New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
With less than a week until Avengers: Endgame, I’m taking some time to do an N2C review on some of the core cinematic Avengers that we’ve missed, and today it’s Black Widow.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Art by: Chris Samnee
Real Name: Natalia Alianovna Romanova
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964)
In the early 1900s, the young Natasha Romanoff was taken to a covert operation called the ‘Red Room’. Here, the young girl would spend her childhood being brainwashed by the KGB, and trained to become a merciless killer by Russian operatives like the Winter Soldier. In this ‘Red Room’, Natasha had her biology enhanced, making her stronger and faster than the average human, while also extending her lifespan. Graduating from the ‘Red Room’ as one of their top agents, Natasha joined the KGB and was later assigned to infiltrate and bring down Stark Industries, which of course led her to clash with the American superhero Iron Man. Black Widow’s continued clashes with Iron Man would lead her to team up with a partner in crime; an archer named Hawkeye – whose love would lead her to fight off her brainwashing, and defect to the U.S.A. There, she was hired by Nick Fury as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., forging romantic entanglements with heroes such as Iron Man and Daredevil, as well as long-lasting friendships with heroes such as Captain America and Wolverine. However, for all her good intentions, her dark past his never far behind.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Black Widow has been a longtime member of Marvel’s pantheon of superheroes, but unlike fellow Avengers like Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America, rarely holds on to a series that’s spanned more than a year (Captain Marvel also seemed to have trouble holding onto ongoing series… coincidence? Hmmm). However, she began to get a bit more of a push after her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having had four separate ongoing series between her first appearance in Iron Man 2 and the time of writing.
The longest of those series was written by Nathan Edmonson, with art from Phil Noto (and featured cameos from journalist and television personality Anderson Cooper). It ran for twenty issues and was cancelled along with the majority of Marvel’s comics when their Secret Wars crossover event happened, in which the Marvel multiverse and all characters therein were pretty much destroyed (they came back, obviously). Following this, a new series was launched by veteran writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee, with Samnee also helping on writing duties.
This was a big deal, as the two had come off a fairly lengthy run on Daredevil, which had aimed at turning the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen away from his morbid, gritty crime stories and returning him to the swashbuckling, fun-loving superhero he had been when he first graced the pages of Marvel Comics. Their take on Daredevil was particularly well-received, and so news of them taking on Black Widow left a lot of fans very excited for the new series.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
After secrets from her past are dredged up and threaten to be exposed, Black Widow has to abandon her allegiances to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers and go rogue; conducting missions for an enemy operative, while avoiding the grasp of S.H.I.E.L.D.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
The thing about heroes who don’t hold down long-running series’ is whenever a new series comes around, it generally operates as if it’s someone’s first comic featuring that hero – the origin will be retread in some form, and the conflict that the hero faces will often have some sort of tie to said origin. That is very much the case here, as the story weaves between Black Widow’s connection with S.H.I.E.L.D., her relationship with fellow Avengers like Iron Man, her battle against the mysterious ‘Weeping Lion’, and her time at the Red Room and the legacy it has left behind.
So yeah, a pretty good place to start, Black Widow-wise.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
While it may not yet have the same magic that Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil run has, it’s very evident from this first volume of their run that this is setting the series up for greater things in the run’s second half. While the conflict at hand is resolved in the story, in turn, it opens up even more conflicts for Black Widow to face, and obviously, if you’re just reading this first volume, you only get part of the story.
However, what we do get is interesting, as straight out of the gate, it presents an exciting story that shows just how formidable Black Widow is, without relying heavily on references to her advanced age, or physical enhancements. It just plays like a savvy, normal fighter showing how much damage you can do in a world proliferated with superheroes if you have the right training.
As a ‘set-up’ story, a lot of interesting little wrinkles are introduced to Black Widow’s life, and although – as I said – the main one is resolved, but barely, meaning there’s not much of a sense of closure to the end of the volume; so on the writing front, that does hold the comic back a bit. However, on the art front, this comic really excels. Artist Chris Samnee isn’t just great because he can draw well, he’s great because the way he lays out a comic makes every new issue feel fresh and original. It’s not as obvious here as it was with Daredevil, but his unique style still shines through, taking you deep into the action of every page (and this is a very action-heavy comic), and while it can sometimes feel a bit muddled, it overall feels a lot more dynamic than the majority of superhero comic books on sale, and for that alone, it’s worth reading.
If you do decide to pick it up though, I would recommend also purchasing the following volume so you can get the complete story.