Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Black Widow 3, originally released February 5th, 2014.
Taylor: Home is a powerful concept for most people. It engenders ideas of safety, retreat, relaxation and rejuvenation. It’s a place to hang up your coat at the end of the day and somewhere where you’re allowed to live exactly how you want. In short, home is that place you go where you just feel good. However, if you’re Black Window, the concept of home can be a bit more complicated. Having lived a life that is defined by violence, the ideas of safety and retreat aren’t exactly well known to Natasha and with that comes an unusual view on the idea of home. In Issue 3 of Black Widow, Natasha ruminates on the idea of home and in the process learns a little something about herself along the way. With the spectacular artwork of Phil Noto accompanying the story, how could this issue be anything but great?
Black Window is in Argentina on another assignment in her continuing effort to make some cash to fund her “web” of safe houses and government payoffs. She infiltrates a prison and rescues a wrongfully convicted general nicknamed “Lobo Blanco,” the White Wolf. Upon learning the nickname after he has been safely extracted from prison, Natasha remembers that Lobo Blancho hasn’t exactly led a peaceful life. With this is mind, Natasha throws him from a helicopter and kills him – all part of her effort to make the world a better place. Soon, Natasha is contacted by S.H.I.E.L.D. for a new mission, one that will once again take her far away from her familiar confines.
While the action of this issue revolves around Natasha’s time in Argentina, the theme is that of home. From the beginning, Natasha – through her narration – talks about how she doesn’t really have a place to kick her feet up at night. Her reasoning is that to be a good secret agent/assassin, everywhere she goes needs to be her home. She means this in a near-literal way. To her, home is comfort and an intimate knowledge of your environment, things that are useful to someone who is kicking guys in the face and battling evil kingpins almost every day. And to Natasha, home is a place where you feel you belong, so by extension, she feels at home everywhere. Yet, while feeling you belong everywhere might sound awesome at first, Natasha asks us to consider the flipside of the equation:
Yes, belonging everywhere means by necessity you belong nowhere. In essence, this is Black Widow admitting she has nowhere she considers home. She may have safe houses all of the world and a nice cozy apartment (with a cute cat!) in New York, but Natasha has nowhere she can call her own. Writer Nathan Edmondson does a wonderful job of showing us this wrinkle in Natasha’s character and does so with a deft hand. Given the brooding nature of Edmondson’s Black Widow, her feeling of homelessness seem very much a natural part of her character. This issue doesn’t feel so much like a spy-thriller, but more like reading an intimate journal. In it we are privy Natasha’s deepest feelings, many of which hinge on regret and her sense of isolation. Given this set of circumstances, it’s no wonder Natasha feels homeless – she has no safe place to return to in which to feel whole again. Her sole consolation in life is her work which, as stated above, just makes her feel all the more homeless. It’s a vicious negative feedback loop she’s in and it’s a little heartbreaking to watch.
Adding to the depth and enjoyment of this issue, as always, is Phil Noto’s artwork. My friends here at the Punch have said a lot about his work already but I feel like enough can’t be said for what he’s doing on this title. The washed out colors of the comic of the title as a whole are a fantastic choice. They give the comic a vintage vibe reminiscent of spy movies and book covers from the sixties. For obvious thematic reasons, this is a grand choice in color scheme. It acknowledges the pulpy origin of comics (and Black Widow particular) but it also serves as a loving homage to a genre that has given us some of the most memorable stories and characters of the past 50-60 years.
Adding to the pulpy feel of the title is the sketchy pencils employed by Nodo. While this technique does remind the reader of older genres in some ways, in others it feels incredibly fresh. In particular I was astounded by the way Noto portrays action in some of the action sequences in this issue. At one point, Natasha jumps down into a prison and takes out three guards, with each receiving a quick knockout blow.
Instead of capturing these motions with heavy gesture marks, Noto chooses to instead leave transparent sketch patterns next to show us exactly where Widow hit each guard. This is a super effective technique and it gives the impression that Natasha’s movements are not only incredibly fast, but incredibly accurate and powerful as well. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this technique before in a comic though my guess is somewhere in the annals of comic history it has. Notwithstanding this, it’s a technique that is hardly ever used and it’s wonderful to see Noto breaking from traditional forms in his artwork.
Patrick! What do you think? What other praise can we lay at the Altar of Noto so he may sup on our unworthy words? I think Natasha seems homeless, however, I can see why some might argue that in fact the opposite is true? What do you think?
Patrick: Taylor, you got my favorite Noto-ism with that sketch-kick panel. It’s astounding that the guy works in such muted colors and soft edges, but still manages to be a fantastic visual storyteller. Basically everything around Natasha’s realization that she’s just rescued a monster is damn near perfect, from the stark cutaway to el Lobo Blanco splattered with blood, to the wide full-page splash of Widow and Lobo bailing on the chopper. But the best is this quick sequence where they hit the water — Lobo tumbling in face first like a jackass and Widow gracefully sliding in — and Noto cuts away just long enough to show us why the General is going to be proper fucked after Widow stabs him in the gut. I even love the way Widow exits the scene in the same direction as the cloud of blood escaping her victim.
Those tiny inserts of Natasha readying her knives are so cool – so quiet and assuming. Like her training, those inserts are workman-like and utilitarian, rather than flashy. That’s the kind of gadget-spy Black Widow is: nothing has to be spectacular, it just has to work.
Taylor, I really liked this idea of “home is where the hurt is.” It’s an obviously play in the old phrase “home is where the heart is,” but it’s interesting that Natasha seems to think that she’s somehow looking at it differently than other people. When we are home, when we are allowing ourselves to be ourselves, that’s when we become most vulnerable. Edmondson plays with this idea directly with Natasha’s battered neighbor. When Natasha tells her to leave, the response is “Leave to go where? This is home.” Home is where we make peace with what we are and what we fear and who we love and what we value. Natasha’s home isn’t a physical location, it’s a state of being. She very specifically uses the words “housecleaning” before tossing Lobo Blanco out of the helicopter. This non-stop game of espionage is her home, and just like the physical places you and I live in, she wants to keep it in order.
When she returns to her apartment in New York, there are a handful of signs that she actually yearns for a “home.” First is the most obvious: she stands up for her neighbor, drop kicking her abusive husband in the throat. Now, that’s all fun and games — and totally in line with her adventuring so far in this issue — so it ends up playing both sides of the game. Natasha wants her “home” to be a peaceful place, but kicking dudes in the throat is part of her purview. But then she goes upstairs to her own apartment and lets little Liho inside with her, this time without any principled protestations about opening up to anyone.
There’s also a very dumb thing about this series that I absolutely adore, and that’s Edmondson’s treatment of foreign languages. There’s a little bit of Spanish in this issue, and Edmondson never sweats the fact that his readers might not follow what everyone is saying all the time. Previous issues have seen more of this — it’s especially cool when he’s using non-Roman alphabets (as when characters are speaking Russian or Mandarin). I took three semesters of Russian in college, and I love busting out my ability to decipher cyrillic characters. The decision not to translate fits so well thematically with the whole superspy shtick, and while that might be a tiny superficial detail, it makes the series seems more cosmopolitan because of it. Plus, Edmondson makes a joke with it in this issue:
How do you speak to the German Shepard? Why, you speak German, of course!
I’m also just thrilled with how singular these first three issues have been. Other than the glimpses of Natasha’s infrastructure, there has been no on-going story to speak of. But that’s not to imply that any of this has been a waste of time, or even an empty exercise of exploring a character. Seeds are being planted left and right – S.H.I.E.L.D., the web, Mr. Ross, and blowback from her first target in issue 1. It might be little stuff coming together slowly, but I choose to take the final panel here as a clue that we’re just starting to see the pieces – notice the parallel to the final panel in the first issue:
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?