The company that became Archie Comics, MLJ, has often anticipated the popularity of superheroes while being unable to fully exploit that knowledge.
In November 1940, the publisher introduced the first flag-draped patriotic superhero, the Shield, but that concept would get knocked out of the ballpark 14 months later at what would become Marvel Comics.
From 1939 into the late 1940s, MLJ published dozens of mostly low-powered, surprisingly gory superheroes, with one of them — the Black Hood — branching out into radio drama and pulp magazines.
As the Golden Age superheroes vanished, Archie Andrews paid the bills. But just as the Silver Age superheroes were becoming popular in 1959, the publisher tried again with the Shield, a Superman-ish reboot by Jack Kirby that ran afoul of DC Comics’ lawyers and disappeared after two issues of the oddly titled The Double Life of Private Strong.
Kirby’s second MLJ creation headlined The Adventures of the Fly, which ran for 30 issues until October 1964 and guest-starred the Black Hood and the Shield. The insect-powered hero with a magic ring inspired an animal-powered hero with a magic belt in The Adventures of the Jaguar.
Within a year, the Fly had returned as Fly-Man, gaining the advantage of additional powers like the ability to expand to giant size along with the burden of some heavy-handed “humorous” writing.
The renamed “Mighty Comics” could never quite fan away the smell of flop sweat, with the cheeky voice-over narrator’s attempts to mimic Stan Lee’s confidence coming across more as desperation.
The fact that the Fly’s nom de guerre was changed to Fly-Man in May 1965, months before the Batman TV show premiered in January 1966, demonstrates that the name change wasn’t inspired by Batman or Superman, but by that newly popular hyphenated hero, Spider-Man.
Almost all the company’s old Golden Age superheroes were revived before the Mighty Comics line died along with the Batman boom in 1967.
The only character I found really interesting was the Web, a criminology professor who’d left his heroic days behind in the 1940s. Marrying one of his students, John Raymond saddled himself with a nagging wife and mother-in-law who forbid him to do anything silly like fight crime in tights. He began to sneak around behind their backs to do just that, nursing some unexpected aches and pains in his middle-aged muscles.
As a metaphor for lost dreams, for the exuberant illusions of youth fading into the disappointing limitations of age, the character had a certain poignant appeal.