man before Marvel, he was a robot who appeared in an old Worlds Finest comic, Roy Thomas brough him back for one story in the 80′s and I’m pretty sure he appeared in the background of Kindom Come.

Oh, my. Granted, I’d almost completely stayed away from American comics from about 1983-2003, but I had no idea that the fact that there really was a “the Human Fly” had become a comic book urban legend.

Oddly enough, the same machine that granted Wonder Woman his powers was later used by the Enchantress to bestow power upon Eric Josten, *Power* Man (he later became Atlas).

“Oh, my. …I had no idea that the fact that there really was a “the Human Fly” had become a comic book urban legend.”

Same here. I was a little kid when the comic came out, but at the time the (real) Human Fly was a fairly well-known public entity, sort of a B-Grade Evel Knievel. He was on TV quite a bit, as I recall.

Minor point: AFAIK Avengers Classics is reprinting stories, not just retelling them. There’s a 2nd story b/u of some kind too, but the main thrust is reprints.

#8 Matt M stole my thunder insofar as citing What If? 34, the 1st all-humor issue. Therefore I’ll participate by quoting the panel in question. Page 21 (including ads, not including cover):

“WHAT IF WONDER MAN were a WOMAN — and POWER MAN were a GIRL?” [Drawing of a caucasian woman in the old WM costume, and black woman in PM costume {shirt only open to the bottom of the chest, so cleavage could be seen}] with the following Post-It type note:
“Dear Marvel: Our Lawyers advise you not to print this gag. With love, Your Distinguished Competition”

PS. Credits: Script & Layout: Mark Gruenwald Inks: Brett Breeding.

I saw an issue of The Human Fly back in the 70′s and I wondered if he really was real as well. I also wondered if that meant the comic was not part of the Marvel Universe (I later heard that he had met Spider-Man, so I guess it was. And no, I’m not mistaking him for Spidey’s old enemy, The Fly.)

Another superhero based on a real person was El Santo, a mexican masked wrestler who also had his own comic book series during the 70′s. Like the Fly, he kept his real face hidden. Him I knew was real, as I saw him wrestle on TV.

I remember as a kid seeing the Human Fly on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports riding on the back of an airplane before the comic came out. You notice Marvel featured it in the cover of issue #1.

Odd tidbit.

The Human Fly (the real one) had a girlfriend who would go to Marvel offices regularly on behalf of Rojatt to pick up the licensing cheque. The girlfriend’s name?

Cyndi Lauper.

Yup. *that* Cyndi Lauper.

The element that you’re missing here is the fact that, in 1964, when AVENGERS #9 was published, the Marvel line was being distributed by Independent News, the distribution arm of DC. So it was not only possible but likely that DC could have become aware of Wonder Man’s appearance in AVENGERS #9 (which is cover-blurbed in enormous type). And the crotchety DC owners of the time would almost certainly have reacted to what they’d perceive as an encroachment from this little crummy upstart company (one whose sales percentages were inexplicably starting to creep up, to their frustration.) And because Marvel was being distributed by DC/National, I certainly could see Stan or publisher Martin Goodman assuring them that they’d never use Wonder Man again.

So I think this anecdote is completely plausible for the era–especially since any other character in Marvel history who garnered such positive response in that period was brought back from teh dead to become a recurring character. (And Stan virtually recreated Wonder Man as Power Man a couple years later in AVENGERS #21. If he hadn’t been prohibited, he likely would have simply brought back Wonder Man.)

Tom B

On Wonder Man, keep in mind the rumor itself is vague. It could have been something as minor as someone in DC calling someone in Marvel and saying ‘you ever use that name again and we’ll sue you!’.

It’s not like it ever went to court or anything.

All this talk about Power Man and Human Fly…has no one noticed that Wonder Man’s corpse is being resurrected and enslaved by a GIANT UPSIDE-DOWN-CROSS ROOSTER-MAN WITH LION PAWS!?!

Yeah, again, as I tried to stress, it doesn’t really matter whether it is true or not (if I thought I could prove it either way, I’d feature it in the column ;)), just what Marvel THOUGHT was the story at the time, and as Tom Brevoort (and others) have mentioned, it is a reasonable enough story to believe that, say, Jim Shooter felt it was true (whether it was, in fact, true).

Back Issue #20, an excellent magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing, has a pretty extensive article on The Human Fly series, in case you’re curious. Seriously, that mag is almost the best $6.95 I spend every other month…

Back Issue IS an awesome book!

… I never truly got why does Brother Voodoo dresses like a chicken.

Can anyone explain?

Are poultry inherently linked to necromancy and the dark arts?

Unlike Sublime, Brother Voodoo does practice Sateria.

Unless Back Issue #20 has a full interview with Rick Rogaine about being the Human Fly, I’ll pass.

Funny about Cyndi Lauper, I wouldn’t be surprised if she also showed up at Marvel offices in the early 90s when they were publishing wrestling comics, asking if they’d do a Cap’n Lou book.

Jeez, only the second time people have made Ken Kneisel jokes, and there are already complainers.

I was going to say something, here, but, um…Tom Brevoort said it all already. :)

Filipe said … I never truly got why does Brother Voodoo dresses like a chicken.

Assuming you’re looking at the Avengers #152 cover with Wonder Man, that’s not Brother Voodoo, it’s Black Talon, a voodoo-based villain. I think he first appeared in Brother Voodoo’s short run in Strange Tales, circa 1973.

While the question of possible litigation between DC and Marvel for “Wonder Man” may well be left to the urban legends of fandom, here’s something to keep in mind.

In the same rough time period as the revival of Wonder Man and arrival of Power Girl –

Marvel Spotlight featuring “Spider-Woman”.

and “The Savage She-Hulk”.

Fans at the time were going “WTF?” (Well, not really, more like “WTH?”). Both seemed like cheesy rip-offs of Marvel’s own characters. IIRC, one or both of the intro books included an editorial message that the characters were created so that no one else could create a female “spider” character or a female “Hulk”.

On the Wonder Woman thing, whereas it is true that DC didn’t actually own the Wonder Woman character, they did pay for the licensing rights to the character, not just publishing rights, also if they weren’t seen to be defending the copyright on their characters, both licensed and unlicensed, than tey ran the risk of losing their copyrights under copyright law, and the characters would then fall into public domain or the rights would revert back to the owners.

>had passed and DC had to deal with being purchased by >WB in 1971.
speaking of urban legends….
– Warner Brothers never bought DC – the company that DC was a big part of (Kinney National Service) bought Warner Brothers and then they, Kenny National, changed their name to Warner Communication; as that was the fancier name.

Always thought it was a bit sad that Marvel had to go to the ‘indignity’ (sort of) of creating female versions of their top two chacters to protect them from other companies doing the same. I would have just sued their ass.

I was also a bit suspect of this reason, and thought maybe Marvel thought having their own ‘Batgirl’ and ‘Supergirl’ would be a money-spinner. If copyright protection was the sole reason then where was She-Thing, Iron Woman, She-Thor, Lady Strange and Ms America?

Love this site – keep up the good work.

I’d also like to add (though I don’t know if it means anything as far as this discussion goes) that Marvel created their Captain Marvel after DC acquired the publishing rights to the GA CM so that theri main competitor couldn’t put a book on the market with “Marvel” in the title. I’ve also heard (Hell, it may have been here) that Marvel would bring the title back every few years in one form or another so that DC never had a chance to claim that the trademark had lapsed.

The REAL Ken Kneisel

March 2, 2008 at 1:01 am

Graeme Burk said: “Could we have a moratorium on Kneisel items from now on please?”

But we haven’t even covered bigoted anti-mutant cop and hated X-Men foe Commander Kneisel! (1st app: X-Treme X-Men #31)

Brian: Thanks for bringing all this up. When I commented on CBULR #140 I mentioned that I hadn’t intended on making Flex all but impossible to find except for obscene prices on eBay. That made me curious what the miniseries was going for on eBay and I wound up scoring a full set of all 4 issues for just $70 after shipping, which is a comparative bargain considering I typically see individual issues selling for at least $20 each. So now, thanks in part to this column, I finally own a complete set of Flex Mentallo again after having gone many long years without them.

It’s kind of a trip to think that it’s now been 10 years since I originally unintentionally narced on Flex. And now that I finally have the comics again and have long since been forgiven by Grant, it really feels like I’ve come full circle.

Also thanks to this column, I made a new friend at The Isotope Comic Book Lounge. (Hi, Chris!)

Oh yeah and I’m afraid that “Ken Kneisel” who posted upthread is the impostor again. I honestly don’t understand what the appeal of impersonating me online could possibly be, but please accept no substitutes for The REAL Ken Kneisel.

I remember as a kid, seeing that guy on a French-Canadian TV show. They badly translated his name into l’Homme Volant (The Flying Man)

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