After Clint Barton received his very own “what does Hawkeye get up to when NOT saving the world as an Avenger?” title, Natasha Romanova (they REALLY did use a Russian name generator back in the 70s, didn’t they?) seemed like the other obvious choice. She’s a high-profile member of the team, particularly in light of the recent movie, and she also lacks any kind of superpower, causing many to question what, exactly, her role on a team with a literal god is. Nathan Edmonson actually does a great job answering that question as Black Widow’s time isn’t filled with whacky neighbors and pizza dogs, but straight-up espionage and operations that a superpowered individual wouldn’t be called for in. After a few issues establishing a tone and premise, last issue gave us what appeared to be the beginning of our first major story arc with the villainous Hammer of God, a mad, powered up Russian Orthodox monk responsible for an embassy bombing. This issue introduces us to another supporting player: the amoral information broker Tori Raven, who helps Widow track the monk before he can attack his next target. We also get to see a tense interrogation scene with an unexpected ending and a trip to England. Edmonson definitely has a flair for this character, he writes Natasha as no-nonsense, but never bland. It’s to his credit how much of a personality he infuses the character with when it would be easy to write her as a near-blank slate of spycraft and killing. We also get to learn that Maria Hill, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., is apparently a day drinker.
Phil Noto has gotten an absolutely new lease on art with this book. While I enjoyed him in Thunderbolts, this is something else altogether and the fact that he handles it from top-to-bottom is incredible. The visuals have a watercolor-effect, giving them a beautifully melancholy appearance. It’s very appropriate for a Russian character in a very Ruso-centric story. There’s also a real kinetic force to the action scenes, which are plentiful, that can’t be easy to pull off with visuals like this, but Noto manages it amazingly well, creating even more of a juxtaposition between the mood and what’s going on. This is a very visually depressing book, but it’s incredibly apropos.
This issue tries to do too many things at once. We have a series of incredibly fast and breakneck setting changes that directly counteract a lot of the slow, plodding buildup we’ve seen in previous issues. I get that this was a payoff for all that build, but everything happens so quickly now, we never get a chance to let any of it sink in. We also have an example of Natasha following bad intel after following bad intel from the same source. The notion of “bad intel” is a recurring theme in the issue, but sandwiched as close together as the two examples, again from the same source, are makes it seem like Widow is tooo trusting. The final reveal of the mastermind behind the Mad Monk is also incredibly obscure, even by my standards, to the point that it undercut the reveal. It’s always a risk with situations like this when you don’t want it to be obvious who’s behind it all, but then the reader has to look up exactly who it is and why that’s significant. That said, it’s a solid reveal.
This book is one of the best examples of crafting the story you want to tell in the framework of a superhero comic, and it’s something that both Marvel and DC are starting to explore more and more. If you took the name Black Widow off of it, you wouldn’t even necessarily put together that it’s a Marvel property, and I think that’s amazing. It’s a great look at how superhero books can change to reach much wider audiences and it’s an absolute FEAST visually.