Another oddity of the Bronze Age of Marvel Comics, the Human Fly was the star of a comic book series created by Bill Mantlo and Lee Elias (of the Golden Age Green Arrow fame who had also worked on a similar series starring a female stunt performer the Black Cat). Based on real life stunt car driver Rick Rojatt, the Human Fly was a stuntman who survived a horrible accident. His spine replaced by steel, he covered his horrifically scarred face with a colorful mask and costume to put on stunts for charities.
The actual Rick Rojett was of course neither scarred nor possessing a steel spine (both inventions of the comic book to give the Human Fly a bit of ‘edge’), but he did wear the red hued costume and mask while performing daredevil stunts. The back of each issue saw a letters page where the editor proclaimed the fact that the Human Fly was indeed real and published pictures of a strangely garbed man to prove it. Many readers confused the fact and fiction, thinking that the claim extended to the Human Fly’s wranglings with supervillains and team-ups with Spider-Man, deducing that the character was a fake.
The debate carried on well after the comic book was even published and became the subject of my favorite online column, Comic Book Urban Legend.
A stuntman of the late 1970’s , Rick Rojett was the real thing, like Evel Knievel with a mask and no bell bottoms. Engineer Ky Michaelson actually met Rojatt when he was contracted to help build a rocket bike enabling the Human Fly to launch himself over 36 buses (Michaelson goes into great detail on the event here).
Michaelson talked Rojatt down to 27 buses and after much hard work and wringing of hands, the stunt was performed and Rojatt broke Evel Knievel’s record. The stunt sounds vaguely similar to the one pulled off in the Ghost Rider movie, but I’m not sure if that is coincidence or not.
Viewed as a bizarre marketing gimmick, it should come as no surprise that he shared comic book space with Spider-Man and the like. It was the 70’s… and there’s nothing we can do about it. I remember getting an issue of this series stuffed into one of those weird packets of comics that my mom would buy at the toy store (there would be three comics in each pack, one facing each side of the clear bag and a third hidden in the middle, hinting at a possible treasure), not sure what to make if it. There was a feeling that he must be real because as a comic book superhero there wasn’t that much to him, but then why had I never heard of him?
The Human Fly and Rick Rojatt have both faded into obscurity, though many a middle aged comic fan recalls with some fondness the ads from back in the day that proclaimed the Human Fly to be “The Wildest Super-Hero Ever — Because He’s Real!”