Black Widow has had a difficult few years and, although being killed and reborn in a clone’s body may be par for course for your average Superhero, the strain is beginning to show. To help her through these difficult times Marvel Comics have enlisted movie writers/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska to pen the next stage of Natasha Romanoff’s life. With a selection of horror/thriller B-movies under their belt, it is pretty clear that Black Widow is not going to have an easy ride.
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Coming back from the dead hasn’t been everything that Natasha Romanoff thought it would be. Part of her has changed, and rage is building inside her. The Soska Sisters (Avengers Halloween Special) have written a story that prods that wound and pushes Black Widow closer to breaking point.
The issue starts with a standard terrorist/hostage situation with Captain America and Black Widow facing an abusive crowd as well as simple-minded terrorists. There is a heavy-handed social commentary throughout this sequence that almost upsets the balance of the narrative; especially as the villains are barely two dimensional. Luckily this set up is about allowing the reader to understand Natasha’s current state of mind and is not about the bland bad guys.
Following this opening Black Widow goes on a journey of self-discovery, of sorts. She heads out with the intention of losing herself to her rage and finds a trigger to set her off — a trigger which is not for the faint-hearted.
As the issue progresses, the story starts to improve, from a central character point of view. Unfortunately, the villains and situations remain second rate. It is well known that the Soska Sisters are fans of Grindhouse movies and that influence starts to become apparent as the story unfolds. However, it is difficult to really embrace that type of genre in a Marvel Superhero comic. For the shlock to work, it has to be visually vicious. There has to be a sense of uncontrollable brutality. Black Widow does not quite reach that mark.
Part of the problem is how comical some of the set pieces are. Whereas this may work in a movie, such as the uncool cop from Cabin Fever trying to party with the kids, it falls flat on the pages of this comic. The sound effects, although beautifully rendered by Joe Caramagna, would be more at home in the 1960s Batman series than in a violent sexploitation story, which is what this is aiming for.
The pencil work by Flaviano and the color of Veronica Gandini really suits this take on Black Widow. Together they create a visual world that is over powering with glitz and glamour but underneath shadows are beginning to creep out. Flaviano produces some wonderfully choreographed fight sequences and imbues Black Widow with controlled strength. Throughout it all the reader gets the impression that Natasha is holding back but the strong surface is cracking which is exactly what this story is exploring.
Gandini fills each panel and page with a multitude of colors to give the impression of busy streets and crowded places. She reigns this in, however, in those moments where a simple action or piece of dialogue is important. At these points, the background becomes a single color or disappears entirely. This helps to give weight to some elements of the narrative which is needed, especially if you are new to Black Widow. Although there is a ‘previously in’ type introduction, there are still elements of the story that feels like a back story is needed to understand what is being referenced.
As mentioned, the lettering work by Caramagna is wonderful. There are scenes with a lot of dialogue that Caramagna expertly positions around the action and the characters so that it doesn’t distract from the image but does help the natural flow of the page. The incorporation of the sound effects into the artwork in a number of panels is an especially clever touch; it’s just a shame that in some case the words themselves add an unwelcome element of comedy to violent or cruel natured scenes creating a difficult contrast of themes for the reader to digest.
The laughable villains in Black Widow may seem like that best way into the story, especially if future issues are going to get darker, but it sets it off on a wrong footing. The jarring contrasts between the horrific elements of the comic and the comedy elements make for a difficult read in places. This is a shame because there is a great story at the heart of this issue and the Soska Sisters have a very good understanding of the central character. They handle her development perfectly, illustrating the balance that Natasha walks between hero and killer. They portray her like The Bride from Kill Bill and the similarities between the two fictional characters become more evident throughout this issue.
There is a great comic in the pages of Black Widow if it can just escape the shackles of being a Marvel Superhero comic and embrace the Grindhouse horror it so desperately wants to be. There are plenty of fans waiting for Natasha to let loose and this series looks like they are going to get their wish. If this is the case, then Black Widow is in safe hands with the Soska Sisters because they know how to handle off the rails characters.