One of the major issues that arose from the erratic distribution of Marvel colour comics in 70s Lanarkshire was a scarcity of first issues. I got on the ground floor with very few titles between 1975 and 1979. On the rare occasion I did so, however, I became very attached to the characters. Today, we’re celebrating the fortieth anniversary of one such hero: Black Goliath.
Of course, BG had appeared nearly a decade earlier in the first Avengers/Sons of the Serpent storyline. In his civilian identity as a scientist, Bill Foster was a ground-breaking supporting character- even though he was only Hank Pym’s assistant.
Tony Isabella revived Foster as the alter ego for Marvel’s third incarnation of Goliath- as an antagonist for both Luke Cage and the Circus of Crime. I didn’t actually read that first part until 78, I reckon, in one of the Marvel Grab Bags my brother and I bought in Morecambe that summer.
In early 79, however, I did buy BG’s first issue in Strathaven and I had been intrigued by his Amazing Five-style supporting cast, The Whiz Kids. His first villain was a rather silly -looking nuclear menace called Atom Smasher who would be very significant in years to come. I wasn’t wild about George Tuska’s art in those days but the script seemed more sophisticated than many other contemporary Marvels.
My next issue was number 4, with a Kirby cover; a script by the great dramatist and sci-fi fan, Chris Claremont; and the antagonist was that ancient Daredevil villain, the Stilt-Man.
I didn’t read issues 3 and 5 until the early 80s. Foster’s adventure on an alien desert world was part of another Grab Bag, from Lewis’s in Glasgow.
BG was immediately a casualty to poor sales but went on to guest-star, in 77, with his LA neighbours, the Champions, drawn by a fledgling John Byrne. Isabella, of course, had originated the group and has blogged about his own intention to add BG to their ranks.
Bill Mantlo, the next Champions scribe, also featured BG in a team-up with the Thing where they fought a very old Ant-Man foe, The Hijacker. Goliath never had the longevity or success of Isabella’s Black Lightning, who felt very much like a DC attempt, some years after the fact, to ape Marvel’s grindcore house style of the early 70s. Perhaps the derivative villains played a part in that, despite the dynamism of a giant hero and the West Coast milieu.
The next phase of the character’s life was again derived from Henry Pym. He was re-christened Giant-Man in the Project Pegasus storyline in MTIO. I was a big fan of this arc- even though, as usual, I’d missed the first part.
John Byrne gave Giant-Man a new costume-dispensing with the 70s colour and bizarre midriff window. And now we had a classic Marvel dilemma as Foster announced he had radiation poisoning after his first clash with Atom-Smasher.
The story of Foster’s cancer was a major subplot in the early- 80s Marvel-Two-In One. After he was cured, the character lay low until the summer of 1988 and the “Evolutionary War” annual of the West Coast Avengers. Giant-Man was back.
When Englehart left the Wackos, John Byrne made no attempt to follow up Foster’s allegiance with Mockingbird’s spin-off group. Bill Foster made a brief appearance in the Avengers in the early 90s but then vanished again.
BG met an ignominious end, however, as a casualty of Mark Millar’s 2006-7 Civil War, killed by a clone of Thor. *sighs* A legacy version then appeared in World War Hulk but the image of DNA being harvested from Foster’s corpse in the Bendis’ Avengers seemed like another slap in the face.
On a happier note, a more elderly Foster appeared in the late 90s A-Next series. Here, his own son took on the Kree costume and weaponry of 1968 Mar-Vell as the Earth Sentry. A terrible name from the originator of Thunderstrike but some respect at least for creators who came before.
So, yes: Black Goliath was a faddy, unloved, rather patronising attempt to create a black solo star in the ghetto-tastic 70s. He never had the cool of his Afro-wearing “cousin”, Jefferson Pierce. But let’s remember him with the tv narration-style blurb from BG issue 1:” Dr. William Barrett Foster, DSc, PhD – a child of the GHETTO who has pulled himself up out of the Los Angeles slums to become director of one of the nation’s most prestigious research labs. A man whose research has given him the power to instantaneously grow to a height of FIFTEEN FEET, with the strength of a TRUE GIANT. A man who has become… a HERO.”
Coming soon: Ten Years of Doctor Who
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