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. 

Author: nik dirga

I'm an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

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