The first step to mastering the Arcane Arts is recognizing patterns that others don’t see. Water, earth, air, fire. 1,2,3,4. Eternity, Infinity, Oblivion, Death. Surfer, Walker, Tamer, Lord. 1,2,3,4. Four kinds of magic. Ego-centric, Eco-centric, Exo-centric, Necromantic. Four Elder Gods. Four Cornerstones of Creation. A Sword, a Crown, a Rose, a Mirror.1234. Air, Earth, Water, Fire.
Editor Roy Thomas, Writer Mike Friedrich, and artist Dave Cockrum went out to lunch at the Autopub, a car-themed restaurant in the bowels of the General Motors building, to brainstorm. Sitting at a table made from car chassis, surrounded by monuments to assembly line production, the trio discussed the idea of replacing the old X-Men members with a multi-ethnic team of mutant heroes. Cockrum, who filled his notebooks with sketches of original costume designs, ideas for hire at the ready, was a one-man character machine. He went home and perused his files, selecting characters he’d kicked around over the years, while in college, while in the army, and while working on DC’s Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes: Typhoon. Black Cat. Mr. Steel. Thunderbird. Nightcrawler. The project went into limbo for months, however, and by the time the title was on the schedule in late 1974, Len Wein had replaced Friedrich; Typhoon and Black Cat were combined into “Storm”; Mr. Steel was “Colossus”; and Nightcrawler had evolved from an actual demon into a mutant German acrobat with a pointed tail.
(Illustration by Dave Cockrum, 1975; Text excerpted from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, 2012)
Natasha: A “case of champagne, vintage ‘52…” that’s Ivan’s way of saying he’s bringing me someone who needs help! A teenager…male… and in trouble! I’d better get suited up for action, just in case. Still, I wonder what kind of trouble a teenage boy could get into… on Christmas Eve…? Teenage Boy: Look, old-timer… I’ve been a good boy, haven’t tried to kill myself for the last three blocks. So how about fillin’ in some of the blank spaces about this boss-lady of yours? Or did a couple of lines in the local papers tell all there is to know. Ivan: No one knows all there is to know about the Black Widow, kid— no one but Ivan— and maybe not even Ivan.
Natasha’s 1970 makeover ditched her old costume and black bouffant and took the spy element out of her stories. The espionage stuff worked its way back in as spies became cool again in the last half of the decade and the early 1980s and it hasn’t let go of Natasha since. But a lot of her basic character blocks and themes were laid out during this no-spying period, and I think that’s kind of nifty— I like that there are more places to go besides back to the Red Room, repeat ad nauseam, regardless of whether Marvel’s inclined to take us there at the moment. Sometimes I look in the #black widow tag, and sometimes when I’m there I find people complaining about her. One of these complaints is: she doesn’t do anything except be a sexy Russian spy.
Back here in the old comic books where few dare to tread, she’s not a spy at all. The letters columns say they like her better as a superhero. That’s how she’s billed: a superhero straight-up in the merry Marvel manner.
But this story doesn’t twist that way. She’s not going out and swinging from rooftops waiting for Crime to run into her. She stays at home in her luxury penthouse and sends minions out to find troubled souls and bring them back to her. The problems her stories deal with are things like poverty racism, depression, urban alienation— the exact sort of thing you can’t punch. And she tries to deal with them by opening her doors, not zapping mooks with rayguns. It’s a very non traditional superhero set up, is what I’m saying. And no one in-story really knows what to make of it. Not even Ivan.
From Amazing Adventures #5, by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan.