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Monday, April 15, 2019

Paul Gulacy's Black Widow, in Bizarre Adventures 25 - a Review

Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981)
"I Got the Yo-Yo... You Got the String"
Ralph Macchio-Paul Gulacy

Let's just start this off with a "Bad", because you know I'll end up there eventually. That title definitely gave me a "Huh?" when I opened the book. More on this later. OK, now that I'm past that, let's move on.

I've had the Marvel Premiere Hardcover pictured at right for many years - too many to remember when or where I bought it. To be honest, I knew it contained the George Perez-illustrated Marvel Fanfare story and an early 1980s graphic novel, but had no expectation that I'd turn a page and find this black-and-white beauty that I set before you today. So to now say all these years later that this was a good score is only magnified by the advent of the BWBC. Let's quit wasting time and get on with the commentary.

100-Word Review: 
After an alcohol-fueled tryst, Natasha Romanoff awakens to an alert from SHIELD. She is to assassinate her mentor, a Soviet operative name Irma Klausvichnova. In a plot that involves commando raids, a battle aboard a speeding train, and -crosses and double-crosses, the Black Widow is drawn deep into a mission that is ultimately not what it seems. No character is who they appear to be, and just when Natasha thinks she's uncovered the truth, enter: her lover. And he most certainly owns a truth that is unlike any other.
Seriously, this story, though only 20 pages in length, was like a thriller/mystery movie. Reads just like those play out. Which brings us to...

The Good: Ralph Macchio had shepherded the Black Widow through the Marvel Fanfare 4-parter (presented as the first story in the hardcover that was my resource), which was more akin to standard superhero fare. This story, told two years earlier, was nothing at all like the "Web of Intrigue" arc. This really did play like a film, or at least a television show. Did any readers watch the very short-lived ABC series The Catch? It was about con men constantly scamming everyone, including each other. Everyone was sleeping with multiple people, there were capers aplenty, and the viewing audience was kept guessing who was allied with whom, and which character would be stabbed in the back (perhaps literally) next. I read today's story twice - once around six weeks ago when I read the Marvel Premiere Hardcover (part of my almost-nightly comics reading program. Well, it's not really a program, but I do try to get after it pretty regularly), and then again to refresh my memory and to further soak in the goings-on of this story. It gets super-heavy on exposition near the end, but it's a good exposition.

It's good because this sort of reads like a crime novel but with pictures. In fact, Paul Gulacy's art is so strong, this actually seems more like watching a film with the closed captions on. The art is photo-realistic, and it really works with Macchio's script. It's photo-realistic to the point that I think you'll immediately recognize Natasha's lover, Langely. It just adds a further element of fun to the story. I even liked Natasha's Farrah Fawcett hairdo - it seemed right, given the time this was published.

The opening of the story, with spies doing their spy thing and then silencing an enemy, was a great way to begin. Later, that there was a train scene - and of course, with characters running along the tops of the cars, was very Hollywood-esque. Great touch. I just really liked this story and its execution!

The Bad: I literally did some Internet searching in the middle of writing this post. That story title is so odd, I figured it had to be a reference to something else. Sure enough - from this website:

In June 1966, "The Dean Martin Summer Show" debuted, hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. This was a different format from the "Laugh-In" that followed, with comedy occupying the center stage.
They had regulars Dom DeLuise, Lainie Kazan and Frankie Randall to provide sketches and musical numbers, but the boys still offered their comedy bits such as a spy spoof with the two in trench coats exchanging this pair of countersigns, Dan -- "I've got the yo-yo," Dick -- "I've got the string." I guess you had to be there.

So now I say, "A-ha...!" - and the title doesn't rankle me as I previously thought. In fact, kudos to Ralph Macchio for his memory. That Rowan & Martin bit must have really stuck with him. Now I feel like I should stick this in a "The Good 2.0" section.

To the bad, though, and maybe this is just me. I don't want to sound prudish, and bear with me on this. I am not naive enough to think that Natasha didn't sleep with Matt Murdock. I'd not be as certain she slept with Clint Barton, as it was years until anyone even knew ol' Hawkeye's name! But when this story begins and Natasha wakes up and reminisces on her night's activities, I was a little taken aback. This might just be me, but I felt, "Hey! That guy's name isn't Murdock, you hussy!" Whatever. Yeah, I think it's just me.

For those allergic to words in a comic book, that last three pages are really going to tick you off.

The Ugly: Zilch. Time well spent. Both times. I'd recommend this to fans of many genres of literature.


  1. Paul Gulacy should've spent his entire career drawing Black Widow stories.. .

    1. It is pleasing to the eye - an example of a story that looks much better in black-and-white than it would in color.


  2. Hm, yeah, Doug. It might just be you...
    Otherwise, this is a good review that reminds me yet again that I've never read this story, although I've known about it for ages - and I've similarly been wanting that particular Black Widow HC you have (or the more recent tpb that collects all of the same material) for ages. (I do have the Daughters of the Dragon story from that same issue of Bizarre Adventures in a special edition comic that reprints several of their b&w stories.)
    And not to stray too far off topic with fanboy rants, but your observation about this story being Hollywoodesque just reminded me again that I can't believe Marvel Studios didn't do a BW movie ages ago, possibly even before the first Avengers film. I mean, c'mon, an espionage/action movie headlined by Scarlett Johansson - how could that not be awesome?

    1. Agreed completely, Edo. The BW film is long overdue. I thought the BW portions of Iron Man 2 were among the strongest parts of that film. I'll happily plunk down a few bucks to see it once released.


  3. Wow, even Langley's dialogue sounds like Bogey. I've never read this before but it looks pretty cool; I've always loved Gulacy's art and he always seems to work well with the espionage theme (much like MOKF).

    I like the stuff about the Rowan and Martin "spy recognition system" that gave the story its title; reminds me of the (real life) spies who used two pieces torn from a Jell-O box to identify each other. I'm definitely gonna have to find this.

    1. I loved this story, Mike. I'm glad I read it twice, as it was even better as it soaked in. It's quite dense for the page count - today it would be issued as a tpb!


  4. Great review Doug; one that's nice to read as I was totally unaware of this story's existence. Looks like I missed out on a good one. That Gulacy artwork is amazing; certainly as cinematic as you say. Makes you wonder if he ever did storyboards for a film...


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