Thursday, May 5, 2016

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE MANY FOES OF BLACK GOLIATH

"...For the next five issues anyway!"

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Black Goliath, a character who was given something only vaguely resembling a fair chance with his own title and who I thought made for a compelling hero. You have here a self-made man, a heartbroken and hard-working genius with a gruesome stint in Vietnam dogging his memories, whose scientific abilities improved on the work of one of Marvel's consistently-billed "greatest minds in the world," and who ended up kind of murdered by two of Marvel's top-billed superheroes with effectively no repercussions. That ... that last part should have been addressed at some point.

For five issues between February 1975 and November 1976, however, Black Goliath was given a chance to helm his own title. The end result was ... mixed. The giant-sized scientist's alter-ego of Bill Foster was given a wan supporting cast, a sort-of vague super-scientific job, and some relatively well-trod nail-biting and clothes-rending about the Black Power movement, which every black superhero in the Seventies needed to be seen denouncing in some form of the other, at least once, if they had their own title. When Chris Claremont took over, Goliath's cultural concerns took a backseat to some star-spanning superheroics, none of which was particularly memorable. On the other hand, at least it was ramping him up to first-level heroics.

Along with all the other trappings of his spandex peers, Goliath picked up a small roster of superfoes in the pages of his book --- most of whom are pretty much dead now, so that's worked out well. Let's take a look at Bill Foster's ironically diminutive rogues gallery ...

"We do take pre-orders, though."
THESE IDIOTS
In Goliath's first issue, he was accosted in the streets by a trio of switchblade-wielding smartasses, Decked out in what I suppose passes for urban gear -- a turtleneck and a fedora? A porkpie and a cigarette? I think these might be Mingus' band -- these incorrigible kids assault Bill Foster as he indulges in misty nostalgia on the site of his former stamping grounds in Watts. For their troubles, two of them end up getting knocked about fifteen feet parallel to the street by a flung garbage can, and the other one gets tied in a steel knot at the top of a streetlight. At least they made it out alive, which you can't say for everyone.

"Oh my god, he called me HIS gigantic fool.
He must truly love me after all!"
ATOM-SMASHER
For instance, there's Atom-Smasher -- a radioactive rogue whose scalp is consistently orbited by little intersecting lines -- the classic cartoon shorthand for "dizzy, drunk or dazed." He may as well have had little singing birdies flapping around his noggin.

Breaking into Foster's super-secret lab for a shipment of radium, the energy-emitting evildoer leads a squad of tangerine-colored compadres straight into a confrontation with Black Goliath. Despite possessing the power to convert his body into pure, destructive energy, his initial outing ends in spectacular failure -- he inadvertently ignites "ten million gallons of gasoline" under his very feet. Well, baby steps, man, baby steps ...

If that failure weren't enough, Atom-Smasher not only ends up defeated but dead -- shot through the brainpan by a sniper presumably hired by his employer to tie up loose ends. I think those little head-things made for a good target.

By Krom!
VULCAN
Following Atom-Smasher's attempt to steal things from Bill Foster's lab, Vulcan came around to steal things from Bill Foster's lab. Popular lab.

Bearing the deformity of his namesake, Vulcan also possessed the almost-mandatory tremendous size required of Black Goliath's enemies, as well as superhuman strength and a set of highly-destructive wrist blasters which we never really see in action (he blows up a wall in silhouette, but it's not the clearest indicator of a superpower). In spite of his considerable power, he nonetheless relies on a bunch of hopped-up motorcycle weirdos to carry out his basic thieving and such. He manages to make it out of his encounter with Goliath intact, if you don't count how he was a messed-up lookin' giant freako in the first place.

"By which I mean ... tall!"
STILT-MAN
It's mandatory to borrow a villain from another hero when you're starting out, and it's always worthwhile to plump Daredevil's rogues gallery. After all, half of those guys he borrowed from Spider-Man and Thor in the first place.

If you're going to go for tall bad guys, then, you'll want to go with Stilt-Man, a villain who possesses the proportionate power of stilts! Bitten by radioactive stilts as a child, Stilt-Man grows up with the ability to be pretty unbalanced when standing still, and to play one of those rabbity lookin' things in The Dark Crystal.

The greatest shame of Stilt-Man is that he manages to beat Black Goliath. That's gonna look bad on the ol' CV.

MORTAG
When Goliath's adventures go intergalactic, it's Mortag - conveniently a fifteen foot tall alien villain - who's there to meet him. Guarding the super-scientific redoubt of Kirgar, Mortag's mission is to kill any who wander through its threshhold. Which Goliath and his pals do, including a soon-to-be-heroically-sacrificed alien buddy who looks like a squid crossed with a goldfish crossed with a Ren Faire.

Dude, look at your eyes. You are super-high.

And that's it, not counting two established white superheroes who apparently are allowed by law to sic cyborg clones of Norwegian death metal album covers on unsuspecting superheroes -- his most dangerous foes of all!

5 comments:

neofishboy said...

At first I thought that panel read “Great. While I’m pwned by the sniper …” and was greatly confused.

O. Douglas Jennings said...

Interesting that a more recent version of Goliath, also with the name William Foster was killed by a Thor clone in Marvel's comic story arc of the Civil War saga.

Tom said...

Wait, I thought Vulcan's deformity was that he had a shriveled leg and he had to get around with the help of the two little robots he built, which seems like a pretty good visual for a mad scientist villain but not so much for a big strong guy.

Count Otto Black said...

Poor old Black Goliath's biggest problem was that one day, Marvel suddenly realized they had hardly any black characters, and, terrified of being perceived as racist, ordered their (entirely white) creative team to come up with a whole bunch of them overnight. Not surprisingly, the results weren't particularly inspired, and none of them lasted, apart from the Black Panther and the Falcon, both of whom had been invented some time previously in much less of a hurry, and Power Man, who doesn't call himself that any more.

The silliest aspect of most of these desperately contrived characters was that they had to have "black" in their names to constantly remind readers that the hero really was a black man, despite the redundancy of this in a medium as visual as comic books. I mean, look at that cover - if the comic was just called "Goliath", would we somehow think that guy was caucasian? Apparently so, because the baddies he's fighting are literally whiter than white in case we don't get the message! And even that's not the full story! Look at those two passers-by on the left. BG is not only fighting baddies who have apparently been dipped in bleach, the innocent bystanders all appear to be albinos, except possibly that partially obscured fellow who seems to have lost his shirt. By the way, don't you just love the facial expression of the bald bleached baddie on the right? There's a man whose underwear definitely wishes that right now it was being worn by somebody else!

Strangely enough, when, not long after BG and most of his pals had sunk without trace, it was pointed out that Marvel's heroic roster was extremely short on Jews, they didn't hastily coil out lots of dismal new characters with names like Kosher Avenger or Steel Rabbi (which from the point of view of this blog is a great pity), but instead retconned anyone with racially unclassifiable facial features like the Thing to have been Jewish all along, they just never mentioned it before.

Moondarq said...

It still pisses me off that Tony Stark rationalizes Foster's death by saying he was killed while resisting arrest, as if the Thor clone had used reasonable force. And were they trying to make a point by having it be an African American hero killed by the supercops for resisting arrest?

Also it pisses me off that Foster, a smart and fairly experienced superhero would have tried to go one-on-one against Thor anyway.

And we're supposed to feel better when Hercules punches the Thor clone's head off. Yay, Foster's murderer is avenged? But Stark and whoever else responsible for making a psychotic Thor clone in the first place get off with no consequences?

And then Stark gets to yell at Carol Danvers about Rhodey getting killed in Civil War II?

Sorry. I'm still a little bitter.

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