The Fly #2-4
Written by Jack C. Harris (#2-3) and Rich Buckler (#3)
Illustrated by Steve Ditko (#2-4), Rich Buckler (#2), Bill Draut (#3) & Adrian Gonzalez (#4)
Lettered by Bill Yoshida (#2,4) & Rod Ollerenshaw (#3)
Colored by Barry Grossman (#2), Ked Feduniewicz (#3) & John Wilcox (#4)
Let's talk about Red Circle Comics, shall we?
For those of you who don't remember, MLJ Productions (that's Archie Comics to you) has a stable of superheroes that they trot out every decade or so. They never last long, though it's not for lack of trying — various incarnations have used top talent like Charles Biro, Jack Cole, Jack Kirby, Irv Novick, Joe Simon, Jerry Siegel, Rich Buckler, Bob Kanigher, Rudy Nebres, Jim Steranko and, of course, Steve Ditko. So why do they keep failing?
Simple. Archie's superheroes are lame.
To see why, let's look at the Fly. By day, he's Thomas Troy, ace attorney, but when he rubs his magic ring he's magically transformed into... the Fly, mystic emisarry of the Fly-People! His powers include flight and super-strength, and he carries a "buzz-gun" that can fire tranquilizer darts or sonic waves. His powers fade in bright light. He's got a sidekick by the name of Fly-Girl (who is secretly his fiancée Kim Brand), and a charter membership in the Mighty Crusaders (for all that's worth).
Now, there's nothing too terribly lame about all of that — okay, the magic ring and the Fly-People are totally lame, as is his weakness to bright light, but we can work around those. The sad thing is, none of this stuff ever comes into play. We never see Tom Troy in court. The Fly-People only exist to explain where the magic ring comes from, and to deus ex machina the Fly out of any corners the writers have placed him in. The "buzz-gun", his only potentially unique power, is unholstered once (to taze an aggressive driver, no less). His weakness to bright light is conveniently forgotten whenever he needs to operate in bright light. Fly-Girl is only in issue #3, and could easily be replaced by a one-shot character with little difficulty.
All the Fly really does over the course of these three issues is fight supervillains. And what supervillains they are — a mugger, a deformed special-effects artist, and a guy so powerful that he essentially has to defeat himself (no, the Fly doesn't even have to trick him).
This is just not a workable status quo. Any moron can fight supervillains. What makes a series stand or fall is, quite simply, interesting characters. And the Fly is a cipher. Why is he a lawyer? Why does he fight crime? What's his unique approach to fighting crime? Why does he take the woman he loves into battle? You'll need to read between the lines for explanations — assuming that explanations are there to be found.1
Fortunately, one thing the Fly does have going for him is Steve Ditko, drawing his heart out.
Here's the dynamite splash page from issue #2. It's a nice, economical image — there's nothing here that isn't immediately relevant to the scene. We've got the Fly himself, grabbing our attention in the middle ground. We've got police officers in the foreground and background, helping to establish that our location is the precinct house. The criminal in the foreground has his back go us, partly because he's not important but mostly because he'd be too distracting with his face turned towards us. And you have to love the iconic "superhero casts a big scary shadow" motif, which also lets us know that the man on the steps is secretly Tom Troy, the Fly.
The coloring here is quite nice. The background and the cops are a cool blue, which makes Tom Troy immediately leap out at us with his warm color scheme. Even the criminal's green suit fits in — green's a transitional color that meshes well with the cool blues of the background and the warm yellow of the steps. The warm colors are situated on the right side of the page, which helps draw our eyes across the chain of narration and word balloons at the top.
While we're at it, here's a nice use of some standard Ditko motifs from issue #4....
That "tsunami" in the second panel has those weird, unnatural Ditko curves, but they're nicely used here to suggest a massive wave of water. You're immediately struck by their oddness but at the same time you have no doubt what they're supposed to represent.
- I'll save you the trouble — they're not.