Friday, September 2, 2011

Character Profile: The Original Black Widow
Long before Natasha Romanoff made her debut as the Black Widow in Marvel Comics' Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964), there was another costumed character with that code name running around the pre-Marvel Universe during the Golden Age of comics. Marvel Comics' predecessor, Atlas Comics, introduced the original Black Widow (real name Claire Voyant) in Mystic Comics #4 (August 1940), in a seven-page story scripted by George Kaplan and drawn by Harry Sahle.

The Black Widow debuts
(Mystic Comics #4)
Her origin story and mission are not typical super-hero fare. As the story opens, Claire Voyant is a psychic medium (go figure!) who unwillingly places a curse on her clients while under Satan's influence. She is subsequently murdered one of those she cursed and falls into Satan's clutches. In a true "devil's bargain," Claire agrees to become Satan's agent of vengeance on earth and claims her murderer's soul on her first outing. (Can you say "set up"?)

Unfortunately, the Black Widow makes only four more appearances during the Golden Age. Despite her dark motivations, she seems to be evolving into a more well rounded character -- breaking protocol to use her powers to help an innocent -- just before vanishing into comic book limbo.

Limbo cracks open in Marvels #1 (January 1994), in which we get a glimpse of the Black Widow parachuting into Berlin with a host of other costumed characters near the end of World War II, and in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9 (Febuary 2005), in which we see her fighting machine-gun toting gangsters alonside fellow Golden Agers The Angel, The Falcon and The Challenger in a one-panel flashback.

Chris Weston's Black Widow
character study (The Twelve #0)
Skip ahead to 2008 and the debut of J. Michael Strazynski's The Twelve. The Black Widow is one of (you guessed it) 12 heroes not seen since World War II. Turns out they were captured by Nazis during the siege of Berlin (see Marvels #1) and placed in suspended animation. Finally revived in "2008" (darn that floating timeline), they have to come to terms with the modern world and accept the loss of everything -- and everyone -- they knew in their old lives.

The Black Widow, however, can't shake her origins (somewhat modified now but still resulting in a deal with the devil) and seems to fall under Satan's control again. I say seems because, as of the 8th issue of the 12-issue series, we've yet to actually see her do any killing, despite the growing body count and heavy implications.

The Twelve has been on hiatus since issue #8 (December 2008) due to scheduling issues with Strazynski but is finally slated to resume in 2012. The scripts have all been turned in, and artist Chris Weston is no doubt hard at work bringing the stories to life.

The Black Widow and friends take the war to Hitler (Marvels #1)

  • All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z #2 (2006)
  • All-Select Comics #1 (Fall 1943)
  • Avataars: Covenant of the Shield #2 (Oct 2000)
  • King-Size Spider-Man Summer Special #1 (Oct 2008)
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9 (Feb 2005)
  • Marvel Mystery Handbook: 70th Anniversary Special (Nov 2009)
  • Marvels #1 (Jan 1994)
  • Mystic Comics #4 (Aug 1940), #5 (Mar 1941) and #7 (Dec 1941)
  • The Twelve #0-8 (Feb-Dec 2008)
  • The Twelve: Spearhead #1 (May 2010)
  • USA Comics #5 (Summer 1942)

NOTE: The Black Widow sort of appears in Avengers/Invaders #9-12 (2009) -- Ms. Marvel temporarily assumes her costumed identity when circumstances force the two teams to time travel back to 1943.

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