New Year, New Black Widow

It’s hard to watch a comic book you love come to an end. Unfortunately, the utter nonsense of Marvel’s Secret Wars event at the end of last summer did that to most of the books I followed. Thankfully, most of these books reappeared right after Secret Wars ended with new number ones, but one was still missing: Black Widow. I wondered at the lack, but series do often come and go and I didn’t give it a ton of thought. Apparently I missed both the hype and the window for preorders for the new Black Widow series, which just premiered last week, to my surprise. Whether that surprise was pleasant or not hinged on what I found inside the issue. (Spoiler alert: it was pleasant.)

black widow cover

Black Widow #1 is, like one of my favorite movies of 2015, mostly chase scene. Natasha has stolen something of great value from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Maria Hill has declared that she and it must be retrieved by any means necessary. (It’s good to remember here that the 616’s Hill is a bit colder and less warmly snarky than the MCU’s.) Widow busts her way through a cadre of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and then leaps, sans parachute, from a window of the helicarrier. She liberates a jetpack from one of her pursuers on the way down, which keeps the series from ending after one issue. However, she can’t seem to shake one of the agents after her and the issue ends with a brutal duel between Natasha and this much larger man. It turns out that Natasha herself isn’t sure what it is that she stole, and leaves the audience wondering what exactly could get her to turn her back on S.H.I.E.L.D. for some Macguffin she doesn’t even understand.

Sometimes it’s even harder to watch a book change creative teams than it is to see it get canceled. I ended up dropping the New 52 Batwoman two issues after its writer and artist walked off, and picked up the new Hawkeye and Captain Marvel with trepidation after Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue Deconnick respectively left (which turned out to be unfounded). Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto did such a bang-up job with Natasha’s last solo series that I was understandably concerned about whether the new team would stand up to the challenge. I knew that Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matt Wilson, who were previously behind the most recent Daredevil run, came highly recommended, but I haven’t personally read anything from them.

Black_Widow_1_Preview_1Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. For an issue that lacked much meaningful dialogue, what we did get packed a punch. And it’s all the more impressive what it was able to convey without dialogue—it’s clear that their work together on Daredevil has left Waid and Samnee with a real creative connection. A lot of the action was wordless but purposeful and important to the progression of the plot, and it’s impressive how they tell a story with so few words. The real star of this issue, however, was the art; the action was tense and exciting but not drawn in a way that was hard to follow. The panels rarely followed a standard three-panels-per-page breakdown, instead splitting pages into acute angles and breaking movements down into tiny shot-by-shot mini-panels that gave them an almost slow-motion feel. Natasha herself was a delight to watch as she beat her way through a battalion of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and the final page, which features a grimy and exhausted but still terrifying Nat looming over her final assailant with only a rock as a weapon, was amazing. That last page left me hooked, and next month’s issue can’t come soon enough.

While there isn’t much to talk about yet in terms of representation, I did appreciate that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were dispatched to pursue Natasha were of a variety of genders, races, and body types. One agent who got a close-up was even hijabi! I was pleased to see that they made an effort to be inclusive even in an issue that didn’t feature much in the way of character interaction.

For a comic I didn’t know about or expect to buy, this issue left me excited to get back to my comic store—I need to add it to my pull list ASAP. If you’re a longtime superhero comics reader or new to the medium, this #1 is a great place to jump in, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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