Saturday, April 17, 2010

Black Widow #1 Review

Black Widow #1, by Marjorie Liu, with art by Daniel Acuña, is the first issue of the new ongoing dedicated to the life and times of Marvel's great old dame, Natasha Romanoff, aka Natalia Romanova, aka the Black Widow. It debuts on the heels of a recent mini-series dedicated to the Russian spy turned Avenger, written by Paul Cornell, and obviously is meant to more or less coincide with the release of Iron Man 2 where the character is portrayed by actress Scarlett Johanson.

I've been looking forward to this series since it was first announced, though not necessarily for any of the reasons Natasha happens to be a hot property at the moment. I just happen to think that the Black Widow is an intriguing character and that her story, in the right hands, is one I'm interested in following. What did I think of the first chapter of her new saga? Hit the jump to find out!

Black Widow #1
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Daniel Acuña

The very first issue of this series is not a big "holy smokes" kind of debut with sensational reveals or a massive cliffhanger ending. While it's full of some very intense scenes, the action and suspense are a little more low key.

What stands out to me the most are the quieter scenes, the interactions between the cast of characters, and all the things going on between the action scenes To me, this means that Marjorie Liu delivers exactly what I was hoping she would; a story where the character work is at the center, and where Natasha's relationships are touched on from the get go.

Liu invites us into a world where heroes are not just people who kick ass and take names, but have real lives to return to when they're done and people who care about them when they're hurt. And Natasha finds herself in a massive amount of pain this issue.

The issue begins with Natasha's meeting with an old acquaintance and former spy, a meeting brought about by her receiving what she suspects might be a calling card related to this particular friend's code name, the Black Rose. The two tussle in a modern twist on the old hero vs hero brawl where a ridiculous plot would have to be written to justify why people who call themselves friends or allies would find themselves trading blows. Natasha and the Black Rose don't need Stan Lee on caffeine, however, they fight to challenge each other because that's what two old spies do. "A hug or handshake would be too boring." Sort of silly, but I'll buy that.

The Black Rose does not hold the answers Natasha seeks, however. Although, on her way back home, she has a strange encounter with an old woman who is not what she seems. Natasha seems to have the situation under control until she is targeted by the old woman's accomplice and taken out by a dart laced with some kind of chemical. An eerie scene follows in which she is literally cut open and left bleeding on the street.

What follows next is a very anxiety-inducing scene which sees Natasha endure exploratory surgery to her abdomen while fully awake, cognizant of what's happening to her and fully aware of the pain. This certainly must be one of most people's worst nightmares, though as uncomfortable as it is to read about, it also gives Liu the chance to demonstrate just how strong the main character is and what she's able to withstand.

In the waiting room, three of the men in her life, James "Bucky" Barnes, Tony Stark and Logan worry about Natasha and swear to get to the bottom of what's happened to her, a pledge that quickly gets Logan moving. Meanwhile, readers are treated to a dinner scene between Natasha and Bucky which is a flash back to when she first discovered the rose which set her on her present course. It's a nice scene and one which gives a sense of normalcy - sort of - to Natasha's life and provides a contrast to her present circumstances.

Marjorie Liu doesn't hit it out of the park with this first issue, but she does write an intriguing first chapter to a story I'm actually interested in following to its conclusion and sets a tone for the book that I thoroughly enjoy.

Daniel Acuña's art is competent and gets the work done. It sets a sort of retro tone for the book, particularly as far as Natasha's appearance is concerned. There are scenes that are a bit odd looking though, particularly the scenes depicting Natasha's elderly female attacker and the scenes showing Natasha lying injured on the ground. These panels are meant to be frightening, I'm sure, but the characters end up looking ghoulish in a way I don't think was what the artist was striving for.

Verdict - Check It. This issue very nearly earned a Buy It rating since I quite enjoyed it and intend to continue to read this series. However, I'm not sure this is everyone's cup of tea, and since I can't guarantee its universal appeal Check It seemed a more appropriate verdict. However, if you're a fan of Natasha's, and like your stories fairly down to earth, I strongly suggest you check out this issue.

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Matt Ampersand said...

I found this first issue really intriguing, the mystery hooked me pretty well, and I am looking forward to next issue already. I also enjoyed that it seems this book is going to feature a nice supporting cast.

My one complaint was that the surgery scene felt like it went on for way too long, making me literally uncomfortable. It's only two pages though, so I guess that's what Liu was going for.

Klep said...

I really enjoyed it. The surgery scene lasted a while, but it's hard to imagine something more effective as a way to establish the character's toughness. It also created an opportunity to show how important Natasha is to the people who care about her, as these three very busy people drop everything in order to watch over her and to find out who did this to her.

In a less capable writer's hands this issue could have ended up with seriously disturbing sexist undertones, but Marjorie Liu did a very good job of avoiding that trap.

I'm looking forward to more of this series and also to seeing what Liu does with the notably absent Matt Murdock. They haven't been a couple for a long time, but they still have a very strong connection and feel protective of each other, so his reaction to these events would be interesting to see.

Aaron Kimel said...

This book certainly did a good job of whetting my appetite for another issue. I thought the surgery scene was actually the best part of the book BECAUSE it was so disturbing and uncomfortable. If you can get me squirming in my seat - and for a character-developing reason - then that's effective use of emotion to drive the story. It wasn't gratuitous: it was aimed at showing very clearly just how wilfull Natasha can be. Really, that's about the only thing we learn of her character in this entire issue, other than perhaps her dislike for spousal abuse.

The heavy emphasis on supporting characters makes me very curious as to how prominent they will be going forward. Is this going to be a book like Captain America with lots of important, regular allies or a book like Doctor Strange with very few? I don't know that I have a strong preference either way, but that choice will have a huge effect on the direction of the book. (Interviews that Liu gave lead me to believe that it will be a small cast with few cameos.)

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