One of my favorite comic books Marvel has published in the last few years. That series is the Eisner Award winning Black Widow series by Kelly Thompson and company. This was easily one of the best comic books that Marvel had been putting out monthly. Thompson and crew creative something truly special, which was recognized with it winning an Eisner Award last year. With the series coming to what feels like a premature end I wanted to take the time to look back at what made this series must read for everyone.
BLACK WIDOW CREATIVE TEAM
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artists: Elena Casagrande, Carlos Gomez, Rafael De Latorre, and Rafael T. Pimentel
Inkers: Elena Casagrande, Elisabetta D’Amico, and Rafael De Latorre
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire and Federico Blee
Originally launching in September 2020 the latest Black Widow series lasted 15 issues, including the official 50th Marvel Legacy issue for a Black Widow comic book during that time period. The entire run was written by Kelly Thompson with Elena Casagrande, Elisabetta D’Amico, and Jordie Bellaire as the lead art team. Artists Carlos Gomez, Rafael De Latorre, Rafael Pimentel, and Fedrico Blee worked as guest artists on the series with Latorre working several issues alongside Casagrande. During the 15 issue run Black Widow won the 2021 Eisner Award for Best New Series.
In terms of story the series Thompson and Casagrande start off with a group of Marvel villains kidnapping Natasha Romanoff and a random guy to use their DNA to genetically engineer a baby son for them and make them into a family. When Yelena Belova, Bucky Barnes, and Clint Barton learn about this they help Natasha against the bad guys. Natasha, with help from Bucky, is forced to give up the family she grew to love in order to keep them safe.
From there Natasha and Yelena team-up to create a new organization where they aim to train the next generation of super spies. During their adventures Natasha and Yelena recruit Anya Corozan, aka Spider-Girl, the newly super-powered Lucy Nguyen, who ends up going by Marigold, and a hacker named Craig. During this time Black Widow’s group take on the Apogee, Living Blade, and The Host as they build up their team chemistry.
INCREDIBLE STYLE OF BLACK WIDOW
When talking about what made this latest the first thing that comes to mind is the amazing style this series featured. Black Widow is by far one of the best looking ongoing series has produced and that is thanks to the talented art team for the series. That starts with the incredible artwork that Elena Casagrande provides during the opening story arc. It is in that first story arc that we see a tone set with the art direction the series would continue to take on for the length of its run. Casagrande being the consistent presence in the series as the lead artist, providing artwork for 12 of the 15 issues of this Black Widow series.
Every single issue you knew you would get at least one, normally more, stunning double page spread by Casagrande. In those double page spreads Casagrande told a story in itself whether through multiple panels or one big spread that showed Natasha Romanoff, Yelena Belova, and others in action. The way these flowed took what you expect from double page spreads to another level.
Casagrande’s stunning artwork was carried on by fellow collaborators Carlos Gomez, Rafel De Latorre, and Rafael T. Pimentel, who each worked on different issue. Latorre in particular worked side-by-side with Casagrande on several issues that showcased how the style established for this Black Widow series would always be consistent. There was never a drop in what you would expect artistically no matter the artist. Latorre specifically kept up the style that Casagrande to a point of replicating that the style was never lost.
Pimentel’s artwork was by far the most different but equally fitting for the type of story told in Black Widow #13. In that issue Pimentel adapted Natasha’s original design to make the flashback story feel like you were reading a classic Black Widow story. Which set the tone for when he also provided artwork for Black Widow #15 later on.
With all of this talent you can see through the writing how much Kelly Thompson trusted the artists she was working with. At various points in each issue the artwork told the story rather than characters talking. Whether it was the aforementioned double page spreads or silent moments between characters the artwork was really on another level throughout this series. Thompson wrote a great post on her Substack looking back at her Black Widow run and breakdown of specific artwork in the creative run.
NATASHA ROMANOFF LEARNS IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY
Even though she’s been known as an Agent of SHIELD and Avenger, Natasha Romanoff is largely a solo act. Its part of her background as she was raised to the ultimate super spy. That means that Natasha never really slowed down to set-up roots anywhere. Even in her relationships with Bucky Barnes, Matt Murdock, and Clint Barton she has been on the move as Black Widow.
That is something we see immediately changed as Thompson and co. start the series off by giving Natasha the one thing she’s never really had: a family. Even though this isn’t a family that she found for herself, rather one provided to her by a group of villains looking to take her off the board, she comes to find them as her home. To Thompson and Casagrande’s credit they really got over how Natasha genuinely came to care for her fiancé James and their baby son Stevie in the opening story arc. By the end you felt that Natasha truly did feel like she lost a lot by having to let them go into hiding without knowing where they are at.
While Natasha did lose James and Stevie the sense of family is something that was not lost. The theme of family is something that carried on throughout the rest of this Black Widow run. Thompson and co. did an effective job bringing Yelena on to be Natasha’s partner in the new super spy organization she was looking to create. Starting out this way we immediately saw Natasha and Yelena have a sisterly-bond as partners as they operated together. That bond grew as they brought others into what they were doing as the trust they have is seen when they are confident the other has things under control on their own end.
That foundation with Natasha and Yelena is carried over with the rest of the cast of the series with Bucky, Clint, Anya, Lucy, and Craig. They all serve important roles in the story. Most importantly they help Natasha realize that it is okay to open herself up as a person and feel she part not just a team but a real family.
NATASHA ROMANOFF & YELENA BELOVA BUILD FUTURES
Going off the family dynamic created in this run was also setting the foundation for what is next for Natasha and Yelena as Black Widow and White Widow. Both of them are highly experienced super spies and superheroes. With that comes a wealth of knowledge in both fields that most don’t have. Taking that into account we see that Natasha decide, along with Yelena, to create something sustainable for the future. This idea comes inspired by her time in the Red Room as she aimed to create an organization where they can train future super spies and superheroes without damaging them like the Red Room did.
For the first time it did feel like it wasn’t just Natasha battling with her past or present. Natasha was looking towards the future for not just herself or Yelena but to others that were in similar spots as them. Aiming to be positive influences on the next generation took Natasha as Black Widow to the next level as she was creating something more than just herself.
Spider-Girl’s Anya Corazon and Lucy Nguyen were great first recruits for what Natasha and Yelena were creating. Even though she is an experienced superhero Anya recognized that she could use some mentoring. With Natasha’s long resume as a hero, including as one of the Avengers, she was the mentor Anya was looking for. And you see how as an experienced hero Anya was able to hold her own on the field with Natasha and Yelena while still learning from both. Its mentorship we don’t see often but a cool thing to help progress a character like Anya that’s been dorminant save the occasional Spider-Man events. It hopefully means Anya could possibly be part of her own series later or continue working with Natasha in the next Black Widow series.
Lucy Nguyen as the new character introduced in this series was even more representative of what Natasha and Yelena were aiming to create. With Lucy having gained her superpowers from difficult circumstances she was someone that could’ve easily been led down a bad path. Thanks to Natasha and Yelena being there for her Lucy was able to use her powers for good and actually receive training from the beginning of her journey. In the process Natasha and Yelena were able to create a foundation with Lucy if other new or older characters are brought into this direction they are going.
BLACK WIDOW’S ROGUES GALLERY
It’s a great compliment to Natasha Romanoff’s career as Black Widow that a group of villains would unite together not to kill her but take her off the table. That is exactly what Arcade, Viper, Snapdragon, Weeping Lion, and Red Guardian did as they knew they couldn’t kill Black Widow but instead its for the best to take her off the table. That does show that while villains hate her there is great deal of respect for who Natasha is as Black Widow that they would take this type of extreme.
In the process Thompson and co were able to quickly establish how important having strong villains to have Black Widow to go up against. The threats can’t be simply taken on by fighting harder. The threats like Arcade, Viper, Snapdragon, Weeping Lion, and Red Guardian need to be taken down through multiple level planning. Which help set the idea of why Natasha and Yelena had to work together to try to be better prepared against other villains who would possibly try to organize together.
From there we saw new villains in Apogee, Living Blade, and The Host introduced. The Living Blade in particular stood out as Thompson tied this villain back to Natasha’s early career as Black Widow. In that flashback story we saw how the Living Blade was someone that Natasha was lucky to survive against in their first fight. Things weren’t easier for Natasha in the rematch as we saw how Living Blade outmatched her. While she was able to defeat Living Blade by the end it did take him getting injured by a timely explosion by Hawkeye to do so. It’s a strong way to build up a personal rival for Natasha that Thompson or other future writers can follow up on with new stories involving Black Widow and Living Blade.
When all was said and done this latest Black Widow series is by far one of my favorite comic books I’ve read. Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, Rafael De Latorre, Rafael T. Pimentel, Jordie Bellaire, Elisabetta D’Amico, Carlos Gomez, and Federico Blee created something truly special with this 15 issues of Black Widow. And having been such a big fan of this run it is great that the creative team was recognized by the industry as well with their 2021 Eisner Award win.
This series really has everything that comic book fans will love. There is a lot of incredible action beautifully done by Casagrande, Latorre, Bellaire, and company. Then the strong dynamic between characters along with the individual moments for Natasha and others gets you invested in the world created in this series. If you have not checked this Black Widow series out yet I highly recommend seeking out the trade collections as it is a can’t miss reading experience.