I think the first volume of Kelly Thompson’s Black Widow had some issues with neglecting the titular character. Sure, the narrative was firmly Natasha-centered, but we spent most of the book with a brainwashed Natasha and a crew of her friends trying to save her from the mundane world of being married with a child. True, she essentially saves herself (all that spy training can’t be wiped away so easily), but it was a strange opening move to take the protagonist of a book and remove her, even if ever so slightly.
I Am the Black Widow, by contrast, sees Natasha fully at the center of the narrative, making moves and dumping the bros from the first story for a supporting cast of girl boss badasses. This volume works more like an establishing shot for an ongoing than the first five issues — Natasha gets herself a cool new base, a couple of teenaged wards, a new arch-villain. The action points her forward, even if she occasionally looks backward at that domestic life she’s left behind.
The volume works so uniformly well that the book feels almost divorced of that first story, which may feel a little cold or forgetful of the narrative, but in reality establishes the series as a continuing set of tight, contained arcs. These five issues find a conflict, suss out the big bad’s plans, and take them out. No threads are left dangling beyond the threads needed to carry on our relationships for the next arc.
Chief among these relationships is with newcomer Lucy, one of the aforementioned teenaged wards, a powered-against-her-will pickpocket who is in danger of melting into a pile of goo thanks to the serum she’s been forced to take. The book introduces her, trains her, and stabilizes her condition, tying her conflict up in a semi-neat bow as if to cement her role as Natasha’s custom-made sidekick.
The book also continues evolving Natasha and Yelena’s relationship, almost surely assigned to writer Kelly Thompson by corporate bigwigs looking for MCU synergy. Yelena is, of course, the strongest supporting character Natasha has in the book: harsher, more willing to train kids Red Room-style, willing to give Natasha grief. While other characters in the book have to look up to Nat as the legendary Black Widow, Yelena couldn’t care less.
For all the action, the intricate nurturing of relationships, and the growing Bat-Family-esque dynamic, the book still feels as if it’s missing something — ever the shapeless vessel, the Widow lacks heart, no matter how sad she is about her estranged, bio-engineered son. This isn’t anyone’s fault, exactly, as much as it’s everyone’s fault—Nat has been something else for nearly every creator that’s shoe-horned her into Avengers or X-Men stories in her decades-long history.
Even if I don’t agree that the best way to define her is some mediocre craving for domesticity, I do think this team is doing good work to establish, finally, an emotional core that’s been denied her. If the accoutrement of sidekicks, hideouts, and pet scientists feels a bit extra, it’s because being a lone-wolf character who needs no one doesn’t exactly make a relatable protagonist.
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