Black Widow #1
Written by Jen and Sylvia Soska
Art by Flaviano and Veronica Gandini
Lettered by Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Remember when the Internet exploded over Captain American hailing Hydra? With Black Widow #1, writers Jen and Sylvia Soska sum up Secret Empire’s saga in about two panels, allowing themselves plenty of space to get on with telling a story about a recently “deceased” spy named Natasha and a soldier called Steve teaming up again. Yet this may not be the same Romanoff that we once knew, and once we get past the winking meta references, we’re not sure she knows who she is either.
Mind you, it doesn’t stop filmmakers Soska sisters (billed as the “Twisted Twins”) from playing with the doppelgänger Captain America storyline for almost half this debut issue, which is otherwise the start of a Black Widow solo journey. The basic set-up is that Black Widow is back from the dead thanks to the Red Room, and is now trying to decide whether life as a hero or a killer for hire suits her better. “I’m just a weapon looking for a target,” remarks the resurrected Romanoff.
This issue is trying to find one as well, struggling to lock onto a consistent tone. The Soska sisters, known primarily for their horror films and single issues during Secret Wars, eventually settle on the formula of an international mercenary thriller about 12 pages into this debut issue. Widow meets up with an old “friend” in Madripoor who propositions her with a mission, albeit one that any hero would take on for free.
So, like a Spaghetti Western or a masterless samurai, the Soskas cast Black Widow as a woman “unleashed” from the rules of the Avengers. It seems that this version of the Black Widow has not yet found her new place in the world, and save for the opening sequence with Captain America, it’s no mistake that she’s dressed entirely in neutral white. Yet the problem with breaking the mould is that you still need some kind of container to hold all the filling, and throwing it all up against a wall and seeing what sticks doesn’t necessarily cut it with over half a century of comic book history.
This approach is not helped greatly by the art style either. Artist Flaviano recently showcased his energetic style in the Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse #1 special. Here his style is more of a blunt instrument, merely placing Widow in a against a series of global backdrops. The most successful of these are the neon-lit streets of Madripoor. Only in these handful of panels do we glimpse something resembling a seedy spy thriller.
Without John Rauch’s restrained color art that peppered his pencils in Power Man and Iron Fist back in 2016, Flaviano’s art comes off as cartoonish in some panels and never really gels with the intrigue the Soska begin to develop in the back half of this book. The most jarring of moments is the final page of the book, a reveal of what is presumably a new villain-of-the-week, a comical brute that seems to shift the book to a third type of tone entirely.
“We’ve always felt that she’s been held back,” remark Jen and Sylvia Soska in the backmatter, embarking on what they call “no restrictions play.” Yet what the Soska sisters see as restraints on a character, others may see as the fine line the character has walked between doing the right thing and breaking the hero’s code. In an all too familiar trend with recent post-event debuts, Black Widow aims to introduce a hard-drinking killing machine to readers, and for the moment doesn’t seem to have much of plan of where to go from here.