Given the massive uptick in exposure Black Widow has seen in recent years, it’s a bit surprising that she’s only just getting her own Marvel NOW! title. The Avenger (and former KGB agent) has long been a fan favorite, the character an intriguing blend of world-saving superhero and professional assassin. Though her role in Marvel’s cinematic universe has mostly focused on the former, she’s still widely regarded as one of the most lethal and efficient operatives ever to grace a funny book. With Black Widow #1, writer Nathan Edmondson returns Natasha to her super-spy roots, crafting a globe-hopping adventure that’s as reflective as it is exciting.
Widow drops us in the middle of a standoff, as Natasha seeks to ameliorate a potentially explosive situation. Interestingly, this isn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. sanctioned mission or the result of an Avenger’s call to arms; instead, it’s a paying gig contracted and accepted by the Russian spy herself. As it turns out, she’s been taking on odd jobs like this for some time as a way to atone for the seemingly copious amounts of red in her ledger. It’s not about the money (which she doesn’t even keep), it’s about the result, and as the issue progresses we glean somewhat of an understanding as to why she’s driven to such measures.
Edmondson paints Natasha as an almost sympathetic (albeit remarkably capable) figure, one who operates by her own rules despite being internationally renowned. His Natasha is one weighed down by remorse and regret, and it’s clear he’s more focused on character study than meta human melees. It’s hard to use the word “soft” when describing Natasha Romanov, especially given the amount of henchmen she plows through, but there is a softness to the character that I didn’t expect. She genuinely seems tormented by the actions of her past, using her vast skills as a way to exorcise her own inner demons. Edmondson doesn’t go into great detail in regards to what those demons are, but there’s enough subtext to gather that even the most assured individual is prone to contrition.
That said, I did feel that some of her inner musings were a bit too transparent, most notably a fourth wall break near the issue’s end. Natasha’s struggles are palpable, but without context her admissions don’t fully land. We don’t know who she was, but we want to, and I’m not sure yet that we’ll actually get any true insight. Her mystery makes her interesting, but it also limits the character a bit in terms of reader attachment, and given the rather fixed ending I wonder where the series will end up going. Will this be a procedural, with BW taking on a new mission with each issue? Is there a big bad, an overlying arc? As a standalone debut Black Widow is great, but as the beginning of a series I was left wanting more.
However, one area that did not leave me wanting is the art. This book is gorgeous, everything from the pencils to the colors a perfect 10. Artist Phil Noto delivers on every single page, his panels almost cinematic in their direction. His style is one I can only describe as complexly simple; the art is sleek and stylish, not overly busy nor overly sparse, but rather a perfect blend of the two. His coloring is some of the best I’ve seen, hues bleeding into one another in a remarkably realistic fashion, and his layouts are exciting and well plotted. What’s best, his Natasha is as believable as she is deadly, our heroine busting faces and firing rockets like a seasoned pro. This is no painted-on, over-exaggerated buxom babe, but rather a real, extraordinary woman. I can probably come up with another ten pages of gushing praise, but one look inside will sway you more than I ever could.
Black Widow #1 proves a welcome return to a fan favorite, combining dynamic action with budding character study. Edmondson’s take on Natasha is solid, with definite room for growth, and with Noto absolutely crushing it on art there’s plenty to be excited about going forward.