Editor's Note: Black Widow: Deadly Origin #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, December 9.
The second issue of Black Widow: Deadly Origin sees Paul Cornell continue his exploration of the background of Natalia Romanova, whilst also unfurling a sinister present-day plot that could spell danger for anyone who has ever been romantically linked to the Soviet super-spy.
As with the first issue, the book provides a winning blend of humour, intrigue, action and evocative flashbacks, all of which come together to form a rich and multi-faceted super-espionage story. Whilst the series is nominally a retelling of the Black Widow's origin, the way that her history has been married with a reasonably compelling present-day plotline allows Cornell's story a certain sense of immediacy that could have been lost if the book had concentrated solely on the character's past.
Events are livened up considerably by Cornell's distinctive brand of humour, too: I loved Natasha's exchange with the "Federal Dynamo", and enjoyed the manner in which she convinces the Russian agents of the present day to spill the beans on the "Icepick Protocol". Yes, the nature of the protocol as revealed here is a little far-fetched, and some might feel that it's slightly sexist, but the Black Widow has always mixed a certain amount of overt sexuality with her dangerous spy antics, so it makes sense that the threat that she's facing here would play on that element of her personality.
The book's two artists again turn in work of a high quality here. Unlike the first issue (in which I felt that John Paul Leon's art was stronger than Tom Raney's), the two very different artists are more or less on a par here, quality-wise, with Raney's slick, modern artwork providing just as many memorable moments as Leon's more heavily stylised, timeless, classic-feeling visuals. I love Raney's slick take on Natasha in full-on super-spy mode, cannily inverting her usual colour scheme with an all-white suit and providing some well choreographed sequences that show her infiltrating a Russian base. Leon's work is equally satisfying, providing more of the well-designed montages of Cold War-era Russia that we saw in the first issue, and also bringing things slightly more up-to-date with a guest appearance from Tony Stark towards the end of the issue.
However, the issue's most notable achievement is its deft and elegant reconciliation of the many different (and often contradictory) Black Widow origin stories, acknowledging all of them and somehow managing to combine them into a single origin without invalidating any of these past stories by simply ruling them out of continuity. Instead, Cornell adopts a more ambiguous approach that's a little reminiscent of Alan Moore's Joker origin in Killing Joke (I couldn't help but think of the Joker's "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!" when I realised how Cornell was choosing to handle the Widow's mysterious past). It's the perfect way to treat a complicated character like this one, allowing all of the previous stories to stand whilst offering a possible explanation that simplifies their apparent contradictions considerably. Combined with the reasonably compelling present-day plotline, it makes for an intriguing and layered series -- and with Raney and Leon on art duties, it's a great looking book too.
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