It’s that time of year again when we’re awaiting the next big Marvel Studios movie and don’t know what to do with ourselves. Well there is one thing. Read more comics to gear up for what is to come and that means it’s time to dip into Black Widow trade paperbacks! Marvel Comics released a new 288-page collection featuring the 2004 series Black Widow: Homecoming by Richard K. Morgan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Goran Parlov and the 2006 series Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her by Morgan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Sean Phillips. It’s two 6-issue story arcs forcing BW to go on the run, explore her backstory in the Red Room, and kick a ton of ass. Aside from reading up on the character before her first solo movie, this is also a great opportunity to check out Sienkiewicz’s abstract and expressionistic art style.
This book opens with Homecoming all of which feature covers by Greg Land. It opens with a woman in Alabama dying unexpectedly at a rally and we soon learn that heart attack she had wasn’t a heart attack at all. Soon Black Widow is traveling the country fighting off assassins and being followed by two agents who are very used to this kind of thing. The story is largely one we’ve seen a few times over since it explores Black Widow’s horrible past while also chasing down other super spies in the process. Morgan does a good job infusing the story with good espionage twists and turns as well as characterizing the two black-suited agents well. These are interesting characters thanks to one being a hot-tempered clean-cut white guy and the other an all smiles lesbian white woman with a chip on her shoulder. The fact that the dude comes at Nick Fury, and his partner holds him back, shows Morgan means business with these two. As the story unfolds Black Widow ends up heading to Russia, discovering a killing field, and further realizing her memories of being a ballerina may be false. Other colorful characters, like an ex S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha gets help from, or the girl they both (mostly Natasha) save at a truck stop give the book a bit of color in between the action and reveals.
The characterization of Natasha is a different one. She’s more of a cold-blooded killer who kills not because she must but because it’s the easiest move in the situation. You see that when he kills a few SWAT team members who likely have no idea who she even is or what she’s even targeting. The big climax involves Natasha brutally murdering a dude–and he deserves it I’m sure–and then Natasha lamenting she wants all those seeking revenge for this killing to come at her. It’s a little less heroic and a bit more violence for violence’s sake.
The layouts are by Sienkiewicz for issue #1 and #2-6 is by Parlov with finishes by Sienkiewicz and colors by Dan Brown. Sienkiewicz’s style really shines through in this first half of the book with plenty of dark gloomy rooms, explosions, and bullets whizzing by Natasha’s head. He goes all out in a trippy drug-induced dream sequence that should not be missed. Overall it’s a gritty look that suits the violent espionage story.
Following this is “The Things They Say About Her by Morgan” which is a direct sequel to “Homecoming” and sees Black Widow on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and government agents. Soon Nick Fury is forced to track her down and that loops Daredevil in who, I guess at the time, is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent himself. Fury doesn’t want to go after her but argues he has to in order to keep his job. It’s a wild version of Fury we don’t normally see and certainly isn’t the same guy who has safe houses around the globe and goes solo all the time. There’s a lot of distrust of the government and the “good guys” being the bad guys. Hell, even Fury tells the president he wasn’t elected fairly (sound familiar) and isn’t even really the president. It turns out Fury and Daredevil want to bring her in before she gets killed, but that ends up putting them in a ton of trouble. Black Widow ends up heading to Cuba, befriending another spy like herself, and fighting the man. Natasha continues to be a cold-blooded killer though she has to in many cases. Again though, she doesn’t seem to want to avoid it or ever thinks avoiding violence is an option.
The layouts are all by Sean Phillips with finishes by Bill Sienkiewicz and colors by Dan Brown. Layouts get a little more creative in this half of the book with some fanning of panels and other interesting visual storytelling styles in play. Brown’s colors here and in previous issues link up the entire book and make it all feel cohesive like one big story. There are a few rough panels, especially near the end, but overall if you dig Sienkiewicz’s work you’re going to love this.
An exciting and incredibly violent Black Widow story well worth reading. Black Widow learns new things about her, but more importantly, she’s treated like the killing machine she was meant to be. Whether or not that jives with your favorite version of the character will determine how much you like this. Sienkiewicz, Phillips, and Parlov all prove that their style is just dying to be used again on another gritty tale for Natasha Romanov.
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