28 May 2018

Review: Black Widow: Deadly Origin by Paul Cornell, Tom Raney, John Paul Leon, et al.

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 2010)

Acquired August 2012
Read February 2017
Black Widow: Deadly Origin

Writer: Paul Cornell
Pencils: Tom Raney
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: Matt Milla
Art & Colors, Flashbacks: John Paul Leon
Letterer: Cory Petit

Paul Cornell's Black Widow: Deadly Origin is one of those comics that takes the tangled history of a superhero character that's been jerked from status quo to status quo over the years, and tries to retroactively impose some kind of characterization on it all. Natalia Romanova was a super-agent of the U.S.S.R., a Russian superhero's wife, a spy in the West, a member of umpteen superhero teams, and a lover of umpteen male superheroes.

Matt Murdock lived in San Francisco?
from Black Widow: Deadly Origin #3 (art by John Paul Leon)

I don't think he really succeeds, unfortunately. If Natasha has her own core identity, I'm not sure what it is. Cornell's story alternates between the present day (where there's a plot to kill all those who she's ever loved) and the past (where we get snippets of her history). But there's either too many flashbacks or not enough of them. We never spend more than a page or two in any one time period, making it hard to get an emotional bead on Natasha at any given point. If they were expanded, they might work better. Alternatively, focusing on the present-day story might make Natasha's emotional throughline more clear. But as it is, it still feels more like a jumble of comic book continuity than actual story. I don't think I know Natasha any better as a person than I did before reading.

If you interpret creepy sex stuff here... you're not wrong!
from Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1 (art by John Paul Leon)

The art doesn't help. John Paul Leon's art for the flashbacks is nice and stylistic, but sometimes cold and hard to follow. Tom Raney's art for the present-day narrative, on the other hand, is often awkward, and his Natasha looks younger and more girly than Leon's in the flashbacks, which seems... misjudged.

Also, what mediocre faces!
from Black Widow: Deadly Origin #3 (art by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna)

My favorite part was when Natasha breaks into a Russian bunker to acquire some secret information, and all the young guys in the bunker are so excited to be defeated by her they just tell her everything she needs to know, and toast her with champagne as she leaves. The inclusion of Cornell's original pitch, including his editor's comments, is a nice bonus too.

Is it women's faces that trip him up? Faces drawn from angles? Something is always off, anyhow.
from Black Widow: Deadly Origin #2 (art by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna)

P.S. While writing this review, I came across this really nice review of the story from a feminist perspective on Fuck Yeah, Black Widow! A worthwhile read, and it helped clarify to this Black Widow novice what was preexisting continuity, and what was Paul Cornell's interpolation.

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