Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

Image result for spiderman homecoming

It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

Image result for spiderman

And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Image result for stan lee and steve ditko

But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

Image result for quality comics spider widow

Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

Image result for feature comics #57

She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

Image result for frank borth comics

While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

Image result for quality comics spider widow

How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

Image result for quality comics spider widow

swarms of them.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #58

You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

Image result for quality comics spider widow

Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #20

She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #21

but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

Image result for spider widow quality comics

While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

Image result for black widow marvel

Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

Image result for spider queen marvel

(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

Image result for spider widow quality comics

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Valyrian Steel

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM SEASON 1 AND THE RED WEDDING.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Today’s post is short, sweet, and loads of fun.  Today we are going to take a break from the big ideas and grand events of the books and show and look at a very specific material from the books and show that leaves heads and jaws rolling: Valyrian Steel.

Eddard_and_Ice

the books and show Valyrian Steel is a strange and almost mythical material that was created during the height of Valyrian power.  When Valyria fell, like all great empires usually do, the secret to making the material was lost and only a finite amount of the stuff remains.  The steel is remarkably light yet will cut through a man’s armor and weapons like a hot knife through butter so any sword made of Valyrian steel is basically the fantasy equivalent of a lightsaber.  As a result, any family who possesses a sword made of Valyrian Steel keeps it as a treasured heirloom and give the swords names like “Ice” or “Oathkeeper” and “Heartsbane”.  They are also so integral to each bearer’s honor and family that Tywin Lannister saw fit to melt the Stark’s Valyrian greatsword down into two swords as a giant middle finger to the Starks after the Red Wedding.

54cb30859fdd9_-_valyrian-steel-0414-de

Two other features define Valyrian steel other than its rarity and deadly capability: It is extremely difficult to reforge, requiring an extremely skilled smith and techniques that are more similar to magic than science and it is also known for the intricate designs that seem to be woven into the metal itself.

John_Goodenough_ice

Happily everything described in the books and the show about this strange material can be traced back to a real world super metal that made legendary swords: Damascus Steel, also known as Wootz Steel.

96dfec592dc2a7a16a743a07d195850a

Our first record of Damascus steel comes from India where it is believed that it moved to the Middle East and into Europe around the 3rd century AD.  Like it’s Valyrian cousin, Damascus Steel was famous for its beautiful patterns engraved on the steel.  Also like Valyrian Steel, it was incredibly difficult to make and was renowned for making fine swords.

While there was no magic involved in making Damascus steel the forging process was incredibly complex and almost seemed like alchemy.  Without going into too much detail steel is essentially iron with a tiny bit of carbon mixed in.  A smith would take a lump of iron, add a high amount of carbon into the molten metal, and beat and reheat the metal until all but a tiny amount of carbon was left.

Steel is processed at India's Tata Steel Plant in Jamshedpur. India's Tata Steel is likely to make a formal takeover bid for Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus Group at a higher price than previously offered, press reports said on 19 October 2006. The Business Standard newspaper said Tata Steel was likely to raise its offer of 455 pence per share - which values Corus Group at 4.05 billion pounds (6.03 billion euros, 7.56 billion dollars) - due to possible counter bids.

The trick was getting the right amount of carbon, too little carbon and the sword would be too soft to cut anything (not good when you’re fighting someone with armor) and too much carbon would leave the sword brittle and prone to shattering (REALLY not good in battle).  Somehow, the metallurgists responsible for Damascus Steel were able to make a metal that was both hard enough to cut well and soft enough to not break in battle while employing techniques that were similar to modern nanotechnology and haven’t been replicated for centuries (you can find out more, and the source of everything I just described here).  One of the most famous examples of this is the “Ulfberht” Sword.

ulf_rhine

Not much is known about the sword’s origins except the name Ulfberht is stamped on the blade.  We don’t know if it’s the owner of the sword or if it’s the smith who made it but we do know that it was made of the same material, or at least something similar, as Damascus swords.  This was a prized luxury item that was only reserved for the very rich and powerful, say a lord or powerful king.  The Ulfberht sword would have been the real world equivalent of the Stark’s sword “Ice” and would have been something its owners would have cherished.

So there you have it, even the smallest details and materials from the books and show have potential historical similarities.  Tune in Wednesday when we return to form and start talking about the big ideas again.