Black Widow (Claire Voyant)
Claire Voyant, the original Black Widow. Art by Chris Weston
|First appearance||Mystic Comics #4
|Created by||George Kapitan
|Alter ego||Claire Voyant|
|Team affiliations||The Twelve|
|Abilities||Communing with the dead
Regenerate or heal others
Black Widow (Claire Voyant) is a fictional character appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics. She is the first costumed, superpowered female comic book character. An antiheroine who kills evildoers in order to deliver their souls to Satan, her master, she first appears in Mystic Comics #4 (cover dated Aug. 1940), published by Marvel predecessor Timely Comics. Created by writer George Kapitan and artist Harry Sahle, she is unrelated to Marvel's later superspy character called Black Widow.
The Black Widow makes five appearances during the period fans and historians call the Golden Age of comic books, all five written by George Kapitan. These short comics stories (the longest is eight pages, the shortest five) are spread among three different Timely anthology titles over a three-year period from 1940 to 1943.
Madame Claire Voyant is introduced in Mystic Comics #4 as "the strangest, most terrifying character in action picture magazines — the Black Widow. You've heard of the black widow spider — that evil creature whose bite spells doom. Now start the adventures of another black widow — a human tool of Satan whose very touch means death." Both Mystic Comics #4 and #5 (Aug. 1940, Mar. 1941) feature artwork by Harry Sahle (the stories are "Introducing the Black Widow", 7 pages, and "Garvey Lang", 8 pages, respectively). Another Mystic Comics appearance in issue #7 (Dec. 1941) has art by Stan Drake ("Lewis & Sykes", 5 pages). U.S.A. Comics #5 (Summer 1942) is pencilled by Mike Sekowsky and inked by George Klein ("Murder Unlimited", 5 pages). Her final Golden Age appearance in All-Select Comics #1 (Fall 1943) has art tentatively attributed to Drake ("Blood Money", 5 pages); this story is reprinted in 1974, along with the rest of the issue, by publisher Alan L. Light's company Flashback as Special Edition Reprints #14.
Her next appearance occurs 51 years later, in a flashback cameo in one panel of issue #1 (Jan. 1994) of the mini-series Marvels ("A Time of Marvels", written by Kurt Busiek with art by Alex Ross), and again nine years later (Feb. 2005), also in brief flashback, in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9 ("The Last Stand", written by Mark Millar with art by Terry and Rachel Dodson).
Fictional character biography
In 1940, Claire Voyant is a spirit medium who communicates with the dead through supernatural means. While serving a family named the Waglers, she is possessed by Satan to put a curse on them. James, a member of that family, survives a subsequent car crash provoked by the spell, returns to Claire's quarters and guns her down.
Voyant's soul goes to Hell, where Satan dresses her in her Black Widow costume, which consists of a purple bodysuit with a spider design on the front, a green cape, and red boots with yellow flame designs around the tops. He gives her the power to kill with a single touch of her fingers to the head (which leaves a branded "Black Widow mark"), and to use other mystical tricks. Satan — who, daringly for the time, is discreetly depicted as a nude man — sends her back to Earth to avenge her death. After killing her murderer, she returns to Satan, who, no longer content to wait for evil souls to die a natural death and perhaps repent their sins in the interim, charges her with bringing those souls to him. "On the upper world are mortal creatures whose hearts are blackened with wickedness and corruption. You, the Black Widow, will bring their evil souls to me!"
She later kills corrupt arms manufacturers, crime boss Garvey Lang, members of a syndicate called Murder Unlimited, and the villain Ogor, while also healing Ogor's victim.
In The Twelve, Claire Voyant is retconned as becoming the Black Widow in 1928 after her sister is murdered. Standing over her sister's grave, she wishes for the power to avenge herself against the killer, and Satan responds.
Revived in the present day, along with 11 other heroes, after being in suspended animation since World War II, she recommences serving as an "instrument of vengeance" for an initially unidentified entity (though never actually referred to as Satan, the Black Widow's master is identified as "the devil" in later issues) and going on missions for that party.
In a minor costume redesign, the color of her cape is changed from green to light purple, her boots are changed from red to purple, and their flame trim is done away with. By the end of the series, she has switched over to a third costume, which is gray, covers her entire body from the neck down, and features a fine spiderweb pattern over most of its surface.
A recurrent character trait of the Black Widow in her Golden Age appearances is that she shows no hesitation or mercy when it comes to killing her victims, and no apparent remorse over depriving them of their lives and sending their souls to Hell for eternal torment. Whether this ruthless aspect of her personality is original to Claire Voyant or a result of her resurrection by Satan as the Black Widow is unclear. (In her modern day appearances in The Twelve she is much less a willing killer, and is shown crying after her killings.)
In Golden Age appearances she does possess great compassion for those she perceives as innocent victims of evil, and a willingness to use her powers to protect and even heal them. This is shown most clearly in her fifth and last Golden Age appearance when she is sent by Satan to harvest the soul of Ogor, a charlatan faith healer who has been stealing money from those who come to him for cures. After confronting Ogor and causing his death – though he instantly dies of fright and heart failure rather than with the Black Widow’s signature death touch, the result is the same, his blackened soul goes instantly to Hell – she then takes the time, and uses her powers, to regenerate the amputated leg of a young boy named Pepito, one of Ogor’s last victims he had promised to heal.
Introduced in Mystic Comics #4 (Aug. 1940), the Black Widow is comic books' first costumed, superpowered female character. While writer-artist Fletcher Hanks' Fantomah, who has the superhero tropes of a dual identity and superpowers, debuted earlier, in Fiction House's Jungle Comics #1 (Feb. 1940), she lacks a distinctive costume. While The Woman In Red also predates her, debuting in Standard Comics' Thrilling Comics #2 (March 1940), that character has a distinctive costume but no superpowers. Russell Stamm's Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, a non-costumed character with the superpower of invisibility, debuted in a newspaper comic strip, rather than a comic book, on June 3, 1940.
Powers and abilities
Before her transformation into the Black Widow, Claire Voyant has undefined psychic powers enabling her to commune with the spirits of the dead. Resurrected by Satan after her murder, the Black Widow has been granted supernatural powers allowing her to harvest the souls of evildoers for her master. She is able to teleport between Hell and the mortal world. Having already died, she is apparently immune to further attempts to kill her; in one appearance she is shot repeatedly and the bullets have no effect. She can mentally plant suggestions in the minds of others. She also possesses superhuman strength of an undefined nature, an increased level of endurance, flight, invisibility, appearance alteration, and the ability to regenerate or heal others mystically.
She also has a death touch power: when the Black Widow touches one of her victims on the forehead, there is a burst of flame, they are instantly struck dead and their soul is sent to Hell. At the same time a mark is left in the shape of a spider.
Satan claims he has made her immortal, however, since this statement comes from the Prince of Lies, it may not actually be true.
- http://www.comics.org/character/name/Black%20Widow%20%5BClaire%20Voyant%5D/sort/chrono/, The Grand Comics Database page on Black Widow appearances.
- http://www.comics.org/issue/950/, The Grand Comics Database, Mystic Comics #4.
- http://www.comics.org/issue/1315/, The Grand Comics Database, Mystic Comics #5.
- http://beta.comics.org/issue/1843/, The Grand Comics Database, Mystic Comics #7.
- http://www.comics.org/issue/2289/, The Grand Comics Database, U.S.A. Comics #5.
- http://www.comics.org/issue/3186/, The Grand Comics Database, All-Select Comics #1.
- http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/b/blackwidowga.htm, The Black Widow page at International Hero.
- http://www.reocities.com/jjnevins/widow.html, The Black Widow page from Jess Nevins' A Guide to Golden Age Marvel Characters.
- Marvels #1
- The Twelve #7
- The Twelve #1-12
- The Twelve #12
- All-Select Comics #1
- http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix4/blackwidowga.htm, The Black Widow page at the Appendix to The Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
- Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Erroneously credited here to a Hanks pseudonym, "Henry Fletcher". Archived from the original on April 8, 2012.
- The Woman in Red in Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 9, 2012.
- Black Widow at Grand Comics Database
- The Black Widow at Nevins, Jess, A Guide to Golden Age Marvel Characters. WebCitation archive of latter.
- The Black Widow at International Hero
- The Black Widow (1940) at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived October 25, 2011.
- Black Widow (I) at Golden Age Hero Directory
- Timely's Black Widow at the Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe