Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Black Widow 8, originally released November 30th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Natasha’s mission in Black Widow 8 is, ostensibly, to save the Vice-President from an assassination attempt by one of the young Dark Room recruits, yet it’s not really about trying to save the Vice-President; he doesn’t even make an appearance in the issue. Instead, the person Natasha is truly trying to save is the young assassin herself. In a way, by saving her, Natasha can save herself as well.
That subtext is somehow simultaneously deeply buried yet immediately obvious. Over the past few issues Chris Samnee and Mark Waid have shown us the shared origins of Natasha and these girls, and Nat even uses this fact as a way to try to reason with the young assassin and break through her brainwashing. In fact, Nat never even mentions the Vice-President — only the Dark Room girls bring him up. Her priority is clearly saving these girls. It’s a sentiment that’s even conveyed through her actions; when the young assassin starts shooting, Natasha is more focused on capturing the girl than saving civilians, even using some Secret Service members as human shields.
So it should not only be clear how badly Natasha wants to save these girls, but why: she’s lived their lives and doesn’t want them to face the same fate. Yet, I’m also struck by Natasha’s promise of a better life for these girls, one she makes both to the young assassin and Weeping Lion.
Natasha didn’t escape the Red Room’s programming until she was an adult, and she’s largely lived a life of penance since, using the skills she learned in the Red Room to make up for the atrocities she committed in its name. That’s not the life she wants for the Dark Room girls. Natasha can give them what she never had: a normal, peaceful childhood. The zeal with which Natasha pursues this goal, combined with her frequent references to her own time in the Red Room, shows that Nat isn’t just thinking of the girls, she’s thinking of herself. Giving those girls a normal life is her own way of rescuing lil’ brainwashed Nat and giving her the peaceful, average life she always wanted.
Nat’s eagerness to save this girl, though, may have made her a little sloppy; Black Widow 8 highlights this in a few ways. Aside from allowing those Secret Service agents to die, Natasha’s greatest oversight may be her alliance with Weeping Lion. I’ve never fully bought that he’d work for her so easily, and I notice that he never actually helps Natasha throughout this issue; he doesn’t give her a single bit of useful intel, sometimes citing nebulous and possibly inconsistent issues with his telepathic abilities.
Then there’s Weeping Lion’s brother, who we see in a mysterious cutaway keeping children locked up in a cage. Does this have something to do with the Dark Room? I’m inclined to think so, if only because Samnee draws the children as angry and draped in shadow, similar to much of his Red/Dark Room Depictions, and also because they’re all girls, just like the Room recruits. This would explicitly make Lion a double agent, but even if this isn’t the case, he clearly has an agenda contrary to Nat’s. This won’t end well.
There’s one more moment, though, that shows that Nat might be a bit too focused on her mission (and perhaps even on this issue’s particular young assassin); it may not be intentional, though.
At first glance this further emphasizes Black Widow’s competence, but upon further investigation it just raises questions. If Nat’s armed with her stingers, why doesn’t she shoot the primary assassin as she chases her? She has ample opportunity. Also, what becomes of the third girl, the one Nat doesn’t sting here? We even see the second assassin’s gun fall to the ground; what’s stopping the third from picking it up and continuing their reign of terror? While we eventually see these two girls taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody along with the primary assassin, they’re left as a loose thread between then and now. I could see this as an oversight on Natasha’s part, but it also feels like a surprisingly sloppy move from Samnee and Waid.
Thankfully, the creative team’s usually excellent attention to detail is present throughout the rest of the issue. Samnee’s layouts and choreography, as always, make the action sequences a joy.
What I love about this scene is the continual sense of forward momentum, represented by the young assassin’s movement towards the right side of the page (the direction we read in, further emphasizing that she’s moving forward, making progress). Even if the angle differs a bit (such as in the first panel), she’s always moving towards the right, except for when she’s stopped. The final panel represents a full break from the chase as she’s cornered and turns to the camera, but I’m fond of the fourth panel too, where the agents briefly stop her flight by grabbing her backpack. This, of course, pulls the young assassin to the left instead (the opposite of forward movement and progress), with even the action lines depicting that sudden change in direction. Like all the chase and action sequences in Black Widow, this is just full of detail and sheer inertia.
Patrick, do you have anything to add to the points I’ve brought up? Do you have any thoughts about the cover, which feels quite whimsical for a book as serious as Black Widow? And hey, I’m not sure of the timeline here; which Vice-President do you think the Dark Room girls were trying to take out? If it was Pence, I kinda wish Natasha had let them go through with it.
Patrick: Yeah, it’s amazing how much that colors our fiction now, right? Mind you – I’d never want Pence to actually be assassinated, but it’s shocking how much my investment changes if I think this issue is taking place in 2016, rather than sometime next year. As a strange extension of this: I saw Arrival last night (no spoilers), and there’s a lot of talk about the US military, and by extension the President, not wanting to appear too weak in light of the alien non-invasion. So there’s a natural pull between the Army guys and the scientists – the former want action and the later want data. It’s insane to even imagine a Trump Administration that would value data collection over nuking the ships out of the sky (what, indeed, is the point of having them if you’re not going to use them (against aliens)). But I digress.
Spencer touched on some of the ways that Samnee is a goddamn master when it comes to putting speed, motion and direction on the page, but I think it’s worth pointing out that he’s able to do the same thing with his camera, implying a sense of cinematic pacing. The first page is a kickass example of this.
Samnee’s following some very trendy beats in the first row of panels. The it’s the casual — almost mundane — getting ready montage. There’s no single detail in the top row that reveals much about the character, other than the idea that she adheres to the same rituals as the rest of us. The brushes her hair, ties her shoes; Samnee is insisting on the intense normalness of these moments. The second row, however, is a little bit stranger – we can gather from context that she’s brushing her teeth, but we never actual see this action. Instead we see the following steps: spit, wipe, smile, EVALUATE. It’s odd how long the scene lasts, especially compared to the row above, which knocks out three discrete action and an establishing shot in the same time. But the thing really starts to grab the readers’ attention in that final panel – the assassin’s eyes narrowed as she judges viability of that smile. It’s borderline psychotic. Or at least, it would be, if we didn’t have one more row to go. That’s where — patiently, and without fanfare — we see the bound and gagged couple at the bottom of the stairs. This isn’t an idiosyncratic little girl, it’s a fucking dangerous little girl. And she’s out in the world.
And while I have to babble on for an-oversized paragraph to get these ideas across, Samnee executes on all of that character-focused, tone-setting exposition without using a goddamn word.
For as neat as all of that is, Spencer’s right to point out that Natasha appears to either be frazzled or pulling her punches on this one. Weeping Lion accuses her of doing no research for this operation, and he’s not wrong. She hasn’t done any background on the kids and seemingly hasn’t even learned the floor plan for the White House. Samnee and Waid make a point of showing us that the kids are already suspicious of the BRAND NEW KID in their class, as if to emphasize that Nat’s not exactly going into this one well-prepared. She is working from her gut, even to the point where she panics when genuine tactics, represented by S.H.I.E.L.D., burst on to the scene.
It’s interesting that we don’t actually see Black Widow working with S.H.I.E.L.D., even though she obviously trusts them to do the right thing. In fact, she’s actively hiding from them. Again, that’s something that Samnee implies rather than stating outright.
I continue to be impressive with how narrowly focused these issues are. Everything here is very immediate, very local. And next month looks to change all that by getting the Watcher-on-the-Wall-ified Winter Soldier in the mix. That’s a change, for sure, but I trust this team to take Black Widow just about anywhere.
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?