Tag Archives: Black Widow

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #33 (2008)

In the past 15+ years or so, comics have embraced longer-form storytelling. Stories are still divided into chapters of 20-22 pages, but there’s been a greater focus on the overarching narratives that build over the course of years. The old rule of “every comic is someone’s first, so make it accessible” is less of a concern (recap pages try to compensate for that, though), and you’re best off starting with #1 or the first issue of a new creative team (which partially explains why companies keep rebooting books back to new issue ones). Television has undergone a similar evolution during the same time.

A common complaint when the “decompressed storytelling” trend first emerged was that you’d sometimes read an issue where it felt like almost nothing happened. The story would read great in trade paperback, but the month-to-month pace suffered…in some cases. Not in the case of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, which demonstrates the creative benefits of the slow build.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

Brubaker began reintroducing Bucky Barnes back in #1, took his time developing the character, and killed Captain America in #25. And yet, it’s not until #33 that Bucky is even ready to entertain the notion of succeeding his old partner.

By this point, clear motivations are established for everyone involved. The idea comes posthumously from Cap himself, communicated in a letter he arranged to have delivered to Tony Stark upon his death. He asked Stark to save Bucky from himself and to make sure the legacy of Captain America continues. Stark, wracked with guilt about how the whole Civil War debacle went down, feels especially obligated to comply, and he sees only one way to fulfill both objectives—have Bucky become the new Cap. Bucky, out of loyalty and respect, is not going to let anyone else take the job, and he has much to atone for. And Black Widow, who first met Bucky as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, knows he’s not ready to carry the burden, but out of respect and affection for both Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, she’s there to help.

The full saga is basically like a novel with dynamically laid out artwork. And so far, it’s every bit as amazing as I remember.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2016)

Back in the ‘60s, Black Widow was introduced as an enemy for Iron Man. So it’s fitting that Black Widow #6 puts them at odds once again, as we (and Tony Stark) learn that she once targeted someone very important to him back in her less scrupulous days.

The issue rejects the usual “heroes fight over a misunderstanding” pattern and instead offers twists that are in character for both Natasha and Tony. And it’s not the usual sort of “misunderstanding” in play here—the Widow’s guilty. But there’s more going on than just one painful revelation.

So the story’s great, and I also continue to enjoy writer/artist Chris Samnee’s visuals. He captures exactly the right tone, and the facial expressions bring the scenes to life.

At this point, I think it’s safe to declare this the Black Widow’s strongest solo series to date.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #27 (2007)

The title character may be dead, but Captain America #27 features lots of great escalation.

Everyone is still mourning Captain America in their own way. Tony Stark is taking it rather hard, on account of the guilt he feels regarding the “Civil War” debacle. Sharon Carter has quit SHIELD. Bucky Barnes decides to gather Cap’s equipment. The Falcon tries to find Bucky. And so on.

The Black Widow enters the story, and we learn there’s a bit of backstory between her and Bucky. Makes sense, as both were used and manipulated by the Russian government.

The issue begins with Stark’s public proclamation that no one else will take over as Captain America—Steve Rogers was one of a kind and the decision is final. So that’s crying out to be boldly defied.

Bucky has a nice moment at a Captain America memorial, talking to an old woman who says Cap saved her father during a particular battle in World War II. Bucky knows the statement to be factually incorrect, but he chooses not to spoil her father’s memory. It’s a nice little touch that makes him a bit more likable. And that’s kind of important, given the role he’ll be playing as the story unfolds.

Captain America’s death may look like a big event comic, but it’s actually a terrific character-driven story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Mike Perkins

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #5 (2016)

The current Black Widow remains a quality action series five issues in.

Momentum continues to build. The tension escalates. The stakes feel higher with every issue. And it’s all done in exactly the right tone, and with the right ambiguity, for its title character. I’m genuinely curious to see how this wraps up.

Yet another reminder that there really should be a solo Black Widow movie by now. But at least we have this excellent comic.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #1 (2004)

Almost twenty years ago now, Marvel launched an imprint for comics with a hard PG-13 rating that allowed their creators to think outside the box. It was called Marvel Knights, and it facilitated some good stories aimed at an older readership without crossing the line into excessive profanity and the like (that happened in MAX, which started a few years later).

The Black Widow was an excellent choice for a Marvel Knights series, as the first issue of her 2004 miniseries demonstrates.

She’s definitely operating outside normal Avengers parameters here (I think she was between Avenging stints at this point). She’s not above killing to defend herself or others, which normally I’m against, but it fits her character and her checkered background.

Issue #1 sets up a situation where Natasha’s past is coming back to haunt her, which seems to be a pretty standard type of plot for her…but again, it suits the character. And it’s nice to see that even when she’s on the run, she’s willing to leap into action to save an innocent when she could just as easily walk away.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe may not know how to give Black Widow her own movie, but comic books have already proven she can carry a story. For Widow fans, this one’s worth a look (just not the younger Widow fans).

Writer: Richard K. Morgan

Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz

Cover: Greg Land

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow: Homecoming (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #3 (2016)

black-widow-3Time to rave about the current Black Widow series again.

Issue #3 demonstrates how this is truly an artist’s book, and indeed, the artist is also the co-writer. Appropriately for a visual medium, Chris Samnee tells the story largely through pictures as we follow Black Widow from New York to Russia and deep into her own past.

But this series isn’t structured around cool images—it’s a story ideally suited for its character, and it knows it doesn’t need to be talky to get the job done. Natasha isn’t exactly a chatterbox herself, so the approach fits especially well here.

A great series so far. I’m ready for more.

Writers: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #2 (2016)

black-widow-2The first issue dropped us in the middle of an intriguing scenario, without all the facts—Black Widow on the run from SHIELD, and not even she’s not certain she’s doing the right thing…whatever it is she’s doing. The second issue remains coy, but it reveals just enough more to further intrigue us.

Superheroes need weaknesses and flaws, because what’s the point of a protagonist who’s invincible? Or one who’s so formidable that she’s practically unstoppable and solutions come too easily? And Black Widow is easily among Marvel’s most formidable non-powered characters, but she also has her own special version of kryptonite—her own past.

It’s a great weakness for a character to have (well, it benefits the reader, not the character, of course). It raises the stakes in a personal way, much more so than a glowing space rock ever can (no offense, Superman).

So far, this series appears to be leveraging that weakness to thrilling effect.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #1 (2016)

Black-Widow-1Black Widow #1 certainly doesn’t make the mistake of starting the story too early.

Page one gives us the hook—Black Widow is now an enemy of SHIELD. But writers Mark Waid and Chris Samnee wisely withhold the full explanation this issue. Instead, they treat us to Natasha’s thrilling escape from SHIELD, showing off her skills and resourcefulness and letting Samnee’s art tell most of the story.

It’s a great scenario for the character. It puts her in opposition to her allies…but maybe secretly doing it for their benefit? That mystery and ambiguity suits her. We truly don’t know if Natasha is doing the right thing, and she might not either.

I’ll have to read the next issues when they arrive on Marvel Unlimited…or maybe grab the trade paperback when it comes out. The first issue did its job—it sold me on the series. More, please.

Writers: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Hawkeye #7-8 (2004)

Hawkeye 7These issues aren’t from the critically acclaimed Hawkeye series that kicked off around the time of the Avengers’ phenomenally successful first movie. They’re from the previous attempt at a Hawkeye solo series, before we had any idea the Marvel Cinematic Universe was coming.

And while they’re not at the level of the more recent series (so few comics are), they’re definitely worth a look. In these final two issues (#7 and 8—yeah, really short-lived series), Clint tries to solve a murder and winds up at odds with his ex-girlfriend, the Black Widow.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about it. It’s just a solidly executed two-parter that gets Hawkeye’s character exactly right. He’s the stubborn guy who involves himself in affairs he has no business being involved in.

How else would you describe a non-powered archer who joins the Avengers?

Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Penciler: Joe Bennett

Inker: Sandu Flores

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Avenging The Fantastic, Part 13: The Black Widow Goes Solo (Briefly)!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #94-104; Avengers #73-83; Captain America #121-133, Captain America and the Falcon #134; Iron Man #21-32; Incredible Hulk #125-134; Thor #172-181; Amazing Adventures (starring Black Widow) #1-4; years: 1970-71

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Yellowjacket and Wasp are out so Hank Pym can do science for the government, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back, thus filling the Avengers’ quota of unhealthy relationships. And then the Vision abruptly leaves shortly later…and returns almost immediately.

Iron_Man_Vol_1_21The Best of This Bunch – Iron Man #21-22

Archie Goodwin’s solid run on Iron Man continues with a tale of Tony Stark trying to quit his superhero life…and realizing he can’t. The story features tropes that have become too commonplace these days—a replacement for the hero, a replacement for an old villain, and the death of a romantic interest. But these tropes were fresher in 1970 and, in this particular instance, well-handled.

Iron-willed boxer and all-around decent guy Eddie March makes for a likeable potential Iron Man, though he has a medical condition of his own that cuts his super-heroic career short. Surprisingly, he survives the tale, but Janice Cord’s death comes out of nowhere.

Janice had been portrayed as a potential girlfriend for Tony Stark for the past twenty issues or so. Now, after an experimental medical procedure leaves Tony Stark’s heart healthy enough for daily life but not necessarily superhero life, he decides to pursue a normal relationship and pass the Iron Man armor onto a worthy successor. Continue reading