The Web of Black Widow was released just weeks after Marvel Studios announced Scarlett Johansson is suiting up to play the character again in May 2020. It’s fitting the likes of Jody Houser and Stephen Mooney helmed the comic project, since Black Widow’s hallmarks — espionage, action, and good character work — are things they excel at. Considering Houser’s writing credentials and Mooney’s exceptional ability to draw thriller spy dramas, this is a match made in heaven.
This collection opens at a New York fundraiser where we meet an unfamiliar woman with brown hair, but some sharp eyes. It’s Natasha in full disguise of course, and soon she’s running into Tony Stark who doesn’t fall for makeup and rubber masks. It’s a fun way to introduce Black Widow since it’d be impossible to know it was her otherwise. As the story pushes on, we get key flashbacks that tie persons of interest at the party to Natasha’s youth as well as get a stellar action sequence. By the end, it’s clear Natasha is making amends for past transgressions, but by doing it in the wrong way and knowing Iron Man means many more superhero interactions.
The beauty of this series lies in how each issue drops you right into the action, forcing you to catch up and figure out how we got here. It gives it a thriller feel. Plus, each issue has a different location and circumstances for Black Widow–or whoever she teams up with–to overcome. The final issue ends up having a heist feel thanks to some clever reveals that explain how Black Widow strategized along the way. The book also ends with real progress for Black Widow to be explored later, which isn’t always the case in comic book stories.
The visual storytelling at work here is quite cool, with some new ways of conveying information being visualized well. Early on we see Natasha in disguise perusing the crowd until she sees a certain person and a memory flashes of presumably Natasha looking down a scope. This visual is used again later on in a rather cool layout, slicing the page up into cubes save for circle sniper reticles. In another scene, we get a six-panel page with “earlier” on the left and “now” on the right. The use of color by Triona Farrell helps convey the change in time while telling us what happened that Black Widow is walking into.
Later, in what might be the best double-page splash so far this year, Mooney and Farrell deliver a fight sequence as you’ve never seen before. There’s fighting done in a style that’s reminiscent of a ballerina (for obvious reasons) and these shots are splashed in red, running from the bottom left to the middle right. This is framed by Black Widow making an impressive kick and flashes of light behind, blanketing her as she nearly avoids death. If you’ve read The Dead Hand you’ll be familiar with how good Mooney is at layering imagery in a collage that tells a story within the story. It’s an impressive double-page that’s not to be missed.
Some of the art can look a bit rushed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if deadlines made the book look a bit unpolished here or there. In the first issue, I also found the expressions Iron Man was giving through the mask rather strange and not quite right for a more realistic and gritty tale. Leave that to the cartoon-style comics!
This is a good spy comic with thrilling action, revealing character work, and jaw-dropping visuals.