After a little pandemic-related delay, it’s finally here! Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande’s gorgeous Black Widow relaunch has arrived at last. Thompson’s been on a real kick lately and Casagrande is one of my favourite artists, so this issue was hotly anticipated by this humble penman. Typist? Anyway, we’ve also got a quick look at the finale of the Empyre event. Well, at least until those two epilogues hit shelves later this month.

All that and more on this week’s edition of the Marvel Rundown!

Black Widow #1 

Black Widow #1

Written by Kelly Thompson 
Art by Elena Casagrande 
Colour Art by Jordie Bellaire 
Lettering by VC’s Cory Petit 
Cover by Adam Hughes 

Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande’s long-awaited Black Widow is finally here, and thankfully it wasn’t what I expected. The Mark Waid and Chris Samnee run on the character may have influenced my thinking of this, but I expected a more run-of-the-mill spy story where Nat has to deal with some strange specter of the past. Not so here! This is a more fresh and, like I said, unexpected take on the character that I haven’t seen before.

To delve too much into the machinations of the plot would be to give too much away, but I’ll say that things so slightly wrong on the heels of a successful mission. A time jump ensues and we get to witness Casagrande decimate your eyeballs with gorgeous scenery and fun dialogue scenes. There’s a big mystery component to the story, but it’s one that makes sense on the surface. Digging deeper only reveals more questions, and the subversive element to the story is taking a character who can solve this mystery off the board. Or rather, you make her the mystery.

Black Widow

Frequent Black Widow supporting characters show up in this, and whatever brief interplay there is between Bucky and Hawkeye just feels right. It reminds me of the Matthew Rosenberg-penned Tales of Suspense series we got a couple of years ago, where the contrast between the two characters approach to the same situation is often just as charming as what they’re saying to each other. Their dynamic is always fun to watch and the fact that they’re mixed up in all of this gets me excited for the future. Their involvement also signals the kind of tone this book will take. The opening action scene certainly had me thinking I was reading a successor to the Waid/Samnee run, but Thompson’s ensuing exploration of the more mundane aspects of Nat’s life revealed otherwise.

I’ve read a lot of Casagrande comics over the years and this is just a huge step up for her. It certainly helps that Jordie “Goddamn” Bellaire is colouring her line art. I don’t mean to be derivative, but there’s a real Joelle Jones energy to some of the later pages of the book where Nat’s expressions and her costume design looked very unique. The action scene at the beginning of the issue was good but brief, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Casagrande handles the more combat-focused elements of the titular character.

I’m giving this a STRONG BROWSE. Fans of the character will definitely want to check out a new kind of story featuring Black Widow, but people itching for a traditional Black Widow story may feel a little underwhelmed. It’s one of the most gorgeous books you’ll read this week, too.

Black Widow

Empyre #6 

Empyre #6

Story by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Valerio Schiti 
Colour Art by Marte Gracia
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna 
Cover by Jim Cheung and Jay David Ramos 

Despite predominantly being released at a weekly rate, Empyre still feels like it’s been going on forever. We were very positive about the series when it kicked off but lately it’s felt kind of stagnant, almost like it was filling space so it could blow us all away with its finale. It mostly managed to do that.

I really enjoyed this issue, but it was a perfect encapsulation of the entire series: Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti are fantastic , there are some great moments, but it still felt a little bit too long for my liking. As a conclusion, it also felt a bit lacking. So many things were going on at the same time and they just suddenly weren’t, and I felt a little whiplash as a result. Also, if you read this thinking you would finally find about about this “new age of space in Marvel” then you’d be disappointed. A character actually says that these events will lead to a new era, but you’d be hard-pressed to find out what that actually means. Moments like these lead me to believe this is more of a springboard for stories going forward rather than a big Marvel event. Readers checking this story out years from now will very likely shrug their shoulders when they put down their massively overpriced hardcover.

Despite all of that, this was still fun to read. With the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman this past Friday, there are some Black Panther moments here that resonated with me. There were also some that made me cringe, but that isn’t the fault of the writing team since this was written months ago. It’s just… very interesting choice of words for some of his scenes given the real-world implications. Schiti is on fire and whatever he does next will certainly be something to look for. His work on this event has catapulted his status in my eyes.

I’m giving this a BROWSE. There’s plenty to like and it’s a beauty to look at, but it’s too long and there may actually be too much going on despite how empty I felt when I finished it. It was still a mostly enjoyable story but in retrospect it feels like a prelude to future stories rather than something self-contained and accessible.

Rapid Rundown! 

  • Cable #4
    • This was an absolutely wonderful conclusion to the series’ first arc. It was heartwarming and hilarious, which is why I loved Gerry Duggan so much. He always manages to find the perfect balance between the two, and this arc did such a great job at contextualising this young Cable in this new mutant paradigm, but also in the complicated beast that is the Summers family. Try and pick up this whole first arc if you haven’t. HW 
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #6
    • Older comic creators will tell you that every comic is someone’s first and not being a regular reader of Guardians this issue does something that is incredibly hard to do by making the case for reading collected trades to get the complete story and yet still be accessible for that first time reader. While not entirely perfect, Al Ewing does give the comic version of a recap episode but frames it through Richard Ryder aka Nova’s eyes as he goes to a therapy session and works out some of his inner demons. Not a great jumping on point but a nice slice of life examination. GC3
  • Fantastic Four #23
    • This was one of the more solid issues of this tie-in arc, weaving in and out of the main Empyre story with relative smoothness. It goes without saying: read this before Empyre #6. I just adore Paco Medina; he’s such a great fit for the book and he brings an emotional vibrancy to every page. This has me excited for the future of the FF after this massive event. HW 

Next week, Empyre truly concludes with a couple of Fallout issues, and Immortal She-Hulk!