After a recent, well-received run by writer Nathan Edmonson and Artist Phil Noto, Natasha Romanova is back in her own series by the Daredevil team of writer/artist Chris Samnee, co-writer Mark Waid, colorist Matt Wilson, and letterer Joe Caramagna. Is it good?
Black Widow (2016) #1 (Marvel Comics)
I’m a huge fan of Mark Waid’s Daredevil run, which truly became Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s run after Samnee joined the team on #12 (even if the previous issues were drawn by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, two of the best artists in the business). At something like 60 issues, give or take a few specials and crossovers, reading through it as it was coming out was a life-changing experience for me, as hyperbolic as that may sound. Not only is that run excellent in terms of sheer craftsmanship, but as someone that has struggled with Depression for as long as he could remember, seeing Daredevil fight his own inner demons connected with me on such a profound emotional level that when Matt Murdock came right out and said that he had Depression, it felt like a revelation.
So obviously, I came into the new Black Widow, which starts with the same creative team that Daredevil ended with, with some sky-high expectations. And while it didn’t bring a tear to my eye the way that 2011’s Daredevil #1 did, I am happy to report that this is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up.
With an issue that’s essentially just one 20-page chase scene, Samnee and Waid wisely do not attempt to match the same tone as Daredevil. While that run certainly had its fair share of well-written, expertly staged action scenes, including the first issue, it was a comic driven very much by emotion. Black Widow #1 is almost completely devoid of pathos, and in the hands of most other creators, that would be a death sentence on my ability to enjoy it. Samnee and Waid are not most creators.
Natasha has stolen some sort of Macguffin from SHIELD, so the SHIELD agents are ordered to stop her by any means necessary. As far as plot is concerned, that’s pretty much all that happens.
You don’t need to be familiar with the previous Black Widow run (of which I only read the first two issues myself) to enjoy and understand this comic, nor do you need to be familiar with Natasha in general. Heck, this could be somebody’s first comic book ever, and I’m sure they’d get a kick out of it (assuming this hypothetical person is the type to appreciate media that features lots of kicking).
The action is kinetic and visceral, and feels about as plausible as something so over-the-top can feel. There aren’t many actual words in this issue, but when your comic is solely action, there don’t need to be. Mark Waid has said before that it is a comic book writer’s responsibility to show readers something that they have never seen before at least once per issue, and there was certainly at least one point where I saw something on the page that was so cool and bonkers that I joyously exclaimed “ha ha!” out loud.
The credits page of Daredevil (not to belabor the comparison, but it’s necessary to understand the relationship between the creators) started to look revolutionary to me when, rather than the traditional listing of Mark Waid as the writer and Chris Samnee as the artist, they received equal credit as “storytellers” (though, to be fair, this may have been something that Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye started. I was reading them both as they were coming out and they seemed to both make that decision around the same time). Sure, everyone knew that Waid was probably the one doing most of the scripting, Samnee was definitely doing all of the penciling and inking, and they probably co-plotted the issues together in some capacity, but it forced readers to rethink the way they thought about collaboration in comics.
Here, it’s taken to another level. Samnee is listed as a co-writer with Waid, with Samnee – who to my knowledge was never listed as a writer before in any other comic—getting the top billing above Waid, who could be considered the quintessential modern superhero comics writer. Of course, Samnee still gets full credit as an artist, meaning that an argument can be made that this is more Samnee’s comic than it is Waid. In their messages to the reader at the end of the comic, it becomes evident that they are one of the few creative teams still using the classic “Marvel Method.” Just like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Waid and Samnee discuss plots together before Samnee draws the entire comic according to that plot, then Waid writes in text. Luckily, Waid seems to be much more open about giving his artistic collaborators credit than Lee ever was with Kirby or Ditko.
Matt Wilson also does plenty to pull his weight, with a more muted palette than readers may be used to seeing from him, not just on Daredevil, given how vibrant his colors are in books like The Wicked + The Divine. His heavy use of orange, red, and brown actually reminded me a lot of Jordie Bellaire, and of course it makes sense within the context of the comic to be using such earthy colors—not just because of Widow’s iconic hair (although that certainly helps), but because this is a bit of a grittier read than what we’re used to seeing from him.
Similarly, VC’s Joe Caramagna continues to prove that he’s one of the best letterers in the game, with easy to read dialogue, well-placed word balloons, and hard-hitting sound effects. When I read the word “KCHOOOM” in a comic, I want to feel earth rumble from the explosion, and that’s what Caramagna is able to achieve.
Black Widow #1 is like a great cold open to a James Bond film—or, better yet, a Black Widow movie starring Scarlett Johannson that Marvel Studios does not see fit to give us because of reasons (damn it Marvel, if you can sell people on movies with talking raccoons and trees, surely you can sell them on a sexy spy lady). But I fear that it’s lack of emotional connection may force readers that are looking for something more than butt-kicking to turn away.
That would be a shame, because Waid has proven that he knows how to play the long game with stories that reward loyal readers. That’s to say nothing of Samnee— I understand that some people prefer more realistic styles, but how anyone can look at one of his pages and not want to read the entire comic is beyond me.
Is It Good?
Though it has little semblance of plot and is almost completely devoid of pathos, Black Widow #1 brings to the table some of the most exciting action that comics are capable of for an impressive debut.
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