Ever since watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (still winner of lamest superhero movie title ever), I’ve been stuck on the problem of movies about singular superheroines. More than anything, I want to see a proliferation of them. But here’s the problem: how many superhero movies are there with just a female main character? Not just part of a team, but her own movie. I can think of two and they’re both terrible.
While I think that the DC live action movies have largely suffered in comparison to Marvel, this is a spot that DC really has Marvel beat. Next year, DC is going to give audiences a brand new Wonder Woman and by her performance in BvS, it may be one of the most promising DC movies in a long time. In contrast, Marvel has steadfastly ignored the pleas for a Black Widow movie for years. Black Widow has been building as a character throughout the Marvel superhero movies and really came into her own in the Avengers. Who wouldn’t want a movie with a kickass superspy at its center? It is past time that Marvel gave us a look at Black Widow on her own and in the spirit of that need, this week I’ll be looking at the Black Widow series written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Phil Noto. Published in a twenty issue series from 2014-15, Black Widow gives us a look into the life of the super spy/assassin we all love but don’t know a damn thing about and in the process, does absolutely nothing to diminish her mystery.
In this Black Widow series, the former Russian spy/assassin Natasha Romanova splits her time in between going on all the dirty missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t officially touch and attempting to atone for the brutality and mistakes of her past. She lives a simple life in a small, empty apartment and refuses to let anyone get close. Even the stray cat that she feeds when she’s home isn’t allowed inside either her heart or her home. But while on an undercover assignment in Russia, Natasha uncovers a worldwide conspiracy that even S.H.I.E.L.D. is powerless to stop. Unfortunately, Natasha has built her career on being self-sufficient and not letting anyone close. Not having friends to watch your back can be a very dangerous game. The fight between Black Widow and the forces of Chaos may come down to the best builder of webs. Will her assassin and spy skills be enough to untangle this conspiracy or will Chaos be the end of Black Widow?
As much as I hate to admit it, I really don’t feel that the writing in this series does Black Widow justice. While it is an intriguing spy story, Edmondson never really gets what makes Natasha interesting. I am admittedly an avowed Whedonite but I think Whedon really helped to humanize Black Widow in Avengers 2. Whedon showed us that underneath the superspy/assassin lives a human woman with her own weaknesses and insecurities. Edmondson just shows us a badass superspy whose cold heart is incapable of letting anyone in and has two modes: mopey ex-killer who constantly laments the sins of her past and heartless pyschopath who mows down hoards of enemies in her search for the truth. There are brief moments where you see a glimpse of Natasha’s humanity (the team-up with X-23 is particularly great) but they’re quickly drowned out by blood and bullets. The difficulty in connecting to the character creates an action series that has plenty of action but little heart. I read Black Widow to get to know the woman behind the symbol and I came away more mystified and disappointed than ever. Edmondson also clearly has no idea what “subtle” means because I lost count of the references to webs and spiders by issue six. You’d think it would get tiresome after awhile but Edmondson clearly was having way too much fun with his little theme.
Black Widow is one of those extremely rare cases in graphic novels where it’s the art rather than the story that truly shines. Noto’s artwork is truly gorgeous and I absolutely loved the way that he envisioned the various characters. Rather than having a simple, cartoony style, the realistic beauty of Noto’s artwork provides a great contrast to the brutal violence carried out by its main character. And the coloring was just brilliant. The scenes verge from Natasha perfectly blending in, to a reveal of her traditional scarlet hair that makes the spy stand out intensely from the background. Each scene is brilliantly colored in a way that makes the entire series stand out vividly. I haven’t seen such great use of color since Sean Phillip’s work on Fatale and I came away from the series far more impressed by the art than I was by the writing.
Black Widow is one of those characters that deserves far more than she’s ever gotten. For as compelling as she is on the silver screen, her lack of movie and lack of good representation in comics is a sore spot for me. Maybe someday I’ll get my wish and Brubaker, master of femme fatales, spies and crime noir in general (Edmondson could have taken some notes from Velvet), will take her on. Or even better, Marvel will finally see sense and give us Natasha in the spotlight. Black Widow by Edmondson and Noto is worth a look for the brilliant artwork but the weaknesses in the writing make it less than the superspy deserves.