Thursday, August 13, 2009

Groovy Guest Post: The Million Dollar Debut of the Fury-ous Bat Widow!

Greetings, Groove-ophiles! Here's another Groovy Guest Post via the talents of sensational Sharon K! This time we're taking a look at two of the greatest super-gals of the Groovy Age in a whole new light...

Hey, kids, remember way back in 1970, when Marvel saw the light and finally awarded one of its heroines—namely the Black Widow-- her very own ongoing feature (uh, sorry, Millie and Chili, please understand--we’re talking action mags and superheroes and all that jazz here!). But first, the House of Ideas decided Madame Natasha needed to undergo a Swan-like makeover, courtesy of John Romita, Sr.—after all Natasha had been around since 1964 but she wasn’t exactly a marquee name, so some sprucing up was in order… and it certainly wouldn’t do to have their new headliner looking like a Black Canary manqué, would it?

Romita transformed Natasha into a ravishing redheaded, her lithe, athletic form now clad in a dark, skintight bodysuit. The Widow would occasionally make use of some fancy gadgetry, but who would typically rely on nothing but her fighting prowess and her inborn smarts to battle evil and corruption…hey, you know something? --this “new” Widow sounds an awful lot like…

… that Dominoed Daredoll herself—Batgirl!

Batgirl had debuted a few years earlier over at DC, but permit me to lay some groundwork here. Back in the 1940s, there was a crime-fighting costumed heroine called Miss Fury, created by the cartoonist Tarpé Mills—herself a female…and yes, Miss Fury was the first costumed heroine to created by a female. (And Miss Fury’s exploits were presented in comic strips, and they were so popular her stories were later on collected and reprinted in comic books.) Anyway, to start at her beginning: Miss Fury is really socialite Marla Drake, who is preparing to attend a costume party when she discovers that someone else will be appearing in—horrors! —the same costume. So Drake decides to don a black panther skin she happens to have lying around (it was given to her by her uncle, an explorer). The panther outerwear happens to fit her perfectly; in fact, it hugs her every curve, as befits any self-respecting heroine. Ensconced in such form-fitting finery, Drake departs for the party but she never reaches her festive destination—instead, she battles some baddies on her way and so embarks on an exciting career as Miss Fury!

Flash forward to 1966. The Batman TV show was all the rage, the show’s creators of the Batman wanted to add a new character for girls to identify with and boys to drool over. This edict was conveyed to Carmine Infantino and so in Detective Comics #359 we’re treated to the “Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!”

In this story, redheaded librarian Barbara Gordon is on her way to the policemen’s ball masquerade party. Her costume of choice? A figure-hugging, dusky bodysuit accented with Batman accoutrements —in other words, a “Batgirl” costume.

Wouldn’t you know it, en route to the party Barbara stumbles across some baddies. Does she contact her father, who happens to be the police commissioner? Nope; instead faster than you can say “Miss Fury”, Babs peels down to her costume and battles the bad guys on her own. She’s now Batgirl for real. (And wouldn’t you know it, she never makes it to her party.)

Flash forward again--this time to 1970-- when Romita discarded Natasha’s fishnets/bathing suit Canary combo and replaced it with an all-in-one. Sure, the popular TV Avengers Emma Peel look was all the rage back then and Peel’s fashionable jumpsuit undoubtedly influenced Romita; but as reported in the book John Romita and All That Jazz (and elsewhere), Romita states he based the Black Widow’s sleek new look on - -Miss Fury!

But now not only was the Widow’s new costume now entirely black (with the obligatory blue or gray highlights), it also boasted yellow trimmings—belt, Widow’s Bite bracelets—à la Batgirl’s belt…or insignia…or… And after years of being a raven-haired babe, all of a sudden the Widow was sporting long, red flowing locks. Maybe it was Romita’s way of paying homage to--oh, I don’t know, his beloved Mary Jane Watson…or the durable Chili…or Patsy Walker…but somehow I doubt it.

So did was Romita inspired by Miss Fury-- or Miss Fury by way of Batgirl? I know what I think—what about you?

1 comment:

  1. Sharon,
    I haven't read John Romita's book, so the news that he'd based the revised Black Window costume on the Black Fury's was a revelation.

    Another heroine who was interrupted on her way to a party and took up crime-fighting was the Silver Scorpion (Elisabeth Barstow).



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