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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Review: BLACK WIDOW #1 Reads Like a 'Fury Road'-Inspired Joyride

Five years ago, Daredevil was stuck in a rut. When Frank Miller introduced a little bleakness to the book in the 1980s, it was a huge hit, and future writers ran with it. The book got darker and darker until it finally reached a point where it had become almost a parody of the typical 'grim and gritty urban vigilante' book it had helped inspire. Then came Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Chris Samnee and more with a more emotionally nuanced, adventure-driven take on the character that immediately struck a chord with audiences. While Black Widow hasn't had quite so definitive a take, its problems are similar; the character is popular, well-known, has a strong multi-media presence... and her books just aren't sticking with readers. Can the team that redefined Daredevil make lightning strike twice?

Much like the groundbreaking Daredevil #1, in which Waid and Paolo Rivera sought to redefine Daredevil through action alone, Waid and Samnee offer here a definitively physical take on the character. If Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto's take was defined by a certain chilly distance that played up the spy angle, superheroics in a world that felt only a few tonal steps removed from John le Carré, Waid and Samnee are heavily focused on highlighting the 'super' in 'superspy'. The entirety of Black Widow #1 is one protracted action sequence, and while it goes on a bit longer than I typically enjoy, it remains eye-catching and momentum-driven throughout. 

But it is the first 7 pages of Black Widow that are the real action-adventure stunner. Waid and Samnee start off in a fairly familiar office environment. We don't know much, just that SHIELD director Maria Hill has declared Black Widow to be an enemy combatant, ordering her capture. We quickly get a feel for why as she runs amok through the office building, punching out office drones before a SHIELD team meets her. The situation continues to escalate from there until Natasha has no choice but to get out of the building entirely with a daring escape plan that nearly had me laughing out loud. The sequence was perfectly paced by Samnee, who breezed over much of the actual hand-to-hand combat in an effort to keep moving. This is a book that is always in motion.

The scene continues from there, and while they've put together a fairly inspired action set-piece to kick-off the new series, it never gets better than that first, breathtaking moment. The two-page splash that kicks the action sequence into high gear is so well-placed and gives the series such an immediately iconic image that anything that comes after is bound to be a bit of a let down. And, indeed, the book never quite recaptures the excitement of those first few pages. Part of the strength of Daredevil #1 was that it not only gave us this bit of character-defining action, but also an idea of the running story we'd be seeing, the thematic content, and the supporting cast new and old. Black Widow has very little of that. It's basically the opening scene of a really great action movie, and while it's a hell of an opener, it also feels just a bit slight.

As Marvel and DC move away from dedicated writer/artist teams thanks to the push for bi-monthly publishing schedules, Black Widow #1 is a powerful argument for why such teams remain necessary. It is a smooth, easy read, a thrill ride that goes light on dialogue and plot and gives us pure character-through-action, like a Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired joyride. I often see action comics that essentially read like "Writer's part -> Artist's part -> Writer's part," jumping from action to exposition and back again, each person wrestling to show off. In Black Widow #1, the action is the story, the character, the plot, showing off a creative team working together confidently. Is this the audience-grabbing, character-defining Black Widow run the character deserves? If the rest of the book is as great as the action, you're goddamn right it is.

Black Widow #1 was illustrated by Chris Samnee, lettered by VC's Joe Caramagna, written by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee, and colored by Matthew Wilson. Published by Marvel Comics, Black Widow #1 was released on March 2nd, 2016 with a list price of $3.99. No review copies or other form of compensation were provided for this review, the writer just likes saying stuff for some dumb reason.
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