By Duane Swierczynski (writer), Manuel Garcia (artist), Lorenzo Ruggiero (inker), Jim Charalmpidis (colorist)

You Know What I Like?: Digital comics. I do. I’m getting into them in a serious way and I’d like to put some thoughts together to share with you on the matter. You know why I like them though? About a month or two ago, Marvel offered the digital version of Black Widow #1 for free through their comic portal app. Having always been fond of the character, and still bitter over her lame appearance in Secret Avengers, I downloaded the comic and ended up loving it. I loved it so much, in fact, that I went to my local comic shop the next day and picked up the rest of the issues I was missing so that I could catch up with the story. The point I’m making here is that Marvel offered me a free issue of a comic and ended up not only earning a new customer on another of their comics, but they drove traffic into the direct market. This is smart. But I digress.

The Story: This issue marks the beginning of a new storyline and a new creative team. When journalist Nick Crane learns that the presence of a mysterious woman in black may have had something to do with his father’s suicide, he is determined to discover who she is and exact vengeance. The thing about that though is the Black Widow would also like to know more about this woman bearing her likeness because she’s been assassinating key political targets around the world and drawing some very unwarranted attention and retribution onto Natalia.

The Good: Simply put, this is one hell of a great book! Nevermind that, we need more comics like this featuring strong female characters. Black Widow is simply a great espionage story with enough action, intrigue, and occasional weirdness to keep me coming back for more. With the arrival of Swierczynski and Garcia this month, we have in place now a creative team that is well-suited to the gritty tone of this book (but if you’re reading this, Marjorie Liu, please know that I loved the shit out of your storyline and it’s the reason I’m still reading this comic!). I didn’t quite care for Swierczynski’s run on Immortal Iron Fist, but I appreciated his ambition enough to keep an eye on him as he moved around various Marvel comics. With his arrival on this comic, I feel pretty good that he’s more than capable of delivering to Widow the recognition she deserves. More than ever (and that’s saying something because, again, Liu did a damn fine job with the comic), Black Widow is portrayed as being a consummate professional and world-class operative. She’s a woman who has lived her whole life in the shadows and learned to move about easily in the darkness. Through narration captions she briefly lets us into her world to see slivers of her thoughts, plots, and machinations, but even then you can’t shake the feeling that there’s something she’s not telling you, even more secrets she feels compelled to keep. Normally, this kind of characterization would drive me insane but here it pulls me into the story and makes me want to know more about this woman whose made it her mission to not be known.

I also love how loyal this comic is to its roots in espionage and noir. Back when Ed Brubaker was hyping up Secret Avengers as a super hero spy thriller, I was hoping he was going to do something more like what I find here in Black Widow every month. I didn’t find what I was looking for in his comic, but am pleased to report that this one delivers the goods.

The Not So Good: The only reservation I had about this issue was Garcia’s art, and even then it was a minor one at that. I find his style to be a vast improvement over Acuna’s art from the previous storyline, not to mention a much better fit for the kind of gritty, dark world that Natalia moves in, but the faces of Garcia’s characters are poorly defined and don’t do much to express emotion. It seemed like faces were too often obscured in shadow and cross-hatches that looked like characters had been attacked by chickens, y’know? And while I understand that we’re dealing with the shady world of secret agents here, I think Garcia would benefit by pushing himself a little further to better define his cast of characters. But here again, it’s only his first issue so I’m willing to cut the guy some slack.

Conclusion: Fans of The Bourne Identity, Alias, and James Bond need to check this book out and give it the support it deserves. Swierczynski and Garcia are a solid team and they know how to make the Black Widow as lethal and mysterious as she is lovely. This really is a good book!

Grade: B

-Tony Rakittke