Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Black Widow 10, originally released February 8th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Mordor. The one place in Middle-earth we don’t want to see any closer, and the one place we’re trying to get to.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Drew: As far as motivations go, “destroy evil ring” is about as straightforward as it gets. Obviously, there’s a great deal more to Tolkien than his MacGuffins, but I think one of the most elegant ways he complicates that motive is the simple fact that the ring has to be destroyed in Mt. Doom. In this way, each step of they journey brings the ring closer to destruction and closer to falling into Sauron’s grasp. The only thing that could up the tension any further is suggesting that the “secret” plan to destroy the ring is simply part of Sauron’s plan to draw it out. Are they defeating him, or are they doing his work for him? Nat finds herself in a similar situation in Black Widow 11, as she apparently delivers an equally devastating MacGuffin to Recluse.
I say “apparently” because, in the twist-heavy world of Black Widow, it seems just as likely that Nat falling for a trick to draw her out is part of her own trick to draw her enemies out, but either way, the tension of what to do with the MacGuffins remains. More importantly, the tension is largely a pretext for some stunning action sequences, which artist Chris Samnee and colorist Matthew Wilson deliver with aplomb.
This issue is light on dialogue, which leaves plenty of storytelling space for the artwork. As ever, Samnee cedes a surprising amount of that space over to Wilson, whose dynamic use of red as an accent allows Nat’s psyche to spill onto the world around her.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on silent action came at the expense of some clarity. I found myself losing track of how many Dark Room girls Nat had already defeated (I’m pretty sure her showdown is with one she had already fought, though how that girl beats Nat to the control room isn’t clear), and I was completely baffled when Nat can’t see straight from injuries we never see her sustain.
Maybe these symptoms are holding over from her lack of oxygen in the previous issue, but this is the first hint we get that she can’t see straight, after she’s already defeated five of the girls. I’m half inclined to suspect that the blur effect and the stars around Nat’s head were added late as an attempt to goose the tension in a scene that didn’t really need it — Nat shooting through a hostage is just as effective if she’s clear-headed.
I’d also argue that the final cliffhanger relies on the spare dialogue we get near the start of the issue. Unlike the one ring, these keys are both utterly destroyable and rendered inert if they can’t be found in the short-term. A well-placed stomp or a flush down the toilet for any two of these keys would effectively spoil Recluse’s plan, so I have to imagine Nat wouldn’t be so careless as to carry around all of the real keys — she just swapped out some decoys to get Recluse to show herself. But — and this is a nagging little ‘but’ — Samnee and co-writer Mark Waid have the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent explain the keys thusly:
The thought that someone who turns the key might plausibly believe themselves to be innocent might be key (ha) to Nat’s mission to save these girls’ souls. It feels like an odd detail to add otherwise, so I have to imagine this concept will come up again in the next issue. That point is only vital, though, if there is real moral fallout from turning those keys, which makes me wonder if Nat didn’t swap them out, after all. Maybe that lack of oxygen did more damage than I’m giving it credit for.
Michael, I enjoyed this issue well enough — it established clear stakes and motives and delivered the action — but it’s only barely holding together on closer inspection. It’s definitely one of the lesser entries in the Waid/Samnee canon, though it still has some very strong moments. Did you find more to praise here than I did?
Michael: That’s the thing about “twist-related drama” isn’t it? It’s a sleight of hand illusion that disorients the audience, but if there’s no sound story logic behind it all, the twists lose all of their meaning. I’m with you on Black Widow 11 Drew — it’s an entertaining ride but its internal logic doesn’t hold up as well under further scrutiny. I am positive that Natasha had disarmed/defeated all six of the Dark Room girls: two on the stairwell and the remaining four in that bombastic “shattered memory glass” explosion. It’s likely that one of them did indeed get ahead of Natasha somehow to hold that poor S.H.I.E.L.D. eskimo at knifepoint.
After all, Samnee wasn’t explicit in the way that Natasha disarmed those six girls — she certainly didn’t kill them — but it doesn’t seem like they were rendered unconscious. I’ve always wondered how hard you have to hit a bad guy goon on the head to knock them unconscious without causing them severe brain damage; it seems like a real skill.
It does also seem like Natasha brought all of the keys of doom with her only to have them snatched away at the end of the issue. Drew already posed the question of “why did she bring those keys?” so I’ll pose another one: why is the final showdown with Nat and the remaining Dark Room girl so dire? What does the girl hope to achieve? She isn’t holding the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent hostage in exchange for the remaining keys from Nat, she simply say “I need what this man has.” If she succeeds and gets what she wants she will have one key to Nat’s five. As Drew mentioned, the script went to painstaking detail to establish that all six keys need to be used simultaneously in order to bring about the big boom so what’s the big deal if the little lady just has one?
Natasha’s dynamic with the Dark Room girls lies somewhere in between big sister and mother. It’s true that girls are victims of terrible brainwashing whose souls need to be saved, but Nat’s reasoning isn’t 100% altruistic. The girls are the next generation of the terrible treatment and conditioning that Nat went through so they might as well be her little sisters. Natasha wants to free the girls from the horrible circumstances because it’s the right thing to do, but also because she quite clearly sees herself in them.
Natasha is the older sister/mother figure who has made plenty of mistakes and seen trouble in her life and she’s trying to spare them from that same pain — a symbol of retroactively saving herself. This all culminates in that page above; Nat throws a very literal punch and breaks down a metaphorical glass wall of her memories. Samnee crafts a striking image as Nat’s silhouette looks down at the defeated girls, littered among shards of her own past.
Samnee’s art is the standout of the book, especially when it comes to the Dark Room girls. The book opens from what I assumed was Nat’s perspective as she infiltrated the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, but was soon revealed to be the Dark Room Girls crawling through the vents — a twist!
Samnee draws all six of them coming out of the ceiling as a single organism or a bizarre circus act. They remain silent for the most part, which heightens their force of nature mystery. Save for the red of their facemasks and the bottoms of their feet, the girls are black ink shadow ninjas, which added to their elemental nature.
Is Black Widow 11 a bullet-proof narrative? Not completely. Is a “good, not perfect” comic book from Samnee and Waid better than other creators’ best efforts? Absolutely. It’s an entertaining action book that is an impressive sight to behold.
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?