After months—years, actually—of wanting a freaking Black Widow movie, we’ve still got noting but hot air from Marvel Studios execs. In the meantime, though, all is not entirely lost. The comics-producing side of Marvel is on its fifth issue of a new Black Widow title, and so far it’s fantastic.
The new series follows the highly successful Hawkeye’s example of showing us what Natasha does when she’s not being an Avenger. It turns out that what that is is taking solo work as atonement for past crimes, and using the payout to support her network of safe houses and the trust funds she has set up for families of those she’s wronged. (Being an Avenger doesn’t pay so well, it turns out.) The first three issues are very episodic, more concerned with setting the tone than establishing a central conflict, but the writing is compelling from the get-go.
One of the challenges of writing a book with Natasha as the main character is that if you give too much away about her background, she loses her mystery and thus one of her most interesting qualities. At the same time, making her too mysterious and secretive would be frustrating because it’s no fun to read about someone you just can’t get a read on. Author Nathan Edmonson is doing a tremendous job of handling this challenge. The comic gives us enough of an insight into Natasha’s head so that we sympathize with her and understand her choices, but keeps us on our toes so that we never become bored with the storyline.
The cast of supporting characters is also awesome, from Natasha’s long-suffering lawyer and agent Isaiah, who manages her finances and books her jobs (and whose placid exterior hides his own dark side) to the stray cat, Liho, whom Nat is determinedly not adopting.
I would not be talking about this series if it didn’t have good art. (I learned my lesson with Fearless Defenders.) Thankfully, the series has been blessed by the pencils of the amazing Phil Noto, who does some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever seen. His faces are tremendously expressive, the colors are soft and gorgeous, the action sequences are dynamic, and I’ve never seen a single objectifying, sexist pose on one of his pages.
My one concern about the first major story arc so far is that the first villain we encountered was a neurotic and obsessively violent former Orthodox Christian monk. There’s not a lot of representation of Orthodox Christianity in pop culture (a fact we’ve lamented here before) and the warrior priest trope is a little played out too. While the juxtaposition of excessively traditional giant man against consistently iconoclastic petite woman made for an interesting fighting dynamic, it struck me as a little trite for a first plot arc.
However, as of the most recent issue, Natasha has broken deeper into whatever shadowy force employed the monk, and hopefully future minions will rely less on weird religious stereotypes.
The short story here is that I can’t recommend this comic strongly enough. With five issues out already, a trade paperback collection will probably be appearing sooner rather than later, but if you can get your hands on it (or have a Comixology account) there’s no time like the present to start reading. (And if you, like me, are full of Winter Soldier-related emotions following the Captain America movie, you might be interested in knowing that Bucky will be gracing the pages of issue #8.)