Or – “I Apologize, But I Must Refuse To Call Her ‘Scar Jo’ On Principle…”

I arrived at work last week to find that Deon, the owner of Gate Keep Comics and Hobbies, had purchased another longbox of comics on Saturday buying day.  But instead of the usual quarter-bin fare, he had somewhere procured a complete run of Amazing Spider-Man from #39 all the way through #250.  I’ve spent a lot of time grading and bagging these books, and among the surprises in the box was this issue, which may be of interest to fans of the upcoming Avengers movie.  I had often wondered how the Black Widow went from frumpy love interest to butt-kicking leather clad dynamo, but I had NO idea that it took place in Spider-Man’s book!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #86
Scripter: Stan Lee
Penciler: Don Heck (pgs 1-3); John Romita (layouts); Jim Mooney (pencils)
Inker: Jim Mooney
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 15 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $140.oo

Previously, in Amazing Spider-Man:  Peter Parker’s parents were murdered in the alleys of Gotham City, right before he was rocketed from the dead planet Queens to Manhattan, where he won the rights to his heroic identity by defeating all the other Amazons in feats of speed and strength.  When the radioactive ooze fell into his sewer, he lost his sight but gained cyborg limbs and a special Altroxian helmet that allowed him to channel cosmic powers in the pursuit of justice…

Or possibly something about a dying radioactive bug or some such. I don’t recall.  We open this issue with a groggy Spider-Man swinging across the skyline, heading for home, unaware that another costumed-type is watching him covertly from the shadows…

It’s interesting to see Natasha in her original ‘Mata Hari fights Black Canary’ uniform, the one she debuted in way back in 1964, when she was yet another Communist spy trying to undermine Tony Stark’s business.  Having kicked around the Marvel Universe for several years, mostly as foil for Iron Man and the Avengers, The Black Widow is having an existential quandary, mired in self-doubt and such, and (being written by Stan Lee) prone to outbursts that explain her entire past and all her various emotions.  Being as this book takes place in in closing shadows of the 1960’s, the answer to her problems lies in getting a new outfit, just like June Cleaver…

“The Swingy Seventies.”  Heh.  It’s even funnier if you imagine all of Natasha’s lines in a super-thick “Rocky & Bullwinkle” Russian accent, as I have always imagined Natasha speaking.  (If you’re interested, The Valkyrie sounds a little like the Swedish Chef.)  Fully bedecked in her new leather fighting togs, The Black Widow sets off to find and defeat the Spectacular Sensational Adjectiveless Amazing Spider-Man!

The irony of this scene is that, less than 40 issues from now, the EXACT SAME MANEUVER that the Widow uses to capture Spidey will prove fatal for Captain Stacy’s only daughter.  Oh, the joys of hindsight…  For his part, Spider-Man has found his strength and various powers fading over the last couple of issues, and is suffering from strange dizzy spells that he worries may be the end of his Spider-powers.  (I’m not sure why that would be the first expectation he would have, but Peter tends to be a giant worry-wart, especially between ’67 and ’74 or so.)  Natasha sneaks up on her prey, and nature would tell us that she’s going to bite off his head…

It’s interesting that Spidey identifies her as being “with the Avengers,” as B.W. doesn’t officially join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for another couple of years yet.  Of course, it’s kind of phenomenal that he recognizes her AT ALL given the sheer number of costumed loonies in New York, even at this stage of the Marvel U.  Spidey’s power woes continue during their clash, his strength and speed failing him at critical moments, and the fight quickly turns in favor of Ms. Romanova…

“Curvy carbon copy.”  Heh!  Stan Lee dialogue is always a hoot, especially in it’s native element like this.  I always associate the art of Jim Mooney with Silver Age Supergirl, making it interesting to see his work on the more adult (but still Bronze Age subdued) figure of the Black Widow.  (In short: hubba hubaa zoot zoot.) Fired up by the realization that he’s about to be beaten by someone trying to steal his style, Spider-Man channels his inner Doctor Dre and busts out a last-ditch effort to disarm his foe…

Aaaand, it’s a backdoor pilot…  Awww.  That’s disappointing.  This book falls at a peculiar point in Spider-Man’s history, with the wild-and-wooly Steve Ditko days in the past, but the highest highs of the Lee/Romita era still in the future.  Captain Stacy would meet his untimely end in just a few issues, leading to Harry’s freakout, six-armed Spidey, Morbius, Gerry Conway and a cold night on top of the Brooklyn Bridge…  Still and all, for all it’s relative lack of historical significance, this issue puts the Black Widow in the uniform that, give or take a chest symbol or a leather jacket, she has worn for four decades now, lending it a strange ‘turning point’ vibe.  Amazing Spider-Man #86 is, by today’s standards, a strange use of Marvel’s flagship title to springboard a new series, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall. My greatest disappointment in this issue is that layout artist John Romita (known for drawing phenomenal redheads) doesn’t handle all the Black Widow art himself…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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6 Comments

  1. Jeremy Patterson
    April 22, 2012 at 9:49 pm — Reply

    All of Madame Natasha’s previous appearances have her with BLACK HAIR!

    J.A.P.

  2. Armaan
    April 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm — Reply

    Just saying, I think Gwen Stacy was waaaaay further down the bridge when Spidey caught her ankle with his webline, plus she was hurled violently by an enhanced-strength Green Goblin, plus she didn’t have a body infused with the proportionate strength of a spider, and I can’t believe Black Widow originally looked like that!

  3. Oldcomicfan
    April 23, 2012 at 5:51 am — Reply

    This issue was an example of why I started to get disenchanted with Marvel. There weren’t comic book stores back when this issue was printed, and the grocery stores and drug stores were unreliable sources because you were never sure of getting the next issue. The only solution was to subscribe through the mails. The nice thing about this was you’d actually get the issues a week or so before they showed up in the mail. I was a great spiderman fan in the day, but stories like this, which had no point other than to introduce or showcase some third string character by having them show up in spidey’s book and attack him for no reason that made any sense – this one was a case in point. How did she thinking beating up spidey would “get” her his powers? Did she think he got his powers from a ring he got in a box of crackerjacks? Cue the Boris and Natasha voice: “Ha ha, Spidor man! My schwartz is bigger than yours!” Another thing that annoyed about this issue in particular was that Black Widow looked exactly like Mary Jane Watson only with a bit more hair and no facial mole. I expected her to bust out with “It’s your lucky day, Tiger!” at any moment. Though maybe in a Boris and Natasha voice.

  4. Oldcomicfan
    April 23, 2012 at 5:54 am — Reply

    Oh, sorry, I meant a week or so before they showed up in the stores. The final straw that ended my love affair with Marvel comics was Secret Wars. Aside from a brief fling with the X-men in the early 80s, and the first dozen or so Epic graphic novels, I haven’t paid them much mind.

  5. Adam Murray
    April 23, 2012 at 6:19 am — Reply

    “And now that we’ve concluded one of the longest scene setting introductions in comic book history lets see if we can get our story started while we are still young enough to care…”
    I imagine whenever Rodrigo goes through a 70’s era comic, every text box reads as some variation of this sentence. :)

    By the way, was this the backdoor pilot for Marvel Team-Up? It certainly feels like the Team-Up format of storytelling.

  6. Dan
    May 9, 2012 at 4:32 am — Reply

    Since The Black Widow is featured in Amazing Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth storyline, does anyone else feels that she should be one of his reoccuring crime fighting partner as a alternative to The Black Cat? I figured since The Black Cat has crossed over to Daredevil’s world, I feel that an exchange for The Black Widow could be ideal since we rarely ever see Spider-Man and The Black Widow working together. I feel that she should have been one of his longstanding crime fighting partners. I like to see more team-up stories between them. Don’t you agree?

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