Black Widow: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted turns the team responsible for a celebrated Daredevil run loose on Marvel’s top super spy.
At the outset, Natasha Romanoff makes a daring escape from the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Having stolen a key piece of information, the Widow is declared an enemy of the agency. The mysterious Weeping Lion has blackmailed Natasha into a mission that leads her back to the Red Room, the defunct facility that turned young girls like Natasha into lethal spies. Natasha discovers the existence of the Dark Room, a successor academy that brings Natasha face-to-face with her past. Revelation of a damning mission from her early days puts Natasha at odds with sometime ally Iron Man, before a final confrontation with the Weeping Lion radically shifts the landscape.
Writer Mark Waid takes a somewhat different approach with this volume of Black Widow. Contemporary fans are used to extensive narration from the lead character, providing an easy window into their thoughts and emotions. But a highly guarded spy like Natasha is the opposite of an open book and Waid’s choice to embrace silence throughout many of the sequences is rather bold. Some readers might dislike that they don’t know what’s occurring in Natasha’s head, but it’s a daring choice that infuses the lead with a quality often lacking in modern books: mystery. By denying readers easy access to Natasha’s inner monologue, Waid builds a lot of suspense and avoids telegraphing the plot’s various twists.
But don’t mistake that approach to mean that you learn nothing about Natasha. Waid has some keen insights into what makes Natasha tick and uses plot and dialogue shrewdly and economically to reveal some of her layers. It’s a long-term approach to plot construction, but Waid gives readers enough pay-offs in this first arc to bear out its wisdom, plus his track record indicates the endgame of the writer’s run will be worth the buildup.
Chris Samnee brings his distinctive art style to Black Widow, infusing dynamism and quirky energy into every page. Given the minimalist approach of the writing, Samnee’s half of the enterprise takes on even greater importance. His design skills remain excellent; Natasha comes off as athletic and powerful, with her intelligence and craftiness shining through. Samnee has a strong sense of when to go with a traditional panel layout and when to use a more creative approach to page construction, doling out the latter in a restrained fashion that keeps it impactful when it appears. Samnee does a fantastic job with several key action sequences, especially the opening escape from S.H.I.E.L.D., which boasts first rate fight choreography and a lot of visual inventiveness. But he’s also strong with subtler moments, like a cat-and-mouse game through the streets of Paris or Natasha stalking through the sinister ruins of the Red Room. Colorist Matthew Wilson is indispensable. He makes strong use of shadows and a muted palette so that when brighter colors come into the mix, they really pop to maximum effect. His use of red variants for the flashback sequences is particularly inspired.
The Waid/Samnee team is in such sync by this point, that their combination can’t help but be a winner. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted is a strong new direction for Black Widow and is an excellent jumping on point for readers who haven’t been following the character recently.