When we last checked in with the Inhumans feature in Amazing Adventures, back in December, the new creative team of writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams had just launched a new multi-part storyline. The beginning of this new arc found the Inhumans’ monarch, Black Bolt, traveling to the United States — more specifically, to San Francisco — to begin the process of developing better relations between his people and the outside world. (Exactly how he expected to accomplish this by skulking around an urban waterfront at night, especially given his self-enforced muteness, was unrevealed.) BB got off to a somewhat rocky start, getting involved in an altercation with some petty criminals as he came to the defense of a boy named Joey, the nephew of the hoods’ leader, Roscoe. Meanwhile, back in the Great Refuge, the king’s mad brother Maximus lay in what appeared to be a state of suspended animation — something Black Bolt had set up prior to his departure, without explaining his reasons to the other members of the Inhumans’ royal family. A suspicious Gorgon and Karnak elected to wake Maximus up, which turned out to be a bad move, since the previously non-super Max had recently developed immense mental powers. Maximus promptly unleashed a brain blast that traveled halfway around the world before striking down Black Bolt, simultaneously robbing him of his memory. This ten-page installment ended with young Joey, having just managed to rouse his mysterious new friend, trying to get him to say something — unaware that if the Inhumans’ incognito ruler uttered but a mere whisper, the power of his voice would unleash terrible destruction. Yipes!
The story continued two months later in Amazing Adventures #6, as Gorgon and Karnak were joined by Black Bolt’s consort Medusa in attempting to resist Maximus. Unfortunately, Maximus not only had the power to control the minds of the royal family members one at a time, which he used to set them fighting one another, but was also able to control the minds of all the non-royal Inhumans en masse. Max promptly proceeded to turn the whole population of Attilan into an angry mob bent on the destruction of his three cousins — a fate they ultimately escaped only due to the intervention of the late-arriving Triton, who scooped them all up in a sky-sled and then flew away, just in the nick of time.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Joey finally convinced Black Bolt to give his jaw a little exercise — although, perhaps operating on some subconscious apprehension, the amnesiac Inhuman turned away from the boy and the rest of the heavily populated city, and then walked to the front of a dock before breathing the single word “I”…
…which did enough damage as it was, tossing around manned ships hundreds of yards from shore (though apparently not sinking any), as well as wrecking this one “deserted juggernaut.” Fortunately, there was only one witness to BB’s involvement besides Joey — unfortunately, it was Joey’s unscrupulous and opportunistic uncle Roscoe, whom we’d already seen snatching the Inhuman’s abandoned costume up off the street (which, as will likely come as no surprise, will later turn out to be a rather important plot point).
This chapter concluded with another double-barrelled cliffhanger. First, the sky-sled carrying the fugitive royal Inhumans managed to clear the Himalayan peaks surrounding Attilan, but then, borne down by the weight of its exceeded occupancy, crashed on a sandy ocean beach…
The story continued into Amazing Adventures #7, for its only chapter not scripted by Roy Thomas. (For the record, Gerry Conway did the honors; one assumes Thomas must have had at least some input into the plotting, but there’s no official credit stating so.) In this episode’s opening pages, the downed royals — all of whom came through the crash pretty much unscathed — were forced to fight a brief skirmish with representatives of the Chinese army (something which seemed to happen to them a lot in those days), before accessing a submersible rocketship cleverly concealed in the cliff-side fronting the beach. (You really had to hand it to the Inhumans for how thoroughly they planned in advance.) By means of this conveyance, they speedily crossed the Pacific Ocean, ultimately making landfall on a beach in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Unfortunately, this particular stretch of seashore — evidently the Bay Area’s equivalent of Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach — was presently inhabited by a group of bodybuilders who weren’t keen on having their private playground “invaded — by a bunch of costumed crazies“, and who therefore decided to pick a fight with our heroes…
Triton led the bodybuilders away from his cousins — and straight out of the storyline, at least for the time being. The aquatic Inhuman wouldn’t be seen again by Marvel readers until he popped up out of a manhole on the grounds of Avengers Mansion in New York City, in the final panel of Avengers #94 (Dec., 1971). But — more about that a little later. For now, let’s check in on our story’s other front…
Yes, they called him… Mister Dibbs. You wouldn’t expect Roy Thomas to pass up a pop culture reference like that one, would you?
Back at the beach, Medusa, Karnak, and Gorgon helped themselves to some less conspicuous clothing, and then hoofed it to the nearest major road. Having previously been informed by their ship’s monitoring equipment that Black Bolt was in San Francisco, the trio hailed a taxi to drive them into the city; when the cabbie asked for a specific location, Medusa, having overheard a news report about a disturbance in the Johnson Street area, played a hunch and asked him to take her and her companions there.
And with that, we’re ready to move into the serial’s final chapter in AA #8:
At the beginning of this storyline in AA #5, Neal Adams’ pencils were inked by Tom Palmer, who’d pulled the same duty on the Thomas-Adams run of X-Men. Beginning with issue #6, however, and continuing on through #8, John Verpoorten has been providing the finishes.
While I’ve read comments by some fans who fault Verpoorten’s inks over Adams, I’ve never had a problem with them, especially in comparison to those of some of the other inkers the artist had at Marvel. The Adams-Verpoorten pairing’s take on the mighty Thor is, for me, a case in point; to my eye, Verpoorten’s rougher line is more appropriate to Adams’ style than the smooth, clean finish the undeniably great Joe Sinnott gave the art in the two issues of Thor drawn by Adams about a year prior to this. That’s just my opinion, of course. (And for the record, I’d have preferred to keep Tom Palmer for the whole run — but you can’t have everything, y’know?)
Dibbs proceeds to fire a smoke bomb at the authorities, and the Inhumans take the opportunity to change back into their “full regalia“, as Gorgon puts it, before making a charge of their own. The hope here is that the unexpected sight of his cousins will shock Black Bolt back to his senses, but…
Anyone want to take a guess who Joey’s just found? If not, don’t worry — we’ve only got a little more than 4 pages left to go in this story, so all will soon be revealed.
Back at the battle, Gorgon has no idea why Thor is so desperate to retrieve his hammer, but figures it’s a good idea to keep him from getting it back, and so knocks him off his feet with a swift kick. Meanwhile, Lionel Dibbs decides to take a “hand” in his own defense…
The revelation of Thor’s connection to Lionel Dibbs through his mortal identity of Dr. Donald Blake is dramatically effective, and the insight it offers into the Thunder God’s humanity — and also his humility, when he acknowledges his inherent inability to fully understand Dibb’s perspective as a Black man in America — has stuck in this particular Thor fan’s memory better than the details of many of the hero’s solo adventures of this same era. On the other hand, this scene can’t help but pull focus further away from the Inhumans in a story that already seems to be becoming less and less about them.
And that’s that — not just for “An Hour for Thunder!”, or even for the Lionel Dibbs storyline, but for the entire Roy Thomas-Neal Adams run on the Inhumans strip in Amazing Adventures. To be frank, this last page is an abrupt, inconclusive, and not entirely satisfying conclusion to all three.
Questions abound regarding Roscoe’s wearing of Black Bolt’s costume, and what he accomplishes while in it — as well as what happens to him as a result. As an Inhuman, Black Bolt’s powers are inherent in his own body — the costume has been presented as a way for him to control and focus that power (as the top tier of panels on page 10 even suggests), so why should wearing it convey any abilities on Roscoe at all? Is the lightning strike that ultimately kills Roscoe precipitated by his attempt to “speak” for the second time, or is that timing entirely random? How did Roscoe and Dibbs meet up in the first place? It doesn’t seem very likely that they’d travel in the same social circles.
For that matter, Lionel Dibbs himself remains an undeveloped character. His motivations are clear enough, but besides his being a “business leader” with a lot of money, what are his resources? How, for example, did he get Tony Stark to build him a freaking gun-hand (a weapon that, incidentally, seems entirely superfluous to the story, Neal Adams’ cool design notwithstanding)? Where’d he get the tanks, and where’s he been keeping them? What exactly was his plan before Roscoe brought him Black Bolt’s costume? Finally, the last panel tries to suggest that Dibbs has had the last laugh, since hes going to die of cancer before his case comes to trial. But that seems like it should be a very small consolation for such a driven man whose grand hopes and plans have ultimately come to naught — unless, that is, San Francisco’s mayor is going to take down the Johnson Street tenements, after all. And perhaps that’s happening; but if so, Thomas’ script makes no mention of it.
Was this storyline originally intended to run for another 10-page installment? It certainly seems possible; and even if this tale did conclude as planned, it seems almost certain that Thomas and Adams meant to continue, and ultimately resolve, the larger story arc of Maximus’ takeover of the Great Refuge within the pages of Amazing Adventures. Instead, both creators left the Inhumans series following this issue.
What was the reason for the run’s termination? Perhaps it stemmed from Adams’ professed unhappiness at Gerry Conway having been brought in to script the Inhumans installment in AA #7, when he’d expected to work exclusively with Thomas for the duration of the project.* In any event, the artist made it a condition of his next project for Marvel — The Avengers — that Thomas would script every issue of the run. And indeed,a mere two months later, Adams would join Thomas on that title, just in time to help chronicle the second half of the epic “Kree-Skrull War” storyline (well, most of it, anyway) — making the one-and-a-half page appearance of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in AA #8 something of an accidental teaser.
What my younger self didn’t see coming then, however — nor, I suspect, did many other fans — was that, just a couple of issues into that run, Thomas and Adams would pick up on the plot threads from their abandoned Inhumans collaboration, weaving them into their Avengers storyline as though that had been the plan all along.
That development was especially surprising since, in the interim, the new Amazing Adventures creative team of Gerry Conway and Mike Sekowsky had also continued the Inhumans’ saga, presenting an account of what-happened-next that didn’t really square up very well with Thomas and Adams’ version. But that, as you might expect, is a tale for another post, another day.
For now, however, we still have the second half of Amazing Adventures #8 to consider, as the Black Widow’s solo series comes to an end. With issue #9, the Inhumans would inherit the whole book — and though their run would itself last only one more issue, the “double feature” format that had thus far allowed two strips to share one title was over and done with as of AA #8.
The “Astrologer” storyline that had begun in AA #5 had wrapped up in the previous issue, so Natasha Romanoff’s final outing in these pages was a done-in-one. Don Heck, who’d come on as penciller with issue #6, continued in that role here, while Bill Everett contributed inks. Roy Thomas handled the scripting, working from a plot by Gerry Conway, who’d scripted the last installment, after inheriting the job from Thomas, who’d written the Widow in issues #5 and #6. (If you’re thinking that Thomas and Conway sure did an awful lot of handing stuff off from one to another and back again during this era, well, you’re spot on.)
Natasha is leaving NYC and heading to someplace called “Carlyle Hunting Lodge”, on the basis of a tape recording she’s received of her chauffeur/aide/friend Ivan intoning that one phrase, over and over. When she arrives at the location, she finds it apparently deserted, but then…
These two costumed thugs aren’t really a match for the Widow (or shouldn’t be, at least), but they manage to keep her occupied until their boss shows up, and then…
Per that last caption, Natasha may not be able to believe her own senses, but we readers have little choice but to accept what we’re shown next — which is this self-styled Watchlord using his powers to pry up the floorboards she’s lying on and transform them into a straitjacket.
The Watchlord next proceeds to display his other captive — Ivan, of course — who’s hanging suspended from the ceiling, held in some clamp-like device.
In time-honored tradition, the villain goes on to relate his origin story, which, briefly summarized, goes like this: He was orphaned as a child in Germany when, in the closing days of World War II, the Russian army rolled through his town, killing his father along the way. The future Watchlord was given shelter in a church by a kindly priest who didn’t realize that the Nazi army had earlier stored some experimental radioactive isotopes on site. Oops. Since this is a comic book story, the radiation gave him super powers, rather than a fatal cancer, and by the time he was all grown up…
Rather than just kill ‘Tash and Ivan outright, Watchlord sets the lodge ablaze, then departs with his hirelings. This gives our heroine time to wriggle one hand free of her straitjacket, which she uses to fire a blast from her “wdow’s bite” wrist doohickey. Said blast destroys the clamp holding Ivan, who drops acrobatically to the floor and frees Natasha. As their prior restraints revert to ordinary floorboards and rafters, the duo goes in pursuit of their former captors…
Ivan gets clobbered from behind, but Black Widow still manages to finish off the Watchlord’s hirelings on her own. She then resumes her hunt for their employer — unaware that he’s spotted her first. The Watchlord uses his power to animate matter against our heroine, first attempting to ensnare her with tree roots, then to crush her by means of a great boulder he dislodges mentally; but when she eludes both of these threats, he finally decides “screw this”, and resorts to his gun. His first shot grazes Natasha’s temple, sending her sprawling…
“Is it ever truly over?” Well, ‘Tash, if you’re inquiring about this particular ten-page adventure, the answer is yes. The same if you’re referring to your solo series in Amazing Adventures; stick a fork in it, it’s done.
And in my own humble opinion, “How Shall I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!” sends the series out with more of a whimper than a bang. Don Heck’s art for the story is serviceable, but not much more; Bill Everett’s inks, so effective on Gene Colan’s pencils a few issues earlier, can only accomplish so much here. As an adversary, the Watchlord is eminently forgettable (and, indeed, seems to be one of the rare Marvel supervillains who was completely forgotten, having never appeared in a story again, ever… um, as of this writing, anyway). About the most memorable thing in the tale is the anti-Russian angle, one of the few times that the Widow’s national origins ever played into the series’ storylines in any significant way. As I’ve remarked previously on this blog, Natasha Romanoff’s past as a Russian super-spy has become so central to her identity as a character in recent decades that it’s a little startling to read her adventures from a period when it wasn’t nearly as big a deal.
But to return to Natasha’s final-panel query… something that wasn’t quite over with this issue (regrettably, in my view) was the notion of the “curse” of the Black Widow: the concept, first introduced by Roy Thomas in AA #6 and then taken forward by Gerry Conway, that any man who crosses Natasha’s path becomes more likely to lose his life in an untimely fashion. While it’s easy to understand how the idea suggested itself, playing as it does on the cultural associations of the phrase “black widow”, in the stories themselves it never seemed more than a contrivance, and a strained one. But although Conway would continue to work this angle for some months to come in the series that became the Widow’s new home, thankfully it did give up the ghost, eventually.
The Widow’s new home? Yes, it’s true, Natasha Romanoff would not be long without a place to hang her catsuit. The letters column of Amazing Adventures #8, after breaking the bad news of the demise of the heroine’s solo feature in a response to a missive from a female fan, hastened to reassure that fan, as well as the Widow’s other partisans, that she would not be out of action for long:
But, of course, the revelation of just where that “least likely spot” would prove to be — as well as a discussion of whether the Black Widow’s “liberated-woman status” would remain “in first-class shape” (or, indeed, whether it had ever been so in the first place) are matters that must be set aside for now, to be taken up in another post, some months hence. (Yes, just like the future of the Inhumans.) But stick around, and we’ll be there before you know it.
*In 1998, Adams told Comic Book Artist interviewer Arlen Schumer that this wasn’t a reflection of his opinion of Conway’s skills; rather, “I just didn’t like the idea that another writer entered into this without my agreement.”