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On The Other Hand... Stilt-Man

Written by Logan on Monday, April 25 2016 and posted in Columns

On The Other Hand... Stilt-Man

Gaze in wonder at Marvel's tallest super villain!

In modern comics, The Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) is Daredevil's greatest foe. It wasn't always so. DD first appeared in 1964 and as with any good hero he needed some good villains. What followed was almost two decades of villainous absurdity. Daredevil's early rogues gallery is one of the worst, least threatening assemblies ever seen in comics. If a hero is judged by his foes, then Daredevil was not looking impressive.

The comic book world was different in 1964. Daredevil was not yet the grim hero we see on Netflix today. He was more of a swashbuckler who threw out quips nearly as well as Spider-Man. His villains were expected to be similarly colorful. To be fair, Spidey had an awful lot of clunkers, too. This was a time when bad guys were there to suffer defeat and humiliation. Their job was to lose. Jobbers are there to make the hero look good, and in 1964 every villain started as a jobber. The threat level was never very high.

For daredevil no8Daredevil, villain credibility was a long way off. Kingpin was Spidey's foe at that time. Bullseye wouldn't appear until 1976. We wouldn't meet Elektra until 1981. Instead, he fought opponents such as The Matador, The Masked Marauder, The Jester, and the Owl. He had not one but two frog themed foes, including the larcenous Leap-Frog!

And then there's Stilt-Man.

Appearing in Daredevil #8 (1964), Stilt-Man immediately stood out from the crowd, pun intended. Today people often hold Stilt-Man up as the perfect example of a truly lame villain. "He's a loser! He sucks!"

Is he a loser? Well, in the literal sense, yes, he is a loser. He never wins, and he probably never will. But that's his job. He's a jobber, a fish, a redshirt, a villain that can never win. They are born to lose, and nobody could lose like Stilt-Man.

Does he suck? No, you suck! Stilt-Man is awesome and underrated. His legend has endured for over forty years despite being a laughing stock. It's easy to see why he seems so ridiculous at first glance. His powers can be summarized as "his legs grow really long." Early on, he was something of a stylized second-story man. His gimmick was to raise himself up to high windows so that he could reach inside and steal goods. When you say it like that, no, it's not very impressive. And certainly not very intimidating. Yet, for many years he was Daredevil's most persistent and dangerous foe. Let's take a closer look at Stilt-Man, a villain ahead of his time.

Walking Tall

TheStilt-Man Armor specs first thing you'll notice is that he's wearing a battle suit. Armored characters are a dime-a-dozen today, but in 1964 they were rare. Iron Man appeared in 1963, less than a year earlier. When Wilbur Day designed and built original Stilt-Man suit it was bleeding edge technology. Along with standard features such as enhanced strength and protection, the suit contained several miraculous devices.

The main gist of the suit is those amazing legs. They don't merely get longer, they extend up to 300 feet. That's as high as a thirty story building. He's grabbed helicopters from the street. When you think about it, the technology to do that is astounding! Even Doc Ock's arms don't have that kind of extension. That's a Mister Fantastic level of stretching.

And they're strong! The legs are potent weapons when used offensively. They easily punch through concrete and brick. He even stunned Thor once by use of sudden extension! Before long he made them non-stick, too, so that Spider-Man could not cling to them.

The tallest stilts ever mastered in the real world measured 53 ft 10 in. Saimaiti Yiming of China was able to walk a distance of only ten steps on them without touching his safety lines. Walking on stilts 300 feet high would be tricky at best. In order to maintain his balance, Wilbur equipped the suit with "gyroscopic displacers." They make it almost impossible for him to fall over. Sound familiar? That's right, Stilt-Man invented Segway technology.

The impact of being extremely tall just doesn't translate to the comic book page. I've seen firsthand how impressive even short stilts can make a person, though. Years ago, I was a stage manager for a theme park Halloween event. I was in charge of a group of stilt-walkers in my area. Disguised as trees, they wore drywall stilts that made them seven to eight feet tall. It was a great effect, and quite disconcerting if you're not used to it. They scared the hell out of people. That was when I started to realize just how intimidating facing a character like Stilt-Man could actually be. If you've ever stood next to Andre the Giant or Yao Ming, you know that feeling. Now multiply that feeling by eleven.

Sun Tzu writes of the tactical advantage of having the higher ground. Stilt-Man has the highest ground. Remember that the power of flight was exceedingly rare in Marvel characters in 1964. Spider-Man had one flying foe and Daredevil had no flying foes at all. Even The Owl could only glide. If you can't fly, being very, very tall is a good alternative.

Now add an assortment of weapons such as Z-Ray guns, stun gas bombs, and recoilless rockets. Much later, he added telescoping arms. Stilt-Man is not an opponent you can overlook.

Head in the Clouds

At least he wouldn't be if he wasn't such a terrible crook. Impressive as the suit is, it didn't make him as invincible as he boasted. (He actually thought this armor would make him the "master of the world!" Wilbur was an engineering genius but a delusional criminal.) During his long career, Wilbur would take on Daredevil countless times. He also fought many other Marvel heroes. He challenged Spider-Man, Thor(!), The Falcon, and others. He was one of the original Emissaries of Evil. Marvel even tried to give him a push as Black Goliath's primary nemesis for a short time.

Wilbur was not a good criminal, though, just a persistent one. His repeated failures over the years would finally convince him to give up the villain life. He retired and the suit was stolen. He teamed up with his nemesis, Daredevil, to bring the impostor down. He would break bad a few more times, but he never found success. During the Civil War event, as he was deciding to go legit, he ran into the Punisher.

Frank shot him in the crotch with a LAW rocket and then put a bullet through his brain. Wilbur Day, the original Stilt-Man, was dead. (And people wonder why I hate the Punisher so much.)

stil-man funeralsmll

A wake was held for him at The Bar With No Name and numerous villainous mourners showed up. Don't weep for Wilbur Day, though. It seems he found at least one incredible taste of success; he was married to Princess Python! (Seriously.)

Wilbur Day was the first, but he was not the last. Several others would fill his very big shoes. The current owner of wore the remarkable Stilt-Man armor started her criminal career calling herself Lady Stilt-Man as an homage to Wilbur, which caused no small amount of gender confusion. Later she would drop Lady and become just Stilt-Man. Then there was The Bastard Sons of Wilbur Day, an "anti-superhero anarchist techno-terror cell" that named themselves in his honor. The fact that we can discuss Stilt-Man's legacy says he's no mere loser.

Feet on the Ground

Stilt-Man is a controversial figure today. For many of us he is a beloved part of the Daredevil mythos. But he simply doesn't fit into Daredevil's darker modern world anymore. You would never see him on the Netflix show.

Melvin's building it!Or would you? Take a look in Melvin's workshop the next time you watch. Melvin is building the Stilt-Man suit. You have to look for it, but there are some camera shots where it is undeniable. Could we see Stilt-Man on TV someday??

Not a chance, let's be realistic. But some of us will never give up hope of seeing this whimsical, lovable loser come to life before our eyes. Until then, we will have to settle for our super rare Stilt-Man HeroClix figures like the one on my desk right now. Or you could build your own Stilt-Man action figure. Without an official release, he is a favorite subject for custom modders everywhere.

The long and short of it is this: Stilt-Man is a super-villain built upon the concept that his legs grow very long that has lasted for over forty years. That is fantastic. I challenge you not to smile when you see Stilt-Man in a book. In fact, the next time you got to a fair or carnival and see a stilt walker you're going to think of Wilbur Day, and repeat after Spider-Man ... "Thank God for Stilt-Man!"

"On The Other Hand" is a column of unrepentant nostalgia in a superhero world suffering from an overdeveloped sense of maturity. Between Stilt-Man and Leap-Frog, Daredevil started off with two footwear themed foes. Maybe that's why he was without fear.

Thank god for stilt man!


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