Black Widow 3

black widow 3

Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Black Widow 3, originally released May 4th, 2016.


Patrick: You wanna hear my theory for why we haven’t had a Black Widow solo movie yet? I don’t think filmmakers or movie audiences are prepared to sit through Natasha’s origin story. Given the global political climate, it’s bound to be difficult to mine adventure and romance out of what is essentially kidnapping young girls and turning them into child soldiers. That’s the source of Nat’s power – she’s frighteningly competent because she literally had to develop those competencies or die in the process. As Black Widow 3 drifts between the past and the present, Chris Samnee and Mark Waid make a point to keep us in the dark about how Nat pulls off any of her numerous remarkable feats. It’s a confident, unnerving read.

We start in New York City; we know because there’s a supertitle telling us as much on page one. But even that amount of spelled-out information is uncharacteristic of the rest of the issue. Nat walks down a crowded street, under the watchful eye of… someone… peering through a sniper scope. For as little as there is going on in this page, it’s sort of incredible.

nat in the street

First off – Samnee has Black Widow’s insignia baked right into the layout of the panels. And it’s not as though the paneling here is arbitrary – in fact, it’s almost the opposite: nearly every panel divide is a physical object in the world of the characters. Samnee places his cameras high, so the lines of the street and the lines of the window frame create a natural hourglass shape. In the center of the page is the view through the scope – check it out, you can even see the same people around Natasha’s telltale red hair in the panel before.

Now, I mentioned that I’m not entirely sure who this character is that’s watching her, but I’ll posit that — whoever it is — we are witnessing a lot of this story from their perspective. Or at the very least, we share a lot of the same voyeuristic tendencies. The sniper here views Nat through a scope, through a window, both of which constitute the panels that we are viewing her through. Throughout the rest of the issue, we are frequently pushed away to a comfortable distance, so Nat can work her magic. The first trick that she pulls to lose her tailing S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent is a simple trip-line; even Samnee’s visual vocabulary only hints at what she’s planning until she finally deploys it. Similarly, Nat steals an outfit between the panels (and over a page turn), and you’d be forgiven for not noticing that she pulled it off (let alone how).

girl where'd you get that outfit

I’ve numbered the sequence of events here, because the story mostly plays out in the background, even though it’s something our hero is actively doing. First, she spots the outfit on a manikin in the window. The next time we see that manikin, we’re on the other side of the glass, and Natasha’s nowhere to be found. Letterer Joe Caramagna emphasizes the side of the glass that we’re on by having one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent’s speech balloons partially obscured by the window jam. In this second part, we see the manikin, but that prominently-featured green jacket / blue scarf combo is missing – and the manikin is missing an arm, as though undressed in a hurry. And then on the next page, we have these great panels of Nat in disguise, wearing the exact same clothes. That panel is packed with great detail – a business man on his phone, a young family expecting their third, a couple in the background Instagramming their experience. Nat’s outfit could easily be lost in that sea of detail. Samnee’s using the same kind of misdirection that Natasha is – how cool is that?

This continues once Nat reaches her destination. We don’t actually see her take out the first three enemy soldiers, but rather witness the evidence of her having taken them out. We see their distressed cries in one wide shot, and their unconscious (…dead?) bodies in another, with nothing but a discarded knife in between to indicate what happened. This isn’t Daredevil, where Waid and Samnee are careful to illustrate exactly how Matt Murdock perceives the world around him and then acts within it, this is Black Widow and we don’t get to be that close to Natasha Romanoff.

That does start to break down as she approaches the Red Room, and the flashbacks start to creep in. Spencer, what do you make of Nat’s minuscule fuck ups later in the issue? She’s spotted and shot at before reaching the Red Room, and then relies on a weapon that she mistakenly thinks will be there for her. It’s all tied up with the anxiety of being a kid in this kill-or-be-killed environment. She’s rattled by her own history, it’s no wonder creators keep it at arms’ length.


Spencer: It is a pretty horrific history, one where the few, pathetic moments of “kindness” offered by the Red Room Headmistress start to look appealing simply because the alternative is so much bleaker. Just to put things in perspective, the flashback tells the tale of a time when a young Natasha sneaks out at night to kill a man in order to make up for her failing to during her training — how screwed up is that?! Not only has the poor girl been forced into a life of murder, but she’s been so indoctrinated that she feels the need to run out and prove herself at it when she fails.

Even more disturbing is the fact that young Nat decided to keep the knife her victim stabbed her with as a trophy of some sort!


Or, at least, that’s what I’m assuming is happening here. I did briefly consider the possibility that perhaps Natasha had stolen the knife to make it look like she killed her target (by stabbing herself), but that’s based on the slimmest of evidence (how fearful Nat looks when she hides the knife, the Headmistress’ certainty that Nat succeeded being based on her unique stab wound, the fact that she hides the knife in the catacombs, a place the Headmistress just declared Natasha would never be allowed again), and is an awfully complicated scheme. Considering the pride in her eyes in that first panel, it seems more likely that Natasha wants to keep this knife as a reminder of what she can accomplish, or perhaps even of what the Yugoslavian did to her, in harmony with the Headmistress’ speech about scars. Either way, it again shows just how brainwashed and abused this poor young girl is.

That kind of childhood and these kind of scars don’t go away easily, as highlighted in Black Widow 3‘s most dazzling sequence.


In almost all fashions, Natasha Romanoff has transcended her past. She’s worked for the good guys, even been a hero and an Avenger, but all the skills she uses in these endeavors were learned in the Red Room, as Samnee and Wilson so expertly illustrate in the above image; her childhood Red Room ballet lessons directly translate to the choreography she now uses to beat the tar out of goons. Even if she’s managed to use them for good purpose, the skills she learned in the Red Room are a part of her, and that’s something’s that not gonna change.

So yeah, I can certainly understand why Black Widow might be slightly off her game as she enters the Red Room (although I don’t necessarily think that even the remarkably-competent Widow needs to be “off her game” to be taken by surprise by a skilled sniper); the bad memories this place brings back would be enough to distract anyone. That’s another feeling that Samnee and Wilson perfectly bring to life on the page — while much of the flashbacks are contained in their own segments (differentiated from the present-day scenes by white gutters and a reddish color), there’s more than a few occasions where the flashbacks bleed into the present-day happenings.


The “memory” of the Headmistress here reminds me of a ghost, which is likely an apt comparison considering the way the memories of Natasha’s past start haunting her as soon as she arrives at the remains of the Red Room. They’re not something she can escape, and it doesn’t seem coincidental that, the moment Widow tries to take advantage of those memories, she ends up with a knife in her gut.

Speaking of which: what do we think the deal is with Natasha’s young attacker? I’m assuming that the sniper following Nat throughout the issue is, if not Weeping Lion themselves, then one of their agents, but do we think that the girl is the sniper, or a new figure on the scene? Answers will no doubt start to reveal themselves in next month’s issue, but until then, what’s most pertinent about this character is how similar she is to the young version of Natasha Romanoff presented in the flashbacks. She’s clearly meant to be a reminder to the audience — and likely to Natasha, as well — of the young, brainwashed assassin Natasha once was. It even seems possible that she’s been sent (perhaps by Weeping Lion) exactly to throw Natasha off her game because of what she represents. Again, I suppose time will tell soon enough.

So I can’t blame Natasha for being caught by surprise under such fraught circumstances (even if her uniform really should be stab-proof — c’mon, Nat), but I appreciate how competent she is up to this point, even after first being taken by surprise by the sniper. In fact, it’s to her credit that she immediately turns the sniper to her advantage.


Natasha gets shot at? Unfortunate, but she’s skilled enough to then trick the sniper into taking out another one of her enemies. This actually might be the most impressive moment for Natasha as a soldier in this issue, at least to me; it demonstrates her intelligence and ruthlessness in equal measure, and all without a word from Natasha herself.

There’s another element of this scene I love, as well: it’s the designs of the two thugs chasing Natasha. The thug on the right especially stands out to me — that’s a unique, eye-catching design, especially for a character who dies literally two panels later. Putting that much thought into the design of a throwaway character was not at all necessary, but it’s indicative of the kind of care Samnee puts into his work. Really, it’s indicative of the care that the entire creative team (Samnee, Waid, Wilson, Caramanga, etc.) put into their work, and that’s what makes Black Widow such a joy to read, even when it’s tackling such dark subject matter.

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5 comments on “Black Widow 3

  1. I really don’t think origin stuff is a big problem when trying to make a Black Widow movie. Both Avengers movie so far has made a point to dedicate scenes that make clear that Black Widow is a woman who wasn’t just kidnapped and turned into a child soldier, but a woman who had people dedicate their life to reshaping her into an inhuman creature. Between that and the fact that the final act of Civil War goes into truly dark territory, that won’t be a problem. Especially as I don’t even think there is a lot of need to show Black Widow’s origin. It is certainly a possibility, but you could do easily do a spy movie with Black Widow, whether Jason Bourne realism, James Bond wonder or Winter Soldier kind-of-both approach (though hopefully focusing just on the great spy movie stuff, and not the mediocre Superhero stuff), without worrying about the origin.

    The real reason, of course, for there not being a Black Widow movie is Ike Perlmutter being both cheap and generally a horrible bastard. The importance of China and Russia on International markets makes it hard for anyone who isn’t a Straight White Male to be the lead in a movie (China, surprisingly, loves Chinese actors in supporting roles, but apparently prefers loves white leads due to a cultural belief (probably an artefact of both the British Empire and Hollywood) of lighter skin being a status symbol (this is also why skin whitener is such a popular product in Asia)). However, Ike Perlmutter has made it even more difficult to make movies that aren’t straight, white men, from my understanding. But the real problem with Ike Perlmutter is actually because of how cheap he was. Not only was it an effort to have Marvel make Captain Marvel, Perlmutter’s frugal ways would never allow a Black Widow movie. Scarlett Johansson’s contract, I believe, only allows her to play supporting roles, so a Black Widow movie would require renegotiating her contract (something that would be very expensive, now that Black Widow is such a popular character and Johansson has leverage). Ike Perlmutter, who is cheap like you wouldn’t believe, would never let Scarlet Johansson have the chance to renegotiate her contract.

    Unsurprisingly, after Marvel Studios cleverly manoeuvred itself to be run by Disney, instead of Perlmutter, things have changed greatly. Doctor Strange has been called Marvel’s most diverse film yet (we can talk about the whitewashing of the Ancient One, but that discussion requires understanding about Tibet’s current political reality that basically make the entire situation with the Ancient One the biggest Lose-Lose situation ever. If I was in charge, I would make gone Hispanic or some completely different ethnicity to avoid all of the problems while not giving the position to a white person, but I also can’t ignore the fact that hiring a real life ageless, androgynous demigod to play the Ancient One is great casting), Ant Man and Wasp was suddenly added a month after Perlmutter was removed, actors seem happier to continue working for Marvel after their contracts expire and Kevin Feige, during Press Junkets for Civil War, says that the character that they are most creatively and emotionally committed to making a movie for is, unsurprisingly, Black Widow.

    So now that Marvel Studios isn’t ruled by a guy who quashes any attempt at diversity and is frugal to the level of refusing to renegotiate contracts, a Black Widow is likely to come.

    Also, I’m not reading this comic because of Waid, despite how interesting it sounded (just like Daredevil sounded interesting until you read and realized it was an exercise in wheel-spinning). The fact that Black Widow is going back to the Red Room makes me really happy I made that decision. Can’t we stop with the Red Room?

  2. ” Can’t we stop with the Red Room?”

    Yes. Please. To me, by far the least interesting thing about Black Widow is her past. Reconciling horrors beyond imagining with modern heroism doesn’t make for stories that are interesting to me. Peter Parker will always be driven by his origin – yeah, teenage nerd guilt for letting Uncle Ben die. That’s relatable on some level. Widow’s isn’t.

    This is a fantastically presented story. Waid and Samnee are literally showing us what artist/writer collaboration could be. The story itself was interesting for two issues – until this, which was cool as hell to look at and read, but the ghosts of Natasha’s past aren’t ghosts that I want to read about. I want to read about her present.

    • Oh, I actually think “can’t we stop with the Red Room?” is actually kind of a shitty attitude. Of course they could stop telling stories about it. Are there a lot of boring about her origin (and all other heroes for that matter)? You bet. But this is the story that Waid and Samnee are telling, and they are artists I trust to tell me powerful, impactful stories that are important to them – whatever form that takes. I don’t agree with Matt’s assessment of Waid’s writing (particularly as it relates to Daredevil), but I can respect that as a reason not to check out this issue. The fact that this story deals in Red Room mythology couldn’t possibly bolster or hinder a meaningful story well-told.

      • “The fact that this story deals in Red Room mythology couldn’t possibly bolster or hinder a meaningful story well-told.”

        I don’t think I agree with this. I think Black Widow’s origin is a gross and shitty story (and too over the top even for me as a reader) and I think that gross and shitty story makes many Black Widow stories gross and shitty stories, no matter how well told, because the gross and shitty and over the top unbelievable, even in a world of super-heroes, takes me out of the story.

        There can be well told stories that I don’t like. I’m going to read the next issue. I just hope that we get out of delving into literally revisiting her past and back into action packed spy stories.

      • I think The problem is the Red Room is that everything just keeps coming back to the Red Room. Unlike kaif, I think Black Widow has a fantastic origin, and would love someone to do an actual ‘Year One’ style origin. It would be dark and gross and horrible, but could be fantastic.

        My problem is the sheer number of stories that return to the Red Room. There are many problems with this. Partly, the problem is of convolution. We need some distance from the Red Room before we can return to it and do some retcons, and I don’t really think Black Widow has that distance yet, because so many of her stories revolve around the Red Room and her past. Part of it is the fact that Black Widow is a character who still feels like she needs a run that truly defines her, something equivalent to Miller on Daredevil, Fraction on Hawkeye etc. The last run felt like the building blocks that someone would use for a truly iconic run, but Black Widow still needs one. And I think trying to make the Red Room a major part of any attempt at giving Black Widow that run she needs is a mistake, as as you are instead putting yourself in a long list of runs that do a Red Room story.

        But lastly, and most importantly, at some point you need to move past the origin. The origin will always inform the character, but the character must also move into new worlds afterwards. Uncle Ben’s death will always inform Spiderman’s actions, but Spiderman doesn’t need to have every story come back to Uncle Ben. (Movie) Tony Stark will continue to be effected by his PTSD, yet while it informs his actions in every movie, no movie returns to the cave in Afghanistan. That isn’t to say that the origin can never be revisited (part of what makes Iron Man Three and the Winter Soldier so great is how, after Avengers has shown how they operate post-origin, Tony and Steve are forced to return to their origins to dramatic effect). So can we have a proper run explore who Black Widow is outside the Red Room before we return there again? How we can discuss Black Widow returning to the Red Room when, in every way that matters, she has never left?

        Quite simply, Black Widow needs a character defining run and needs to escape the gravity of the Red Room. And I don’t think it is possible to achieve either goal without achieving the other.

        Once she has that defining run like Daredevil got, or Hawkeye got. THe run that defines who she is outside of her origin (Edmenson’s run came close in many ways, but felt like the research material of Black Widow’s defining run. Lots of great character work, but the poor plotting hurt it in the end), we can return to the Red Room. But if we want to make powerful, impactful stories about Black Widow, we need to give the Red Room a rest. Because when 90% of Black Widow stories that people can remember are about the Red Room, doing a Red Room story is just doing what everyone else did

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