Finally. After all the delays Black Widow’s first solo Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to be released. Since becoming one of the founding members of the MCU Avengers Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow, with Scarlett Johansson portraying her, has never been more popular. In honor of the Black Widow MCU movie this is a good time to get to know who Natasha Romanoff is with some of her comic book adventures.
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 an updated starter guide of her character. All of these comic books will give you a strong foundation to discover everything that makes Natasha Romanoff such a great and important character in the Marvel Universe.
DEVIN GRAYSON & GREG 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: J.G. Jones, Scott Hampton 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 Belonova 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. Grayson does a great job with the back-and-forth between Natasha and Yelena. It sets the groundwork for Natasha and Yelena relationship, becoming more 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 Belonova’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.
MARJORIE LIU AND DANIEL ACUNA’S BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Black Widow (2010) #1 – #5
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Daniel Acuña
As connected as Black Widow has become to the Avengers her connections go beyond that. This is something that Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuña explore with their short run on the 2010 Black Widow series. They open up by having Wolverine help Natasha out with her latest mission. From there we get a serious confrontation with Elektra.
What makes this particular series story such a stand out is how Liu positions Natasha as Black Widow to be Marvel’s James Bond. We constantly see her spy kills in action as works her latest mission doing her best to remain undercover. There are many instance where the story has elements from Casino Royale with how Natasha has to overcome the threat she goes up against.
The fortitude that Black Widow shows throughout the story is impressively portrayed through Acuña’s artwork. A major injury that Natasha suffers early on in the story lingers throughout. This forces Natasha to fight through the pain even when taking on the likes of Elektra, who she fights to a standstill. Which sets the stage for how Natasha has to deal with the imposing Imus Champion even more impressive as she uses all her skills to overcome the villains power.
NATHAN EDMONDSON AND PHIL 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.
CHRIS SAMNEE AND MARK 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.
KELLY THOMPSON AND ELENA CASAGRANDE’S BLACK WIDOW
Issues: Black Widow (2020) #1 – Present
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artist: Elena Casagrande and Rafael De Latorre
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
The latest Black Widow series by Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, and Rafael De Latorre is one of Marvel’s best current comic books. The way things start off works to establish a fresh start for Natasha Romanoff as some of the biggest underground villains work on a plan to take Black Widow off the table. To do so they create a trap for Natasha and give her a family she never knew she wanted. Establishing this foundation gave Thompson and company an opportunity to explore Natasha’s character and how she is moving forward into the future. Which is something that the character very much needed after the events that have taken place in her life the last few years.
While this new Black Widow series does act as a fresh start for the character Thompson works in Natasha’s history well throughout the opening arc. Thompson does this by bringing in Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton, and Yelena Belova against the Marvel villains targeting her. I won’t spoil what takes place but Thompson absolutely nails the different relationships Natasha has. There is an especially heartbreaking scene between Natasha and Bucky by the end of the first arc.
As emotionally draining as the events of the first arc are for Natasha we see her gain even more motivation to build something for future generations. To do so Natasha is teaming up with her fellow Black Widow in Yelena to create a new place where they can provide better training for those like them. The story is still developing but it has been interesting to see how Natasha is trying to take the Red Room concept and turn it into something that will be positive for those she will be mentoring along with Yelena.
The artwork in the latest Black Widow series by Elena Casagrande and Rafael De Latorre is absolutely stunning. Casagrande in particular is knocking out of the park and standing out as one of the best artist working at Marvel right now. Her action sequences that are shown in a double page spread in particular are jaw dropping as she has a natural flow to the way she portrays Natasha in action as Black Widow.
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