THE BLACK WIDOWMedium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: George Kapitan (writer) and Harry Sahle (artist)
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to wear a flashy costume and maintain a dual identity while doing so. But The Black Widow was the first to do both. The only thing that clouds her claim of being the first of the superhero women is the fact that it's hard to think of her as a hero, super or otherwise. She worked for Satan himself, and her mission was to kill evildoers so her boss could get their souls sooner.
The Infernal Lord chose a psychic who called herself "Claire Voyant" (also the name of the title character in a short-lived newspaper strip created in 1943 by Jack Sparling) to be his agent. He inserted himself into one of her seances, and manipulated events so most of the clients present wound up dead. The one survivor blamed Claire, and murdered her in revenge. Satan then claimed Claire, body and soul, and transformed her into The Black Widow (who looked just like Claire except for her heavily shaded, deeply sunken eyes). This origin story appeared in Mystic Comics #4, published by the company that would eventually evolve into Marvel, with a cover date of August, 1940.
The Lord of Darkness endowed The Black Widow with various supernatural powers. Naturally, her first use of them was revenge. She materialized before her murderer in a ball of flame, then killed him by merely laying a hand on his brow — leaving his corpse with a spider shape burned into his flesh where her hand had been. Returning to Hell, she reported directly to her new boss (who, by the way, here and throughout the series, was butt naked except for a large cape that billowed enough to keep the reader from seeing his privates). He then outlined his plan for using her to accelerate the descent of evil men into his realm. The story ended with him caressing her hair.
The Black Widow's initial outing was written by George Kapitan (whose known credits are sparse, but who did some work for Lloyd Jacquet's studio, Funnies, Inc., and later wrote several Archie stories) and drawn by Harry Sahle (Candy). Despite the outstanding job they did in setting the tone, tho, their only work on the character was to get her started. Brief as her series was, The Black Widow had two more artists — Mike Sekowsky (best known for the early Justice League of America) and Stan Drake (later famous for The Heart of Juliet Jones).
Aside from the first story, The Black Widow consigned the wicked to their well-deserved fate in Mystic #s 5 and 7, USA Comics #5 (Summer, 1942) and finally, more than a year later, in a mere four-pager in All Select Comics #1 (Fall, 1943). Fascinating tho the concept was, she then sank without a trace. At no time did she appear on a cover. She did manage to inspire an apparent knock-off, MLJ's Madam Satan, but that series wasn't notably more successful.
Despite the fact that Marvel, like other comics publishers that go back to the 1940s, has strip-mined its past in search of characters to exploit, The Black Widow never appeared again during the 20th century. Satan referred to her, in her very first appearance, as "immortal", thus obviating any difficulties posed by the passage of time but then, he's the Father of Lies, so who knows? There was a single panel in Marvels #1 (January, 1994), in which writer Kurt Busiek (creator of Astro City) and artist Alex Ross (co-creator of Kingdom Come) showed someone who resembles her parachuting into a Nazi fortress, accompanied by The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and several other contemporary heroes. But as little as she resembles a "team player", and considering her access to more efficient modes of transportation, it's hard to believe that's actually her.
However, she did turn up in The Twelve #1 (March, 2008), featuring revivals of a dozen Marvel characters deliberately chosen for their obscurity. There, she was depicted much more heroic than she actually was, to the point where it's hard to reconcile this appearance with her former self.
Nonetheless, there's a character called The Black Widow kicking around the Marvel Universe even today. This one, tho, is a lot more superhero-like, and despite her own less-than-savory origins, considerably less interesting.