Black History Month: Bill Foster, the Black Goliath!

Our hero is @&*%ing pissed at that tractor/combine guy.  And Tony Stark.

Our hero is @&*%ing pissed at that tractor/combine guy. And Tony Stark.

This image was drawn during a particularly boring meeting. I was pretty happy with it overall, although there are some problems that I’m being picky about. Still…it’s “Tales of Adequacy,” not “Tales of Being a Paid Comics Professional”…so I’m pretty okay with the composition. In terms of background, composition, and figure positioning, it is WAY more than I would have been capable of in a short period of time, even a year ago.

We are continuing with Black History Month, here, which you may have noticed is rich with Marvel Comics offerings from the 1970’s. In this case we have Dr. Bill Foster, also known as Black Goliath, (he was also the second Giant-Man and the fourth Goliath). Dr. Foster is an African American with powers similar to Hank Pym’s of increasing size and mass to gigantic proportions. To “short form” his history in comics, and super hero identities, Dr. Foster was created by Stan Lee and Don Heck and first appeared in Avengers No. 32 (1966). His “Black Goliath” persona was created by Tony Isabella and George Tuska in Power Man No. 24 nine years later in 1975. Foster became the second Giant-Man (really just an identity shift) in Marvel Two-in-One No. 55 1979. Later, He became the fourth person to be called just “Goliath” in The Thing Vol. 2 No. 1 in 2006.

That’s a pretty long history in comics, with a whole lot of change. Still, the character was ultimately killed off in the fourth issue of the series “Civil War” by Ragnarok (an evil clone of Thor). It was a crummy end to a pretty good character, who was often underused.

To make it clear, Bill’s origins are based in his expertise as an intellectual, and a much needed early injection of diversity into Marvel Comics. A biochemist, Dr. Bill Foster works in the Plans and Research Division for Tony Stark’s Baltimore factory. He is hired to be the biochemical laboratory assistant of Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym (a.k.a. Giant-Man). Pym is stuck at the height of 10 feet for a time and at the behest of Stark, Dr. Foster helps Pym find a cure to change his size back to normal.

Let’s be clear about this. A pair of geniuses who regularly create scientific gizmos akin to magic turn to Dr. Bill Foster as an expert for help. At this time, the only similar concept in comics might have been the Black panther’s genius…he was responsible for designing the Avengers’ Quinjet.

When he got his own book, which lasted five issues, the series may have been a bit heavy handed on that point. His origin blurb from the first page of his self-titled book reads: “BILL FOSTER – 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.”

With the Captain America film based on the “Civil War” plotline coming out, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about Black Goliath. His death is pretty much the turning point of the story making many heroes abandon Stark’s “pro registration” side. When the Civil War breaks out, Goliath is seen as a member of Captain America’s anti-registration “Secret Avengers,” adopting the alias of Rockwell Dodsworth. As mentioned earlier, Foster is killed by a clone of Thor during a battle between the Secret Avengers and Iron Man’s forces. He is buried as a giant, with Iron Man paying for the thirty-eight burial plots required to accommodate him. This is the key event that marks the wrongheadedness of the dissent in the super powered community.

A friend of mine spoke to me recently, asking why the Avengers were going to fight each other in the current film. I outlined the plot of the “Civil War” comics series for him, and his comment was simply, “That’s just sad. I like these characters, I want them to get along.”

I pointed out that an earmark of Marvel’s characters was their ability to disagree. Still…the thought stuck with me over the past few weeks. One of the things that I didn’t like about Civil War was killing off Black Goliath as a “turning point.” Sure…he was a character that was not often used, and was likable to the point of sending a character message. As a counterpoint to that, he was a character that often was important by merit of his intellect and kindness instead of any powers, and was a P.h.D bearing African American that was competitive with Stark and Pym. It was a major blow to diversity in comics, and the history of diversity in comics, to dismiss the character for the sake of a motivating story point.

Hence, the art. That’s some kind of government Guardsman or SHIELD agent, definitely pro registration, in that weird tractor combine thing. Maybe that’s poison gas in the air, I don’t know. what I do know, is that for no story point that makes any sense, Bill Foster has been picked on by the antagonist of today’s strip. The protagonist is hauling him off, cranky that the authorities are picking on her friend.

I felt that way when “Civil War” initially came out. Having liked Foster as a character in Power Man, Marvel Two-In-One, and West Coast Avengers, I was pretty mad that Marvel just bumped him off in order to make a dramatic point. It seemed like that could have been achieved in a different way, and it undermined the story for me. Preferentially, I would have hauled him out of trouble, much like the video game “Ultimate Alliance 2” (which follows the Civil War plot) allows you to do.

The same art, with sketch cover trade dress.

The same art, with sketch cover trade dress.

I was cranky when I set out to make this Great Comic That Never Happened cover as well. There is just no good, clean, “Black Goliath” logo for me to use out there on the ‘net. I cropped down the best one I could find, and gave it a border to make things look more planned and orderly, but in truth, I was unhappy with it. I wanted to get the post up in time for Thursday, and inside of Black History Month, so I lived with the design problems of his logo. Honestly, I only had five issues of his comic to work from, so there was a limited reference to be had. I also couldn’t do his logo by hand and the other trade dress digitally…that would be an obvious design problem. As a result, we have the less than great logo design here.

Black Goliath is a title that never got a chance to really develop and it suffers from the problems of a lot of early attempts to bring ethnic characters into the limelight. His setting was intentionally “urban,” and the writers of the books looked at the problems of that setting through a lens that was removed from the realities of those situations. The series ends with no real fanfare. There is just a note on the letters page announcing its the cancellation due to poor sales, despite the many letters of praise the title may have received. Looking over the letters, most of them mentioned how happy the readers were to see a new black superhero (and the importance of having more of them), and even when critical of the comic itself (its plotting, art or characterization), they tended to note the potential seen in the comic. There was a real interest in seeing the comic
develop, to grow (pardon the humor) into something better over time.

Without experimental titles and characters like Black Goliath in the seventies, we would not have the serious attempts at diversity in comics today. Although I doubt Mr. Foster will even be referenced in the upcoming “Civil War” film by Marvel Studios, the character is an important part of the rich history of Marvel Comics.

I think that gets an “Excelsior.”

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