Following the Kingpin’s debut in Amazing Spider-Man #50 we have him meet and defeat Spider-Man the following issue. #52 resolves his introductory arc with Spidey turning the tables. In addition to the Kingpin/Spider-Man clash, the story arc includes the death of long-time supporting character Frederick Foswell. A Daily Bugle columnist who’d secretly run the mobs as The Big Man, he eventually got out of prison and went back to work for the paper as a crime reporter.
When the Kingpin consolidated his control over the mobs, Foswell succumbed to temptation, tried to replace the Kingpin, then settled for being a top lieutenant. In #52, reflecting how Jonah gave him a break, Foswell sacrifices his life to save Jonah’s. It’s the kind of character arc you can give a supporting character when you have a supporting cast as rich as Spidey’s.
A cast that got a noteworthy addition in #51, as Jonah and his city editor, Robbie Robertson, try to get a scoop on the rise in crime, even with their crime reporter AWOL.
The following issue, we see Robbie again, as Ned Leeds tries to figure out what the hell happened to Jonah.
Obviously there was a course correction between issues, aging Robbie and rounding out his look with his ever-present pipe. At first I thought #52 was Robbie’s debut because the guy in the first panel didn’t look at all like the character I knew.
I wasn’t following the Spider-books closely when these issues came out so I wasn’t really aware of Robbie until years later. It never occurred to me what a startling move it was for 1967 to make the character a black guy.
While DC had better, more interesting women than Marvel (for example), Marvel did much better on race in the Silver Age. We had the Black Panther, Hank Pym’s assistant Bill Foster, and now Robbie. In some ways he’s the most remarkable. He’s not a superhero and he’s in a position of authority, outranking everyone at the Bugle except Jonah. Unlike Bill Foster, he became a steady constant presence in the supporting cast for years. He’s not The Black Guy, he’s just a person who happens to be black.
I have no idea what my perception of Robbie would be if I were a person of color. But from my own lily-white worldview, I think Lee and Romita did a good job.
#SFWApro. Art by John Romita.