Though Black Widow made it to the big screen in last year’s Iron Man 2 and she’s currently one of the most fascinating heroines in the Marvel Universe, her character history is confusing at best and contradictory at worst.
In Black Widow: Deadly Origin, writer Paul Cornell and artists Tom Raney and John Paul Leon attempt to weave all these disparate strands together and create a definitive base for the former villain turned hero. For the most part, they succeed.
While Black Widow is currently one of the Marvel Universe’s most respected and feared superheroes and is involved in a steady relationship with the new Captain America, James Barnes, she has a very long past that is marked by brainwashing and memory loss. The murder of her oldest friend and the search for the reasons behind his death send her on a journey through her past as a Communist spy, freedom fighter against the Nazis, her work as a mercenary and, finally the choices that led her to her current life. That life is imperiled by a part of her long-ago programming that’s just been activated and is designed to turn her friends into into enemies and destroy everyone close to her.
What Kids Will Like About It:
This isn’t for young readers. I would rate it PG, at least, and there’s enough gore here and there that some parents might perceive it PG-13. More than that, though, it has an adult sensibility as Natasha looks through her past and her choices–in between fights, of course. As Natasha isn’t a typical superhero, some of her choices are more in line with her former life as a spy and assassin than a hero. That might be tough for the younger readers to take.
That said, this is a great story for anyone who liked Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and wants a comic book introduction to the character. Past and present are woven together nicely and so are the foes Widow faces as she gets closer to the truth.
What Adults Will Like About It:
I like Black Widow but the name that drew me to this trade was Paul Cornell. Though he’s famous for his extensive work on Dr. Who, I know him best from the excellent writing he did on Captain Britain and MI-13.
This a hard story to tell given how it jumps back and forth in time but it never becomes confusing. A major asset is the flashbacks are handled by a different artist than the present day adventure. Both Raney and Leon outdo themselves with both the action sequences and the small human moments between the various characters. It has the look and feel of an espionage book and Natasha’s world-weariness comes across very well.
There’s a great panel of Russian guards surrounding Black Widow, who’s just broken into their super-secret facility, and looking on her with adoration after they’ve accepted her offer to spare them if they stay out of her way. The guards begin joking about how they’ll tell their children that they met the original Black Widow. It’s a nice moment of dark humor and kindness in a bleak story.
About the Creators:
Tom Raney has primarily done work for Marvel, most notably Annihilation Conquest. Seeing his art in this book definitely made me want to look up his other work. John Paul Leon has a resume dating back t0 1988, when he did artwork for TSR’s Dungeon and Dragons magazine. He’s done extensive work for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and also contributed work for the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight style guides.
Extras in the Trade:
There is a long — and I mean long — written recap of Black Widow’s history in the Marvel Universe. Reading through it all, it seemed to me that various writers weren’t sure of what to do with the character from appearance to appearance. That’s no doubt why her personality has seemed so jumbled over the years. Major props, though, to the recapper for mentioning the “Boris and Natasha” period in a completely dry tone.
There are also covers of the individual issues of the miniseries, including the variant covers, and some uncolored pencils of the interior artwork.