Black Widow steals Marvel’s best #1 of the year

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2014 was a good year for Marvel’s women – certainly betters than ‘13.  Their flagship female-led title, Captain Marvel, was relaunched to consistently good reviews; Ms. Marvel was an instant critical and commercial darling, X-Men continued despite Brian Wood’s necessary departure and will soon be getting a new writer from Ms. Marvel’s G. Willow Wilson, and Storm, Elekrtra, Spider-Woman, and She-Hulk received titles of their own as well.  Not all of those titles are good, and some may be cancelled, but they were still there.

Black Widow was particularly notable as it was considered long overdue.  Natasha Romanov should have gotten her newest solo title two years ago when she played a crucial and beloved role in the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. Why it took so long, I don’t know.  But when it dropped, Black Widow #1 was outstanding.  Below, now edited, were my thoughts when I first read it in January, and they hold up twelve months later.

From the art to the writing to the lettering, everything in this first issue is absolutely fantastic.  There’s a perfect team for the book, too: Nathan Edmondson, best known for an espionage thriller works, and Phil Noto, best known for his brilliant illustrations, covers, and interior art.  His illustrative style has always been gorgeous, but here it’s something else.  The coloring especially deserves mention: it’s beautiful and evocative from panel one.  And panel one is perfect: Natasha’s target is in frame, but out of focus – you can see clearly the terror in his eye and the sweat on his brow.  That is excellent establishment of scene, of feeling, of Natasha’s character and what she provokes without even seeing her.  It’s one of many panels and sequences that feel like shots from a film, and Noto’s best work is when it feels the most cinematic.  The fight scene later in the book is brilliant: the way it’s staged and drawn makes it look like frames from a film that you can honestly see play out between the gutters, and it shows Natasha’s experience and efficiency in dispatching hired goons and assassins.

What’s of particular interest is how Noto uses primary colors in this issue to set the atmosphere.  The first scene is bathed in blues and backed up with blue-greens: it’s a cold, clammy feeling, the target is isolated and terrified: there’s no warmth here, no real hope for him.  Dubai relies on yellows, a warmer color to evoke a desert climate and a tight, tense environment.  And when Natasha sets off the alarm everything goes red, which evokes urgency and danger, but it’s also Natasha’s signature: this is Natasha at her best, and it’s only fitting her color surrounds her.  But that’s when she’s working: Natasha off the job isn’t restricted to one primary color, there are blues, yellows, and reds, when she is able to let her guard down and be a person on her own.  If anyone has doubts about Noto’s place on this book, please read this book and put them to rest.

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Nathan Edmondson is another winner.  This is some of the tightest writing and storytelling Marvel has put out lately.  It’s gripping like few current comics are: yes, it takes hold right from the start, but more than that it makes you not want to let go.  Starting your book at the climax of one operation is such a smart move.  It throws the reader right into Natasha’s world and her mission at it’s most crucial point, shows you one of the ways Nat operates, using trickery and deceit, to stop a mad bomber.  That then allows us to see how Natasha contracts missions, and how she operates in a more espionage, action way.  It’s a two for one!

Natasha is written so well here, too.  She is somewhat aloof and distant, but you can see how much she cares, and how much she wants to do good in the world.  She’s also semi-adopted an adorable cat, allowing her to actively care for an innocent instead of harming it.  Her mission isolates her: unlike so many titles featuring other Avengers outside of the team, there is no guest appearance by Captain America or another pal here.  It’s just Natasha, alone, focused on the job.

One more interesting thing is that this is a book that has its ties in Natasha’s past, but is very much a forward thinking and moving book.  It’s about her making up for her past, about using her skills and her self to make a better, safer present and future.  Natasha can never undo what she has done, but she can atone and rectify and help others.  That was exactly the right way to go with the book and the character.  Natasha has been brainwashed, manipulated, and used, but no longer.  Her past is important, but it’s not the fully story – she makes her own story.

Unfortunately, I fell out of Black Widow relatively early on.  The subsequent issues were essentially the same as #1, but not as brilliant, and it got old fast.  While it apparently picked up ca. issue eight, I have yet to catch up.  Nonetheless, the next issues’ failure to keep my attention don’t undo the masterful work #1 did to grab it in the first place.  A single introductory issue is all too rare in the current comic environment, where three-part arcs seem to be the absolute minimum.  It’s understandable – it’s more fun to take your time and spread your story out over sixty-six pages than the relatively more confining twenty-two, and as comics have become more cinematic and televisual in their structure, it feels natural to have issue-ending act breaks.

Within its confines, Black Widow #1 told an excellent story and introduced a complex story in just twenty-two pages, and far surpassed any other issue on the stands, introduction or no.  Whether or not it picks up is, in a way, moot.  Black Widow #1 remains a gold standard for an introduction story – or any story at all.

 

Black Widow #1 was originally reviewed by the author at KaBooooom!.