“Part 3: Now That’s What I Call a Woman”
Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Artists: Goran Parlov and Bill Sienkiewicz
Publisher: Marvel Knights
Plot: This is turning into my favorite of the Black Widow mini-series. The cover encodes it all. Badass Natasha, sans gimmicky “widow’s stings,” shoots it up with big guns. She’s in search of the assassins on her tail, and she’s not unwilling to use her sexuality and illicit substances to achieve her goal. The seductive babe on the poster behind her, selling perfume, is only a mask, but one that Natasha, like all smart women, knows how to deploy at will.
Comments: I half expect the denouement of this story (3 issues to go) to involve some sort of super-woman lab experiment. Morgan is not being very subtextual about the feminist themes running through this story. We’ve seen “Nat” take out a male assassin in the coldest of blood, and sever the spine of a stranger abusing a teenage girl, who she then rescued, though Sally Anne’s role in this scenario has yet to be fully revealed.
‘Tasha’s ally is Phil Dexter, a failed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who, while not incompetent, is a bit of a bumbling oaf next to the Black Widow. They’re being chased/mirrored by a nefarious co-ed duo, the too-black ops for Nick Fury Hunter and the enigmatic ice queen Kestrel. So far, Nat’s stayed a few steps ahead of them, but the place she’s heading to (a mysterious bunker in Russia) seems to be attracting all the targeted female ex-agents, and she's killing them off as they arrive.
The visual weight given to advertising and cosmetics products underlines the issues about the roles women are forced to play in the male-dominated society. When a perfume company ties in directly with the plot, the story recalls a recent Mystique arc where she fought a cosmetics company using mutants as guinea pigs.
Morgan doesn’t need to go with the mutant metaphor in this hard-edge spy tale, though, which has dispensed with super-hero trappings. He can be literal and upfront about his victims of prejudice: women, plain and simple, are revealed as second-class citizens/threats to male dominance in this story.
Also interesting: This issue claims only the layouts aren’t Siekniewicz’s, but his distinctive stamp is of course all over the book. Especially in a sequence where the Widow interrogates an ex-agent she has seduced. Her sexy outfit is one of the tools she used to get him hand-cuffed to a bed; but it is an hallucinogen that gets him to talk, and Sienkiewicz makes sure his nightmarish visions of various female archetypes are memorable.
Natasha’s first encounter with a spook in this issue led inadvertently (sort of) to his death, possibly at the hands of his betrayed wife, and the body count is rising. What’s most interesting about this story is how Morgan manages to trade on the traditional femme fatale motif for babes in the spy game, and also maintain Natasha as the heroine we’re rooting for. Well done.
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