This week’s Marvel Rundown features a trio of terrific titles! First up, Natasha Romanov is back for another solo adventure in Web of Black Widow #1! How does the recently resurrected super-spy fare in her latest outing? Next, Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1 finds Gwen Stacy caught up in the Acts of Evil storyline as she faces frequent X-Men foe, Arcade!

Then, following last week’s harrowing cliffhangerHouse of X #4 continues the X-Men’s desperate raid on the Mother Mold! We review the latest installment in the HOX/POX saga in our new feature, Rapid Rundown, a lightning round of reviews for new Marvel books!

Without further ado, it’s time for this week’s magnificent Marvel Rundown!

Web of Black Widow #1
Web of Black Widow #1

Web of Black Widow #1

Written by Jody Houser
Illustrated by Stephen Mooney
Colored by Tríona Farrell
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Cover by Junggeun Yoon

Joe Grunenwald: Black Widow is taking center stage once again in a new five-issue solo miniseries! What did everyone think of the debut issue of Web of Black Widow?

Samantha Puc: I want a new Natasha ongoing! But this is a nice follow-up to the Black Widow mini that wrapped up earlier this year. Natasha has a lot she has to deal with and her approach has always been to go at things solo, even within a team setting. This felt true to her overall arc and I liked that.

AJ Frost: I’m going to be honest and say that Black Widow has been one of my least favorite of the Marvel superheroes. In the films, I’ve always found her character (and characterization) to be flat and insipid. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the first issue of this Black Widow mini-series. It had some flair, a nice neo-noir cum sci-fi feel, and a decent twist. Count me as cautiously optimistic!

Puc: The twist got me, too — obviously there’s weird stuff afoot when you’re dealing with clones, but those last couple panels were a doozy.

Grunenwald: Jody Houser is, for my money, one of the most consistently solid writers working in comics, and she shows it in this first issue. The plotting is tight, and the dialogue is sharp and entertaining. Where I stumble is on the art side. I know Stephen Mooney has his fans, and I can see why, but I’m just not sure his work fit this story.

Frost: I’m going to have to disagree with you, Joe. I thought the art throughout the book complemented the story, including some really inspired spreads and interesting panel choices. Not everything hit right on the nose, and there were definitely some panels here and there that you could tell were rushed out, but that’s the biz. Overall, for my taste, however, Mooney’s art was really strong.

As to your other points about Houser’s storytelling, I’m definitely with you. She is one of the top writers right now. Her Star Wars books have been consistently excellent and, despite my trepidation, I’m interested to see where she takes this story in the next four issues.

Puc: Mooney’s art felt almost too refined for me, personally, at least in the first half of the issue. Once the big fight began, he seemed to find his stride, which was a relief. I’m always blown away by Tríona Farrell‘s colors, so that helped elevate things as well, especially in that two-page spread where Nat is just in her element kicking ass.

Houser’s writing is great; no argument there. It’s exciting to see her take on this character and to know from the jump that things aren’t quite what they appear. It was also nice to see Tony present, but not centered in the issue, which is always a turn-off for me.

Frost: I can see what you mean by refined. There is a slickness to the art here, thanks to Farrell, who is really just doing stellar work. Hats off to the coloring here!

Grunenwald: Something about the way Mooney drew Natasha just felt super ‘male gaze-y’ to me. I know there’s an element of sex appeal to Black Widow’s character that she uses to disarm people, but it just felt a little gratuitous at points. Maybe I’m being overly-sensitive. I do agree that the double-page spread of Natasha in action is particularly effective at conveying the fluidity of her motion (even if, with the silver bracelets and the dark wig, she looks more like Wonder Woman than Black Widow).

And I have to join in the praise for Tríona Farrell’s work. Farrell’s colors go a long way towards establishing the noir mood of the issue. Even in a room that’s fully lit, It seems like Natasha has a shadow over her. It’s really interesting.

Frost: Maybe the male gaze-y element was a part of Houser’s script, almost like a meta-commentary to disarm the reader and fictitious villain alike?

Grunenwald: That could be, but the only people we really see her interact with in this issue are Tony Stark and a nameless guard who she plies with a drugged glass of wine. Did she need quite that much cleavage or that tight a dress for that? I’d argue no. But again, maybe I’m being overly-sensitive to it.

As a side note, I have learned within the past week that there are people who ship Natasha and Tony, and I don’t get it.

Puc: I respect people who ship unconventional pairings, and that’s not even a weird one! Houser does imbue some stellar commentary into her work on the regular, but I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here – that said, I see you, AJ.

Frost: That’s probably the least controversial ship I’ve ever heard, Joe.

Grunenwald: Nat and Bucky Forever.

Puc: You’re valid, but I raise you Steve and Bucky. Speaking of — I don’t think either of you read the Soska twins’ Black Widow mini, but Steve played a small role in that and he also gets mentioned here, since he’s apparently watching out for Nat as she tries to gain her bearings in this new life with implanted memories. How did you guys feel about the sort of sinister implications of the last couple pages and panels?

Frost: I thought it was a great touch and a nice way to pique readers’ interest for what’s next. For me, it also gave the book a whole sheen of surreality and a mind-twisting, which is something I’m sure that Natasha would appreciate.

Grunenwald: The last Black Widow series I read was the excellent Chris Samnee/Mark Waid run, so when I read on the recap page that Natasha had died and been resurrected as a clone with implanted memories I may have had a mild brain aneurysm. I look for a first issue of any series to be an accessible entry point, and I was worried that little plot point would make the issue hard to get into, but I thought Houser handled it well. I have to admit I’m not entirely sure who the sinister-looking figure in the last two panels of the issue was, but it definitely did come across as sinister, and I like the idea that Tony and Steve are trying to look out for their friend. Though apparently Hydra-Steve was the one who killed her, so their little reunion was probably interesting and traumatic for everyone involved.

Puc: When Nat and Steve met up in the last mini, it was … rough. That story was so, so dark, but it was an incredible read. I think the implication of the last couple panels is that the ghost-like figure, or hologram, or whatever it is, either is Nat or is somehow controlling/affecting her… which, either way, SPOOKY! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Frost: Y’all ready to hand in your verdicts?

Puc: Realistically speaking, I’m going to say BROWSE on this because as my pull list gets bigger, I’m going the “wait for the trade” route more frequently, especially with minis, though I do really like where this is going already.

Grunenwald: It’s a BROWSE for me as well. This is an entertaining first issue, and even if I had some issues with the art, I can see that it’s technically very well-done. That said, it didn’t grab me the way I want the first issue of a series to. I bet it’ll read great as a whole once the series is over, though.

Frost: I’m going to go with BROWSE as well. There were some great nuggets here, but overall, Black Widow is not the most compelling character for me still. I think fans of her will love it, but the rest of us would be better to scope it out before laying down our hard-earned cash for it.

Final Verdict: A unanimous BROWSE!

Web of Black Widow #1
From Web of Black Widow #1

Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1
Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1

Spider-Gwen Annual (2019) #1

Written by Vita Ayala
Illustrated by Pere Pérez
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Ema Lupacchino & David Curiel
Reviewed by Samantha Puc

Gwen Stacy is really Going Through It. When she lands in Arcade’s MURDERWORLD in Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1, part of Marvel’s Acts Of Evil, everything she has been feeling — about being a hero, having a life, and being a person — comes to a head as she’s forced to navigate an obstacle course designed for Peter Parker of Earth-616. She battles robotic, nightmare versions of Lizard, Rhino, Green Goblin, Vulture, and even the Punisher and Daredevil. Then she has to face a robot version of Peter himself, in order to save none other than…

Gwen Stacy.

At this point, it’s well-trod territory that Earth-65’s Gwen lost her best friend, Peter, and that Earth-616’s Peter lost his first real love, Gwen. This creates an interesting tension between the characters now that Gwen can travel between worlds, and it’s one that writer Vita Ayala dives into explicitly in the Ghost-Spider Annual

As Gwen battles, she also thinks — a lot. About her role, about Peter’s, about the villains they fight and the allies they befriend. And she thinks about Gwen, about how her life was defined by her death in this world. Without ever naming the trope, Ayala’s script calls out the “Woman In the Refrigerator” and establishes a new status quo. Gwen saves herself — and her Earth-616 counterpart — not because she’s trying to fix a mistake, but because she wants to prove that they are worthy of having their own lives and legacies.

Accompanying Ayala’s script, which does get a bit heavy-handed toward the end but is otherwise well-executed and perfectly in tune with Ghost-Spider’s established voice and characterization in her current ongoing series, is art by Pere Pérez and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg. Pérez’s lines are sharp and super clean, detailing Gwen’s moves in her fights as intimately as her facial expressions and feelings. Rosenberg’s colors pop, giving this annual that signature Ghost-Spider look and feel. This team has created a really great annual issue with actual stakes, and it’s an incredibly fun read that also tugs just right at the heartstrings.

The best thing about Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1 is that despite all her fears about not being enough of a hero, Gwen is able to realize that sometimes, it’s OK to put herself first. She identifies and finds a way to deal with her burnout, in ways that will surely last as she continues going to school in the 616 while she lives and swings in the 65. This annual is worth picking up not just for the cool fights and unique character work, but for the reminder that self-care is real and valid and isn’t always what we think it is.

Final verdict: Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1 gets a loud and resounding BUY!

Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1
From Ghost-Spider Annual (2019) #1

Rapid Rundown!

Rapid Rundown 9/4

  • Amazing Spider-Man: Going Big #1:
    • Erik Larsen‘s triumphant return to Spidey is, unfortunately, a fairly run-of-the-mill backup story to a far more engaging main feature by Gerry Conway and Mark Bagley. If you need a Spider-Man fix you’ll enjoy this one, though nothing here is essential (and the three-page story in the middle is downright bad). — JG
  • Champions #9:
    • It’s a straight-up crime that this is the penultimate issue of Champions. I want to spend so much more time with these kids. — SP
  • House of X #4: 
    • Things go from bad to worse for our heroes and it’s a joy to read. Hickman, Larraz, and Gracia deliver high stakes and higher tension, and Tom Muller‘s closing design pages are phenomenal. I do wonder how much any of this will stick, but I’m also enjoying it too much to care. — JG
    • My absolute favorite thing about this issue is the chaotic, rage-filled collage pages in the back that act simultaneously as data and total emotional meltdown. Also, per that Krakoan teaser: Bring. On. Sinister. — SP

Next week, King Thor takes the throne!