“Part 1: Right to a Life”
Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
So, the perennial Russian spy gets her own Marvel Knights title, with this new start allowing her to jettison a lot of continuity baggage from her previous appearances in favour of a new start, in a solo adventure, and in an imprint which allows a slightly more adult brand of writing and art than the regular Marvel titles would permit. I picked this up after some brief familiarity with the character from the pages of Daredevil (both more recently through Bendis and Kevin Smith, and in the 80s Frank Miller run), and I have to admit to being very pleasantly surprised by the whole package.
The characterisation here relies on archetypes which steer clear of cliché, yet give you enough information to get a grasp of the relationships quickly and immerse yourselves in the characters’ world easily enough. They never veer into lazy stereotype, although Morgan’s Black Widow is a tough, uncompromising spy character straight out of the mould of Fleming’s original James Bond or 24’s Jack Bauer. It’s refreshing to see the Widow using her feminine whiles as a mere part of her armoury, rather than her entire reason to exist, and goes some way to explain why I find her a far more complete and interesting character in this solo book than I ever have in her fairly one-dimensional guest-appearances. What’s more, a fairly interesting story concerning some “random” deaths of women all over the US is begun, and - even if the plot does not develop much this issue – some interesting character dynamics are set up which look like being fairly important in upcoming issues. Things really start to kick off as Natasha’s “buddy” rapport with Phil takes centre stage, and even this sidekick role is given welcome depth with allusions to a secret past with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. that will hopefully be explored in due course.
Bill Sienkiewicz’s artwork is a major asset for the book, complementing the tone Morgan seems to be aiming for from the off. There’s a real sense of filtered reality here, with very down-to-earth body shapes and backgrounds being rendered with just a hint of stylised sketchiness which suits the murky morality of the title to a tee. The scratchy opening sequence toes a line between dreams and reality which feeds nicely into the Black Widow’s bedroom introduction, during which she has never looked more realistically sexy. It’s another step up from Alex Maleev’s already impressive rendition of the character in recent issue’s of Daredevil, and adds to the overall “realistic” approach to the character. Further scenes of the Widow driving in the dusty Arizona desert are subtly reminiscent of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, a perhaps unintended homage but one which again gives the exact right flavour to the character. All the character work is consistent and distinctive, and the action scenes are also excellent – in particular the grim service station fight which pulls no punches in terms of fairly graphic violence – with the closing pages introducing more new characters through some simple yet effective visuals which go well with the text, and giving us an explosive sense that the series will up the ante in terms of action next issue. I can’t wait.
On rereading the book, there’s definitely a lot more packed in - in terms of both story and art - than first appears, and this goes a long way to excuse the absence of a really clearly defined structure or plot as of yet. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why I enjoyed this so much, but there’s already a distinctive vibe of underground gritty cool which I couldn’t help but enjoy. All in all, Black Widow #1 is a very promising debut for the series which guarantees that I’ll be sticking around to see what Natasha gets up to next. Impressive.
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