The creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are back together hot off the heels of their run on Daredevil. Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil was a critic’s darling even though it never posted strong sales numbers. To be sure, many critics will be excited to see Waid and Samnee back together again.
This will be Black Widow’s third attempt at a solo title in the past five years. Unfortunately, Black Widow’s solo titles never posted solid sales numbers. The most recent Black Widow solo title in 2014 was selling in the high 20,ooo unit range by just the third issue. So, why would a character that continually fails to post even average sales numbers get their own solo title once again? That’s easy. Because of the Avengers movie franchise. Black Widow is a big part of Marvel’s movie universe and Marvel Studios is without a doubt the straw that stirs the drink at Marvel.
Personally, I loved Waid and Samnee’s run on Daredevil. So, I am looking forward to seeing what these gentlemen have in store for us with Black Widow #1. Let’s hit this review.
Words: Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Art: Chris Samnee
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin on a SHIELD Helicarrier. We hear Maria Hill over the ship’s intercom system commanding all SHIELD agents to capture Black Widow. That Black Widow is to be considered an enemy of SHIELD. (sigh How many times have Black Widow, Captain America, Nick Fury or any other hero working for SHIELD been declared an enemy of SHIELD?)
We see Black Widow suddenly attack from every SHIELD agent that sees her. Black Widow kicks all sorts of ass as she makes her way to a window on the side of the Helicarrier. Black Widow uses one of her mini-bombs to blow open one of the windows. Black Widow then jumps out of the Helicarrier which is high above the ground.
A SHIELD agent hops into a flying car (Which appears to be a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Only 39 were produced and they were all done in a Berlinetta body style. However, this flying car is a convertible and there was never a convertible version produced of the Ferrari 250 GTO. There was a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder but it has a different body style from the Ferrari 250 GTO.) and two other SHIELD agents strap on jet packs. The three agents chase after Black Widow. The flying Ferrari catches up with Black Widow. Black Widow hits the eject button and the SHIELD agent is ejected from the Ferrari.
Black Widow then does something to the jetpack of the next SHIELD agent. (The art is confusing so it is hard for me to tell exactly what happens.) That SHIELD agent then plummets to the ground. The other SHIELD agent grabs Black Widow and tells her to surrender. Black Widow kisses the helmet of the SHIELD agent and then activates that SHIELD agents parachute and grabs his jetpack at the same time.
Black Widow flies off. Then it appears that the SHIELD agent who was floating in the parachute somehow has gotten into the flying Ferrari that was plummeting to the ground earlier. (I’m totally confused by the art at this point.) The SHIELD agent takes aim and shoots Black Widow’s jetpack. Black Widow then gracefully falls to the ground and conveniently lands on a motorcycle rider. Black Widow takes the rider’s motorcycle and races off.
The flying Ferrari appears to be in flames but in the next panel is fine as The SHIELD agent in the flying Ferrari gives chase. The SHIELD agent yells that this is Black Widow’s last chance to stand down. Black Widow ignores the agent. Black Widow throws a mini-bomb at the flying Ferrari and blows it up. Black Widow inspects the wreckage of the flying Ferrari and somehow the SHIELD agent is totally fine and in fighting shape. (Whaaaaat??)
The two begin brawling. The SHIELD agents says that whatever Natasha stole from SHIELD that he hopes it was worth it. Natasha knocks out the SHIELD agent. Natasha says “Me, too.” End of issue.
The Good: Well, there is absolutely no doubt that Black Widow #1 brings the action by the truck load. You want massive brawling and action? Then Waid and Samnee have you covered. And then some. Black Widow is one massive fight scene from the very first page to the very last page. Fight fans will be more than pleased with the amount of ass kicking that occurs on each and every page.
Since there is little to nothing in the way of dialogue, character work or plot lines, Black Widow #1 is an extremely fast read. The reader will blitz through this issue from cover to cover in no time. The story moves at an adrenaline pumping fast pace. While there is zero plot development the issue still moves at a frenetic pace. The reader’s blood gets flowing as this issue captivates the attention with a bone crunching fight scene followed by a crazy chase scene followed by another nasty brawl. Boring is definitely not a word that will be associate with Black Widow #1.
Waid and Samnee also make sure that Black Widow #1 is extremely new reader friendly. Zero knowledge of Black Widow or her continuity is needed in order to enjoy this issue. The fact that there is nothing in the way of any plot lines certainly helps in that endeavor. But, be that as it may, the fact remains that absolutely anyone can pick up this reader and have fun with this energy filled debut issue.
It certainly appears that Black Widow #1 is written with readers whose only exposure to Black Widow is from the Avengers movies in mind. Marvel is hoping that readers who have never given Black Widow a try, but find her character in the Avengers movie to be interesting, will hop aboard this issue. To that end, the story in Black Widow #1 reads very much like the opening scene from a Hollywood blockbuster movie. In fact, Black Widow #1 reminded me of just about every opening scene to a James Bond movie.
Pretty much the only thing that Waid and Samnee establish with Black Widow #1 is that Black Widow can fight. Which we already knew. But, I can see the logic in trying to really get Black Widow over as a strong badass with new readers. There is no doubt that Waid and Samnee succeeded in that endeavor.
There is zero character work in Black Widow #1. Natasha largely comes across as a one-dimensional character with no real unique personality. The only scene where Black Widow exhibits any type of distinct personality is the scene where she is battling the SHIELD agent on the jetpack. Natasha gives the SHIELD agent a kiss on his helmet’s face screen before stealing his jet pack and activating his parachute. It was a fantastic moment that exhibited Natasha’s sexual and playful side of her personality. Seeing that same SHIELD agent later with a big red kiss mark on his helmet was hilarious and injected some humor into an issue that otherwise takes itself very seriously.
Chris Samnee is a talented artist. I do not think he is the right artist for an action heavy super spy title like Black Widow. But, having said that, there were several panels that were quite nice. The double page splash shot of the SHIELD Helicarrier was breathtaking. And the panel of Natasha jumping out of the exploding window on the side of the Helicarrier looked fantastic.
And the flying Ferrari 250 GTO? I loved it! I am a massive car nut so seeing Samnee taking the time and effort to accurately draw the Ferrari 250 GTO with painstaking detail was much appreciated. In fact, I think Samnee did a better job drawing the vehicles in this issue, the Ferrari and the Helicarrier, than he did drawing some of the characters or the fight scenes.
The Bad: Black Widow #1 was an extremely shallow and thin read. This issue lacked any substance or depth. Like I said before, this entire issue feels like the opening scene to a James Bond movie before the theme song kicks in and we get the title credits. This is like an action scene that takes place before the first commercial break of an hour-long TV show. I simply could not shake the feeling that Black Widow #1 read like a prelude in a trade paperback collection.
The fact remains that Black Widow #1 never felt like a fully developed story. All we get in the way of story development or plot lines is that Black Widow has stolen a MacGuffin and SHIELD wants it back. Seriously. That is it. We know nothing about the MacGuffin, why Black Widow wants it and why SHIELD is willing to kill her to get it back. Absolutely no other plot lines are installed at all. Black Widow #1 is not a fully developed issue containing an actual story. This issue is just an extended teaser.
Waid and Samnee fail to install any plot lines or deliver anything that resembles a story. Usually, a successful debut issue of a new title will introduce the reader to the main character and any supporting characters. Then give the reader a sample of the various characters’ personalities and how they relate to each other. The writer will also deliver a good feeling for the setting and the tone of the title. Then the writer will install several plot lines ranging from the main A plot line as well as several smaller B and C plot lines. It is also incumbent upon the writer to sell the new title on the reader and get them invested in the main character as well as the main plot line so that the reader is hooked into coming back for more. None of that happens with Black Widow #1.
Instead, all we get is one long mindless fight and chase scene. This is a wasted opportunity. Quality crafted fight scenes can employ a tremendous amount of psychology. A writer can advance plot lines in well constructed fight scenes. Excellent character work and growth can be delivered during properly written fight scenes. None of that happen in Black Widow #1. The fight and chase scene that runs through this entire issue does nothing to advance any plot lines nor form any characters or give the reader any insight into the character’s personalities or motivations.
Waid and Samnee fail to deliver an actual story in Black Widow #1 with any real plot lines at all. All we know is that Black Widow stole something that SHIELD wants back and that Black Widow is on the run. The reader is given absolutely nothing else in order to get them invested in what the item is that was stolen. Nor is the reader given any reason to get them invested in the plot line concerning Natasha being willing to sacrifice her career with SHIELD by stealing this item.
All the reader is presented with is one long fluff filled fight and chase scene. There is a complete lack of any well-developed plot lines at all. While it might be entertaining on the surface, this does nothing to sell the reader on the title nor does it do anything to get the reader invested in the story. Since the reader is not given anything at all of substance there is no real reason at all for the reader to want to come back for more.
Black Widow #1 also has a complete lack of character work. Waid and Samnee introduce the reader to just one character: Natasha. There are no other supporting characters introduced at all. Natasha receives zero character work in this issue. Black Widow is nothing more than a generic ass-kicking spy. This is the type of character that is seen over and over in countless mindless action films that target teenage males. Black Widow is as one-dimensional as possible. Outside of the panel where Black Widow kisses the SHIELD agent’s helmet she never exhibits any type of unique personality at all. Absolutely any other ass-kicking character could have been plugged into this story and it would not have mattered.
There is virtually no dialogue in this issue so that hurts any prospect of character development or the construction of any plot lines. The lack of any dialogue also contributes to the overall feeling that Black Widow #1 is just a shallow teaser that would be found in a preview issue rather than an actual fully fledged debut issue of a new title.
Samnee is talented but I would not have selected him for a super spy title that specializes in action and fight scenes. There were numerous moments during the fight scene that were confusing. Samnee is not able to clearly choreograph a fight scene. Many of the panels seem messy and confusing. It does not help that Samnee employs many small panels with odd perspectives during the fights. While this is certainly creative it is not a great approach when trying to deliver a fight scene that is cogent. Sometimes an artist needs to simply convey the story in the most effective manner rather than showing us how artistically “creative” he can be.
The panel where Natasha takes out one of the first SHIELD agents on a jet pack is nearly impossible to follow as to how she did it. It looks like she just floats past the agent and the agent suddenly plummets just by being near her.
Then you have how the SHIELD agent in the parachute suddenly got into the crashing flying Ferrari. Before Black Widow activates the agent’s parachute we see the flying Ferrari below them plummeting to the ground. Black Widow then activates the agent’s parachute which causes him to slow down and rise up into the air being pulled further away from the flying Ferrari which is still heading toward the ground. Yet, somehow, two panels later, the same agent with the parachute is now relaxing in the driver’s seat of the flying Ferrari.
After that, when the agent in the Flying Ferrari shoots Black Widow’s jet pack it appears that there is a huge explosion. We have no idea how Black Widow escaped that explosion unharmed. And it appears that she awkwardly falls onto a car and then bounces into a motorcycle in a most ungraceful or athletic manner. However, the SHIELD agent’s dialogue comments how Black Widow turned that fall into a ballet. The artwork certainly did not make that fall look like a ballet. The story and the art just did not match up.
Next, when Black Widow steals a motorcycle and drives off it appears that the flying Ferrari is engulfed in flames. However, in the next panel, the flying Ferrari is in fine shape as the SHIELD agent gives chase. Then at the end, the flying Ferrari blows up in a massive explosion yet the agent driving the vehicle appears unharmed and ready to fight. There were just too many moments in this issue where the art made the story tough to follow or simply did not sync up with the writing itself.
Part of the problem is that Samnee’s artwork lacks much detail. His rough and loose lines can make scenes like fight scenes that require precise panels hard to follow. The result is that the fight and chase scenes come across disjointed and muddled at various moments. There is also the issue that Samnee’s artwork is also not particularly dynamic so the fight scenes seem a bit muted.
Overall: Black Widow #1 was an unsatisfying debut issue. I finished the issue and had the feeling of wanting so much more for my money. I love action as much as the next reader. However, I also like some character work and interesting plot lines, too. I do not feel that I am asking for too much by wanting more substance and content to a debut issue of a new title. Black Widow #1 felt lacking in so many ways. The fact is that Black Widow #1 is a $4.00 comic book. That is a lot of money and I expect more than just an issue that reads like a prelude. I would only recommend Black Widow #1 to diehard Black Widow fans or extreme action fans. For all other readers, Black Widow #1 simply does not deliver enough content to justify the $4.00 price of admission.