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cover of a Finely Woven Thread

You've seen Black Widow as an Avenger and even an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But on her own time she searches for atonement for her past as a KGB assassin — in ways of which those teams just wouldn't approve. The Black Widow goes undercover in Russia, but from its cold streets, the Hand of God reaches out to crush her...and it is as merciless as its name implies. Outmatched by the brute force of a powerful new villain, Natasha faces her deadliest test, and discovers a deadly plot unfolding that spans the entire globe. (source)

My introduction to Natasha was in Iron Man 2, where her relationship with Pepper was one of the few redeeming things about that outing beyond Tony and J.A.R.V.I.S. snarking one another. She also got to a) use part of Tony's suit, and b) stab Tony in the neck, which was really good for me.

The Natasha we meet in the MCU, though, is by circumstance, often only hinted at because she's not the main character. Her development in The Avengers was pretty good, but in Captain America: The Winter Soldier it was amazing, and it was The Winter Soldier that solidified my desperate need to know more about her and her past. Seeing as how Marvel is determined to crush my dreams of Natasha ever getting her own film under their heel before diving into the vault of money à la Scrooge McDuck, I decided it was time for me to head to the comics.

Sidenote: has someone made that animated gif yet, with Scrooge McDuck's head replaced with the Marvel logo? I need gif making skills. PRETEND IT WAS HERE.

I started with the comic by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto because comics are terrifying, go back so far, and for a newbie like me, it's too daunting to truly know where to start without comic friends. I was told the best way to begin was to pick a place I was comfortable and dive in with reckless abandon. I chose to give it a shot with this writer/artist and storyline because a) it's most recent and easy to find so I spend less time quizzing my comic shop guy who still intimidates me a little because he gets intense, b) the art is really gorgeous.

Natasha spying on a conversation.

I was pretty worried about getting lost in a huge universe, but luckily I escaped that fate! Natasha does spend a lot of time traveling around the world, either as a SHIELD agent or in her own personal work as she tries to absolve herself of whatever past actions she committed with the KGB, but it's a surprisingly quiet, intimate story. Luckily there were also explosions. I love a good explosion. The overall vibe I get from this story is Natasha's determination to atone for her past in ways that don't make her complicit in future atrocities and her conflicted feelings over her self-imposed isolation. Also, Natasha is a sass master, sometimes without saying a word. It's beautiful.

Natasha looking fed up with a spoon halfway to her mouth.

The writing itself is so focused on Natasha's inner life and how she navigates these jobs that it really ceases to matter who the people she's chasing are and what their sins might be (to be a bigger asshole about it, I didn't really care? Oops!). There was a plot here, but the mystery itself isn't yet compelling. What caught me up in the story was how Natasha engages with each assignment, and how each subsequent job she picks up changes her perspective about what she's doing and her reasons for choosing to live this way. Of course, the more she isolated herself physically and emotionally, the less I believed in what she was telling me. What I like the most about Natasha from the films, and here, too, is her compassion. Natasha has a lot of compassion. She's friendly. She likes people. But you have to deserve it.

Let's be real, the most important bit of character development in this collection is whether or not she works things out with that cat. I'm not wrong!

Natasha flops onto a bed. Natasha tells a cat at the window the cat can't come in.
Natasha says: that's one mistake she won't make again

Of course, even as intimate as the comic reads, that same closeness hurts it because Natasha is deliberately keeping everyone a distance up until the very end. Unfortunately, that includes the writer. The closeness becomes a part of the way she pulls you in and tricks you. The same writing that's acting as the vehicle for us to see who Natasha is, even while she's telling us she's this and that, and that she's truly best on her own, free and clear of relationships and entanglements, makes it hard to feel connected to everyone else, even her. Sparse is probably the wrong word to use, but there's a distance that doesn't have anything to do with characterization that's muting the emotions. The writing sometimes feels disconnected, where it fails to deliver any emotion at all, even apathy, and not even the art can quite make up the difference. I speculated on why this collection made me feel that way, but I haven't come up with good answers yet besides too much caution on the part of the writer. I care a lot about Natasha, and I wish it felt like the writer did, too? Adventures are great, but I want more of what makes Natasha herself.

Natasha in action snarking about the other Avengers

I really loved the art, though. It took a few chapters to get used to (and I am so glad the artist doesn't change, which happened when I read Captain Marvel which was so disconcerting). Although sometimes it was almost too soft-focused, most of the art pulled tons of the weight of the Natasha's characterization, so much so that most of my favorite panels have little to no dialogue (another problem with the writing, sigh) — but the art manages to say everything that needs to be shared.

Other things I appreciated: Natasha not being sexualized at all. She's strong and she's muscular and the art makes it obvious, but she's never objectified in ways that annoyed me. In fact, I appreciated that outside of her uniform, she goes around in baggy, oversized clothes that are commonplace and understated, kind of like she rolled out of bed and tossed on the first thing at hand. I expected to have to swallow a lot of really gross sexist art, so it was a nice breath of fresh air that I made my way through this collection and it never happened once.

Natasha shooting a gun

The range of relationships were excellent, too: Isaiah, Natasha'a lawyer — but not only a lawyer; Ana, Natasha's neighbor; Maria, Director of SHIELD (that was a surprise for me); Tori Raven, a contact Natasha uses for information. My preconception of comics is that in most cases, even with a woman at the center of the narrative, there won't be any other women in that person's life. I was happy to be proved wrong here, especially in regards to Maria, although I don't trust her much right now, mostly because now I will be forever distrustful of SHIELD itself, even if there's no specific reason to be seriously dubious yet in this continuity.

But I'm happy to report that my first adventures into Black Widow comics was a success! I'm already planning to add this to my pull list to find out where it goes and see if the writing digs deeper into Natasha's character, and see if I can't round up the issues I've missed — issue covers I've seen have made me super curious.

Natasha tells someone asking if she brought weapons that she brought the only one she needs.

Natasha. ♥

Arial kissing Sebastian the crab

Other reviews?
Susan Hated Literature, Yours?

Date: 2014-11-12 10:23 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
OMG the images of the cat at the window! I can see why she & Hawkeye get on so well. Excited to read this soon.

Date: 2014-11-12 04:40 pm (UTC)
beccatoria: (batwoman: blood on the snow)
From: [personal profile] beccatoria
Excellent review, thank you. I started reading this series and was really excited, but ultimately found it...not unenjoyable, not bad in any way, but not as satisfying as I was hoping or expecting and for reasons I wasn't quite able to articulate. But I think you did so very clearly when you spoke about the enforced distance and the way it keeps the reader at arm's length but not quite in a way that leads to catharsis or interesting artistic effect? Yeah. It paints a really good picture of Natasha, but not in a way I feel I can grapple with.

The art, however, is uniformly beautiful and pretty much worth the price of admission on its own. Phil Noto has a very specific style and this is exactly the type of book it's suited to.

Date: 2014-11-13 01:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I accept your recommendation of this as a place to start with Black Widow! I was kind of ignoring her comics because I kept thinking the Marvel folks would SURELY make a Black Widow movie? But they really do not seem like they are going to. Ugh, it could just be so good. I love stories about people trying to atone for their pasts!

ANYWAY I'll try to let it go and read this instead.

Date: 2014-11-15 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My roommate is reading this on digital at the moment, and it looks so, so good. Thanks for the heads up on the distancing thing—I can see where that would work for and against Natasha as a character.

Date: 2014-11-30 02:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I haven't read any Natasha comics, really. Captain Cinema (the aforementioned roommate) has an iPad, and reading Marvel Unlimited on a tablet is nice, while reading it on any other platform is… not. I've been sticking largely to trade paperbacks. But when this gets collected, I will be on it like frosting on cupcakes.


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