Black Widow #17

black widow

One of the first comics on Marvel Unlimited I came across after I sped read through the original Ultimate Spider-Man series was Black Widow. As I have stated before, I LOVE Black Widow. To me, she is the most fascinating character today in the Marvel Universe. Yeah, Scarlett Johansson has done a great job with the character in terms of introducing her to a greater audience but she’s been around for many years.

She got her start as a baddie. She was a Soviet agent that was looking to defeat Iron Man. As luck would have it, thanks to the novelty idea of a woman bad guy, she turns to the side of baseball and apple pie and becomes a force for good. From there she has many, many adventures through the years for SHIELD, The Avengers, and others she’s involved in.

But what I love about that character is she’s so complicated. When she was bad, she wasn’t bad for the sake of being bad. No, she truly believed in her cause for the Soviets until she learned the error of her ways. Since then she’s dealt with guilt. The beauty of the current series from Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto has been their detailing Natasha’s efforts to make amends for her past sins.

Everyone has something in their life that they want to make amends for. Granted, that something for some folks is nothing major. Just a simple matter of an apology or something of the like. For some folks we’re talking about something more than words or simple actions. For a spy, you have to imagine the level of guilt that could sweep through your brain if you actually sat back and thought of all the collateral damage your life has caused.

This series as a whole has been great at personalizing the character. You feel closer to Natasha with the simple scenes of her and her cat than you do when she’s kicking ass out in the field. The movies don’t have the luxury of little character moments that comics and television can give characters. While people like Joss Whedon have done amazing work with Natasha in the movies…

…the personal moments with the character have been lacking to say the least. Yeah, they forced a potential love story between Bruce Banner and Natasha in The Avengers: Age of Ultron but the keyword there is forced. There was no hint whatsoever in previous movies that Natasha and Bruce had any sort of interest in each other. At the end of The Avengers, I sensed that she understood the anger that Bruce went through which allowed her to slide off the attack she went through when he changed into The Hulk but I never got the idea that the man who brutally beat her and almost killed her was suddenly a guy who set her panties afire. Maybe, just maybe, she sees him as a damaged soul just like she sees herself but again, there was no setup for that love story. They had hinted at her being interested in Hawkeye and maybe Captain America. Not The Hulk.

The art work in this series is beautiful. Instead of going the typical over the top super curvy sex symbol that barely resembles a real woman, Natasha Romanov looks real. Her face shows such emotions throughout. When she’s having a vision of her and Matt Murdock on a boat in the middle of nowhere, the pure joy on her face is real. The anger she experiences when she realizes it is a vision is real. The locations where she’s at in this particular issue are real. This is some of my favorite artwork in comics today.

I also liked the fact that she was drawn beautiful but not stereotypical. Like any red blooded American male, I think she’s hot. But there’s more to the character than just her physical appearance. If this story were just meant to showcase page after page of her in sexy outfits and poses, it would be Barb Wire. But Natasha Romanov is very much a real woman in this world. She looks like someone you could actually meet in real life, not the caricature you see in some comics. And to me, this makes Natasha more beautiful than in any other iteration I have seen her in (apart from the movies. Cause come on.)

Bottom Line:

You have to read this comic. If ever there is a perfect marriage of story and art, it is this comic. For all I know, this comic may not go down in history as the greatest comic of all time. And I’m not going to argue that it is necessarily but it is still pretty amazing. It tells a simple story of a woman making amends for her past. While it is set in the world of spies and superheros, her struggle is very much real and very much presented in both word and art as something we all go through. I also love how she is presented in the story. As I wrote this, I showed my wife the cover and some of the art work for this issue and she appreciated that Natasha was presented as a regular woman. One turn off for her in comics and comic book movies has been the treatment of women and rightly so. Women have LONG been given the short end of the stick, if they’ve even been given a part of the stick at all. Take Black Widow in the movies. We have Scarlett Johansson, an actress with incredible range who has been a part of a LOT of great movies over the years, perpetually kept as a side kick in these movies when she has shown that she can carry a movie on her own. You have a movie company that has made every effort to keep her off the marketing for the movie unless it is on a poster in a suggestive pose. What woman could relate to that?

This comic, while set in that world, is something that people, women especially, can relate to. I highly recommend it and like all Marvel Comics today, will be sad when it comes to an end.

Secret Invasion #2

Secret_Invasion_Vol_1_2

The Secret Invasion continues as we dive into another issue of the Secret Invasion story via the Marvel Comics suggested reading order.

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Secret_Invasion_Vol_1_2

The Good:

We pick up where the last issue of Secret Invasion left off where the Avengers team encounters the Skrull invasion force that came off the ship looking like the heroes from our world. The tension is high as the creatures that come off the ship act as if they are the actual people they appear to be which makes for some uncomfortable encounters when Spider-Man encounters Spider-Man and Luke Cage encounters the 70’s version of Luke Cage.

Bendis did a great job sowing doubt as to whether everyone that came off that ship was a Skrull. Could it possibly be that some of the people are who they say they are? Things quickly devolve and the heroes start fighting. From there some characters are revealed to be Skrulls after they are killed. The impostor Spider-Man is killed as well as the impostor Hawkeye. We get a scene though where the real Hawkeye, now known as Ronin, encounters who they believe to be the Skrull version of Mockingbird, asks her a question that he feels only she would know the answer to, and when she answers the way he thinks she would, he decides that she is the real article. We as the reader though have to question whether that is the case. How much are the Skrull’s able to get from the minds of humans before they impersonate them? They have to be pretty convincing otherwise the invasion would fail rather quickly no matter how much they look like the people they hope to impersonate.

We quickly switch back to New York where the effects of the fake Sue Storm destroying the gate to the Negative Zone is quickly breaking apart the Baxter Building and more. A group called the Young Avengers witness everything and just as they decide that maybe they should do something, guess what appears in the sky? Skrull invasion ships! In a scene that I’m sure was on Joss Whedon’s mind when he was writing the script to the first Avengers film, the last image we see is an army of Skrulls as they descend upon New York. (In the movies and the Ultimate comic book line created my Brian Bendis, the aliens are referred to as the Chitauri. They are established as being a separate from the Skrulls simply because the Skrulls movie rights do not lie with Marvel but with 20th Century Fox I believe. Marvel has been making it a point of lessening the focus of characters they no longer have the movie rights to so they don’t give money away to other companies.)

Now this issue will not win comic of the century awards. It is a groundwork laying issue more than anything. The story really doesn’t advance any more than it did with the last issue I reviewed. However I think this issue did pretty good in establishing the levels of distrust the heroes are going to go through. The Skrulls have been quite thorough in their invasion plans. The impersonations of the humans is so complete that Wolverine for example cannot smell them where it had been established that he had been previously been able to do so. Just how deep the impersonation has gone is as yet unknown. The Mockingbird story that I mentioned above shows that right now we really cannot trust who may or may not be a Skrull. If Spider-Woman has been revealed to be the Skrull queen and yet still is able to get the confidence of everyone, who’s to say that Mockingbird is not a Skrull?

The artwork was pretty good this issue. The scope of the locations was well done. I really got the feeling that the action was taking please in a real location and not some Hollywood set. The characters were well done too. You really got the sense of the struggle they were going through in the issue. For example, the look on the faces of the Young Avengers of shock made you really get into what was going on. That is the sign of a good artist, someone who believes in the work he is creating and someone who is able to make simple drawings become actors of a sort in the story that is being created.

The Bad:

While I enjoyed the story, as noted not much really happens this issue and that is frustrating. I get that each issue I read is a chapter in a story and not every chapter can be as thrilling as the final chapter of a book because the job of any writer is to build to the climax of the story. But I wanted to feel like something was moving forward. It’s already been established that Skrulls are on Earth. We know that mistrust will happen among people that are friends. We don’t need to spend so long on establishing said mistrust. Bendis is almost beating the reader over the head with the fact that you can’t trust anything you see when all you really want him to do is get to the next part of the story. Maybe I’m approaching this too much like a traditional book. Maybe I need to be the one to adjust how I view the story. But I can’t see the logic in creating a long form story with no real coherence. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. For a story to succeed, you have to follow the formula of establishing what is going on, showing how the protagonist reacts, and how they resolve the issue at hand. While comics do have tons of backstory that can be referred to, treating a comic as if it were a day in the life of someone is just distracting. I want my stories to have a beginning, middle, and end. This so far has come across like I got a glimpse of a camera that was recording these people’s lives right in the middle of something that was happening to them. I know a little of what is going on but too much is assumed that the beginning so far of this particular story, the Secret Invasion of the Skrulls, has been kind of lost in the background.

Bottom Line:

This is not a bad issue. While not much really happens to advance the story apart from the last page, I think what it does well is lay more foundation for the fact that no one can be trusted. We as the reader should not assume anyone is who they say they are. Bendis has done a wonderful job in laying the groundwork for what we will encounter later in the story. In doing so, he is making the start of the story a little tedious. I give the story a 5.

The art work has been some of the best in this story so far. It really screams as an homage of the old Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby drawings in classic Marvel stories while still feeling very much based in modern times. This is well done and honestly it makes me want to look for more work from this artist Leinil Yu. I give the art an 8.