by Nathan Edmondson (Writer), Phil Noto (Artist)

The Story: A strong and mad Russian monk against a Russian super spy. Fight!

The Review: Black Widow is probably one of the characters who received quite a lot of attentions and the most chances from Marvel. Appearing in the 60’s, during the rise of Marvel comics, she was heavily featured in many teams, from many iterations of the Avengers down to the Champions. Appearing in many titles as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, one of Daredevil’s old flame and through various versions, she has always been a staple of this universe in many ways, yet never in ways that felt as if she was ready for a big spotlight.

Cue the Avengers movie, with Scarlett Johansson playing her in ways that not only made her cool, but also as a true character with actual potential. Enamoured with her as she kicked Chitauri butt and manipulated the very god of lies and deceit on the silver screen, the potential to make her a bigger star was there. With Nathan Edmondson primed on her series and writing it quite adequately so far, the series if off to a brilliant start, yet can it stay the course and continue a quality streak, or will a specific issue bring it down a notch?

The unfortunate answer is found in this issue, as the fourth chapter in Natasha Romanov’s saga is a good deal weaker than the first three issues, due to a certain number of problems, the first of them being the actual plot.

Focusing on Natasha chasing down a certain criminal after a botched job that didn’t even began in the right way, there is a certain lack of buildup or progression that allows for the titular character to shine or actually be of importance. While the focus on Molot, the antagonist of this issue, and his actions is a sound approach to storytelling, it would make for a lot better issue if there was more to him than just his actions.

Trying to introduce him as an antagonist, Edmondson gives him a certain personality, an approach to violence and a certain air of mystery around him, yet does not do so in any ways that makes him more than a force or a mere presence in the book. Not going deep enough with his motivations, his personality or close to anything, he doesn’t make for much of a character, making many of his appearances more of a catastrophe than an actual foil to Black Widow.

In comparison, Natasha’s characterization is positively shining, with Edmondson demonstrating a very good handle on how she acts and thinks in this issue. Her narration and actions driving the issue forward as well as deepening her characterization, the writer presents an overly competent, yet not infallible Black Widow. Allowing for her to make mistakes and to be in trouble, Edmondson makes this issue a bit more exciting in the prospect, as it’s what Natasha does that makes this issue work.

It’s the action scenes, specifically, that makes this issue float more than it sinks even in the worst scenes. Allowing the confrontation to be violent, even a bit extreme at times, the world of espionage as well as the methods of Black Widow appears as a sharp contrast to Molot’s hyperbole bravado and explosiveness. With the action being divided quite well despite the bombastic showdown with Molot between gunning and actual espionage and intrigue, there is a right presentation of the themes and the tone behind the series in this issue, despite some of the weaker moments.

Still, despite Edmondson best efforts, the actual star in this book is Phil Noto, who keeps on being simply amazing here thanks to his inventive panelling and his distinct style that attach itself so well to Natasha Romanov and her super spy adventures. With a rougher edge and an elongated approach to some of the lines, Noto does not let his style gets in the way of the motion and the storytelling, making his characters, the architecture and the very elements at play contribute to each panels. Mastering the very tone of the book through his aesthetic, the artist capture the intrigue and the thrill of the shadow games the character lives in.

Through the smaller and subtler expressions with a balance with bigger and more explosive moments, he shows a deep understanding of contrasts, playing the smaller and bigger moments together for maximum effect. With a fine attention to details and a precision that is uncanny considering his style, he simply impress with an approach that would simply make the book almost fall apart if it weren’t for his presence.

His work on the colorization is also to be commended, with an attention to detail and a certain style that works wonderfully with his visual affinities. Putting a very low amount of extreme cold or warm colors, Noto makes every single appearances of such things immediately notable, be it Natasha’s hair, the explosions, the sunset and other such elements. Having a decidedly unique take on shading as his colors seems washed all over the page, there is an illusion of dirtiness that connects to the very titular character and her vision of herself that simply work to the book’s advantage in many ways. While he is talented as a penciller and inker, one must not forget that the colorization of Noto is also very good.

The Conclusion
: The introduction of a new antagonist and the plot itself may be weaker aspects of this issue, but the characterization of Natasha, the action, espionage and the superb work of Phil Noto makes this more a hit than a miss in many ways. Not quite as good as the other issues, but still worth it despite it all.

Grade: B-

-Hugo Robberts Larivière