Saturday, January 16, 2010
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 3- EARLY PROTOTYPES
Photos: L-R, The Human Fly, Captain Sticky with a "True Believer" (Stan Lee), The Fly with Ky “the Rocketman” Michaelson and crew.
Author's note: In Chapter 3, I will be writing about some early examples of people adopting a superhero persona. Among some of the people I write about are Super Barrio, Terrifica, Captain Ozone, and a few others. In this excerpt I write about Captain Sticky and the Human Fly.
CHAPTER 3- EARLY PROTOTYPES
Who was the first real life superhero?
Legends of mystery men have long captured our imagination. The first story of Robin Hood, a ballad titled Robin Hood and the Monk, was written in 1450, and there have been many theories on who the real Robin Hood was, although one theory says “Robin Hood” was a stock alias used by thieves. 559 years later, the character’s story still entertains us, interpreted by Errol Flynn, by a cartoon fox in the Disney version, and perhaps most strangely of all, by Kevin Costner.
In 1919 pulp writer Johnston McCulley created Zorro. Like many pulp writers, he borrowed heavily from other lore. It’s possible he built the character from stories of Portuguese bandits, or the tale of William Lamport, an Irish solider and pirate who lived in Mexico and was later burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition.
Our RLSH story begins with two very real and unique individuals who both appeared in the early 1970s. The “silver age” of comics had brought a renewed interest in the superhero comic throughout the 1960s, and these two homemade heroes looked like they had climbed straight out of the pulp pages.
CAPTAIN STICKY (Deceased)
"His dream was to alter the course of history. He was a huge man with a huge heart filled with love for everyone." - Lynne Shiloh, fiancée to Richard Pesta (aka Captain Sticky)
The first person to adopt a costumed persona to fight injustice was probably Richard Pesta, aka Captain Sticky, in the early 70s in San Diego. Why the name “Captain Sticky?” A 1974 news report reveals the secret origin.
“The name ‘Captain Sticky’ comes from his fondness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – the same fondness that is the source of his 350 pounds.
“And just as Batman had the Batmobile, he is planning a ‘Stickymobile,’ he said, ‘with peanut butter and jelly guns accurate to within an eighth of an inch at a range of five feet.(1)’”
In the same report, Captain Sticky explained why he felt the need to get out there in costume.
“Nobody paid attention when he went nosing about in a pinstriped suit, under the name Richard Pesta, fighting evil, he said. So now he wears a bright blue jumpsuit, gold cape, boots, belt and helmet. Wrapped around 350 pounds of Pesta, it’s a dazzling sight.”
“When I put on my gold cape and talk to people, they talk to me,” he said. “They say ‘who are you?’ and I tell them: ‘I’m Captain Sticky, captain of the crusade against evil.’
“His full title is ‘supreme commander in chief of the World Organization against Evil,’ known as WOE, which claims 20 members, all volunteers in the never-ceasing war against crime, corruption and nastiness.
“‘Many people consider what I do fun and games, and it is,’ he said. ‘But those I’m going after consider it serious.’”
Pesta died Dec. 12, 2003 of complications from heart bypass surgery in Bangkok, Thailand. He was 57. The San Diego Union-Tribune recalled his colorful career in an obituary.
“Massive in girth and flamboyant in personality and Superman-style costume, he proudly played the role of one of America’s wackiest watchdogs.
“Based in San Diego, Mr. Pesta campaigned against everything from rental car rip-offs and sugar-coated cereal to abusive nursing homes, attracting widespread media attention in the 1970s and 1980s… In 1977, he was credited with helping to launch statewide investigations into nursing homes, resulting in tighter regulations for long-term health care.”
Captain Sticky became a small scale superhero celebrity. A song, “Stick with Captain Sticky,” described Captain Sticky’s mission to “bring the country back to the people where it belongs” to a polka march beat. He made cameo appearances in 1984’s Sex O’clock News, a comedy similar in style to the Kentucky Fried Movie, and Caged Fury, a 1989 sexploitation film starring Erik Estrada.
Unfortunately, the Captain ran into some sexploitation of his own in the 90s.
He was investigated by San Diego police for letting his home be used to film an X-rated movie. He testified against the film's producer in exchange for immunity.
By the early 1990s, he was promoting the "Real Man’s Midlife Crisis Tour" of Thailand, offering what he called “drinking, debauchery and fun stuff.” The Thai government forced him to shut it down.
"He pretty much let that Captain Sticky identity go,” Lynne Shiloh, his fiancee, says in his obit. "What he was doing on the side came to the forefront.”
In the late 90s, Pesta changed careers and became a La Jolla-based entrepreneur specializing in environmentally friendly soil products. The products were marketed under the labels Organa and Am-Kel Farms, and sold at various nurseries and home and garden centers.
THE HUMAN FLY (Disappeared)
"Frankly, I'm not worried about death," says the Fly. "I don't have a death wish. I have a life wish." -The Human Fly (in a 1976 interview with Life magazine)
A banner across the cover of The Human Fly Issue #1 reads, “The wildest super-hero ever – because he’s real!” The comic, published by Marvel in 1977, was based on a real life stuntman who supposed real name was Rick Rojatt. Reporters checking Rojatt’s claims about his past life as a stuntman revealed nothing but dead ends, adding to the mystery of who Rojatt was.
As an article in a 1976 issue of Life magazine reports,
“Rojatt, a Canadian, says he once was a Hollywood stunt man – although the California union has no record of him. He also says he was in an auto accident in North Carolina six years ago which killed his wife and 4-year-old daughter and badly injured him. He had 38 operations in four years, he says, which allowed him to walk again but left him with a body that is ‘60 percent steel parts.’ He says he conditions himself by rising at 3 a.m., running six miles and then plunging into a bathtub full of ice cubes.”
What is known is that Rojatt, no matter what his background, was a fearless daredevil. One of his first famous stunts was wing walking on a DC-8 aircraft over the Mojave Desert as the plane flew at 250 mph. Rocket builder Ky “the Rocketman” Michaelson, recalled a custom-made rocket-powered bike that the Fly contracted him to build in an entry on his website.
“In 1977, I was contracted to build a rocket-powered motorcycle capable of jumping over 27 buses. The jump was to take place in the Montreal Olympic Stadium, as a half-time show for a concert featuring Gloria Gaynor and a number of other disco stars of the 70's. The daredevil rider was Rick Rojatt, otherwise known as the Human Fly. At the time, Evel Kneivel held the record jump of 13 buses, and Rick wanted to beat it badly.”
Michaelson then recalls that the ramps weren’t built to specifications, which made him nervous about the Fly surviving the jump. As it turns out, the Fly crashed.
“My heart just pounded as I stood there, witnessing the crash landing of all crash landings right before my eyes, and a hush fell over the crowd, as we all feared the worst. It looked like nobody could have possibly survived such a crash landing. We were soon relieved though when we realized he was actually okay. He’d survived the crash, and he’d done it – he had broken Evel’s record, but not without paying the price. He waved to the crowd as he was carried off on a stretcher, suffering a broken ankle and a couple other injuries.”
The comic book was loosely based on some of the Fly’s stunts, but was given comic book treatment by writer Bill Mantlo (2) and the artists of the Marvel bullpen. For example, the Fly has to battle giant robot birds, and carry children across a metal link ladder to save them from a burning 135 story building. He also meets Spiderman and Ghost Rider, presumably none of which actually happened.
Bill Mantlo explained Marvel’s relationship with reality in the “Fly Papers” letters section of The Human Fly #5.
“First, yes, the Fly was in a car accident, and the incident shown in our books was a recreation of that. Our sources: The Fly! You tend to believe a guy who’s doing as much good – without remuneration – as he is. As for the docs who put him back together, plus some – the Fly tells us he swore them to secrecy. As far as we know he hasn’t yet stopped a bank robbery or involved himself in any way in criminal investigation – but, then, he’s not a comic book hero. We take certain license with our monthly adventures, building on the concept of the entity known as the HUMAN FLY, as opposed to documenting his every-day appearances. The newspapers and TV do that – our job is not to report, but to get the Fly’s message across in as entertaining a manner as possible.”
After 19 issues, Marvel comics pulled the plug on the series. Rojatt seems to have done one last stunt – a mysterious disappearing act. There seems to be no record of his existence after the late 70s.
1. The Stickymobile did eventually get built and is described as “a bubble-topped Lincoln with flags and flashing lights,” although there is no mention of PB and J guns.
2. Speaking with Bill Mantlo is sadly impossible. He was struck in a hit-and-run accident while rollerblading in 1992. He is in a coma and has never fully recovered.
"A Brief History of the Real Life Superhero" by Hardwire
“Captain Sticky Combats Crime” Boca Raton News- August 7, 1974
“Richard Pesta; 'Captain Sticky' championed consumer causes” (Obituary) by Jack Williams, Feb.18, 2004 San Diego Union-Tribune
THE HUMAN FLY
The Human Fly #1, 1977
Fly Papers (letter section), The Human Fly #5, 1977, Marvel comics
“What can a passenger do if the flight is booked solid? The Human Fly has one solution” By Jeffery R. Werner July 19, 1976 vol.6 no.3 People magazine