Black Goliath – The big hero who never quite measured up

Black Goliath, ironically, may not have been the biggest superhero of all time, but he’s always one I’ve been weirdly fond of.

Yet this C-list Marvel superhero, who has only made a token appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his civilian identity to date, always seemed to get the short end of the stick. His solo series died before it even got going, his character changed names a lot, and ended up being pointlessly killed in a mega-hero crossover event to give it some weak dramatic heft. 

Back in the day, I found a single issue of Black Goliath in a pile of ‘70s comics I was trading with a friend. I’d never even heard of this hero, so I was intrigued. I liked the very ‘70s goofy costume design, all bright blue and yellows, bizarre bare midriff and his towering swagger. 

Black Goliath was Bill Foster – described as “a child of the ghetto who has pulled himself out of the Los Angeles slums to become director of one of the nation’s most prestigious research labs” and who could now turn himself into a 15-foot-giant. He first appeared in a few Avengers issues as a civilian back in the 1960s before turning up with super-growing powers in a few issues of Luke Cage, Power Man. 

But his hyped 1976 solo comic lasted a mere five issues, failing to ever get out of first gear. He fought nondescript villains like “Atom Smasher” and “Vulcan” (plus the towering Stilt-Man, which was actually a pretty clever match-up) and plotlines were teased but never fully explored. 

Black Goliath never quite got a chance. After his series was cut short, Black Goliath briefly popped up as a member of second-tier superhero team The Champions before they too got cancelled. 

Years later, Foster turned up as a supporting character in Marvel Two-In-One starring The Thing, where he was slowly dying from radiation poisoning and eventually cured. It was at this point he changed his hero name from Black Goliath to plain Giant-Man, at the Thing’s suggestion. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious that you’re black – and if I remember my Sunday school lessons, Goliath was a bad guy,” he noted. 

He moped around for a while, but Black Goliath/Giant-Man’s defining characteristic in his appearances always seemed to be that he never made the ‘big time.’ He tended to lose fights a lot. Too much of the time he appeared, his major defining characteristic was an inferiority complex, which was a bummer – as a successful Black biochemist in that era, Bill Foster could have been written a bit more uplifting (literally and figuratively). 

Kind of like another favourite obscure 1970s hero fave of mine, Omega The Unknown, Black Goliath is kind of a failure at the job. 

Worst of all, Black Goliath was killed off as random cannon fodder in Marvel’s overwrought Civil War comic years ago, murdered by a clone of Thor (!) and dismissively bid farewell in a cringey panel showing his giant-sized body was too big to properly bury. In an added bit of debasement his corpse was dug up in an issue of Mighty Avengers so bad guys could attempt to steal his powers. Black Goliath, Giant Man, whatever you wanted to call him, deserved better.

I recognise the whiff of exploitation that hangs around those early ‘70s Black superheroes like Black Goliath, Black Lightning and Luke Cage – mostly written entirely by white guys, most of them were rage-filled angry Black men stereotypes in a lot of ways. And yet – they were also representation for a group who were roundly ignored in mainstream comics before then.

Superman debuted in 1939 but the first major Black superhero, the Black Panther, didn’t debut until 1966. (There were earlier Black heroes, but they were pretty obscure.) Nearly 50 years ago, having a Black genius biochemist – or an African king – be a superhero felt a bit revolutionary, despite some of the more cliched acts of their portrayals. 

Laurence Fishburne played scientist Bill Foster in a small role in 2018’s Ant Man and the Wasp, but we were denied the glory of ever watching him Goliath up himself. 

Though he’s not likely to end up the next big MCU superstar anytime soon, I still like Black Goliath. Perhaps it’s because he is kind of an underdog superhero, and I always liked those. 

Sometimes you gotta stick up for the little (but really actually very big) guy. 

The best Beatle and nine other Hot Takes About Music

I always wanted to be a real music critic. A hardboiled, unshaven take-no-prisoners wordsmith like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau or Jim DeRogatis. I wanted to be William Miller in Almost Famous.

But I never really quite managed to make that a full-time gig among the many hats I’ve worn in my journalism career, really. I’ve been editor of alternative weekly newspapers back when they still existed, written lots and lots of music reviews and talked about music on the radio and covered concerts, I’ve interviewed Alice Cooper and once had someone from the band Phish call me and yell at my answering machine over a snarky dumb article I wrote about them, and I started this whole crazy writing career off with an internship at music mag Billboard way back in the day, but still… I’m no Lester Bangs. I just sometimes write about music I like.

And now that I’m a gentleman of a certain age, I accept that I’ve lost touch with what the kids are into with their TikToks and suchlike. Although I do try to still discover new stuff now and again, in my heart of hearts, my musical lodestone still remains roughly 1972-1988, I guess. Accept who you are, at a certain point, I reckon.

That doesn’t stop me from having the opinions on music, but I also recognise that at a certain point, yet another middle-aged white guy rambling on about nerdy obsessions about albums that came out decades ago is a bit well, cliche. But sometimes, you gotta let your opinions out or they fester in your brain and cause an aneurysm. None of them are quite worth a post on their own, but the frustrated music writer in me insists on laying them down like it was 1987 and this was a bad column in Spin magazine.

Thus, here’s 10 Hot Takes About Rock Music I Will Not Be Explaining Any Further. Please feel free to discuss and debunk. 

1. George Harrison had the best and most interesting solo career of the Beatles. 

2. I will always choose to listen to The Sex Pistols over The Clash.

3. Almost every Guns N’ Roses song would be better with the final 60-90 seconds cut off. (Seriously, listen to “November Rain” sometime.) 

4. The Rolling Stones should have broken up when Charlie Watts died.

5. I prefer Phil Collins as lead singer of Genesis.

6. I think David Bowie’s techno-jungle 1997 midlife crisis album Earthling is one of his five best albums.

7. I have switched back and forth between loving and hating the Doors at least five times in my music listening lifetime. I still can’t figure out which side I land on. 

8. Frank Zappa was the better musician technically, but Captain Beefheart’s croaky stomps were more sincere and hold up better. 

9. I’ve listened to Prince’s delightfully silly Batman album more times than any of his records other than Purple Rain. 

10. I don’t really care for Pink Floyd

What Cyclone Gabrielle took away, and what we’re left with.

It wasn’t fancy, I guess, but we liked it. My late father-in-law Peter Siddell built this bach, or beach house, more than 50 years ago now, from a garage kit-set. It was tucked away in the bush way out in West Auckland at Karekare a relatively short walk from the beach, and somewhat hidden from the world down a narrow plant-lined path. 

Now it sits red-stickered and smashed, like so many other houses and baches after Cyclone Gabrielle’s wrath last week. At least 11 people are dead and countless lives shattered, in ways big and small.

For decades, this unassuming bach, or beach house – no TV, no phone, a rather rugged outhouse toilet – was the centre of one family’s life. As children my wife and her sister spent weeks at a time out there, only going back to the city occasionally, sunburnt and sandblasted by long days on the black sands. It wasn’t a flashy place – it was a space to doze and read magazines in between beach adventures, to while away the long summer nights under starry skies. 

My in-laws Peter and Sylvia held frequent parties, the bush ringing with laughter and the sound of clinking wine glasses. You could see Karekare’s grand ominous rocky outcrop the Watchman from the deck, and before the dunes shifted and trees grew, you could see the sharp lines of the Tasman Sea against the horizon. 

When I first visited New Zealand with my new wife in 2000, the bach she’d talked about so much was one of the first places we visited. 

After my in-laws died in 2011, the bach passed to the next generation. It became a bit quieter without Peter and Sylvia there, but was still regularly used. The grandchildren grew up and became old enough to go out for a night with their mates. It may have been a little less busy than it once was, it may have been starting to take a lot of work to keep it in good nick, but we still loved our little humble bach.

Then sometime on the evening of February 13, Cyclone Gabrielle smashed through Karekare and the rest of the country, and tonnes of mud and trees slid down the steep hills, knocking our old bach aside like it was made of cardboard. 

It is a story repeated hundreds of times around Aotearoa this week – a family place, a special taonga, taken away in a rush of water and wind. 

We are so very lucky compared to so many others, we know, and whānau all over are feeling that strange and empty kind of pain a disaster like this carves out of ordinary life. 

We can’t get out to see our bach yet because of the dangerous closed road conditions, but we’re starting to get an idea of how devastating the cyclone was for the Karekare community.

In photos seen from above, twin slips gave way on either side of the bach, endangering it and other houses around.

We don’t know yet what will become of it in the end, but it doesn’t look good. Photos captured by neighbours show a building knocked askew, the sturdy deck timbers warped like they were rubber by the sliding foundation. The musty long-drop toilet we kept meaning to replace has seemingly been wiped from the face of the earth. The makeshift bath has fallen away from the house. Yet weirdly, some tiny pots on a bench on the slanting deck haven’t moved at all, and the windows appear intact. 

Karekare is a tiny place that’s only a permanent home for 300 or so people, best known for having several scenes from Jane Campion’s The Piano shot there. Like a lot of people, I’m over much of social media these days, but community groups online have proved invaluable for getting information out from the closed-off coast. 

The people stuck out there have gathered for cheery barbecues, as the mud is swept up and the cracked and battered places surveyed by engineers and insurers. They have rustled up ways to get children to school somehow despite shattered roads. 

One woman lost her beloved home, but in the middle of the crisis she reached out to offer some of the donated clothing she received to others. 

“Karekare has always been the best place in the world, and it is the people that make it next level amazing,” she wrote on the local Facebook page. 

It is true these are just places and things, and the horrifying loss of life in Gabrielle is by far the worst thing about the cyclone. Muriwai, just up the coast, is still grieving the death of two volunteer firefighters. Everyone is starkly aware things could have been even worse. 

But each place and thing that has been lost in the cyclone also has meaning for people, whether it’s a grassy back yard children have played in for years, a beloved tree that shaded people as they dozed in the sun, a battered old chair that was a comfortable companion every evening for someone. 

Any kind of natural disaster, whether it’s flood, fire or earthquake, takes away things you felt were certain in life. 

I don’t quite know yet what it replaces them with, but I keep finding myself thinking of that rustic little bach, now abandoned and the days of wine and parties for it probably over. I think of my son’s first visit there when he was barely a year old and of a photo taken circa 2006 of my late father-in-law with his three grandsons on the porch, reading a book together.

My son grew up playing on those beaches, those black sands, summer after summer. My son’s now a university student and it sometimes feels like everything has changed since that photo was taken. 

But those moments – for us, for all the victims of Karekare, for all those wounded by Gabrielle – are still there, floating somewhere, and I like to think that no storm can ever really take them away for any of us. 

Amoeba Adventures 32 – the print edition – is here and now shipping!

It’s here! It’s shiny and tangible! Slightly delayed by flooding and chaos, the strictly limited print edition of AMOEBA ADVENTURES 32 is available for a mere US$7.50 shipped from New Zealand to anywhere in the known world!

And of course, the comic itself is also still here as a 100% free PDF download that you can read right this second by clicking here! Don’t miss what I humbly think is the wildest Amoeba Adventures story in years.

Plus, still available are limited print copies of Amoeba Adventures 30, Amoeba Adventures 31 and the special anniversary reprint of 1998’s Amoeba Adventures 27. Order all four comics together for a mere US$25 postpaid or single issues for $7.50 each. Order by sending funds to PayPal care of or contact me directly! Thanks as always for reading.

The day the water came to Auckland

January is supposed to be a slow news month in New Zealand, with half the country on leisurely summer holidays, schools closed, and the beaches full. 

Not this January, where in the last two weeks of the month we saw our world-famous prime minister suddenly resign and replaced by a guy named ‘Chippy’ and as if that wasn’t enough, my city was hit by the worst floods in living memory. We’ll be cleaning up the damage from this slow January for some time.

My suburb out in West Auckland of Titirangi was ground zero for a lot of the damage, as I wrote over at RNZ. We’re still coming out of the storm, but it’s been pretty awe-inspiring and terrifying to see. The photos and video pouring in to newsrooms were astonishing. I’ve covered a LOT of disasters and chaos in my journalism career but I’ve never had one where I had to stop in the middle of work to keep my basement from floating away on floodwaters. 

We are lucky, of course, compared to many here in Auckland. We lost power and water for a while and things are wet in the basement, but four people have died, and hundreds of homes are ruined.

On Friday when the storm hit, it surprised everyone by being far, far greater in magnitude than your usual Auckland rainstorm. Our basement has flooded before, but not like this, where a literal torrent of water rushed through. I’ve never actually felt scared for my home and myself before, but as I was out there in knee-deep water frantically shovelling dirt and clay to redirect the water rushing under our house, I had a few moments of that stark primal fear that you only get when you realise that you are caught up in something far beyond your control. I also thought getting knocked unconscious against my own house in a rainy narrow ditch and drowning would be a bloody stupid way to go.

Just 500m or so down from our house, a massive slip closed off the road and has left a house above precariously close to coming down too. Across the street half our neighbour’s garden just dropped down the hill. All around our neighbourhood are giant slips and open cracks in the earth that look far more like earthquake damage than anything else. The beach we often go swimming about saw its entire yacht club collapse. 

My old friend and co-worker Cathy ended up in The New York Times talking about how her land just started slowly slipping away.  

Thirty years ago I joined an environmental club at my university and wide-eyed and optimistic we hoped to make things better for the future in our very tiny way. Thirty years have passed and that optimism is gradually draining away, like the flood waters down my street, because of an ossified political culture in many countries, greedy businesses and a world far more interested in pointless culture wars and distractions. People are still denying climate change or screaming conspiracy theories every time something like this happens. Hell, I’m not just pointing fingers – I’m part of the problem, too. My little suburb is hardly alone in extreme weather events the past few years. 

This was not your typical midsummer Auckland rain, and indeed it was Auckland’s wettest day in history. This is climate change, new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said. This is the future we’ve all spent the last 30 years dithering about, worrying about, pretending wasn’t going to happen and ultimately, we’re all beginning to understand, doing nowhere near enough about.