“Part 1: Right to a Life”
Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
Publisher: Marvel Knights
Natasha’s trying to take it easy in Arizona, but someone’s killing women, most of whom have a Soviet past as complicated as her own.
I realize I should be more impressed w/this title. It plays to all my favorite themes. There’s a heroine. She’s embattled but tougher than Emma Peel. There’s a feminist angle with the women being targeted, underscored further by a hapless young woman whom Natasha rescues from horny truckers, and the fact that one of her pursuers is female as well. And fan-favorite artist Sienkiewicz is too rarely seen as the sole artist (not just the inker) of a title these days, and he’s doing a bang-up job of being … well, as straightforward as he can be and still be Sienkiewicz. But it’s not completely working for me.
I love Natasha, I really do. Since trying out her new costume for Spidey’s benefit in the 60s she’s been unforgettable. I enjoyed the last two mini-series (a format that seems well-suited to a dynamic, if it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it character like Black Widow, at least at first). The Widow has most often been a supporting player in her history, in just about every Marvel book. Avengers, Iron Man, Thunderbolts, Champions, Daredevil, repeated team ups when Spidey and Thing were having those. In some of those she was a co-star, in some a den-mother, in others a villain. She’s ambiguous, deadly, and sexy, and has never really lost her edge.
Only, these things can become formulaic, and the formula with Natasha is that someone from the past wants her dead. Or someone is killing people from her past that she has to protect. Or Russia wants her back. Or Russia wants her dead. The whole Yelena arc from the last two series was interesting, because here an upstart agent thought killing Natasha would make her career. That proved harder than anticipated. Instead of a tired attempt to update a character with a new body taking over the old name, that arc became a reminder of just how much is still working with the original. It’s interesting to note that in this series, Yelena is now on Natasha’s cell-phone friends list.
But we’re not getting the James Bond spy antics of the past, or the kinky underworld that Yelena faced. Rather, there’s a more down and dirty Kill Bill vibe going on. Assassins are at war, and while stakes are high, tricks are dirty. The strongest scene in the issue is Natasha watching as an assailant, a hard-core agent like herself, bleeds out rather than give her the info she wants. It’s all just a little too gritty, and kind of sleazy.
The art is quirky and totally suited to the material, and Natasha, though following almost the same plot of her recent Daredevil appearance, is definitely the sole protagonist. I’ll be around for the ride, but hoping for some surprise twists along the way.
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