Suzanne: Have you ever looked at your job description six months into a new job and chuckled to yourself? Rarely do expectations and generally-worded guidelines from corporate align themselves with real-life experiences. How about that summer internship when you felt more like a barista than a business student? Natasha Romanova feels your pain in Black Widow 12, as jobs constantly pull her away from her preferred role as a spy.
Here’s a twist on Nathan Edmondson’s winning formula of missions, spy stuff, and isolation. Anderson Cooper (random cameo, anyone?) breaks the news of Black Widow’s recent conflicts on international soil. Now political pundits and politicians alike have opportunity to analyze her morally complex choices without any context or understanding of her work. Finally, there’s a thread of connection between earlier missions, her job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and her quickly unraveling personal life.
Readers are privy to the information before Natasha learns about it, witnessing the fallout from Nat’s media coverage through Maria Hill, Isaiah, and her fellow Avengers. The President of The United States even calls Maria Hill about Black Widow and her role at S.H.I.E.L.D. This level of scrutiny changes the status quo for the series moving forward. I look forward to seeing how Natasha responds to such high-profile attention and pressure in future issues. Will she simply disappear to one of her safe houses or will she stand accountable as an Avenger?
Meanwhile, Black Widow strikes up a friendly competition with the Howling Commandos in Somalia. Of course, it involves shooting down helicopters with bazookas and car-mounted machine guns. They make quick work of saving their target from capture -– a journalist from an unknown media outlet. This plot point feels almost like an afterthought to the bigger emotional set pieces in the issue.
Isaiah warns Widow about the media firestorm while she’s en route back to the United States. He promises to meet her at the apartment, packing her up with the intention of leaving town/keeping a low profile. Who could forget Liho? Isaiah goes above and beyond as Black Widow’s lawyer and only friend by trying to feed her elusive cat. BAM! He gets shot and falls down the staircase as the cat scurries away. The last panel is full of eerie foreshadowing — Natasha stands at the threshold of her apartment with bloody paw prints on the railing. You know things are going to hell when Black Widow finally admits to having a good day.
The most revealing exchange of the issue is between Tony Stark and Maria Hill. He essentially admits that the report about Natasha is accurate, a fact that makes its implications all the more dangerous. Maria says simply, “That’s why it’s a real problem.” What if Black Widow can no longer do what she does best? What does that mean for Natasha and for S.H.I.E.L.D.? There’s always a chance she will continue doing her “work” without the blessing of the Avengers.
Spencer, did you feel that this issue tied the series together for you or does it still seem too self-contained? Why do you think Isaiah keeps getting put into harm’s way? Is he a convenient plot device or something more personal to Natasha?
Spencer: Actually Suzanne, I think one of the more successful aspects of Black Widow 12 is the fact that it’s a somewhat self-contained story, yet it also ties into everything that’s happened to Natasha over the past year. Anderson Cooper’s expose references events from probably half the issues in this run and brings together every ally and guest star Natasha’s met, reminding us of the context behind her actions that Cooper is so oblivious to, while the attack on Isaiah obviously hints at a much darker future for Natasha, but that’s all background noise; this issue is less focused on long-term ramifications and more interested in how this information leak affects these characters right now, as it’s being released.
For Maria Hill, it means defending the actions of a trusted agent to the highest authority in the country. For Tony, Clint, and the other Avengers it means being unable to defend a friend; they might even be questioning her extracurricular activities themselves (Daredevil surely is). Like most things in Black Widow, this all ties into the idea of Natasha being alone, in this case once again emphasizing that she’s not alone, and her actions affect others no matter how much she may wish they didn’t.
I love this page for a lot of reasons. Not only does it remind us of the various people in Natasha’s life, but Edmondson and Phil Noto use even this limited space to give us a peek into the lives of each of these characters. Also, check out the reflection of Cooper in Sam’s shield — how cool is that?! Still, the most important thing about this page, as I mentioned, is that it emphasizes how not alone Natasha is. “Friends are fewer and rarely worth the effort,” but Natasha often puts forth that effort anyway; it’s certainly significant that those specific lines fall in the same panel as X-23, whom Natasha recently took under her wing after the death of Wolverine.
This all speaks to the cyclical nature of Natasha’s isolation; she prefers isolation because it’s simpler, but deep inside at least some part of her craves companionship, so she can’t help but to make connections again, only to back away once they become messy, repeat ad nauseum.
Suzanne, you asked why Isaiah keeps getting put in harm’s way, and I think it’s just because he’s the person closest to Natasha right now. I don’t think Natasha’s romantically interested in him — I doubt she’d even call him a “friend” if we want to get real here — but there’s no doubt that he’s her most trusted companion, which makes him the prime target for criminals looking to hurt Natasha as well as writers looking to hurt Natasha. We’re reaching the end of the cycle I mentioned above: Natasha let Isaac in, let Liho the cat in, stood up for her neighbor, reconnected with Bucky and reached out to Laura, and now that’s all coming to an end. Isaac is hurt, possibly even dead, and if Natasha follows the same patterns she always has, then she’s going to completely isolate herself again, and probably in the most violent way possible.
Edmondson highlights the tragedy of this all by devoting a good portion of the issue to Natasha’s mission in Somalia. As Suzanne mentioned, the details of her mission aren’t important beyond giving Noto a chance to draw some killer fight scenes — what really matters about this plot is that it’s the best day Natasha’s had in a long time. It speaks to Natasha’s character that her idea of a “good day” is teaming up with the Howling Commandos for some good ol’ fashioned warfare, but it’s not a good day because of the violence, it’s a good day because the mission is black and white, good vs. evil, thoroughly uncomplicated.
So it’s been a good day. The good guys won, Natasha did the right thing, and for once, she’s finally at peace.
The fact that Black Widow of all people here is drifting off to sleep is more significant than it may seem at first — to sleep is to let one’s guard down, so for Nat to fall asleep here with the Howling Commandos speaks to how comfortable and safe she feels, a rarity for her. In a way these panels are heartbreaking, because in that final panel we can see the peace end and the cycle of isolation begin anew as the news of Cooper’s expose reaches her.
I’m focusing a lot of Isaiah and how his fate will affect Natasha — for good reason, as it’s a big deal — but I don’t want to ignore the other major blow Natasha takes in this issue.
According to Nat’s narration here, the one thing that truly scares her is all the good she’s done being erased, and isn’t that exactly what Cooper’s expose threatens to do? As Suzanne and I have both mentioned, Cooper doesn’t understand what Natasha’s missions or motivations are; he simply presents her actions free of context, giving the public free reign to misinterpret her actions and overlook all the good she’s done.
What it all boils down to is that Black Widow 12 is all about Natasha being robbed of the two things she cares about the most right now: the good deeds she’s managed to perform despite a violent, thankless job, and the trusted companions she’s managed to let into her life despite how much easier it would be to remain alone. I admit that my interest in this book had been waning over the last few months as its adventures felt increasingly aimless, but everything snapped into perspective for me with this issue. Natasha’s about to be pushed to a dark place: will she remain stuck in her painful cycle of isolation and deception, or will she find a better way to live her life? I can’t wait to find out.
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?