Black Widow Comic Review: The Tragic Ties That Bind
Spoilers for Black Widow #1-7
Written by: Kelly Thompson
Art by: Elena Casagrande
Coloring by: Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by: VC’s Cory Petit
Black Widow can be a bit of a cold character. That makes sense; she’s a superspy who was kidnapped, brainwashed, and trained to be a killer from a young age. Why would you be anything more than cold?
Then there are times when she’s made out to be the sympathetic one of the Avengers. Sometimes this feels like pretty open sexism, where the one female character has to be the ‘mom’ of the group. That never made sense to me considering her aforementioned origin.
For this reason, it always felt difficult for me to come to grips with several characterizations for Black Widow. If she’s too warm, it feels disingenuous and distant from her origin story. If she’s cold, it makes sense, but it makes her a little unlikeable in the hands of some writers. Some try to find this space in between, and she comes off as either inconsistent or a bit psychopathic. Sometimes that inconsistency is worked into her character being a superspy who’s always acting. Pick your own favorite versions I guess.
This all leaves me feeling like I don’t actually know Natasha Romanov. As unsatisfying as that is as a reader and fan, it feels strangely fitting. It makes sense for a superspy to wear identities like other people do hats.
Now with this new run, the creative team seems to be tackling that. They give a clear and explained answer as to why Natasha’s personality has changed, why it will stay changed, along with giving her a clear goal that she may or may not ever reach.
This isn’t an entirely new idea, I just never expected it to be so tragic.
Black Widow: A Tragic Hero
I used to make long 20 minutes videos about how characters can be considered tragic heroes. I did that four times, two of which have barely any views, and one of which was later taken down.
The reason I point this out is because the creative team runs through the gambit of a bunch of tragic hero’s traits to create the emotionally destroying tale we have here, and the new status quo going forward. She hasn’t necessarily gone through them all just yet. It’s more that so far with issues #7 & #8, it feels like we can predict what they might be.
The Spider’s Web
The first three issues are surprisingly slow, but also not. Many people might get turned off by how the creative team rips the Black Widow out of her superspy element and plunges her into a domestic life. I get it, how many times can we see a hero lose their memories? How many times can we see them wake up in a perfect life that’s clearly not real?
At the same time, have you ever heard the saying, “Sure, it’s been written before, but not by you?” I like that phrase, it convinces me not to give up on my own writing, and I hope all writers hear it if they need it. I’m glad the creative team didn’t decide to do something else with an old trope because they really nailed it.
They spent the time turning Natasha into Natalie, creating a life we would envy. There’s a world out there where the Black Widow can be happy, small life, and have it not feel small. Too often, these plot devices can feel condescending. It’s not uncommon for an audience to treat the hero’s time under the veil as nothing more than build-up to their eventual return.
Not here, Natasha’s life as Natalie is treated with respect, realism, and honesty. Why wouldn’t she eventually want a quiet life? At the same time, of course, the Black Widow is going to eke out. They are both respectable paths of life, and the fact that one isn’t meant to last doesn’t take away from it either.
The Widow’s Anagnorisis
But of course, the good life is taken away, in what feels like Black Widow’s Anagnorisis. The anagnorisis is the great reveal or revelation in the hero’s story. Obviously, the reveal is that her perfect life isn’t real, and a lot of her memories with her family are fake.
She was always going to figure out that her life isn’t real eventually. This good life was never going to last because the Marvel Universe isn’t merciful like that.
But the moment Natasha comes out of the illusion, she doesn’t drop the husband and child she was brainwashed into loving. Too often, once the gig is up, the hero will drop the happy life completely. They need a character arc to accept it, and that’s when the character appears at their worst.
Instead, Black Widow becomes her best. Not only does she have all of her skill, will, and cunning, but she has something to use it for rather than the arbitrary greater good. It’s a simple idea, giving Black Widow a family to protect, but this series makes it work with every issue.
Sadly, the family has to go in a way. And when her family is taken away, but their part of her soul remains with Black Widow, we have a true Peripeteia for the character.
The Dream’s Peripeteia
The peripeteia, for those who don’t know, is the reversal of fate that the hero experiences. If going from having your family safe with you to needing them to run away, never to see them again, isn’t a reversal of fate then I don’t know what is.
Again, here we have the creative team using one of the oldest tropes in the book; having the hero’s family forced away, ‘never to be seen again.’ And of course, it’s meant for their protection, because the hero’s enemies would never stop coming for them.
The worst thing is that hits like a truck. Black Widow has had a lot of red in her ledger, and if you’re the kind of person who believes that red can be undone then you should believe that Black Widow has certainly undone it. You should believe that she deserves a good life.
I almost want to curse the name of the creatives for making me care about this new husband and son, for creating this perfect life for Natasha, only to rip away, because then I wouldn’t be experiencing the emotions that come with the hero’s catharsis.
The Audience’s Catharsis
In the journey of the tragic hero, the catharsis is the feelings of pity and fear that the audience feels for the protagonist after their downfall.
I more than feel a little pity and fear. I feel pity watching the mask of the Black Widow fall, and Natasha’s knees give way. Seeing her accept but also break at knowing she’ll never see her son again is heartbreaking.
I’m not saying I don’t think those characters will come back. They will without a doubt as long as this team gets to finish her run. That doesn’t change the fact that the characters don’t know that. Natasha doesn’t know what we inherently know as veteran readers. We have to watch her fall apart and put herself back together.
I feel this pit in my chest, fearing the off chance that Natasha may end this series without being able to have her husband and son at her side again. It makes me want to take up drinking because I do love this happiness for her, but alas if she has it, we don’t have this story, and we don’t see Black Widow develop her hamartia.
The Spy’s Hamartia
The hamartia is the hero’s tragic flaw that causes the downfall of a hero. We’re only one arc and a half in, so I don’t know what Black Widow’s flaw is, but I have a prediction. Right now, heading into the second arc, the Black Widow has thrown herself headfirst into being a street-level hero.
She’s pulling a Daredevil and claiming a city as her turf, a place she will personally protect herself. It will help her mourn her lost life, but also grow as a hero rather than a spy. While she does this, we see her coming to use a newfound ability to trust. She had to trust in her family before, which was something she did or didn’t do depending on the writer before now.
But I feel this becoming the hamartia that will lead to her downfall because she’s consistently inconsistent with it. She doesn’t trust her sister and side character Yelena, with the full truth of her plans until after they’re set in motion. She doesn’t let her new tag along make many decisions for herself.
Yet, she trusts them, and an old Spider-girl, to work by her rules and succeed in her operation. She appears to have total faith in them but doesn’t appear to trust them enough to agree to with her decisions. I see this coming to bite her in the butt as the series goes on, and revealing a bit of the hubris behind the Black Widow.
The Hero’s Hubris
Hubris is excessive pride and disrespect for the natural order of things, which I’m sure most people have a basic understanding of. Black Widow’s hubris could arguably be the same as, or at least definitely connected to her forming hamartia.
By not trusting anyone else on her plans, she displays the belief that only she knows what she’s doing. It’s more apparent by how she disapproves of Yelena’s desire to train their new recruit.
If Natasha doesn’t learn from this mistake, she’ll find her hubris and hamartia used against her by her eventual nemesis.
The Black Widow’s Nemesis
The nemesis is the misfortune that a protagonist cannot avoid, usually due to retribution of their hubris or hamartia. This is the one part of this new Black Widow run where I have no real prediction on what this would be. The other parts of a tragic hero have come and gone, but this one has yet to appear.
Maybe it won’t and Black Widow won’t end up being a tragic hero.
Read Black Widow’s Latest Tale of Suspense
You should start reading the current Black Widow series. Not only to find out if she becomes a tragic hero but if she gets to see her family again. Will she ever get Stevie and James back, and then if she does, will she still deserve her perfect life?
She’s about to become the kind of hero she hasn’t been before in recent memory. One who sets up roots and cares for one place and its people with all she has. I can’t help but feel as if Natasha Romanov is trying to create a safe place for her family. It would be a good goal for this series to work towards in my opinion. So, suffice to say I’m beyond interested to see if and how it gets there.
Even if you haven’t cared for Black Widow before, give this series a chance. Pick it up once you’re done thinking about the movie, and check out what I think of the series’ newest issue.