As we wait for the Marvel Cinematic Universe solo Black Widow movie to release at some point this is a good time to get to know who Natasha Romanoff is with some of her comic book adventures. Since becoming one of the founding members of the MCU Avengers Natasha’s Black Widow has never been more popular. We’ve seen Marvel expand on that in the comics as she has become one of the key players in all sorts of major conflicts both as an Avenger and in her solo adventures.
With how many stories there are that Natasha has been involved in there is no shortage of Black Widow comics to read. To get you started with a strong foundation of who Natasha is in and out of being Black Widow I’ve put together the following starter guide of her character. As with our other starter guides this is not a rank of Natasha’s best stories as Black Widow. The following comic books are a recommendation of how to get to know what makes Natasha Romanoff such a great and important character in the Marvel Universe.
EDMONDSON AND NOTO’S BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Black Widow (2014 – 2015) #1 – #20
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Phil Noto
One of the big things that stands out during Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s run on Black Widow back in 2014 and 2015 was how they did not rush getting into a big storyline. Edmondson and Noto took the time to start with several quick adventures to get you into the flow of who Black Widow is at this point. That was very much needed as it got you into Natasha’s mindset. Her skills are very different from most street-level superheroes. The opening few one-shot style issues of Edmondson and Noto run set the tone for that.
The other thing that was impressive about this run was the fact they did not shy away from Natasha Romanoff status quo of being public a core member of the Avengers. They worked that into how Natasha needed to work even more from the shadows in her solo missions as Black Widow. It puts into perspective how Natasha has changed and has been influenced by those around her.
Those influences are highlighted by how Edmondson uses characters like Maria Hill, Bucky Barnes and Clint Barton as part of the supporting cast for this series. This opens things up for Edmondson to show how others react to the methods that they see Natasha taking on her own. Adding in a new character into the mix in the form of Isaiah Ross further adds a fresh face for Natasha to interact with. His role in the story gives more heart to what is happening and how far things end up going in this series. It also allows us to see how Natasha is able to build connections beyond those she has in the Avengers and SHIELD.
Add in some of the best work by Phil Noto and this Black Widow series has it all. Noto painted style works so well with the world of this series. All his artwork really highlights how Natasha really does have to work from the shadows. The expression on Natasha’s face when she goes full Black Widow spy mode reminds you how dangerous she truly is.
SAMNEE AND WAID’S BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Black Widow (2016 – 2017) #1 – #12
Writers: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
Artist: Chris Samnee
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
The Red Room is an inescapable part of who Natasha Romanoff is. That is where she was both raised and trained to conduct dark missions to benefit Russia. Chris Samnee and Mark Waid embrace that past of Natasha to craft a story that shows how resourceful she is. Starting right away with an explosive start that sees Natasha become a SHIELD fugitive, Samnee and Waid showcase how she cannot escape the past.
Being forced to be on her own again showed how creative Natasha had to be. Even as she came into conflict with the mysterious Weeping Lion there was no time for her to think. There was barely time for Natasha to rest, not that she gives herself much time anyway. It’s all about the next step to stay ahead of those chasing her and catch up to those responsible for the situation she is in.
Through all of this Samnee and Waid start exploring how Natasha has grown older and question if some of her skills are becoming rusty. Afterall, as Black Widow Natasha does not have super powers or special armor like her Avengers teammates. And as she has spent more time being an Avenger she has become less used to using deadly force. That comes to a head in later issues were we are introduced to a new crop of young initiates of the Red Room. How Natasha ends up dealing with them speaks to how far she has come as Black Widow and as a person.
As fascinating as the story was in this run it is Chris Samnee’s amazing artwork that is the real selling point. Samnee shows you exactly why artwork is such a crucial part to the storytelling in comics. There are many times in this Black Widow run where the dialogue is kept to a minimum to allow the reader to get into the action that is going on page. That is fitting as Black Widow is not a character that is known to talk a lot like Spider-Man or Iron Man. And through his artwork Samnee is able to tell the story of what Natasha has to do in these moments where she needs to stay focused on what actions she should take next.
GRAYSON AND RUCKA’S MARVEL KNIGHTS: BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Black Widow (1999) #1 – #3, Black Widow (2001) #1 – #3, and Black Widow: Pale Little Spider #1 – #3
Writers: Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka
Artists: Scott Hampton, JG Jones, and Igor Kordey
The Marvel Knights banner gave creative teams to explore more adult material with Marvel’s characters, particularly their more street-level heroes. One character that fit perfectly under the Marvel Knights banner was Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow. Currently you are only able to pick up Black Widow’s Marvel Knights titles in one big collection. That is for the best though as both Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka make great use of the Marvel Knights banner to explore Natasha’s past without restrictions.
What makes the Marvel Knights Black Widow comics even more fitting is how Yelena Belova factors in heavily in this collection. Playing the antagonist role shows how different younger Yelena is from Natasha. What it did to her physically and emotionally is nicely mirrored in the origin of the younger Yelena, who has the same type of training and tries to become the one and only Black Widow. That back-and-forth between Natasha and Yelena sets the groundwork for their relationship, becoming mentor and protege in the second Black Widow story in the collection.
From there Greg Rucka takes what he and Devin Grayson did to explore Yelena Belova’s character in greater detail with his Black Widow: Pale Little Spider story, which is included in this collection. It gives us a better idea of who Yelena is when not paired with Natasha. It’s one of the few times we get to see her go solo in this way. By the end it sets the groundwork for what kind of adventures Yelena can have if she is spotlighted again. Which is likely given how she looks to have a big role in MCU’s Black Widow movie.
HOUSER’S AND MOONEY’S WEB OF BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Web of Black Widow (2019 – 2020) #1 – #5
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Stephen Mooney
Colorist: Triona Farrell
The most recent Black Widow series on this list is also the one that catches you up directly where Natasha Romanoff is. Jody Houser and Stephen Mooney’s Web of Black Widow is a comic that Natasha Romanoff’s character needed to get a soft reset. The events of Secret Empire, with her death at the hands of Captain Hydra, made things more complicated as to how Natasha would continue to have adventures. The answer to that was clones, which is never a simple thing to explain in the Marvel Universe.
To Jody Houser’s credit she was able to take the specific cloning process used to bring Natasha back as part of her greater character narrative. We get a deeper glimpse at Natasha’s past, including her transition from Red Room trainee to trainer. Houser dives into how Natasha’s return wasn’t that simple. And in that we see Natasha having to choose between moving forward without all her memories or accepting that her past is part of who she is.
Bringing in Anya, who became Headmistress during Samnee and Waid’s run, back as the main antagonist emphasizes that point. As the daughter of the previous Headmistress, we see how Anya does not have those connections. And fueled by revenge Anya has nothing to do but try to smear Natasha’s name as Black Widow. That conflict helps show how far Natasha has come in her life. By the end Houser is able to set-up a strong launching point for Natasha to have a fresh start while still embracing the past.
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