By: Al Ewing (Writer), Butch Guice (Penciler), Tom Palmer (Inker), Frank D’Armata (Colorist), VC’s Clayton Cowles
Review: For better or worse I’ve reserved myself a copy of every tie-in issue allied to the Age of Ultron event. Not done that for a while, maybe not since Secret Invasion…and that was a buttload of (mostly interminable) comics. Still, AoU has a wallet-pleasingly small amount of titles attached, and most are done-in-ones which purport to shed light on interesting bits of backstory tied to the main book which I was keen to see addressed. This is especially true of Avengers Assemble #14 which deals solely with Black Widow.
Avengers Assemble is a title I’ve shied away from so far. It’s not had the worst of creative teams but its all-ages remit coupled with its perceived existence outside of regular Avengers continuity combined to make it an easy omission from my Pull List. However, this does make the series a prime candidate for the repository of stand-alone tales; I can’t see this issue fitting in anywhere near as well with any of Hickman’s Avengers titles, for instance.
It’s a strange story, and I had mixed feelings about it from beginning to end. As far as Age of Ultron has revealed, Black Widow and Moon Knight were both caught up in Ultron’s attack while in the middle of a Black-Ops mission in San Francisco. So, when the issue starts out showing Natasha on holiday in the City of Brotherly Love with old friends George and Richard (one a stunt-cycle rider, the other his agent) I was a bit confused. Widow’s basically enjoying some down time from her Avengers duties when Ultron hits, and she spends the majority of the book trying to keep herself, her friends and as many civilians as possible alive. It does not go well. Aside from Ultron’s army of ‘bots, Natasha’s friend George has recently had a cybernetic prosthesis added in the form of a new hand (developed by Stark Resilient, natch) and Ultron uses this to take over George’s body and attack Widow. She manages to escape, finds Moon Knight in a S.H.E.L.D. safe house and the rest, as they say, is history…or maybe not (see Age of Ultron #5).
I have to say that initially I was a little disappointed. I was kinda looking forward to seeing a Black-Ops mission go sour, with Black Widow and Moon Knight fighting tooth-and-nail to make it out alive. Still, kudos for Al Ewing for not selecting the road most travelled and taking the story in a more unexpected direction. It should also be said that he does have a solid handle on his lead character. There’s a great internal monologue throughout the issue with little touches off everything from the Widow’s Cold War origins to fittingly despairing reactions to the presence of Ultron, and I like the explanation Ewing gives as to why his story differs so much from the one noted in AoU-proper. When Natasha meets Moon Knight he’s pretty shaken up, and Widow constructs the Black Ops story to help reassure him: “He needs something certain. Something he can rely on. He needs the Black Widow.” Good stuff.
It’s not all roses though, and a lot of that feels more to do with the art than the script. I like Butch Guice well enough (I mostly know his work from the Brubaker Captain America run), but the he seems to have needed to blunt the edges of his art for the more all-ages feel of Avengers Assemble; fair enough I suppose, as it’s not unlikely that a kiddy-wink could get their hands on this issue. Still, the scenes of Ultron-wrought devastation and destruction are a fair distance removed from the harrowing portrayal employed by Bryan Hitch in the main book, and in particular the fight scene where Widow receives her facial injury appears to have been neutered. You see blood fly in one panel but in the next (a close-up of her face) there appears to be no damage whatsoever…though the final page headshot somewhat makes up for it. Frank D’Armata’s colours maybe felt a little too bright for the subject material, but again, not so much for the tone of Avengers Assemble as a series. So, no major complaints, but nothing to rave about either.
Conclusion: This issue isn’t a bad tie-in by any means, managing to provide an entertaining account of Black Widow’s first encounter with the Age of Ultron while playing a neat compositional twist into the bargain. Not so much an essential read but certainly a recommended footnote, and so far probably the best AoU crossover on the shelves.
- Matt Sargeson