For this week’s Marvel Retro Rundown, we’re looking at a more recent run on a character who, had a global pandemic not caused delays in numerous industries, would currently be featured on movie theater screens. Natasha Romanov has starred in numerous solo series over the years, and the 2016-2017 twelve-issue run on Black Widow by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Matthew Wilson, and Joe Caramagna was recently collected into a single volume for the first time. The series told a tight story in which the character found herself on the outs with S.H.I.E.L.D., facing new threats and old friends, and returning to her roots in the Russian Red Room. A collection of the first six issues of the series is available for free from Comixology right now.
Check out our look at this modern classic run from a team of creators at the top of their game, in this week’s installment of The Marvel Rundown!
Black Widow (2016-2017)
Written by Chris Samnee & Mark Waid
Illustrated by Chris Samnee
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Collection cover by Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
Reviewed by Hussein Wasiti
If we were to live under more normal circumstances, most of us would have had our tickets already purchased for the release of Marvel Studios’ Black Widow this weekend, but things have changed as you’ve undoubtedly realised. With the film on my mind, I thought it would be fun to dive back into the past and reread the Black Widow series by Chris Samnee, Mark Waid, Matthew Wilson, and Joe Caramagna. Recently released as a single volume after years of existing as two separate six-issue trades, the comic delves into Natasha Romanoff’s past as an assassin and explores how certain actions you take don’t necessarily live and die in the past.
All of this to say, this is a book drawn by the one and only Chris Samnee and, honestly, that should be all I really need to recommend this book to you. Joined by his frequent colourist collaborator and storyteller extraordinaire Matt Wilson, this has all the hallmarks of a classic Samnee/Wilson joint; they’re in charge of the story, frequently indulging in wordless action sequences which highlight the strength of the medium they use. Genre doesn’t seem to be a concern for the artistic pair, as this has all the makings of a blood-soaked, modern spy story but it looks like a pulpy noir adventure at times. And of course, the expressiveness and emotion that Samnee brings to his character is some of the best in the business.
Relatively speaking, I’m a new comic reader, having started in the summer of 2016. In my various quests in going back and reading a lot of classic stories, I’ve noticed the occasional story that instantly marks itself as a definitive take on that particular character. Marvel’s doing that with Immortal Hulk and Daredevil, and DC’s doing it with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Samnee and Waid’s Black Widow is a defining story for this character. It dips into her history to tell a tale of the memory of the past, and of the balance between maintaining your present versus making sure your old life stops haunting you, as well as the limits you’re willing to break in order to stop said past.
With a story like this, there are numerous trap doors that the creative team could have fallen into. You’ve got a pretty common conceit when it comes to superhero comics with a darker, twisted version of the main character and their origin story as the antagonist but what Samnee and Waid do is elevate it slightly, beefing up the relationship between Natasha and her nemesis, Recluse. There’s also an air of potential tragedy in Recluse’s recruits, all young girls with no families and no moral centre to determine right from wrong. Essentially, Natasha sees herself in these little assassins and wants to prevent them from descending into the darkness as she did.
Just because Natasha isn’t a member of the Red Room anymore doesn’t mean that she isn’t experiencing her own kind of torture; this story is just as much about the failure to recognise what is in front of you as it is about a painful past. Over the course of the story, Natasha falls back into the arms of a few reliable friends and as one of them points out to her at the end of the story, a certain armoured billionaire whose exploits we covered in last week’s Rundown, she simply could have gone to her friends for help. She didn’t need to do it alone, and the real sadness is that she thought she was. All this makes for a pretty impactful final few pages and one that defines the character for me. If you haven’t read this story yet, I hope it defines the character for you too.
Don’t decry the lack of new entertainment coming your way when it comes to films or comics. There’s something out there that you probably haven’t read yet, and that’s our mission with the Retro Rundown, to highlight something new for either us or our readers to check out as we all navigate this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Next week, another look at a classic Marvel tale of years’ past!