Black Widow: The Itsy-Bitsy Spider
What makes Natasha Romanov so special? Yelena Belova can’t see it. And her inability to comprehend Nat boils her blood. Yelena had the same Red Room training and high marks, but her superiors dismissed her as a second fiddle. With The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, the second Black Widow races to prove her worth by slaughtering the assassin who stole her spotlight.
Writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G. Jones craft a heated action throwdown. It’s only three issues, and it reads like just one. The pages rip through your fingers as the two agents tear into each other. Natasha was our first Black Widow, and naturally, we root for her, but Yelena’s determination gives the comic its energy. When the chips fall, you might be surprised at what side your feelings land on.
Secret Avengers: Reverie
The Avengers are great and all, but sometimes their hearts are too big. Captain America is a Boy Scout. He doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. When certain missions require a little extra muck, Nick Fury’s kid (who looks a lot like Samuel L. Jackson) calls in the Secret Avengers. This roster includes Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, Winter Soldier, Maria Hill, and Phil Coulson. These folks already have a little red on their ledger, so they can afford to add more.
In Reverie, their latest mission requires an even meaner brawler, Taskmaster. The mercenary mimic, who appears in the Black Widow movie, has the ability to copy any fighting style he observes. That means finding a hero to best him can be quite challenging. He’s the kind of enemy you’d rather have as a friend, but can even our most morally gray heroes accept a rogue on their side?
Taskmaster: The Rubicon Trigger
The Taskmaster you find in the Black Widow movie bears almost no resemblance to the one in the comics. The movie version is more Terminator than the skull-faced talkative comic book weirdo. And that’s okay. This is not the first time Marvel Studios has taken some serious liberties to de-goof a villain (see also, Batroc the Leaper). What we get onscreen is pretty cool, but maybe a touch less interesting.
The mimic mercenary appears like pure nightmare fuel, but his runaway mouth usually gets in the way of whatever fear he should produce. Taskmaster has watched a lot of Stallone. He appreciates a good one-liner a bit too much. But, as you will read in The Rubicon Trigger, that juxtaposition is what makes the character so mesmerizing. We know he could just let his mask do his work, but he’s ignorant of its power. He’s gotta open that gob. And what falls out from it brings joy to us. He’s a dope. Yes, a mean one, but a dope nonetheless.
Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition Volume 1
Greg Rucka has written several Marvel storylines, including a few Black Widow comics. However, his finest achievement in espionage fiction happens in his Queen & Country series, published by Oni Press. Numerous artists illustrate the story, bringing a slew of varying styles, but the characters remain true through every issue.
The story centers on SIS field agent Tara Chase, the best brawler Britain’s MI6 has to offer. Operating in a post-9/11 world, she galivants across the planet, killing those who need to be killed and protecting Her Majesty’s secrets. The job eats at her soul, but she knows nothing else. Queen & Country is a comic where you worry less and less about the plots as your concern drills down on Chase’s crumbling psychology. Tara is Natasha Romanov if she could ever pull one leg out of the Marvel Comics aesthetic.
I’ve recommended Velvet before. But sometimes, a comic is just so damn good you can’t shut up about it. Written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by his Captain America compatriot, Steve Epting, Velvet is the James Bond comic you wanted after Moneypenny got a little more screentime in Spectre. Once upon a time, the titular hero was planted behind a desk and asked not to play spy anymore. Then, her ex-lover is killed in the field, and she ditches the desk for vengeance. Also, she finds herself caught in a bit of a frame-up.
Velvet is a slick comic book. Epting’s art is gorgeous, and Brubaker’s dimestore paperback sensibilities drag the pretty pictures into the mud. If you’re looking for Black Widow comics that are cranked to eleven, Velvet provides. There are no punches pulled here, and the story is satisfyingly told in one complete volume. You may want more, but you don’t need more.
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