Winter Soldier and Black Widow. What an inspired pairing to come together in this issue. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner in this title or more often. Of course Nate Edmonson’s work on both this and his PUNISHER series has shown him more than capable of writing a character like Winter Soldier, but there’s a certain nuance to that character that sets him apart from other “black-op” style superheroes and Edmonson nails that down with incredible economy. Widow has been hired to retrieve some critical maguffin while Soldier has been hired to ensure an international gang doesn’t wind up with it. Since he wasn’t hired to stop Natasha or even retrieve the item per se, they wind up working together when the gang shows up, and here is where the two characters really shine. There aren’t many words exchanged by the pair, partially because they spend most of the issue under heavy fire, but what is exchanged is a kind of easy, effortless banter that tips the hand to the fact that they both know and trust the other implicitly. That they feel they can exchange brief quips not only under fire, but while on-mission is a great testament to some very good tension that arises between the pair.
Phil Noto now working on his eighth consecutive issue, almost all of those have had him as the sole artist, a role he reprises in this issue. It’s an interesting commentary on where the industry is on a creative level that one person sticking with a book for eight issues is considered noteworthy, but the lack of delays and level of detail Noto manages is the real star of the story. From an absolutely gorgeous full-page splash of sprawling Prague to the incredible sense of speed during the issue’s train heist, Noto’s art is impressive from afar or close-up. Neither Romanova nor Barnes ever look boring, even when they appear stoic and that’s another critical part to making this issue as good as it is: even though the pair APPEAR to be going through the motions and making it look easy, there’s real emotion adding to the stakes.
This is an action-heavy issue, and when the shots begin firing things get a little stiff and stilted. The action jumps from one panel to the next with a fair degree of chaos, but it’s not the kind of chaos that serves the story, it’s the kind that makes the action hard to follow and makes the characters look overly posed rather than in mid-motion.
This issue threads the needle on being a standalone and a jumping off point for what looks to be the focus of the next arc. This is an interesting way to write the book, and I actually endorse it as it gives new readers multiple places to begin reading the title while still rewarding longtime readers with lots of small details that continue popping up, so whether you’re looking to get started or a fan salivating for the next adventure, you would be well served picking up this issue.