In a world where creative teams drop in and out of books at the drop of a hat and where accelerated publishing schedules mean fill-in artists galore, a 12 issue series like "Black Widow" is a little slice of heaven.
It's a year-long storyline by a single creative team, allowed to tell their story mostly apart from the rest of the chaotic main universe. Yes, playing in current continuity means a weird visit with The Watcher Nick Fury on the moon, but you can just go along with that to get the importance of the plot point.
"Black Widow" is a 12 issue action/adventure romp, part James Bond and part "Mission: Impossible." It is an artist's showcase, which makes sense since the artist, Chris Samnee, both drew and co-wrote the book. Given that, and a little bit of leeway from an editorial team to let a proven creative team do what they want to do, you get a story with a strong visual component.
There's nothing boring in this book. It's set piece after set piece, with action sequences that spread out over and through a city, across a frozen tundra, inside an Antarctic facility, on the surface of the moon, and so much more.
The good news is that you don't need to be up to date on the Marvel Universe as it exists today to understand what's going on. Samnee and co-writer Mark Waid fill you in on what you need as they go along, and what you need is very minimal. Like I said, the wildest thing is the Nick Fury issue. (You probably already forgot about that event series, anyway, didn't you? The one with the eyeball thingy? I can't even remember its name.)
Off to a Good Start
The first issue sets up the series nicely. It's one long chase sequence, well executed and properly staged. It's like the opening bit of business ahead of the credits in a James Bond movie. You can almost hear the sting of the character's theme in the back of your head at the end. It's glorious.
Natasha gets chased around a helicarrier, free falls thousands of feet and makes up her survival tactics as she goes (involving flying cars, jet packs, and parachutes!), and then leads everyone on a merry motorcycle romp through a busy city street, before going hand-to-hand with her combat.
It establishes the strengths of the character, the tone of the series, and gives you lots of memorable moments all at the same time. It's the old superhero comic maxim of "open on action" taken to its logical extreme.
It's a memorable start to the issue and a strong one.
Filling in the Gaps
One thing I noticed a few times in reading this book is that I, as the willing reader, filled in several gaps for Samnee by design.
As it turns out, if a sequence is exciting and visually interesting enough, you don't need every move shown and explained to you. It's enough that Natasha can turn her motorcycle around in a 180 degree move on the middle of a city street. What's going on around her isn't the important part at that moment, and how fast she speeds back up is unimportant to the chase sequence. It's enough that she's still going, and that's what Samnee shows. My mind fills in the rest, much the same way it fills in the missing images when watching a zoetrope.
It's the action and the momentum of the piece that you get lost in. You suddenly realize you're not paying attention to every bit of stagecraft and blocking in a scene. You're caught up in the action. Your eyes are moving to keep up with the people speeding across the page.
There's a three way fight scene in the second half of the series that’s done entirely in silhouette. It's easy enough to follow because each character has a unique trait that makes them obvious, like Black Widow's red hair. There are times in that fight where it feels like things jump around a bit. Whether that's from a new camera angle or a slight jump in time, it doesn’t matter. I can follow it just fine.
Silence Is Golden
One other thing this book has a lot of is silence. Chris Samnee tells this story with his art. Mark Waid's script shows restraint, trusting the artist to carry the story. You can't do that in an assembly line comic where creator A might not know what creator B is capable of, or even who they are.
There are plenty of opportunities across these 12 issues for Waid to throw some thought balloons or caption boxes to "flesh things out" or sound clever. That would have distracted from the story or been redundant to the art.
Silent stories aren't "quick reads." They shouldn't be. They should hold your attention and give you more reason to look at every last detail of the art.
It's tempting as a reader to see a page without balloons and just skim over it. This is comics; timing is in the hands of the reader. You, as the creator, can't dictate those kinds of terms to the reader. There's a lot you can do to speed up or slow down a reader, but ultimately it's out of the creator's hands.
It's a risky choice to be so silent, but I think Samnee pulls it off. The silent pages and silent moments are clear, and usually done as simply as possible. Samnee boils down the moments to just what is needed to tell the story, to help keep those super fast readers from missing anything.
I'm not going to analyze every page of this book. Strip Panel Naked beat me to a lot of the pages, anyway, a long time ago. But aspiring artists can learn a few things just by studying these issues for composition and storytelling.
The Story, Itself
Although I enjoyed the story, I felt a little distance from it. The story is well constructed, easy to follow, has a few surprising twists, and nails its ending.
It's one of those things where I'm not sure that I have a critical reason for it. This might just be personal preference, that it feels like I've read enough Red Room stories before, or that I'd prefer something that isn't a continuity implant to drive the story. (Speaking of the series' villain, Weeping Lion: Black Widow knows how dangerous he can be, but then uses him for something that you have to know will backfire on her eventually. That part felt like plot mechanics over logic, as much as the story tried to justify it.)
It feels a bit like these are plot points to move the action/adventure bits along. That works for the thrill of the story, for sure, but doesn't engage the emotional side of the reader enough to carry me along.
That said, I thought the last couple of issues wrapped things up tremendously. The grand finale moments, in particular, were strong, and come closest to bringing the emotional levels up in the story.
This sounds like a mixed review, I know, but I really did enjoy it. If you want that visual spectacle and non-stop action with long set pieces, this is a good series to go with. There is a character arc in here, a plot worth following, and constant tension driving the reader to the next page. It also stands well on its own without having to know which two Marvel "events" it's happening between.0comments
It's collected in a pair of trade paperbacks. I hope it someday gets an oversized hardcover treatment. I’d gladly buy it again for that.