Like many Marvel Comics characters, Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, has more than a few wild twists and turns in her history and origin story. One might guess that the golden age Marvel Black Widow (unconnected to the more famous incarnation of the character) has a more simple backstory. But there's nothing simple about Claire Voyant, the original Marvel Black Widow, or her backstory — and there's nothing common about Mystic Comics #4, which is her origin story and first appearance. There's a copy up for auction at the 2020 November 19 – 22 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions today.
With only 17 unrestored copies on the CGC Census (and only one graded higher than this Mystic Comics #4 CGC 6.5 copy), this comic has long been considered a tough get. But it's the cover and contents of this comic that make it so fascinating and desirable. The title page caption sets the stage:
Introducing 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.
But even that description understates this tale of psychedelic horror written by George Kapitan and drawn by Harry Sahle. A spirit medium named Claire Voyant is influenced by Satan himself to put a curse on a woman and her family who had come to her seeking to contact the deceased husband and father of the family. The woman and her daughter are subsequently killed when their car skids over an embankment and crashes. The son survives to take his vengeance on Claire, shooting her dead in her home. Satan then comes to claim his prize, and transforms Claire Voyant into the Black Widow, "endowed with supreme power." Satan then shows Black Widow the pits of Hell filled with those who committed acts of greed, lust, and thievery on Earth — and says that he plans for her to kill more such sinners on Earth and bring their souls to Hell.
Most of the rest of Mystic Comics #4 was quite a bit more topical in the context of the June 1940 times during which it hit America's newsstands. The world was at war, and the United States would be joining that war soon. The Blue Blaze story, for example, features a Senator being influenced to hasten the country's path towards war, aided by foreign agent propagandists. The Alex Schomburg cover is an artifact of 1940 as well — an assassin's train attempting to stop the incredibly popular President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's journey towards a third term later that year. Only Hercules — also more powerful than a locomotive, it seems — could prevent the train plot.
Mystic Comics #4 is not a comic you see every day, but its the historic contents that make this issue an underappreciated gem. There's a copy up for auction at the 2020 November 19 – 22 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions today.