Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Stephen Mooney
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover Artist: Junggeun Yoon
Editor: Sarah Brunstad
Publisher: Marvel Comics
For a character with such a long, storied history like Natasha Romanoff, it still feels like Marvel has only scratched the surface with her. This week’s Web of Black Widow #1 promises to shed some more light on what made our titular protagonist the way she is. With her long-awaited solo movie out next year, there’s no better time than now to delve into the origin of everybody’s favorite Russian assassin-turned-superhero.
Natasha’s had a rough few years in the comics industry as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe — specifically because, well, she died in both of them. While I can’t speak to the ultimate fate of her character in the MCU before Black Widow is released, her comicbook counterpart did get better. After sacrificing herself in the Secret Empire event, Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier learned that her consciousness was uploaded into a clone of her body and brought back to life. As such, the version of Natasha we follow in this series isn’t technically the original her, but basically, it is regardless. Comics!
The interesting thing about Black Widow as a character is that she’s fairly malleable in terms of the kinds of stories you can place her in. The most recent Black Widow title by the Soska Sisters was action-heavy and even leaned into some horror elements, but others have taken a James Bond-esque espionage angle (e.g. the 2014-2015 Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto run), while the forthcoming MCU film is reportedly in line with the conspiracy thriller aspects of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Web of Black Widow seems to be placing itself as a noir mystery of sorts, effectively swapping the hard-boiled detective protagonist with that of the femme fatale who’s usually either a secondary love interest or ruthless antagonist — sometimes both. It’s not a bad concept for a Black Widow title, since her loyalties are always being questioned, particularly by Tony Stark in this debut issue. When he tries to remind her she’s one of the good guys now, she rebukes the claim; for all we know, she isn’t a good guy, just good at playing one.
One commonality among all my favorite Black Widow runs is a sparse, limited script that lets the art do all the talking, and writer Jody Houser seems to get this. Though she’s known as being something of a snark-cracker in the MCU (that’ll happen when you’re played by Scarlett Johansson), the purest version of Natasha in the comics has never been that. This isn’t to say she doesn’t have a sense of humor or speaks boringly, but that someone who was trained to be an assassin would know to speak only when necessary to their mission.
Much of this issue proceeds without dialogue or narration, letting artist Stephen Mooney translate Houser’s script to the page with elegant visuals that are equal parts ass-kicking and sensual, sometimes at the same time. Mooney’s previous work on Midnighter and Grayson — both espionage-tinged comics in their own right — makes him a good fit for the material here. There’s a double splash spread towards the end that’s simply stunning in its approach, putting Natasha’s ballerina training-as-fighting style on full display. It’s fluid and graceful but also brutal and visceral, just like Natasha herself. Triona Farrell’s colors contribute to the moodiness of the thing — preferring dark, pale greens, blues, and browns, with the occasional pop of Black Widow red accents.