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She Has No Head! – Black Widow: Required Reading

I mentioned a couple weeks ago, before I felt compelled to go on a massive rant, that I was working on a Black Widow “Required Reading” post…and as promised here we are!

I’ve been reading a bunch of Black Widow stuff in preparation for this, along with the material that I’ve already read and so these are the books that rose to the top for me. I’m sure I’ve missed some things (and I’m sure you’ll tell me) but I’ll just let you know right now I did NOT miss Black Widow: Deadly Origins, Black Widow & The Marvel Girls, and the current Black Widow Strikes mini-series, all of which I found to be quite terrible. Feel free to disagree in the comments, but please don’t assume I didn’t consider them. I did consider them and I found them disturbingly lacking. If you want something really great that Natasha is guest starring in that’s more current than the list below, I’d recommend the very good Winter Soldier ongoing by Ed Brubaker. It’s a great book with a really well written (and drawn) Natasha.

I read in the Marvel Solicits for August that apparently “Hawkeye is the breakout star of The Avengers” which I guess means he gets a shot at an ongoing title while Black Widow is relegated to that truly abysmal mini-series that’s almost over now. So Hawkeye gets Matt Fraction and the brilliant David Aja and Black Widow still gets the equivalent of bupkis. Now, I don’t know what movie the people responsible for these things saw but I have no idea how anyone would walk away with “Hawkeyes as breakout star” from the movie I saw. I like Renner very much as an actor and I have no problems with Hawkeye as a character, but there is just no damn way he outshined Natasha/Scarlett Johansson.

1.  BLACK WIDOW: THE NAME OF THE ROSE

Marjorie Liu (writer). Daniel Acuna (artist)

My first recommendation is Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna’s absolutely wonderful five -issue Black Widow run The Name of The Rose from 2010. Don’t let the too unzipped cover seen here fool you – the insides are smart and funny, with some of the most stylish, beautiful, and appropriate art I’ve seen. This is fantastic vintage spy stuff, tinged with a tiny bit of revenge (both by and against Natasha) mixed in, some tragic but not over the top romance, old friendships, old enemies, and a whole lot of Natasha being an absolute badass as you’d expect. Of all of the Black Widow reading I did over the last month or so, this remains my favorite story when it comes to Black Widow. There’s not a single misstep (except that first cover, and it’s a shame they picked that one for the trade release).

It’s worth noting that Duane Swierczynski picked up this title with issue number six for a three-issue run and did a great job with it. Unfortunately the art is something I have trouble recommending (except for the gorgeous covers by Travel Foreman), but if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you it’s totally worth picking up Black Widow: Kiss or Kill by Swierczynski.  Furthermore, the end of the Black Widow title dovetailed into Widowmaker by Jim McCann, Duane Swierczynski, Tom Defalco, and David Lopez. It’s a strong story and it well features Natasha as a guest star alongside Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

2. SECRET AVENGERS: RUN THE MISSION, DON’T GET SEEN, SAVE THE WORLD

Warren Ellis (writer). Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, and Stuart Immonen (artists)

Though not solely a Black Widow story, this is one of the best Avengers runs (collecting Secret Avengers #16 – #21) I’ve ever read, and one of the best superhero comics I’ve ever read.  Natasha plays a significant role in four of the six issues, and issue 20 is all Natasha all the time (and lo the gods saw it and said it was good!). With a brilliant and singular vision from writer Warren Ellis, and some of the best artists in comics executing that vision, this comic just cannot be stopped. Written as single standalone stories, but with themes that tie together beautifully, it’s exactly what more superhero comics should be. The Natasha centric issue (#20) with art by Alex Maleev, is fantastic and proves that Warren Ellis has an exceptional handle on Natasha’s voice. In fact, he writes one of my favorite Natasha’s ever. Practical, matter of fact, to the point, dedicated, determined, and clever as all get out without being a genius (i.e. she understand time travel about as well as I do) and it makes that issue of Secret Avengers one of the best ( if not the best) Black Widow stories of all time. Combined with the Maleev art, which beautiful as well as a great tonal fit for a dark spy story it’s totally required reading for any Natasha fan, or just a fan of good damn comics.

3. BLACK WIDOW: HOMECOMING

Richard K. Morgan (writer). Bill Sienkiewicz and Goran Parlov (artists)

Having not read much of Morgan’s work, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found inside Black Widow: Homecoming. With Sienkiewicz’s evocative and darkly serious art the visuals are a near perfect match for a moody spy story, and Morgan tells a great yarn that ends up exploring Natasha’s past in creative ways as she tries to solve a crimes that seem tied to an attempt on her life. Morgan and Sienkiewicz get bonus points for doing a really well balanced Natasha that doesn’t seem too vengeful or over the top, even though she has a lot to be pissed about. They also deserve bonus points for keeping her in gorgeous but practical clothes unless the situation requires otherwise. It’s smart and fun, and Natasha is a badass from page one.

Unfortunately, I think the follow up volume – Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her – is not as good. It’s worth reading, but it’s a let down after Homecoming. The art, though still by Sienkiewicz and with layouts by the generally excellent Sean Phillips is less consistent and a bit heavy on the boobs for my tastes. It’s also the first time in this run that we start seeing an unzipped Natasha, which is just silly, and quite frankly doesn’t look nearly as cool.  It’s not a bad book, but it’s got an excessively violent side and Natasha is pitched very high throughout. She’s very emotional in a way that I don’t think rings true for the character, and some of the violence seems a bit senseless and unnecessary. The writing feels like it’s trying to hard to be badass, instead of just being effortlessly badass, pregnant with over the top emotion on every page. It’s unfortunate, and strange, since it is also by Richard K. Morgan. Morgan.

4.  BLACK WIDOW: ITSY BITSY SPIDER

Greg Rucka and Devin Grayson (writers). J.G. Jones and Scott Hampton (artists)

The is trade is divided into two very visually different stories, but that tread the same interesting ground as they deal with the relationship between Natasha and Yelena Bolova. The first half by Grayson and Jones is slick and pretty, and though sometimes Jones’ art isn’t my favorite at other times it’s absolutely stunning. Grayson has a great handle on Natasha and presents a wonderfully world weary but utterly capable Natasha. The second half by Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, and Scott Hampton is a bit of a Face/Off type story, although it works much better here than it does in that ridiculous movie (which I forgot was so ridiculous but saw some of the other day by chance on cable. Ridiculous).  Scott Hampton’s art for the second half of this book is a surprisingly nice fit for a Black Widow book – in the same way that Maleev was a good artist for her in Secret Avengers.  The spy stories and “humanity” of Natasha lend itself naturally to a less high superhero story style I think and the results here are pretty cool. Bonus points to everyone involved for not one single unzipped cat suit in the bunch. Yelena has a bit of a silly costume what with her bare midriff, but I’m sure that was as much to distinguish the two widows from one another as anything else. And it’s never particularly excessive in the way it’s handled.

5.  BLACK WIDOW: WEB OF INTRIGUE

Ralph Macchio, George Perez, and Gerry Conoway (writers). George Perez, Paul Gulacy, George Freeman, Bob Layton, and Luke McDonnell (artists).

For those interested in something a little more classic, there’s a good series of collected Black Widow stories in Black Widow: Web of Intrigue. Collecting stories primarily from the early eighties and with a series of strong creators this is a good book if you prefer the older stuff. In truth, though I love the art in this collection, Marvel writing from this time period is not for me. I find it really clunky and laughable. Every little thing is explained, from character thoughts to overly detailed descriptions of what is happening in the panels (just let the art do its job gents!), and there are a lot of re-capping and exposition dumps. But if you don’t mind that kind of thing and like the classic tales there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Some of the characters are deliciously campy if you can get into it – though sometimes the annoying stereotypes and pigeonholing was irritating from a critical standpoint, if you just accept it as flawed due to its age and style, it’s a good ride. The art is straight up gorgeous.

Also, not on this list because it’s not a real Natasha story, but deserving of mention is the strong Greg Rucka four-issue mini (not yet collected) called Black Widow: Pale Little Spider, which is entirely about Yelena Bolova. If you can get past the horrible Greg Horn covers, it’s a pretty great read. It was released by Marvel Knights in 2002 and so it’s a little darker and sexier but it’s good stuff if you’re interested in The Black Widow beyond just Natasha and don’t mind a more overtly sexual and adult story.

So that’s my list, the best stuff you should read if you’re looking for stories about The Black Widow. What are some of your favorites?  Have you read these, did you enjoy them or not so much?

 

 

 

50 Comments

Nice list. I’ve read a few of those and particularly enjoy the Secret Avengers and J.G. Jones selections (#2 and #4). I’m not familiar with #1 and #3 and will definitely have to check those out soon.

Does the Web of Intrigue collection include the old Marvel Fanfare four part story with Widow as a lead. I recall that one fondly. Sorry, I’m one of those folks that liked comics for being more adventure-thwart-the-baddies type comics than all the grey-area-not-really-sure-I’m-even-supposed-to-like-the-protagonist stuff we get today. I can get past the occasional clunky or hokey dialogue if it’s just plain fun. ;)

I loved the two Morgan series and was disappointed that everything set up in the second was basically dropped and never followed up on (I suspect because it really messed with the status quo of Nick Fury, who they were about to use in a mega-crossover of some kind, and sales were so awful they could afford to drop the whole thing).

Anyone one read Black Widow: Deadly Origin? I’m a pretty big Paul Cornell fan and was wondering if it was worth reading.

Also, I totally agree that the lack of Black Widow ongoing is a complete travesty. I mean..Marvel just got GREG RUCKA back on their roster. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Greg Rucka + Black Widow ongoing = awesomeness.

I also agree that Hawkeye’s getting a series out of Avengers but not Widow is absurd. Hawkeye spent what, 2/3s of the movie as a bad guy under mind control? Meanwhile Widow had tons of awesome moments. Seriously Marvel, wtf? And it’s not because Widow had a recent-ish series that got cancelled either, since Hawk & Mock was coming out around the same time.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

Was the BLACK WIDOW: PALE LITTLE SPIDER mini the one drawn by Igor Kordey?

That and the George Perez is my favorites of all Black Widow stories.

Why was her ongoing cancelled it was really good :(,

Was the Homecoming miniseries ever collected as a trade paperback? I’ve been looking for it for at least a cople of years now, with no luck.

@Tom: Yes, Kordey did the art for Pale Little Spider.

I don’t know what to think of Pale Little Spider, given the heavy BDSM elements in it. Then again, anyone who has ever read Chris Claremont’s X-Men for any lenght of time probably will not be too shocked by it.

@Paladin King

Deadly Origin wasn’t terribly written, but its premise was… questionable.

SPOILERS
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Natasha is infected with a nanotech STD that’s killing all of her lovers (Bucky, Hawkeye, Wolverine, Hercules, Daredevil, Tony Stark, etc.). It turns out her creepy old KGB mentor infected her with it back in the day because she didn’t sleep with him.

I think I’ve read every Black Widow mini, and I have to say, your choices are spot on.

Natasha’s head looks like it’s attached very oddly on that Homecoming cover.

@Molly Whipple
Yes, the Web of Intrigue HC does collect the Marvel Fanfare arc.

These are probably what I’d recommend, especially of the easily tradable stuff. The arc called “The Widow” in the Bends/Maleev is probably the next trade down, for me, but I think it reads best as part of DDv2, which has a lot of Natasha but is quite a lot of comics for someone looking for a quick introduction. For further back: A lot of the 1990s graphic novels are fun and weird— there are four of them. I think Marvel Team Up #81-85 is an essential Black Widow arc that’s never been collected, it’s really classic, vintage Claremont, so you get all his soap opera flourishes, but quite a bit of character insight and a rare respect for female characters relative to his time. The Conway/Colan Daredevil issues and Natasha’s run in Amazing Adventures are interesting for people who want to know more about the history of women in superhero comics, since the DD stuff made gender relations a primary theme and the Amazing Adventures stuff was Marvel’s first stab at a female lead comic. They are quite dated, though!

I have extremely mixed feelings about Homecoming. I did appreciate that Morgan wrote her as sort of effortlessly badass and the grit of the Sienkewicz/Parlov art team. The book feels really removed from the Marvel Universe, but that’s not really unusual amongst MK imprints at the time. Natasha is — much more mean and violent than usual. I wouldn’t want to see her killing so damn much and so damn casually when she’s supposed to be a member of the Avengers, but I don’t mind it so much in a quasi-AU.

What I am really sure that I don’t like is how Morgan retconned her origin. Natasha’s original origin story had her stepping into the KGB to take the place of her dead war hero husband— except it turned out he wasn’t dead, the pesky KGB lied about that to get her to join them! It’s goofy, yes, but the basic beats of it show Natasha as an honorable character motivated by loss and by sacrifice. Morgan retconned her into an orphan snatched up form somewhere basically brainwashed into service from the age of six, someone with no motivations to herself, no real memories. Basically a straight-up victim. And then you go further— the original Natasha eventually saw through the KGB lies, defected, and used her training as a force for good, being a superhero and Avenger and all that, directing her own life. Morgan decided that she was actually being mind controlled by Nick Fury’s aftershave, and this was her motive for defecting. It’s really a stunning denial of every important bit of agency she’s had in her whole backstory, is what I am saying. And in comics, which is a medium where history is sort of everything, it’s a hard thing for me to overlook.

So yeah, I think the Morgan stuff is kind of fun as a gritty, Elseworlds take, and it has some interesting stuff to say to boot. But I really despise how it treats her history, and I don’t like it as part of her mainline continuity.

I’ve read numbers one through four on your list, and I’d agree with all those choices. I’ve enjoyed all the Rucka and Morgan stories, but I thik you’ve picked out the best ones. I also wish the Marjorie Liu stories had kept going as they really captured the espionage vibe that makes the character special.

Marvel has room for the spy stories alongside the super hero stories, such as the way Black Widow was used in Capatin America, Winter Soldier and parts of Fraction’s Iron Man. So I hope she gets another solo book along those lines rather than more appearances where she’s swinging in on her ‘widow-line’ to deliver her ‘widow-sting’. I think it was one of the Ricahrd Morgan books where Natasha explains that the bracelets were way too bulky and has gone back to packing a simple reliable pistol.

As for what Morgan did to her origin, I just saw him trying to close some gaps in plausibility of a former prima ballerina joining the KGB and becoming a top agent. Of course, for comics we have to have some suspension of disbelief, but it was probably too much for Morgan’s harder-boiled take. I see the point about taking away Natasha’s agency, though, and reducing her to another RC victim.

Maverickman874

June 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm

If it was up to me Fraction and Aja would be working on a new volume of Immortal Iron Fist.

My LCS only stocked the first issue of Black Widow & the Marvel Girls, which I thought was brilliant work by Paul Tobin. What exactly was the problem with the overall mini? It seemed to be off to a good start as an All Ages BW comic.

LOVE your blog and podcast, BTW.

Has the Gene Colan Black Widow stuff from Amazing Adventures ever been collected? I’d still call that the Natasha Urtext.

(Although I’m more of a Golden Age Statanic Black Widow guy, myself.)

Of all of them, I’m hoping to read The Name of the Rose, Itsy Bitsy Spider (of which I found two of the issues), and Web of Intrigue.

Though I have works by writers such as Ellis, to be honest, I actually can’t stand the more ‘eccentric’ kind of writers, like him, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison. I actually prefer the “middle” kind of writers like Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, Bob Budiansky, and Larry Hama.

Natasha is infected with a nanotech STD that’s killing all of her lovers (Bucky, Hawkeye, Wolverine, Hercules, Daredevil, Tony Stark, etc.). It turns out her creepy old KGB mentor infected her with it back in the day because she didn’t sleep with him.

Okay, that makes Pale Little Spider sound normal by comparison!

Natasha’s head looks like it’s attached very oddly on that Homecoming cover.

I think that’s because it’s drawn by Greg Land.

In any case, I agree with Kelly. I wish Marvel would give the Black Widow the same promotion that they are apparently investing in Hawkeye. It’s the perfect time to really put Natasha in the spotlight, given the Avengers movie was a huge hit, and she plays a major role in it.

Anyone know if she’s going to be in an upcoming arc of Captain America & Fill-In-The-Character’s-Name? Hawkeye already got his shot, and I think Iron Man is up next. Natasha really should have a team-up with Steve Rogers.

@Dennis- Wolverine was one of Natsha’s lovers? That’s really creepy considering their history.

Hawkeye is the breakout character of the Avengers if you enjoyed laughing every time he did that ridiculous unfolding bow trick.

But, seriously, Hawkeye was a blip compared to Black Widow.

My sister has been trying to get me to read Winter Soldier for weeks now–she loves the way the book handles Nat (and Bucky for that matter). I’ll need to pick it up along with The Name of the Rose. Until reading your post, I hesitated to look into these titles because of how weak the mini-series has been. So disappointing for readers coming out of the theater hungry for more Black Widow after her great role in the Avenger’s flick. Thanks for the rec’s!

John O'Connor

June 12, 2012 at 7:32 am

What’s happening? How could this be happening? I’m actually AGREEING with something Kelly Thompson has written. The Name Of The Rose. Yes. Homecoming. Yes. Scarlett Johansson. DEFINITELY YES! Tell me this is not real. Please.

For once, I would love to see a good writer do a Black Widow x Spider-Man team-up mini series that tries the characters to a common enemy like Omega Red or The Kingpin. In addition, it would be nice to see Natasha and Peter get to know one another in the same manner as he does with Carol Danvers and Logan. Since the Black Cat now resides in Daredevil’s world, why can’t they exchange her for the The Black Widow as his alternate crime fighting partner?

Kelly, I completely agree with you that Black Widow was the breakout star of The Avengers. It is hard to see how anyone except Marvel can come to this conclusion.

This list is awesome! Thank you so much! My girlfriend has been looking for Black Widow (she’s never bought a comic before now) comics since we saw Avengers (3x’s). She saw the art in Winter Soldier and was skeptical and wasn’t sure what Nat’s role was in the book so she opted for the 3 pt mini instead. The last issue told her to read more of her adventures in Winter Soldier, so I think she’s gonna start picking that book up. In the meantime, this list gives her a lot of great reading to do.

THANKS!

The Liu/Acuna run was gorgeous and well written, definitely my pick of the bunch. Black Widow has also been a key component in making Bucky’s Captain America/Winter Soldier saga so captivating.

Whoa! where’s Deadly Origin. Cornell did SUCH an amazing job with that.

(which means, that I agree to disagree with you on your disdain for it, I suppose, Kelly. When you post your reasons for disliking it, I’ll post mine for liking it and we’ll converse).

I really enjoyed the Ralph Macchio and Paul Gulacy piece, “I got the Yo-Y0, you got the string.”

@Ben Herman: That link will take you to the collected Homecoming (which is how I read it) but it’s not cheap. You can probably find it cheaper elsewhere.

I think you have to accept that Pale Little Spider is deliberately more adult/sexual/dark going into it. If you like that kind of story, or are okay with it, then it’s a good mini.

@Molly: I think Alex answered your question. Yes some of the Marvel Fanfare stuff is in Web of Intrigue – sorry I didn’t break it down further.

@Alex: I don’t disagree with anything you said about the Morgan stuff. I certainly understand when people get upset about retcons (I have been one of them of course)…I wasn’t that attached to BW’s history/origin so it didn’t bother me too much. But I would agree on the agency thing. The “aftershave control” was especially ridiculous.

@Chris: You do make a good point about her other (original?) origin being a bit hard to buy though. I can see why it needs tweaking/re-tooling…but I’m not sure Morgan’s was the best way to go. Either way the stories still have some merit and quality I think.

@Anne Cain: The current mini is ATROCIOUS. Just horrible. Name of the Rose is fantastic, definitely check it out. Winter Soldier is also great.

@MarkAndrew: I haven’t read the Gene Colan stuff. :(

@Acer: Itsy Bitsy has been collected as a trade if you’re into it (follow the link)

@Matt D: I’m not going to get into detail about why I didn’t like Deadly Origin, there were a lot of reasons, but @Dennis is definitely on the right track!

@Paladin King: “Greg Rucka + Black Widow” – never were truer fucking words spoken.

@Glenn: There honestly wasn’t ANYTHING I liked about BW&The Marvel Girls. I thought the tone was bizarre, the art was strangely chosen and inconsistent (and sometimes inappropriate), and it just didn’t even really make sense. It was convoluted and forced to me. I was disappointed from issue #1 and gave up I think after issue #2.

I would like to offer a different perspective–i am a 40 yrold white male who has been reading comics for over 35 year. I have always liked the Black Widow–first encountering her in the Champions and Avengers. While I haven’t read everything she’s been in, I have read much of it. I think your picks for books are all very good and you obviously have an affinity for the character like I do.

Where I disagree with you (and many, many other people) is in your assessment that Black Widow was the breakout star of the Avengers movie. I found the character mildly interesting–i enjoyed the interrogation scene and her initial meeting with Dr. Banner. After that, I beganto find her tiresome, repetitive, and kind of superfluous. I didn’t buy that she was the one who would figure out how to stop the machine lowering the portal–admittedly a weak portion of the script. I never bought ScarJo’s performance–neither in IM2 or the Avengers. In fact, the only Avenger I was less interested in that movie was Thor, whom I loved in his own movie but had little to do in the Avengers. For me, the true breakout star was the Hulk/Dr. Banner.

And before I get villified, I want there to be more books, movies, and Tv shows with strong female action leads who are well rounded, complex characters. I think the degree to which people have flipped over what I consider a mediocre character in the Avengers just shows how desperate we are for such portrayals of women in our fiction. Black Widow in the Avengers was a good start, just not the end all, be all it is being portrayed as.

Still plenty of good portrayals of Natasha in the comics world though.

@Argo Plummer: Just to be clear, I was arguing only that the breakout start between Hawkeye and Black Widow to me was Black Widow…not that she was the breakout star against Hulk, Iron Man, Cap, Thor, etc., all who have had their own films before to help build their brand (etc.)

To me, only Black Widow and Hawkeye are easily comparable here since neither have had their own film(s) and both have less aggressive/important/cinematic power profiles.

I will agree 100% that Mark Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk was AWESOME.

Hidden Gem: Bizarre Adventures #25 (Marvel BW mag). This was Lethal Ladies issue and the Black Widow story is Ralph Macchio and Paul Gulacy and is pure spy-story with some beautiful Gulacy art. Ahead of the curve for ’81 as Natasha isn’t playing superhero here: AK47 and dead bad guys.; waking up alone in messy bed with empty bottle of vodka and just a note.

@DanLarkin

I’m not sure if I’m remembering everything correctly, but I’m pretty sure Wolverine was one of the people infected. I think it was brushed off because of his healing factor.

They didn’t explicitly say romantic partners either, just people she was “close to”, but the lines were pretty easy to read through even before you got to the motivations of the creepy robot grandpa antagonist.

Kelly, I know overreacting to perceived slights against your gender is kinda your schtick, but you have to admit that Black Widow has gotten a pretty big push in the funny books since around the time of her film debut in Iron Man 2. She’s had an ongoing, a couple of minis, some one-shots, as well as recurring appearances in Secret Avengers, Captain America, Winter Soldier, and probably a few titles I haven’t read. I wouldn’t be surprised if she rivaled the Big Three in number of appearances.

Hawkeye is simply the newer kid on the cinematic block, so he’s gotten his push a little later. Plus, bows and arrows seem to be this summer’s fad for the youngsters.

That link will take you to the collected Homecoming (which is how I read it) but it’s not cheap. You can probably find it cheaper elsewhere.

I see, there was a trade paperback, but it’s now out of print. Too bad. I’ll just to have to keep looking. There’s a couple of comic shops in NYC that have older TPBs in stock, so it’s worth checking in those places.

I will agree 100% that Mark Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk was AWESOME.

Absolutely no argument there. I’m not even a Hulk fan, and Ruffalo’s portrayal of Banner was one of my favorite things about the entire movie.

One of the first Marvel comics I ever read was an early issue of Amazing Adventures in the early 1970s…I’ve loved Black Widow ever since. Those issues are worth checking out.

@Kelly
I know about the trade, I just want to find the final issue so I can ‘complete’ the series–then maybe I’ll get the trade.

What do you think of my taste in writers?

@Dennis

Yes, they mention Wolverine off-hand, but they also talk about how a little kid who lived next to her was infected, too. There’s definitely an awful STD, slut-shaming subtext to the story, especially as everyone who actually appears in the modern day is an ex-boyfriend, and characters like Wolverine and that little boy are mentioned in dialogue but don’t appear. But I don’t think we were meant to conclude Logan must have slept with Natasha at some point. Maybe in the bad guy’s head.

@Chris

Yeah, I have no problem with editing her origin a bit. Actually, in her original story Natasha was already in service when she met Alexi— the ballerina thing was something Steve Gerber added in one line, also stating she’d made the USSR Olympic gymnastics team. (Oh, comics!) But it later grew into something with a life of its own, sort of coming to be THE thing people remembered about her backstory. I can see why it would be something to tweak, and I actually really like Cornell’s reinterpretation, which I think is more believable but still hits a lot of the same thematic beats. (I have the same issues as a lot of commenters with that mini, but that it restored some of her original agency in her backstory is a Positive Point to me.)

But the way Morgan, with its sweeping denials that Natasha ever decided anything for herself, is pretty awful, especially since he kind of packaged it as feminist criticism. Again, I think the Morgan stuff is enjoyable as a self-contained story, and as a gritty MAX AU, and it provides interesting commentary on the themes of previous stories. But Natasha really can’t be confined to an ultra-bleak corner of the Marvel Universe, she’s going to be in Avengers and teaming up with Iron Man and fighting AIM and their goofy beekeeping hats— and I can’t picture the Morgan character ever doing that… and that’s the space where that retcon fails.

Got to second the Secret Avengers recommendation. I wanted to pick up an Avengers book outside of The Ultimates after I saw the movie, and I went for Secret Avengers because I was a huge Planetary fan.

I don’t know if it’s the best Black Widow story ever (again, I don’t read The Avengers or Black Widow), but the Black Widow issue in Secret Avengers is worth the price of the graphic novel alone.

@Sean: For once, I would love to see a good writer do a Black Widow x Spider-Man team-up mini series that tries the characters to a common enemy like Omega Red or The Kingpin. In addition, it would be nice to see Natasha and Peter get to know one another in the same manner as he does with Carol Danvers and Logan. Since the Black Cat now resides in Daredevil’s world, why can’t they exchange her for the The Black Widow as his alternate crime fighting partner?

I know it heresy to some of the more “hip” comic fans here, but no mention of any of the Avengers books where Natasha was team leader? Or even the one offs in books like Thunderbolts? I find those to have some stories/plots involving her to be as compelling as her singles/minis….and she had interesting leadership quandries to boot…..

It funny that this comes up now Kelly, right around when Marvel is about to, in my opinion, screw the formula all up by canning Avengers EMH in favor of Avengers Assemble. All that work laying the foundations for Black Widow, Ms Marvel, Black Panther, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Mockingbird, and to a lesser extant, Wasp (only because I find her annoying) scrapped to zero….

Seems Marvel takes a step forward then tumbles 5 backward…..

I do agree with a poster above…Captain America and Black Widow would be a natural progression after the Hawkeye and Iron Man Arcs.

@Dan: That’s a really good idea, Dan. Black Widow actually seems like a better fit for a partner to Spider-Man, in that she’s more ruthless and less playful than Black Cat (at least that’s how it used to be, I haven’t been following current continuity), and that gasoline and water mixture of Black Cat and Spider-Man should create some good friction.

I am totaly on board with Jay. The Black Widow story from BIZARRE ADVENTURES #25 is truly a hidden gem from the 80’s. Incredible art and a plot years ahead of it’s time (by comic book standards of that time, anyway).By the way, Google “angie bowie black widow” for some interesting photos. Scarlett Johansen was not the first Natasha on film!

What about ‘Pale Little Spider’ or ‘The Things They Say About Her?’

I’ll echo all those Avengers issues where she was leader, and throw in a Byrne-scripted Iron Man arc somewhere around the #270s…

@Ryan W. You need to read a bit more closely. :)

As a few commenters touched on this question… the Amazing Adventures Black Widow stories can be found in a fairly recent (a couple of years ago now) Marvel Premiere Classic (hardback) titled The Sting of the Widow. It had the Amazing Adventures stories, plus her first app, the Amazing Spider-Man story that sort of set-up the Amazing Adv stories, and then her first DD story. I keep thinking they should release it in softcover with he movie popularity, but it looks like you can find the hardbound new for under $9 out there, so maybe the market isn’t there. :(

Great article, as always. Black Widow is both a terrific character and the first female Marvel to get a shot at the A-list. It is a shame that Natasha hasn’t been treated better over the years. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with you on “The Name of the Rose”. I found it disappointing.

For me, the biggest problem was beyond the control of Liu and Acuna. The already thin supporting cast that Natasha from her brief run as a headliner had been wiped out. That meant Natasha’s various higher profile current and former lovers had to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of the plot. Liu was unable to give them interesting relationships with each other, so it felt like we were constantly cutting back to a Greek Chorus.

Worse, the changes in her backstory that Alex alluded to made her trip back to Russia head-scratchingly confusing. I couldn’t figure out whether she was immortal, or what the deal was. Liu clearly meant for it to be effecting, but I was baffled. If I hadn’t bought it in trade, then I might have dropped it right there.

Finally, I like Acuna, but the Natasha that I cut my teeth on was Gene Colan’s. Colan drew really earthy women and that has really stuck with me as an aspect of Natasha’s character. Acuna’s characters are almost etherial. As a result, Natahsa didn’t seem like a person that had lived in her body at all. It would be a minor problem most of the time, but that quality of Acuna’s style was working at cross purposes with the story Liu was scripting.

It is a shame, since both Liu and Acuna are plainly talented. There were lots of great bits scattered throughout. I loved the reversal on the train. The meat locker interrogation was good variation on a genre trope.

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