Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Black Widow, Hawkeye and her co-creator dashing Don Heck

The Black Widow is one of  Marvel's most interesting characters. Of all of Marvel's early female characters, the Black Widow was one of their most independent and modern superheroines. While Janet van Dyne, (the Wasp) was chasing Hank Pym (Goliath) and Sue Storm (the Invisible Girl) was having Reed Richard's baby, Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow) was working in international espionage for S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters of International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division) as well as being Marvel's first superheroine to get her own solo feature in Amazing Adventures. How did her character come about? Was she always so emancipated? Who were her creators? Let's take a look.

The Black Widow first appeared as a fem fatale Russian spy in Tales of Suspense #52, April 1964 as told by Stan Lee  (plotter), Don Rico (N. Korok, scripter) and Don Heck (artist).

In her first appearance, Natasha Romanoff, code name Black Widow, was sent to America to do away with the defector, Anton Vanko, a.k.a. the Crimson Dynamo and to get Tony Stark's (Iron Man) technological secrets.

Tales of Suspense #52, April 1964
This was when she was just a Russian spy who's only power was her stunning beauty and charm which she used to manipulate powerful, superficial men like Tony Stark.

The Black Widow stole a new invention of Tony Stark's through her irresistible charms in Tales of Suspense #53, May 1964

The Black Widow would become a reoccurring character in Tales of Suspense using her female charms to steal Tony Stark's technology for her Communist superiors. 

Unlike his Marvel contemporaries, Jack 'king' Kirby and 'sturdy' Steve Ditko, who were idolized by fandom, Don Heck was an unsung workhorse of Marvel's Silver Age. He was the original artist on Iron Man and was a co-creator of Black Widow, Hawkeye and many Iron Man villains like the Mandarin and the Crimson Dynamo. Without him the Marvel Universe would have been poorer for it.

Don Heck said in an interview about his work, Tales of Suspense was fun to do, especially in the beginning. There were two characters, Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, that I enjoyed doing. To me, Happy was a pug, so it was great. And Tony Stark was the man-about-town type of thing, so that worked out fine. There was more characterization at the time and I had more fun with it. That was the first time that I started to work with getting a synopsis. The synopsis usually wasn’t even that much, at times it was just discussed over the phone.”

The early Black Widow's power was seducing men into doing her bidding. She would use this power on a young Hawkeye, to help her destroy Iron Man (but not Tony Stark, seeing as how Natasha had the hots for him) as told in Tales of Suspense #57, Sep 1964.

From Tales of Suspense #57, Sep 1964
The Black Widow was too good a character to leave on the sidelines while men did her bidding so Stan and crew eventually made the Black Widow an official superbeing by giving her gadgets and a costume in Tales of Suspense #64, May 1965, so that she was able to compete with the big boys.

After some time apart, Natasha reconnects with her lover/play thing, Hawkeye in Tales of Suspense #64, May 1965, with a new scheme in mind.
In an interview Don talks about how it happened that he started working at Marvel, "Pete Morisi had gone up there to see Stan Lee and Pete had brought a book with him, on which he had done some work for Media. And Stan kept pointing at my stories, and he finally said„ “If you want Don Heck to come up here, why the hell don’t you tell me —he’s looking for work, too.” (Laughter.) Pete called me but I was gone for a few days. I finally went up to see Stan Lee and he went outside to look at my work and looked at two pages and he said, “1 know what the hell you can do for me, I’ve got a job for you.” And that was September 1, 1954."

by 1965 Marvel was growing by leaps and bounds and needed to expand so Stan Lee put some fresh blood in the Avengers which included the upstart archer, Hawkeye though it seems that the Black Widow didn't make the cut and was brushed aside like so much chaff.

from Avengers #16, May 1965
Though gone, the Black Widow was not forgotten and in Avengers #29, June 1966, she came back as a super villain with a new scheme to do away with Iron Man and crew.

from Avengers #29, June 1966

But, it seems that the master manipulator became the manipulated, when General Chen brainwashed her into do their bidding.

Natasha begins to question her superiors in Avengers #30, July 1966
Unfortunately for Chen the brainwashing didn't stick and the Black Widow went against her recruited allies to save Hawkeye.

Natasha convinces Hawkeye of her love for him in Avengers #30, July 1966
At first Don found working for Stan a little bit of a stretch, not being used to the "Marvel method" of script writing, “I'd been so used to working from scripts, but when I returned to Marvel Stan said, "I'm going to give you a synopsis."  Jack Kirby was used to something like that because he was also a writer. For me it was suddenly that someone says, "You're going to do it!" I said, "I'll try it, but it's your gamble, not mine. I'm going to get paid for this." Then we started to work out the system."

Don goes on to describe the "Marvel method" of script writing, "Stan Lee used to give you the first three pages, tell you who the character was fighting, and give you the last couple of pages so you'd know how it ended, and in between you'd put about fifteen pages of stuff. "

Overcoming her captors brainwashing was a real turning point for the Black Widow. Finally she was able to be with the man that she had grown to love, Hawkeye, and for his part, he is determined to make her an Avenger. Roy Thomas takes over writing duties from Stan with the Avengers #35 and takes away the Black Widow's fem fatal edge.

Giant Man, Hank Pym vehemently opposes the Black Widow's joining the team in Avengers #36, Jan 1967
Though things don't run smoothly for Hawkeye and the Black Widow when Giant Man, Hank Pym vehemently opposes her nomination for Avengers membership. Even without membership status Natasha comes on a mission with them and actually saves their bacon at the crucial moment by going against standard Avengers protocol and threaten the life of their adversary.  

Natasha means business when she threatens to kill Ixar in Avengers #37,
After getting use to the 'Marvel method' of writing, it seems that Don really appreciated it. He says, "You're not hindered by the amount of copy that's there, you’re not suddenly stuck with a six-panel or seven-panel page. You can suddenly throw a big panel in there or a couple of small ones across the bottom, and then catch up with the story later on, or expand it out. You don't feel, "I must put six panels on here and I've got to have so many balloons." It's a freer way of working.”

Love struck Hawkeye doesn't take no for an answer and goes to bat hard for the Black Widow to get her into the Avengers but before she can join the team Nick Fury enlists her services thus making her an official S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (Supreme Headquarters of International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division).

Natasha receives an offer that she can't refuse, to spy for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Avengers #38, March 1967

This basically ends the Dashing one, Don Heck's time as artist for the Avengers and the exploits of everyone's favorite Russian beauty but 'Rascally' Roy Thomas and 'big' John Buscema do her character real justice when they created an epic two parter in Avengers #43 - #44 where we learn more about the Black Widow's Russian past.

To Hawkeye and the Avengers surprise the Black Widow was a widow for real, or at least she thought she was in Avengers #44, Sep 1967
The Black Widow went into a prolonged hiatus after this until 1970 when rascally Roy Thomas needed a female to represent women at the dawn of the sexual revolution. He brushed off the Black Widow, revamped her costume and gave her a feature of her own in Amazing Adventures making her Marvel's first superheroine to get her own regular solo feature.

From Amazing Adventures #1, May 1970

Since then the Black Widow has moved on to an illustrious history partnering up with Daredevil and joining many teams including the Avengers and the Champions but mostly she has worked solo. Lately she has become a sensation in the new blockbuster Avengers movie. I wouldn't be surprised if she gets a movie of her own.

Though overlooked by fandom, Don is fondly remembered by his peers. Roy Thomas has praised him in interviews saying, "Don was unlucky enough, I think, to be a non-superhero artist who, starting in the sixties, had to find his niche in a world dominated by superheroes. Fortunately, as he proved first with Iron Man and then with the Avengers, Don could rise to the occasion because he had real talent and a good grounding in the fundamentals. He amalgamated into his own style certain aspects of Jack Kirby's style, and carved out a place for himself as one of a handful of artists who were of real importance during the very early days of Marvel."

Tony Isabella also gave Don high praise when he said,  "If there were a Marvel Universe version of Mount Rushmore, he would be up there with Stan [Lee], Jack [Kirby], Steve [Ditko], and Dick [Ayers]. Yeah, I know, that's five heads, but comics have always been larger than life."
Though overlooked, where would we be without 'dashing' Don Heck? Would we even have Iron Man, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow? What would have come of the Avengers without him stepping in as penciler for those many years? Like him or not, Don played a key role in the creation of the mega popular and much loved Marvel Universe and should be appreciated as such.

You can read more about Don Heck at Don Heck.com
You can also read interviews with Don at -  Interview with Don Heck 

also - Don Heck - In His Own Words from 20th Century Danny Boy


  1. Oh man what a great post--I love the Black Widow and Don Heck! Just curious, where is your ToS #52 scan from? I believe in the original comic, she had brown hair (not black) and a black-green dress. Is your scan from the reprint in MCIC #12 or from another collection?
    Also, where is that great Natasha Masterworks pin-up from?
    Again, thanks for a great post.


  2. Thanks so much! It was a lot of fun doing the post. I find it fascinating seeing her evolution from campy vamp to iconic liberated woman.
    Yes, I got my scans from Marvel Collector Item Classics. ToS #52 is reprinted in MCIC #12 and the pin-up is from MCIC #23.