Natasha Romanoff has had a tough year. Originally solicited for April, and with her long-awaited self-titled movie still postponed to the vague future, Black Widow #1 finally makes its way to comic shops this week. Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande come out swinging with an intriguing, atmospheric mystery that lays the foundation for what will hopefully be a unique ongoing series.
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Elena Casagrande and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Every page of Kelly Thompson's script adds another piece to a central puzzle, offering up heaps of tiny little hooks to the big question mark that Black Widow #1 revolves around. It's a book that simmers throughout, moving at a steady pace as it slowly reveals its premise – evolving from a standard action spy tale into a mystery with tinges of romance.
Thompson plants us firmly inside Natasha's head with the interior monologue. This works well to highlight Black Widow's sarcastic sense of humor and the blasé way she treats life or death scenarios. When it cuts out at the half-way mark, it's immediately noticeable and helps to build those ever-present questions.
The script ratchets up the tension moment by moment, resulting in a new status quo that comes with a worrying lack of agency for the central character. Thompson's approach means that this isn't done without tact, even if its ultimate success hinges on future issues. Overall, this is a fresh take with potential.
Artist Elena Casagrande matches Thompson's mix of action and intrigue with stylish and emotive artwork. She relishes in the intensity of close-quarters combat, pulling us in close to witness the crunch. Her work is stylized in a happy mid-point between cartoon and realism, her true-to-life anatomy mixed with exaggerated portraits that accentuate the positives of both approaches. Casagrande's Black Widow in costume is a decidedly different character than when in civilian gear, her eyes seeming alien and cold at the issue's opening but warm and friendly by its end. It's the mark of a symbiotic creative team, working together to further the story.
Casagrande's work also understands the importance of blank space. Backgrounds are often sparse in detail to maintain focus on character drama and give colorist Jordie Bellaire room to breathe. Indeed, Casagrande's clean lines and thick inks prove an excellent base for Bellaire's clean colors, giving the page an almost cell-shaded tone.
Bellaire works with the plot, tinting the first half of the issue in red light. It's a dramatic choice that emphasizes the forms of the issue's combatants, a great accompaniment to Casagrande's Black Widow who moves through her bulky adversaries like a knife through butter. As the action subsides, Bellaire's palette moves to yellows, then blues and pinks before finally landing on vivid green. Bellaire elevates the themes of Thompson's script and the tone of Casagrande's artwork.
Cory Petit's lettering also complements Casagrande's and Bellaire's work. When Bellaire works in red, he sets FX in yellow, perfectly contrasting the heavy red and blacks of the issue. When Bellaire switches to yellow, Petit moves into red. It's the cherry atop an already gorgeous looking cake.
All in all, Black Widow #1 is an issue of complementary contrasts. Jordie Bellaire, as she so often seems to, steals the show here with effective use of color that cements the themes of the script and enriches the artwork. Elena Casagrande's style suits the issue's tone, taking center stage for action and hanging back when needed to let Thompson's dialogue shine through.
It can be difficult for a monthly ongoing to sustain tension through continuing mystery, but Kelly Thompson avoids the early pitfalls and establishes a solid base to build from. There's enough here that you won't feel cheated out of plot and character, even if you're left with more questions than when you started. Black Widow #1 is a visual treat and a compelling start for Marvel's favorite Russian.