ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #9; Nov. 1960; Radio Comics Inc. (Archie Adventure Series). On the cover drawn by John Giunta, the Fly stands in a cavern confronting a woman clad in an orange pajama-like outfit; she has pointed ears, claws on her hands and feet, and a tail, and is attended by a clowder of odd, alien-looking cats with sideburns. "The Strangest and Most Powerful Enemy The Fly Has Yet Battled Turns Out to Be A Beautiful Girl Whose Identity Is Steeped in Frightening Mystery! Learn Her Mysterious Secret As THE FLY MEETS THE CAT GIRL!"
Review by Bill Henley
The issue opens not with the Cat Girl story-- that's saved for last-- but with "A Date With Death!" It, like all the Fly stories in this issue, is written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by John Giunta. (Incidentally, it's too bad that, as far as I know, nobody got Robert Bernstein to do a fanzine interview before his death in 1983. Bernstein had a front-row seat for the early Silver Age. He worked for DC writing scripts for the "Superman family" comics and various backups-- Green Arrow, Aquaman, Congorilla, etc.; he wrote most of these FLY and JAGUAR stories for Archie Comics; and, briefly, he wrote for Stan Lee at Marvel , credited as "R. Berns", on Thor, Iron Man and Human Torch.)
The most interesting feature of "A Date With Death" is the setting of the story. It's Cuba, but this isn't a Cold War story of Fidel Castro's dictatorship. Though Castro and the Communists had taken over Cuba in early 1959, this story which hit the stands in September 1960 depicts a pre-Castro Cuba of carnivals and gangsters. On the splash panel, a pretty girl in a mask and evening gown is escorted to a carnival by a caped figure in a skeleton costume. The Fly is watching from a corner and thinks, "That's no costumed character! Donna doesn't realize it, but she's going to the carnival with DEATH itself!" (Damn these blind dates anyway, you never know who you're going to end up with...) Thomas Troy, lawyer and alter ego of the Fly, is traveling to Cuba accompanied by his secretary Donna, a pretty orange-blonde girl. Perhaps we've met her before in an issue I don't have, for she already seems to have formed a crush on the Fly, despite his creepy insect associations. Troy points out the Morro Castle, a Havana landmark, and notes that Cuba offers "many beautiful sights" for tourists (another sign that this story didn't take account of current political events in Cuba, or maybe was written during the period when it was hoped that Castro would be friendly to the U.S.) Troy suggests that Donna may enjoy meeting his client, Bud Kent (presumably no relation to Clark), a handsome night club owner who is helping with a criminal investigation. But Donna's main male interest is the Fly, and she is delighted when Thomas Troy notes that the Fly will be in Havana hunting down gangsters.
Leaving Donna in the care of the glamorous Bud Kent, Thomas Troy ducks into a corner and transforms into the Fly. He flitters and creeps around Havana, but finds no sign of the crooks he is seeking. Still in his Fly guise, he confers with Kent about finding "underworld stool pigeons," but brushes off a request from Donna to become her escort. Then Donna sees Bud Kent being kidnapped by gangsters "seeking to punish (him) for aiding the Fly!" Kent urges Donna to stay clear and not risk her life with the underworld killers, but she impulsively jumps in a taxi and asks the driver to follow the car in which Kent is being spirited away, hoping that she can somehow help him! As both cars are stopped when the street is blocked by a carnival, the crooks recognize Donna and aim their guns to kill her! Suddenly the limousine carrying the gangsters and the captive Kent is turned on its side by rowdy carnival-goers. Despite her narrow escape, Donna is still determined to trail the gangsters. She follows the bad guys into an amusement arcade where she sees them at a shooting gallery, but their guns are real, and suddenly they turn them around to aim at Donna again! Once again she is saved as the carnival lights suddenly glare into the gangsters' eyes, blinding them. But she continues pursuing them (this girl almost makes Lois Lane look like a model of caution) and she is trapped when the crooks catch her spying on their basement hideout! And she learns that Bud Kent is not really the kidnap victim of the gangsters, but their ringleader! He had faked the "kidnapping" in order to drop out of sight and avoid possible discovery by the Fly.
But as Kent is about to order her death, the Fly bursts through the door! "I'll paralyze these hoodlums with sonic bolts from my buzz gun!" After the gunmen are subdued, the Fly explains that he was already suspicious of Kent and was trailing Donna as she trailed the "kidnappers." It was actually the Fly who overturned the gangsters' car, saving Donna the first time, and who used his "human firefly" power to blind the gangsters when they targeted her again. The Fly apologizes for using Donna as bait without warning her, but she replies, "I'd forgive you anything! (sigh) After all, you DID spend time with me, even though it turned out to be a date with Death!" (But poor Donna never got anywhere with the Fly, alas. She doesn't seem to have appeared again aftr this issue, and the Fly's romantic interest was turned to the Cat Girl, whom we'll meet shortly, and later to his own insect counterpart, actress Kim Brand aka Fly Girl.)
Next in the comic are a couple of one-page fillers. "Bobby Bell's Judo Page" depicts young Bobby-- who seems to be a costumed sidekick of the hero the Shield, of whom more momentarily--using his skills to overcome a villain called the Gargoyle. An illustrated text story retells the first of "The Trials of Hercules," in which the primeval superhero defeats "The Nemean Lion." (In this version, Herc defeats the lion by spotting a spearhead partly embedded in the lion's flesh from a previous attack, and pounding it into his heart. I haven't seen that detail in other versions of the mythical story. I don't know if the spearhead was part of some variant version of the myth, or just something the unidentified writer of this text story made up.)
The next Fly story features a guest star; "THE SHIELD, alias U.S. Army Private Lancelot Strong, joins THE FLY...in the weirdest adventure of their careers as they battle in vain against the supernatural powers of the WIZARD OF NIGHTMARES!" This is the version of the Shield who was created by Simon and Kirby along with the Fly in 1959, and who had just a two-issue run of his own comic under the title THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG. Reportedly, the title was cancelled because DC Comics raised objections to aspects of the new Shield's origin which they thought were too reminiscent of Superman. But apparently Archie Comics still had hopes for a while of doing something with the Shield, and kept him alive with this guest shot. On the splash panel, the Fly (standing upside down and sticking to a ceiling) and the Shield are confronting evil robots conjured up by a malevolent magician. "It's hopeless, Fly!" says the bad guy. "My creatures CAN'T be affected by your tricks! They're evil spirits! Run, before they destroy you!"
At a carnival near Capital City (the Fly's generically named home base), a magician stage-named Yogi Shimar prepares to defy those "unbelievers" who accuse him of perpetrating a hoax. Donning a "devil-mask" handed him by his assistant Hadji (no relation, presumably, to Jonny Quest's sidekick), the Yogi releases clouds of incense; "First we must purify the atmosphere to receive the visitors from the demon-world!" The show is interrupted by a pair of uniformed cops bearing a warrant for the Yogi's arrest on charges of "putting on a phony performance!" (Is all stage magic illegal in Capital City?) But the Yogi summons from out of the clouds of smoke two lions who roar and growl at the police and are immune to their bullets! The cops withdraw to their squad car and call for backup, until the Yogi causes the lions to vanish. But even though his magic seems all too real, the cops still want to arrest him-- now on charges of "resisting the law and disturbing the peace".
Reading that evening's newspaper, the Fly decides to investigate the incident in his other guise; "To return to my other identity, I must utter my name... THOMAS TROY!" He plans to offer his services as an attorney to Yogi Shimar in an attempt to learn the truth about the Yogi's claims to supernatural power. (Hmmm... to my understanding, Attorney Thomas Troy is violating legal ethics if his intent is to pin some kind of wrongdoing on the Yogi rather than to make a good-faith effort to prove his innocence.) When Troy arrives at the Yogi's cell, Shimar offers to prove his abilities with the help of his devil-mask and his incense, which he "insisted" (in defiance of normal police procedure, I should think) on keeping with him in his cell. Donning the mask and releasing the incense, the Yogi causes "ghostly swords" to emerge from the stone floor of the cell. This is enough to convince Thomas Troy that the Yogi has unuaual abilities, but it's not enough to obtain an immediate release. (Hasn't Troy sought a writ of habeas corpus, or asked for bail to be set?) Frustrated, the Yogi unleashes evil spirits upon the jail guards, and makes his escape over Troy's protests. "I'm not afraid of the police! The evil spirits I can summon from the demon-world will protect me wherever I go!"
As guards dash off in pursuit, lawyer Troy resorts to his own magical power, rubbing the magic Fly Ring and speaking the name of "The Fly!" "I've got a hunch it will take the luck of a million four-leaf clovers to defeat this Wizard of Nightmares!" He perceives one stroke of luck when he spots a familiar figure standing near an Army recruiting station-- Private Lancelot Strong, whom he knows (since a story in the previous issue) to be the super-powered Shield. "I'll recruit him for the war I'M waging!" The Fly does so in rather peremptory fashion by seizing Pvt. Strong off the street and flying away with him! Fortunately, the Shield also knows the Fly's identity and is soon persuaded to join the hunt for Yogi Shimar, though he thinks the Yogi's powers "sound too eerie to be real!" (You say this, Private, while you're hanging out with a guy who's half-man, half-insect?) The Fly and the Shield soon spot the devil-masked Yogi, apparently just by flying randomly around the streets of Capital City. The Yogi is momentarily startled, but rallies, declaring, "You can't stop me! I intend to become the richest and most powerful man on Earth! Whoever interferes with my schemes will be destroyed!" The Yogi squirts his incense smoke at our heroes (anyone see where this is going yet?) and in a large panel spreading across the centerfold pages of the comic, a giant flame-breathing dragon appears! (The double-page panel appeared in the early Simon and Kirby issues of THE FLY under the description "Wide Angle Scream!" The post S & K issues kept the device going for a while before letting it drop.) While the Shield darts out of the dragon's path at super-speed, the Fly climbs a wall and tries to knock the creature out with his buzz gun. But the dragon is immune to the gun's sonic vibrations, and the Shield's attempt to grapple with the creature with super-strength is also fruitless, as he is unable to touch the dragon and instead propels himself through a brick wall! (These guys' heads may be made of brick, if they aren't starting to figure out yet what is going on...)
The heroes vow to carry on the fight against the Yogi regardless of his seemingly undefeatable supernatural powers (though Shield mutters that it's still "hard to believe that ANY man possesses supernatural power," standing alongside the guy with a Magic Fly Ring. Maybe he thinks mistakenly that the Fly's powers are somehow science-based like his own.) Shimar recruits a criminal gang with promises that the evil spirits in his service will protect them from capture by the police or even by "a hundred Flys and Shields"! The gang breaks into an art gallery and seizes valuable paintings while "the ghostly hordes of Ghengis Khan" emerge from clouds of incense to hold off the guards. The Fly and Shield catch up to Yogi's gang (wasn't that a Saturday morning cartoon?) on several occasions, but are stymied by the Yogi's creations such as evil robots and magic lightning bolts (where's Captain Marvel when you need him?)
Then, as the gang attacks a uranium laboratory, one of the workmen-- who happens to be wearing a mask to protect him against dangerous gases-- is puzzled to see only the crooks themselves, and not the marauding rock-men who are panicking his fellow workers! He reports his experience, and now, finally, one of our heroes-- the Shield-- gets a clue what is going on. When the Yogi and his men next strike, the Fly and Shield arrive on the scene, each wearing "devil masks" of their own! The masks "give us magic 'immunity' from your evil spirits," the Fly explains, and indeed he and the Shield wipe up the masked crooks without being bothered at all by any spirits or monsters. After the gang is defeated, our heroes reveal that their masks contain miniature aqua-lungs to protect them from breathing tainted air. And the Yogi's devil mask contains a similar device, while his incense burner is designed to emit clouds of hallicinogenic smoke that cause those breathing the smoke to see whatever vision the Yogi suggests. But "We just see thieves who used a cunning trick once too often!" As the Yogi and his henchmen are hauled off by the police, the Fly thanks his comrade; "Your help in this case was no ILLUSION!" "Don't mention it, Fly! With the Wizard of Nightmares behind bars, the people of the city can sleep peacefully... and without gas masks!" But despite his helpful assistance, this was the last time Private Strong's alter ego would be seen for a while. The Shield who hung out with "Fly Man" during the "Mighty Comics" period of the mid 60's was a different guy, Bill Higgins, said to be the career-challenged son of the original 1940's Shield.
Finally, we have the cover-featured story of "The Cat Girl!" The splash panel is a replay of the cover scene, with the Cat Girl summoning her feline friends against the Fly; "You will never leave this cave alive!" At the Capital City Zoo, one of the guards is startled to see a pair of glowing cat eyes in the darkness, and at first thinks one of the big cats has escaped its cage. But the figure who steps out of the shadows is a shapely girl in a form-fittign "cat suit". She initially claims to be lost, but then slashes out with sharp claws to sever the guard's gun belt, and warns that she could slash his face just as easily! And her mission is to indeed release the real cats from their zoo cages! Under her direction, leopards, lions, tigers and others flee confinement and scatter. Hearing a radio news flash, attorney Thomas Troy realizes that this is a job for his alter ego. "I'll rub this magic ring given me by Turan, the emissary of the Fly People, and pronounce the enchanted name... THE FLY!" He buzzes off, vowing to see to it that no beasts will be allowed to leave the park area surrounding the zoo. Encountering some of the escaped cats, he stuns them with the sonic vibrations from his buzz gun, and then uses "the power of a million termites" to dig "tiger traps" in the ground for them. He then uproots "hundreds of trees" (which must not have pleased the park keepers too much) to create a stockage, into which he herds the remaining felines.
Meeting with the zoo authorities, the Fly hears that a tiger and a black leopard are still missing, and hears of the strange cat-eyed woman who freed the cats. "Why was she obsessed with the idea of freeing the cats? And why didn't the beasts KILL her?" Driving away in a "sleek automobile" with the missing tiger and leopard as passengers, the Cat Girl vows that "that meddler, the Fly, must pay for his interference!" Several days later, Cat Girl spots the Fly as he is taking a casual stroll, in costume, along the Capital City streets; "It's a nice evening for a walk! I think I'll stretch my legs a bit before I go on patrol!" Cat Girl orders her pet leopard to leap at the Fly, but our hero pulls up a manhole cover, causing the leopard to fall into the hole! He then uses the manhole cover as a shield to fend off the attack of the tiger. Cat Girl climbs a fire escape ladder, trying to escape, but the Fly follows using his wall-climbing abilities. When Cat Girl trips and falls, the Fly saves her from plunging to her death! "You saved my life! Why?" "I can't see anybody or anything destroyed! Now tell me! Who are you? What's your game?" The seemingly repentant Cat Girl promises to reveal her secrets if the Fly will take her to her home, a cave in the hills. The cave is surrounded by wildcats, but she promises to keep them from harming the Fly; "All cats obey me instinctively!" But once the Fly enters the cave, the Cat Girl purrs a different tune; "Fool! You shouldn't have trusted me! Now, you'll never leave this cave alive unless you promise not to interfere with my operations!" The Fly refuses to make any promises, and again demands to know who the Cat Girl really is. "I'm so sure you WON'T learn my identity that I'll leave Capital City in peace if you solve the riddle of WHO I AM!" The Fly accepts the challenge, and takes to the air to fly in circles above the Cat Girl's cats, so fast that he creates a vacuum which causes the cats to lose consciousness. But the Cat Girl herself is unaffected by the lack of air! She summons mountain lions and threatens to unleash them upon the populace, but the Fly subdues them by using his human firefly power to dazzle the animals and instil in them the fear of fire.
As the Cat Girl is knocked to her knees by the fleeing cats, the Fly observes, "She's on all fours now... forming a FAMILIAR SILHOUETTE! Good Grief! I think I KNOW who she is!" And he confronts the Cat Girl with the answer; "Your (sic) the SPHINX! The cat goddess of old Egypt... who has the body of a lioness and the face of a beautiful woman! According to mythology, you're supposed to live forever!" The Cat Girl confesses that the Fly has guessed right; she is the model for all of Egypt's Sphinx statues, and "the defender of the animal world against the human world!" As a being of the supernatural, she is immune to suffocation and to the sonic vibrations of the Fly's buzz gun. And apparently she is also immune to capture, as she runs away after promising to "leave you (the Fly) in peace for now" but to return with a deadlier riddle for him. Perhaps she gets away due to the conflicted feelings revealed in the Fly's thoughts; "She does make a fascinating enemy! What a beautiful girl... er, a CREATURE... she is! Strange to say, I look forward to our next meeting!"
The Cat Girl made at least one more appearance fighting the Fly-- in the next issue, FLY #10. She then, appropriately, switched over to become the arch-foe of a fellow feline, the Jaguar. who debuted in mid-1961. Cat Girl battled Jaguar several times but then reformed (after losing most of her supernatural powers) and she and the Jaguar seemed to be getting a lot closer when his title ended. Considering that the Shield business suggests Archie Comics was leery of stepping on DC's cape, it's a little surprising they came up with a villainess for their heroes who was so similar in concept to Batman's Catwoman. But maybe the Cat Girl's supernatural origin, and the fact that the Catwoman hadn't appeared much in BATMAN for some years at this point, made them figure they could get away with the Cat Girl.