"The Widow, Part Three of Four"
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
As Daredevil confronts the assassin who opened fire on the restaurant crowd at the end of the previous issue, he discovers the man had taken Daredevil's involvement into consideration. In the aftermath of this encounter we see Daredevil figures out that this hired gun was trying to take down the Black Widow, and he confronts her with this knowledge.
Black Widow is one of my favourite female characters in the Marvel Universe, and Brian Michael Bendis seems to have a solid understanding of the balancing act that the character should play in the pages of this series, as she comes across as a deadly professional who operates in a sinister world of back-room dealings, while at the same time she also comes across as a woman who genuinely loves Matt, and one is left to wonder about her true motives for seeking Matt's company. This issue also offers up one of the strongest character moments that the Black Widow has ever received in her long history, as the scene where she explains to Matt why she has hooked up with him does a wonderful job of conveying the character's professional attitude while at the same time there is a very genuine sense that she is scared, and that she had hoped Matt would keep the hounds at bay.
In fact if nothing else it's rather unsettling to see Natasha is concerned that she might not be up to the task of protecting herself from the forces that have been set in motion against her, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the least bit concerned that she is going to make it out of this adventure in one piece, which is remarkable considering I entered this arc with the foreknowledge that she's lined up to star in an upcoming miniseries. The issue also does a nice job of showing how easily Daredevil's abilities can be turned into a serious disadvantage, and the killer manages to project a wonderful sense of danger during this scene.
Alex Maleev has never quite impressed me with his ability to deliver action, but this is largely due to the fact that most of the previous exchanges played out in poorly lit locations. However this issue features a fantastic back and forth exchange where Daredevil, and later the Black Widow square off against a hired killer on the rooftops, and what's more the battle takes place on a bright, sunny day. In fact the sequence where the bullet races toward Natasha is one of the more visually intense moments this series has ever offered up. The quiet danger of the final page intrusion is also quite impressive, with a great final panel reveal.
It occurred to me that Marvel doesn’t give its creators corny nicknames anymore. Also, it’s 12 AM, and I get wacky without sleep.
OK, here’s what’s happened: The Avengers caught Madame Hydra, aka Viper, (and how can a villain have two codenames anyway?), in Bulgaria. The Bulgarians want her tried there, America wants her tied here. Bulgaria won’t turn her over unless they get another criminal to try. The Bulgarain ambassador asks for Natasha “The Black Widow” Romanov.
Natasha’s commander, Nick Fury, is told to call her in. He tells her to lay low. Believing her life is in danger, she tries to hook back up with Matt “Daredevil” Murdock. She figures sharing his media spotlight will protect her from any assassination attempts. I mean, spies wouldn’t do anything in public, right?
Not unless they hire an assassin.
Now, this guy, Quinn; you hate him. You’re supposed to hate him because he’s the bad guy and all, but he doesn’t even have a cool gimmick or style that makes other bad guys appealing. The Quinn is just fucking annoying and arrogant! He achieves this through a single habit: self-narration. Throughout his hit and his fight, he’s constantly describing what’s happening and what he’s thinking into a tape recorder. Why? FOR HIS FUTURE MEMOIRS! He’s planning for the day when his criminal career ends and he writes a book about it. First of all, that’s defeatist thinking. You don’t start any career thinking it’s going to end. Second, what the hell makes him think he’s going to do anything worth writing about? Well, he does unmask Daredevil, but that’s like finding the pile after smelling it all day. But most of all, no one wants to hear about the adventures of a guy named “Quinn”.
So, you hate Quinn. That makes the fight more fun. Natasha shows herself as a skilled fighter and fearless to boot. In the opening round, she rushes into a flying bullet, takes it in the shoulder, and keeps going. Doesn’t even slow down. Badass, man. Badass.
There’s not much in the way of personal dialogue, but there is a nice exchange at the end. Natasha admits she’s done bad things in her life. But she’s also done, and continues to do good things. For that reason, she’ll fight to live. She will not go out quietly. She asks Matt, “I hope this you can understand.” Matt replies, “A little bit. Yes.” This is why Matt is lying in the press and fighting the story outing him as Daredevil: Because he does more good as both attorney matt Murdock and crimefighter Daredevil than either one alone.
I’ve been following ‘Daredevil’ since the series was relaunched in 1998. I’ve enjoyed almost everything Bendis has done on the series. So I’m biased, but this is still a good book. Gaydos draws a good fight scene, though it isn’t clear how Natasha gets Quinn of the ground to strangle him. Pacing is nice, and the moves are fluid. Bendis gives us honest dialogue at the end between Natasha and Matt. If you’re more of a Black Widow fan than a Daredevil fan, you’ll like this. Overall, another great issue in a great series.
Natasha and Matt attempt to deal effectively with the shooter who sprayed the crowd around them with bullets in last issue’s cliffhanger, but his improvisational running commentary belies his formidability.
The shooter is really the main character this issue, as it is his prattling self-indulgence that gives us our perspective on the two beleaguered heroes. Widow and Devil do their best to take the fight to their foe, but he’s no slouch either. And what makes it even worse is his psychopathic lack of emotional involvement in the carnage he is creating. Going beyond detachment, this creep professes complete disinterest in the lives he’s ending, praising God for creating a woman as beautiful as ‘Tasha even as he seeks to end that holy creation’s time on this earth. It’s the usual trademark Bendis disconnect between words and actions, meant to give a level of verisimilitude to the high-concept plot. He uses words as decoration, especially when the ideas are as simple as this one. Morrison does much the same thing, but with a sense of whimsy Bendis’ bloody stories don’t attain. It wouldn’t be enough to sell the issue if that’s all there was.
What makes the issue work to the extent it does (as the assassin leaves clues of much higher connections than any suspected by the Widow or Matt), is the care Bendis gives in the latter half of the story to Natasha’s character. We learn that she expected such an attack might happen, but thought that a very public ex-Avenger consorting with the just-outed lawyer to the meta-set might be enough of a spectacle to scare away her attackers/pursuers. This turns out to have been a big miscalculation, as was not cluing Daredevil in to her fears sooner.
I’m not sure that I buy Nick Fury’s portrayal here by ‘Tasha as a stooge for unspecified higher powers who want her gone. That just doesn’t quite fit with the pro-gov’t Marvel Universe approach to S.H.I.E.L.D., or the Avengers for that matter. Bendis also makes an odd choice in emphasizing the Russian immigrant side of Natasha’s heritage, reverting her dialogue to the level it might have been at when she first defected years and years ago. While I don’t think this is necessarily the wrong way to go with the character, it’s yet another example of reinventing the wheel when it’s smooth contours no longer interest the writer of the moment.
And if the writing is a bit too grim and gritty for this Mark Bagley/Tom Grummet (heck, Frank Miller even!) fan, then the art is about 300 shades to dark. I admit Maleev has an almost photographic command of anatomy and shading, but that’s only if your camera is covered in grime and unable to focus in bright light. If I wanted to watch a movie, I’d be at one, which is the same attitude I apply to Alex Ross. Instead, I’m reading a comic, and I want some four color spandex with bright and shiny inking, please. He’s the main reason I’m not a regular reader.
Ah, I really wish we were doing this slugfest on any other issue of Bendis’ Daredevil because I have loved almost without reserve everything he’s done to the title. He’s changed the character’s status quo, reinvented the title in a more complete way than anything that’s been seen since the Miller era, and given a note-perfect character voice to Matt Murdock and his regular supporting cast. However, this issue finds us mired in part three of “The Widow”, a four-part arc which features the Black Widow on the run from a political exchange of state spies that will land her in hot water – and an arc which has relegated some of my favourite elements of the book to the sidelines. Whilst I have enjoyed the political angle of a story which casts the Black Widow as a fugitive from her own S.H.I.E.L.D. employers, this theme has not been explored as much as could have been, with Bendis instead focusing his attention on the sexual tension between the two leads. As a result, the story has felt a little less substantial and more soap-opera-lite than previous arcs, and it’s not a direction that particularly thrills me.
There are still elements of the book which I love: Maleev’s artwork continues to impress – particular highlights this issue being Natasha’s slo-mo bullet-time homage and her ‘mirroring’ of DD-style moves as she chases her assailant through Hell’s Kitchen. Dan Brown’s colours (in lieu of regular colourist Matt Hollingsworth) match the issue’s changing moods well – indeed, the change in colouring style is virtually non-existent and it’s to his credit. Bendis also accomplishes good work in introducing a new villain, giving him a distinct personality and some fun moments, and keeping him around for later. However, yet again, Daredevil’s main problem is that it’s running up against its own very high standards. If this was another book I might feel differently and judge less harshly, but this issue just doesn’t seem to capture the magic of some of the other work the team has done on the title. Even less seems to happen than usual, and for a penultimate issue of an arc there’s very little build-up to a concerted finale. Credit to the creative team for doing things a little bit differently, but I’d prefer the title to carry on concentrating on the key elements of Matt’s life at this hectic, exciting time – instead, Daredevil seems bogged down in too many foreign elements, to the extent that he has become a supporting character in a Black Widow story.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll still get something out of this, but it’s an issue to be tolerated and enjoyed in equal measure; and it’s definitely not a good place to start reading if you’re a newcomer. However, something tells me Daredevil will pick up again after this arc is over – a small blip on an otherwise exemplary run.
What did you think of this book?
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