Two Daredevil villains and a pair of damaged cover logos this month.
Stilt-Man is one of those villains who has not made it into the modern age of comics with his dignity intact. It's easy to make fun of him since, after all, he's just a guy on hydraulic stilts, but that isn't really fair to the character. Created by Stan Lee and the great Wally Wood for Daredevil #8, June 1965, Stilt-Man was never intended to be a major-league villain. With the Man Without Fear being, arguably, the weakest Marvel Super-hero of the time, the challenge in creating his opponents was less to invent a formidable bad guy and more to come up with a unique and compelling look. Look at early Daredevil villains such as the Owl, Killgrave the Purple Man, the Matador, the Ani-Men, the Masked Marauder, the Leap Frog and the Gladiator. All stand out for their appearance much more so than for their abilities. Foremost among them is the Stilt-Man. Like Electro, it has become fashionable to laugh at Stilt-Man's costume but, in both cases, any laughter is misguided. Look at those outrageously long legs, at that inhuman-looking mask with the metal halo surrounding the headpiece and the mouth-covering that looks like the breathing tube of some futuristic scuba gear. Look at how Wood and later Gene Colan present us with low-angle shots so that Stilt-Man seems to tower impossibly high or high-angle shots so his legs seem to taper down to almost nothing. Imagine being in a Manhattan twentieth-floor apartment and seeing this being staring right into your window. Face it; the costume and the concept are cool. Still, the character has lost a lot of respect over the years and, at the start of this issue, even Stilt-Man himself is aware of it.
In a seedy Manhattan hotel room, Wilbur Day (short, scrawny, bespectacled, wearing blue slacks and a white sleeveless t-shirt) knocks some newspapers and magazines off a table and across the room. With Spider-Man featured in the newspaper and Doctor Octopus on the cover of "Science Illustrated", it has finally sunk in to poor Wilbur that "I'm not the man I'd intended to be. I'm a failure, a fraud! No one takes the Stilt-Man seriously anymore!"
The reason Wilbur cares what anyone thinks about Stilt-Man is because he is Stilt-Man, of course. And to prove it, there's his odd-looking headpiece sitting on the windowsill of the room. (A windowsill that isn't wide enough to hold the mask but let's not make a big deal out of that. Wilbur is feeling lousy enough as it is.) Wilbur picks up the mask and looks at it, wondering how he ever got to this point. "I was going to be rich and famous," he says as he sits on the bed, still holding the mask in front of him, "Wilbur Day was going to be the mouse that roared."
Now, if you were wondering why I didn't give my usual brief history of the character at the outset, it's because Wilbur is going to do it for us. He was working for a man named Carl Kaxton (later mistakenly called "William Klaxton" in DD #102, August 1973) back in Daredevil #8. It is Kaxton who invents the "hydraulic extension limbs" but Wilbur who sees them as useful devices for crime. He steals the limbs, creates a costume and goes on a spree as Stilt-Man (doing such things as throwing gas bombs at helicopters flying overhead, if we can believe the flashback panels in this issue) only to be stopped by Daredevil, the Man without Fear who does things like swing by with his billy-club and kick the Stilt-Man in the face. Wilbur realized that he needed more power so he modified his suit and went on another crime spree that included things like breaking a jewelry store window and reaching in to grab a large unwieldy gold watch chain. But that's when, according to Wilbur's memories, the Amazing Spider-Man, shows up. Stilt-Man extends his legs to try to get above the web-slinger but Spider-Man follows and punches him in the jaw (or perhaps in the scuba-tube part of his mask which is somewhere around his jaw). Leaping on Stilty's back, Spidey grabs the villain around the neck with his right hand while he pounds away on the metal halo with his left. "I've seen some silly super-gimmicks in my time but yours is a real laugher", Spidey says as he does this. Wilbur acknowledges in his flashback that Spidey "was right! My power, that of attaining any height, was ludicrous." But one of Stilt-Man's upgrades is stun-gas, which he releases in Spidey's face. The wall- crawler ends up on a rooftop, unconscious, as Stilt-Man makes his escape. Only to be captured by Daredevil "mere moments later". (This all, more or less, is from Daredevil #27, April 1967. A look back at that issue reveals that Stilt-Man does indeed smash the glass of a jewelry store but grabs a gold bracelet and a string of pearls instead of a watch chain.. Spidey shows up, Stilty elevates his legs and Spidey punches him in the jaw twice. But the "leaping on the back" never happens, nor does Spidey say anything about Wilbur's power being a "laugher". That's all added to aid in this issue's theme. And, yes, Stilty wins the fight by throwing a stun gas pellet at Spider- Man, though the web-slinger is left unconscious on the sidewalk, not on a rooftop as the flashback shows.)
Wilbur uses his thumb to push his glasses back up on his face as he recalls that "After that, my life became one succeeding series of defeats." He recalls that his stilt-suit was refurbished by "the computer entity F.A.U.S.T." to make it "more formidable than ever" which would have been fine except he ended up fighting the Mighty Thor and having his head handed to him (in Thor #269, March 1978). More humiliating still, Wilbur recalls, was the last time he tried to put together a comeback. Turk, a hood and semi-regular character in DD's series at the time, slipped into his window, clubbed him from behind, and stole the Stilt-Man costume. This new Stilt-Man just ended up being beaten by Daredevil as swiftly as the old one (in DD #186, September 1982).
"I suppose there's a certain irony in the fact that the power of Stilt-Man doesn't work for anyone!" Wilbur ruminates as he sits on his bed, pulls out a suitcase, opens it, and looks at the money within. This is the cash from his "last heist" and he is disappointed to see that it is running out. But, really, the money isn't all that important to him. What he really wants is for "the name of Stilt-Man to be respected and feared". Just then, he hears a report on his clock radio. (There is no evidence before this moment that the radio is even turned on.) The radio report says "Tigra, the former Avenger, joined forces with the Amazing Spider-Man, today" (which refers to Marvel Team-Up #125, January 1983). Wilbur is stunned to hear Spider-Man mentioned. He makes a fist and closes his eyes in agitation. All he can think is that Spider-Man is the only super-hero that he has ever beaten but "he's still making headlines while I've become a joke!" He kneels down and picks up his copy of the Daily Bugle. It has a variation of the same headline it almost always has: "Spider Menace" with a big headshot of the web-slinger. And Wilbur starts to wonder, "But what if I were to trounce Spider-Man again?" He opens the paper and reads even as he decides that another defeat of the wall-crawler would "revitalize my reputation and establish my credentials". But first he needs to improve the Stilt-Man armor. And wouldn't you know it? He immediately finds an article in the science section of the paper that seems to answer his purposes. Whatever it is, it is something "that will make Stilt-Man a force to be feared".
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is out and about looking for some sign of Dr. Octopus and the Owl (yet another Daredevil villain) who are engaging in a little gang war in town. (All of which goes down in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #72-79, November 1982-May 1983, some of which is detailed in the Gladiator story profiled this month.) The wall-crawler can find no sign of them so he decides to turn in for the night. He returns to his West Chelsea apartment building, lands on the roof, and slips into the skylight that leads to his bathroom. Taking his mask off, our hero reflects that he must study for his final exams and that he has a roll of film to develop for the Daily Bugle, even though the hour is quite late now. As he takes his Spidey-shirt off, Peter Parker formulates a plan for the evening: a few hours of sleep and then, possibly, an all-nighter. But first, the phone rings. He hangs his shirt on a hanger and answers it. It is Aunt May calling (so it can't be that late, can it?). Peter asks May how her new halfway house is going and May replies that "the old place is shaping up nicely", adding, "I think I'm going to enjoy being a landlady". (May moves back to the old home from the Restwell nursing facility in Marvel Team-Up #124, December 1982 and converts the house into a residence for other seniors previously living at Restwell.) May wonders when she will see Peter again. He tells her he has been busy but will visit her tomorrow. May tells him he pushes himself too hard and recommends that he take a vacation at semester's end. Pete hangs up the phone, climbs into bed, and muses, "I just might take her advice... some year!"
The next morning, Peter rides the subway. Turns out he's one of those guys who stands and holds onto one of the metal poles even though there are plenty of seats still available. He reads a book as he rides but mostly he is thinking that he got some nice photos of Ock and the Owl that "should earn me some big money". Once he drops them off at the Bugle, this should free him of financial worries enough so that he can focus on his studies. Suddenly, his spider-sense kicks in, reacting to something in the adjoining car. So, Peter rushes over to the next car to see what is going on. (There's some interesting graffiti on the walls of the subway cars including, "Stan", "Ditko", "Romita Loves...[not legible]" and "DeFalco Has... [not legible]".) But when Peter enters the other car, he notices that the tingle seems to react mostly to a mousy little man in glasses and a purple suit, clutching a briefcase to his chest. "I can't believe he's the threat!" Peter thinks, deciding that his spider-sense is probably acting up or, as he puts it, "maybe it's due for a tune-up!" (You would think, after all these years, that Peter would recognize that his spider- sense is never wrong and yet he is constantly doubting it.)
The train pulls into the next station, the doors open, and the mousy man with the briefcase starts to get off. Peter figures it can't hurt to "slap a spider- tracer on that guy" just in case but as he begins to do so, somebody leans over and picks his pocket! The thief, a black man with a Saddam Hussein moustache dressed in a green jacket and a yellow wool cap, grabs Pete's wallet and starts to run toward the end of the car. Yelling, "Stop, thief!" Peter follows. The thief is amazed that his mark actually felt him slide the wallet out of his back pocket but he's even more amazed when Peter touches him on the back of his jacket and pulls him right off his feet. There are at least two witnesses to this example of spider-adhesiveness (a blonde-haired woman in a red dress and a black-haired man in a brown suit) but neither one bothers to get involved. Instead, the police show up and pin the thief's arms back behind him. They ask Peter if he got his wallet back (he did) and tell him to let the police handle it next time. The thief is still stunned, unable to understand how Peter did what he did. And, in the general hubbub, the mousy man with the briefcase (who is, of course, Wilbur Day) gets clean away without any spider-tracer on him.
Wilbur's objective is Cordco, a subsidiary of Stark International: a big building surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire. (I hate to mention it but Peter got on the subway in Chelsea and headed uptown to the Daily Bugle Midtown office. Wilbur got off somewhere along the way. So just where is Cordco with its big barbed wire-topped fence? Over by the river? It sure doesn't look like anything that should be on the Chelsea to Midtown route.) Anyway, Wilbur walks up to Blake, the guard at the gate. Blake asks Wilbur if he has an appointment. Wilbur says he doesn't, opens his briefcase, and pulls out a canister of knockout gas even as he puts a protective mask over his own nose and mouth (he just drops the briefcase on the ground, I guess). He ties up and gags the unconscious Blake, putting him on the floor of the guard house. This gives Wilbur plenty of time before the next shift change to do what he has to do.
Wilbur enters the Cordco building and manages to avoid any other security staff that may be there. Soon, he enters the research and development labs, which is what he read about in the Daily Bugle science section. Apparently, the article talked about how "technologically advanced" the lab is and Wilbur agrees but it looks like it is just a big room with a couple of military tanks in it. Wilbur's not surprised by the sophistication since, after all, "Tony Stark is the inventive genius behind Cordco" but he's sure that Stark "never dream[ed] that Wilbur Day would put his designs to such sinister purposes". And, so saying, "Wilbur gets to work".
But over at Stark International's Long Island headquarters, a security guard named Demming enters the main security office and tells his boss Vic Martinelli that "we've got trouble". Apparently Demming has tried to contact Blake at Cordco and gotten no answer. Demming suggests that Blake may have "stepped away from his post for a minute or two" but Martinelli doesn't think so. "Blake's an old hand. He would have made sure that his shift was covered", Martinelli says. He doesn't see any need to bother Tony Stark with this yet but he does decide to look into it himself.
So, Martinelli takes his Fiat on the Long Island Expressway, passing Forest Hills on the way. There, in the Parker house, a big dinner is just finishing up. Clockwise from the head of the table on the left is Nathan Lubensky (I think, but his hair is brown in the first two panels and gray in the rest so he initially looks like Peter's fellow grad student Roger Hochberg), Peter Parker, May Parker, Martha, Arthur Chekhov (at the other head), Harriet Palermo, Victor Palermo, and Sophie. Peter holds his stomach with satisfaction and comments that Aunt May is "still the best cook in the world". But May tells Peter that Mr. Chekhov fixed this meal. Martha tells Pete that they have decided to all take turns. "Thus" says Arthur, "each meal is a true adventure". Peter holds May's chair as the group rises from the table. He offers to do the dishes but is vetoed by Martha who tells him that she and Sophie are going to do that task. Peter stands back, hands in his pockets, and watches all the happy "oldsters". He is pleased to see the idea of a boarding house working out so well. "It's been years since I've seen [May] so happy" he thinks. Still, he reflects, "that isn't going to help her pay the mortgage and taxes on this place" and that thought makes him somberly look down at the ground. Nathan Lubensky notices and rolls his wheelchair over to him. "Why the long face, Pete?" he asks. (Hey! I know that joke! A man comes up to a horse and says...) Peter lets Nathan get close enough to clamp one hand on his arm. That's his first mistake. His second mistake is to tell Nathan that he just has "a few things on my mind at the moment". Now he's in for it! He's going to get advise from Nathan Lubensky! "Trouble with the world today" Nathan says, "is that people spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing!" Then he really gets into it. He pounds his fist on the arm of his wheelchair as he tells Pete to "Look at your Aunt! She's got something to do..." and Pete finishes the thought with, "And she looks better than ever!" Peter gets the hint. He puts on his coat and prepares to leave but he tells Nathan, "You're right... having a goal does make life a lot brighter." Peter's goal, he decides is to "help Aunt May attain hers". After Peter leaves, Nathan stays in the doorway holding the door open. May has noticed that Peter left in "high spirits". She wonders what Nathan said to him. "Just a little pep talk, my dear!" says Nathan. "If Peter takes it to heart, he'll go far!"
And Peter has taken it to such heart that he has changed into his reds-and- blues and perched on the side of a chimney, with a web bag of his civvies attached beside him. Nathan has helped him to stop moping about his own problems. Now, as he adjusts his mask and refills his web-shooter with a cartridge from his belt, he figures to help Aunt May by taking some pictures of Spidey in action and giving the money to her. He web-swings though the city. To his left is a billboard that reads, "Perry's Shoes" and another that reads, "Coming Soon: The New Mutants!" (They're coming next month in The New Mutants #1, March 1983.) As he scours the city, he comes upon a Stark International security van traveling very fast with siren lights flashing. Spidey knows that these vans don't go that fast unless there's trouble so he follows. The van stops at Cordco (which, we are now told, is in Long Island City which is fine except, as we know, Wilbur got off the subway somewhere between Chelsea and Midtown). Spidey perches in a tree and watches what looks like "a security convention", guards and vehicles congregating on the outside of the security fence. The web-slinger wonders why the guards are meeting outside rather than in when he is answered by Martinelli (who has just arrived in the van) asking, "The plant's sealed off? But how?" A guard tells Martinelli that "an intruder gassed Blake and made it to the research and development lab" and that "From there, he can control access to the entire plant". Martinelli curses the stupidity of such a system and then orders a couple of guards to pull out some big guns from the back of the van. "We'll blast our way in, through the front door, if necessary" he says.
Spidey knows that will take time so he secretly leaps over the fence and bounces from one building to the next until he finds a "conveniently-located airshaft". He dives in, telling himself that he'll get better photos if he is the first on the scene.
Inside the Cordco labs, Wilbur Day has discovered that the "machines are fantastic". (Actually, the word I would use is "impossible" but that's just me.) All he has to do is program them and the machines immediately create "new alloy armor" for him that is "stronger, swifter than ever". He has already built new stilts and is already wearing them but the rest of the costume is still being assembled by waldoes and lasers and who knows what else, so he looks like Stilt-Man from the waist down and Wilbur from the waist up. While he is waiting, he decides to test the new hydraulic stilts. He pushes a "hidden control stud" and suddenly zips up from his usual five feet seven inches to "thirty feet plus"! (Fortunately the lab has fifty-foot ceilings so he is in no danger of bumping his head.) But as he gets up there, Wilbur notices somebody walking on the ceiling: Spider-Man, who tells Wilbur he'd be more impressed if "it wasn't still such a silly gimmick". Wilbur can't believe the man he planned to attack is here. "How did you know I was planning your demise?" he asks the wall-crawler. Spidey allows as how he is as surprised to find Stilty as Stilty is to find him. Then he leaps at Wilbur's head. Wilbur, however, presses that hidden stud and drops back down to normal height so that Spidey misses and has to execute a hand stand and a flip to get himself down to the ground.
Once there, he asks Stilt-Man why he is "number one on your hate parade". Wilbur tells him, even though he already told us a few pages before. Here it is again, in case you forgot it: "I defeated you years ago, my only real victory, yet never received any recognition for it. I mean to rectify that oversight today." Spidey responds by wrapping webbing all the way around the stilts but the webbing just slides right off. Wilbur tells him that the new stilts are "specially-designed silicone-coated leg-units" to which the webbing will not stick. He extends his height again and walks onto a balcony leading to the "master-computer chamber". His sudden extension and single-step to the platform is too fast for Spider-Man. He shoots webbing at Wilbur upper half but only manages to hit the door leading to the chamber. Wilbur has already made it inside. He has no plans to continue this fight until he can get into the rest of his armor. Until then, he knows just how to keep the web-spinner busy.
The master-computer chamber controls "the entire Cordco complex". How he became such a computer whiz I don't know but Wilbur programs the factory so that it becomes "an automated death-trap". Suddenly, lasers and tanks start focusing all their firepower on the Amazing Spider-Man and Spidey knows he is in trouble. His spider-sense can help to guide him and his spider-agility can keep him dodging but he can tell that he can only hold out for so long when he is attacked from everywhere at once. (There's even a laser on the end of a long metal arm that is attached to some wheels that give it mobility. I'd love to know Cordco's reason for building something like that.)
Anyway, Spidey keeps moving. He leaps up to avoid being zapped by the mobile laser's blast, then somersaults and lands on the back of a tank that looks like a crock-pot on treads. Wilbur is amazed at the sight of Spidey in action. "[He's] just a little guy, not much bigger than me" he thinks, "and yet he's holding his own against an entire factory programmed to destroy him". Then Wilbur is surprised to see that the web-slinger is "doing better than that... It almost looks like he's winning." And sure enough, Spider-Man sits on top of the crock-pot until it opens a panel to reveal three torpedo-like rockets. Then he jumps down in front of the crock-pot to give it something to aim at. The three rockets are fired and Spidey takes to his webs and moves out of the way (dodging laser blasts as he does so). The wall-crawler figures the rockets to hit the rest of the machines and put them out of commission but they lock onto his heat signature and follow him. So, he is forced to perch on the door leading to the control chamber and leap aside at the last instant. The exploding rockets make the door weak enough for Spidey to return and punch right through. Unfortunately, in the time it took to battle the machines, the rest of the Stilt-Man armor is completed and Wilbur now wears the whole outfit. (I actually thought the construction of the upper armor was taking place outside of the control chamber but, after looking back at the previous panels, I suppose I can buy that it's hanging there right outside of the control area. Only... that seems like an awful poor design for a room of this sort. Not to mention the fact that a whole lot of heat has to be generated in the making of the armor and Wilbur, about three feet away, never even breaks a sweat.)
Anyway, Wilbur rears back and flings a canister filled with gas at Spider-Man. This is what stopped the web-slinger back in DD #27 but, as the webster puts it, "I'd be pretty lame if I fell for the same stunt twice." Then he continues to talk even though, as Stilt-Man deduces, he is supposedly holding his breath. "You must inhale sometime", Stilty says. "You're right, Stilts" says Spidey, "I can hold my breath a long time but not forever!" (This talking is all still while he's supposed to be holding his breath.) There is also a fight going on amidst all this talking. Spidey comes out of the green fog of gas that has filled up the whole chamber and punches Wilbur in his halo. He follows this up with a kick in the face and then does a hand stand in the gas... or something. Maybe Stilt-Man has just thrown him to the ground. Who knows? At that point, Stilty does some sort of weird balancing act with one leg propped up against a wall while Spider-Man squats down by the side of a console and finds the "on" switch for the exhaust fans to eliminate the gas. With the air clear, Stilt-Man (who bragged that his new armor was "deadlier than ever") steps outside of the chamber onto the stairway and pulls out a canister identical to the one that released the gas. But he has also exposed himself to the machines that are still running rampant in the lab. (Get your mind out of the gutter! You know what I mean!) Spidey looks through the chamber's window and sees that a machine is pointing right at an unaware Stilt- Man. Now this device may look like a video camera to you and me but Spidey has the smarts and he recognizes it immediately as a "sonic disruptor". Good Sam that he is, the web-slinger fears that a blast from this thing could kill Wilbur, even through his armor. So, he leaps through the doorway, shoves Stilt- Man out of the way and takes the disruptor blast himself "with its full force".
Stilt-Man somehow gets from the walkway to the floor, now extended to his full height and dismantles the disruptor before it can fire again. Spidey lies unconscious on the floor, which means he must has fallen the fifty or so feet after being blasted. Wilbur looks down at him. He knows the web-slinger may have saved his life but he also knows that "no one [was] here to witness". This is his chance! He walks over to Spidey and lifts one stilt over the web- spinner's head. "I could squash him now and claim victory!" he says, "No one would ever know!" But he would know, and that is enough.
Back at the front door, Martinelli and his men are using a laser to try to blast through. Suddenly, they hear loud footsteps and a huge metal leg smashes right through the door. Stilt-Man emerges, carrying the unconscious wall- crawler in his hands. Lowering himself down to his regular height, he hands Spider-Man over to Martinelli. "You owe this wall-crawler a vote of thanks" he says, "If it hadn't been for him, I would have probably leveled your stupid plant. I don't have the stomach for that now." Then he extends to full height again. "Tell him we're even when he comes to" he says. The guards shoot at him but the bullets just bounce off and Stilt-Man turns, walks over the fence, and into the water on his way back to Manhattan.
At the scene, Spidey recovers consciousness. He sits up against a Stark International car, rubbing the back of his neck. Martinelli asks him what Stilt-Man meant. "I saved Stilt-Man's life in there, friend" says Spidey, "and, in return, he didn't take mine. Funny way of evening the odds, huh?" "Yeah" says Martinelli as he watches Stilt-Man disappear, "Funny."
The "Next Issue" blurb promises that a "new villain enters the scene" in "Shadow of Evils Past!" This is the first appearance of the Hobgoblin but we're not going there. Sorry.
So, what does Stilt-Man do with that Stark-enhanced armor? Apparently nothing for over four years. Then Tony Stark tags him as one of the many villains who has ripped off his technology. As Iron Man, Stark catches Stilty in the middle of a robbery (in Iron Man #225, December 1987) and only needs two pages to clobber him and attach a little metal box to his back that scrambles all of the Stark-designed enhancements. But you can't keep a good Stilt-Man down. He returns in a number of embarrassing appearances in such issues as Fantastic Four #336, January 1990 (in which he is immediately defeated, dissed by the cops... "You know, pal, you got the best lookin' legs I've seen since Cindy Crawford!" says one officer, "You shouldn't be hidin' 'em under those stilts!"... And ends up screaming, "Police brutality!") and Avengers Annual #19, 1990 (in which he gets taken out by Percy and Francis of the construction crew who are rebuilding a damaged Avengers mansion). So much for rehabilitating the reputation.
Spidey doesn't meet up with him again until the limited series Spider-Man/Daredevil: Unusual Suspects, January-April 2001 where Wilbur finally gets nastied up quite a bit but, sadly, hasn't been seen since.
I can't help it. I've always liked Stilt-Man. It's not the ridiculous powers or the character within that really appeal to me. It's the look. Forget about practical considerations and just imagine those long metal legs marching through the streets of New York City, topped by that weird mask that looks a little like the globe-encased Martian leader in the original Invaders From Mars. Imagine standing on Fifth Avenue and looking up. It's just got to send a chill down your spine. Unfortunately, Stilt-Man is usually played for jokes these days, which makes this issue all the more interesting. He may not be that much of a threat to Spider-Man but Stern and Mantlo take the character seriously. The scene where Stilt-Man decides to spare Spider-Man because he would know that he didn't win fairly is nicely done. The scene where Peter catches the pickpocket is priceless. And who can resist the full table of residents at Aunt May's recently opened boarding house? Bob Hall and Frank Giacoia's artwork is nothing to write home about but it's clean, straightforward storytelling and that's all that's really needed here.