BLACK WIDOW: THE NAME OF THE ROSE
I have always been more of a fan of the low or no powered superheroes who tell low key crime stories: I like my heroes grounded a little. Subsequently, I really like characters like Batman, The Punisher, Captain America, Robin, Catwoman and their ilk… and yes, I know some of them are ‘enhanced’ but those with powers still have a gravity effect to them: no flying, invisibility, they can’t burst into flames etc etc. At the end of the day, if you fire enough bullets into these guys, they are going to die, and I like that sense of vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong, the galaxy spanning stories of Superman or Silver Surfer can be exiting, but I like to think that these guys are defending my neighbourhood, or country.
In amongst these characters is the wonderful Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanov, whom I have been a fan of since I first saw her in Daredevil comics in the 70s when she was ol’ Hornhead’s main squeeze. Thankfully since those days of the female hero not being of any use unless they are the girlfriend of a hero are gone, and the Widow has become a major player in the Marvel Universe, not just due to the many mini-series’ and regular series’ that have been released, but also due to the excellent portrayal by Scarlett Johansson in the various Marvel movies.
This review is of the hardcover collection of the story The Name of the Rose, which collects Black Widow Issues 1 to 5, with some additional bits and pieces from Enter the Heroic Age issue 1.
Story: There is essentially two stories in this collection. The first, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s story Coppélia, is little more than a throwaway introduction to the character, which name drops Captain America and displays an ineffective origin of Black Widow in 8 pages, told through actions rather than rehashing the story we have seen a hundred times over, but essentially, if you don’t know her origin, it appears a little vague. It’s generic, and the art does it no favours, but more on that later.
The main story, The Name of the Rose, is written by New York Times best selling fantasy author Marjorie Liu, who won a comics industry Eisner award for her work on Image Comics’ Monstress.
The story tells of Black Widow meeting up with an old acquaintance name Black Rose, but after the meeting she is assaulted and cut open. She is returned to Avengers HQ where Tony Stark (Iron Man), Logan (Wolverine) and James Buchanan Barnes (the Winter Soldier) watch over her whilst she recovers, but soon, rumours start spreading about Black Widow having files on all her friends, and she she will eventually use them to destroy their lives. Is this true, or is she being manipulated by someone from her past…
It feels to me like this story is one that writers only lend to heroines: the story ends up being about love, and loves lost, instead of just telling a good spy story. It seems to me it’s rare that a spy story would have a tender core to it, and for me it doesn’t quite sit well with Black Widow, who, let’s face it, is a reformed killer.
To her credit though, Widow is shown as a scrappy fighter with a streak of cruelty that leans her more towards the bad guy side of the Marvel Universe than the whit hat brigade!
It’s well written, but I would have preferred a straight spy story a lá James Bond or some of the Bendis/ Maleev stories that in recent years have been told through Daredevil or even the Death of Captain America tale delivered by Ed Brubaker.
The last few pages of this book are dedicated to an illustrated text history of Black Widow as well, me the alternate covers the the individual issues of the comic that came out on release.
Art: Spanish artist Daniel Acuña’s art in this is amazing, as his work mostly is. His work looks like it is done with something like Copic markers and has very few black lines on the interior surface of a subject, instead using darker shades of the main colour to provide those lines. He sites John Romita and Jack Kirby as influences and they are definitely present, along with Hal Foster and Kevin Nolan.
This being a more realistic spy story than a straight up superhero one, his style suits it perfectly and is a pleasure to look at. A special note has to go to the cover of this collection as the Widow looks a little like Kat Von D, upon whom I have somewhat of a crush.
Unfortunately, the introduction to the story, from the aforementioned ‘Enter the Heroic Age’ comic, is done by far lesser artists Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, provide a lacklustre first few pages to this collection. Their artistic efforts feel little more than a by-the-numbers ‘how to draw comics’ experience. If you overlook those pages, you’ll certainly enjoy the rest. The whole book loses a point for their efforts.
WIRIA: It’s a cool spy story, with only a touch of superheroics in it, illustrated beautifully… you’ll return to this for sure!