Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande have had a long road with Nat. At 15 issues, concluding here in Die by the Blade, their series has lasted longer than any other Black Widow series but one, and felt deserving of many, many more issues.
In its first two volumes, the series established for Nat all the trappings of Batman-esque foundations: a surprise tragic inciting incident (with questionable bonus baby), a slew of sidekicks and confidants (heretofore known as the
Bat Widow Family), and even a super-secret, super-rad and technologically advanced home base with its own cutesy-but-on-brand name (Widow’s Web). In Thompson and Casagrande’s run, she was better suited to be a full-on superhero than at any other point in the character’s history. All without eliminating the shadowy spy ops and moral gray-area violence.
A problem with the series, however, was that there didn’t seem to be an opposing force quite worthy of the Widow Family, given that said crew included no less than three contract killers. After handily wiping out a contingency of her most iconic villains in the first story, the super-power engine Apogee seemed as if he could only be, on his own, a minor annoyance.
Die by the Blade begins doing the work of building a larger, faceless menace—or, at least, implying one. Using the world’s greatest evil—rich, eccentric white people—a larger infrastructure of unseen malignance emerges. Secret, spandex-clad Eyes Wide Shut parties hosted by disturbingly close siblings and galas covering up human-traffic auctions belie a network of evil all but custom-tailored to be infiltrated by super-murder-super-spies.
Not only is this horrifying secret society presented as a foil to Nat’s expanding empire of badassery, but she also gets her own appropriate foil in the form of The Living Blade, an introduced-in-the-third-reel silent stalker of a villain. Mythological in stature, the Blade left quite the impression on Nat, giving our aloof and nigh-invulnerable heroine something to fear.
All of this brings the already-compelling world of the series to its peak, putting all the working pieces in place for a significant force of a story…which ends, without consequence, here. It’s the tragedy of an unsteady industry, perhaps, or of simple circumstance, that books end just as soon as they’re poised to become even stronger.
With Casagrande’s continuing excellence in creating dynamic, beautiful action sequences, guest pencillers Rafael de Latorre and Rafael T. Pimental dropping in what amount to emphasis issues, and Thompson at the top of her conceptually weirdest (and, as ever, character nuance best), Die by the Blade shows the series at its narrative zenith, even as it breaks our heart by concluding something great. It provides a working foundation for a somewhat neglected icon and leaves us in a lingering—and magnificent—atmosphere.
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