(Marvel Comics, 2014)
Review by Shawn Warner
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Artwork by Phil Noto
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Atonement, that’s what Natasha Romanov is seeking in the inaugural issue of her new series. She is seeking ways to make up for the many bad things she has done in her life, professional and private. For Natasha aka Black Widow that usually means someone is going to die, someone who deserves it. Nathan Edmonson is the writer of record on this new series and he does one heck of a job bringing together the tropes of a spy thriller circa 1968 complete with Russian accents, lots of guns, intrigue and espionage with the more modern high tech version of the genre replete with gadgetry and a strong female lead character that is not over-sexualized but confident and competent. Edmonson comes out with guns blazing in this first issue; he immediately ”gets” the character in a way that many male writers would not. He fearlessly writes dialogue that rings true and sounds genuinely like conversation, not over-the-top jargon-heavy techno-spy babble but real words expressing real ideas and convey authentic thoughts and emotions.
This issue is mostly set-up but it is far from the pedestrian fare that usually accompanies such introductory narratives. Instead Edmonson opts to dive right into the action and that’s where we meet Natasha, on the job. She is talking her intended target, a would-be suicide bomber, into trusting her to deliver him to safety not the hands of his pursuers. However Natasha has her own ideas and upon gaining his trust promptly secures his hands with a zip tie then attaches a bungee cord to his waist and pushes him from the window of a high rise into the clutches of the awaiting authorities. Natasha sheds her cropped black wig to release her trademark flowing crimson mane and off she goes to meet her lawyer and confidant Isaiah. He is her contact and friend whom she meets up with to receive information on her next potential target but these are not targets in the same sense as the work she does for the Avengers, these are jobs she does to ease her own ailing conscience and launder her own soiled karma, she accepts none of the payments she earns for her work. So where does the money go? Black Widow is an assassin with a moral compass, skewed though it may be at times.
This premise of this new series seemed to be focused on Black Widow’s solo missions outside of her role as an Avenger which lends itself to more introspective stories and an opportunity to learn much more of her shrouded past. Natasha prides herself on being mysterious but not for the sake of being alluring, she uses her ambiguity to her advantage on the job. Her desire to atone for past transgressions seems to be concerned with some very specific but as yet unrevealed events in her life. There is a fundamental and very essential mystery here that is sure to be meticulously examined in this series exposing more of the heart of this complex and engrossing character.
Phil Noto has done some of the best work I’ve seen since Esad Ribic’s stunning turn on Thor. Noto’s style is innovative and fresh; it evolves and changes over the course of the issue. He has a darker, hard-lined take on the action sequences that softens to a diffused, delicate rendering of the more poignant and personal moments like the scene at the end of the issue between Natasha and her cat Liho. The two sit on the balcony of her New York apartment, Natasha sips a glass of wine as Liho playfully paws at her pant leg. Noto expertly renders the scene awash in the colors of the city at night, soft greys and cool blues are highlighted by the glowing yellows and whites of the nearby lighted windows. It’s truly a brilliant example of composition and speaks volumes of the tonal quality of that very specific moment in time. I have been a fan of Noto’s work for quite some time, he did a short but really excellent stint recently on Thunderbolts but I think he has found a home on this book. I hope so anyway because this book is absolutely gorgeous to look at, every page is a singular work of artistic genius. His character design for Black Widow is so tasteful and elegant, at a time when super heroines are being gratuitously sexualized and used scantily clad as window dressing to mask substandard writing, Noto takes the high road all the way. This Black Widow is an attractive woman but she doesn’t fight in high heels and a bra, she wears sensible attire for the job of killing high value targets, not dressing for the local brothel or strip club. These women are not heroines and the artists who portray woman in such a way do them and themselves a great disservice. Noto gets it right as does Nathan Edmonson and the rest of the creative team on this book.
This is an example of just how good a comic book can be, great writing, stellar artwork and a lead character that exudes confidence yet possesses an inner turmoil that defines her and makes her infinitely intriguing. Black Widow #1 is the first perfect comic book of 2014 and I am so glad we only have to wait 2 weeks for #2. (5/5) So until next time, see you at the comic book store.
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