God of Comics – Black Widow: No Restraints Play
We’ve built a graveyard out of the trust our children had in us.
It’s been an ongoing effort wherein we’ve dismissed the very real injuries of some while being dismissive of the crimes of others. It’s been going on for a while.
If you ignore them they will go away, lie parents and teachers that don’t want to deal with a very real problem. A boy has his ribs broken in school, has his shirt set on fire while he’s wearing it, and the administration does nothing. The minute he fights back, though, that same administration is ready to support the kid that was trying to break his ribs with a hammer. If you ignore them, they go away… but only after they’ve done their damage. It’s the last part they never dare to speak aloud.
Boys will be boys, scream children masquerading as adults. The only emotion they know how to express is anger. Meanwhile, a girl is raped and told to be quiet because her rapists are part of a football team. A girl is raped and her rapist is given a slap on the wrist because he comes from a very good family, or is a good swimmer, or any excuse that is handy. Those children claiming to be men smile and slap one another on the back and dare to ask, Well, what was she wearing?
Never again is the mantra that came out of the holocaust when the world discovered what the Nazis had done. Never again is the lie ICE agents tell one another as they rape kids, the promise Mitch McConnell makes as he gerrymanders and rigs systems and bankrupts the state he supposedly represents in favor of his rich friends, is what the rich friends of the pedophile Epstien tell one another when they discuss the Panama Papers.
This is the world we live in.
We tell one another that this is just the way the world is, as if this is all perfectly normal and natural and expected, but the truth is we invent these systems. They’re nothing more than stories we use to make some sense of our world and our place in it; we can change this and make this world better for everyone, but getting there means looking at the ugliness the world has to offer because you can’t change something if you ignore it – it just festers down below the surface, getting worse and worse, a cancerous boil in the collective human soul.
How can stories save us? It depends on the storyteller.
Jen and Sylvia Soska are twins from Canada (hell, they live up the street from me) who got sick of dealing with a host of problems and decided to go into business for themselves. Their first effort was a low budget movie about the hopeful nihilism that plagues our generation and the environmental corruptive apathy we’re forced to navigate. It was pretty good. Their second was an exploration of exploitation, of crime and expectation and desperation, but also identity and dignity and righteous, righteous anger twisted into something terrible. It was fantastic. They followed that up with an incredible slasher flick that operated as a meditation on the inevitability of death and an ambitious tale of systemic corruption that was brilliantly directed and acted but faltered on a weak script.
They’ve written comics before but this is the first time someone’s given them license to just run with a concept, and they’ve done something incredible, telling the best Black Widow story Marvel’s put out since the fabled Nathan Edmondson run. The Widow herself was a solid b-list villain from the Cold War, a femme fatale Soviet superspy who became a solid b-list hero when she defected to the Avengers way back when and suddenly found herself as an a-lister because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Her real name is Natasha Romanov. She’s a badass mostly-normal human woman who was given top tier spy training in a place called the Red Room. She’s multi-lingual, a master tactician, an incredible actress and fighter who specializes in stealth and counter-interrogation and intelligence. She stands shoulder-to-shoulder with mutants and gods, accepted as an equal because of her very impressive skill-set and a mentality that makes her one of the most dangerous people in comics.
When she’s written well she’s a more lethal James Bond as envisioned by Ian Fleming; a tough self-reliant operator who can go anywhere and belong. She’s a force of nature held together by guilt and anger, trusting few and capable of anything.
She died in Marvel’s last big stupid event thing and then got better because comics. Here, she starts working with Captain America and we get him written as the lawful good paragon of legit righteousness. He’s a prop to set her up and send her off, a first issue that tells you immediately what this story is about: a better world worth fighting for, a world so many people want to tear apart for the lolz, and that sometimes terrible things need to be done to terrible people to make the world better.
And all the things that I talked about at the beginning of this article? That’s what Black Widow is fighting in this story, a systemic issue of very rich people enabling atrocities and thinking their souls are clean because they’re not the ones holding the knives, pulling the triggers, thinking that being a voyeur to horror and giving that horror approval somehow makes you better than the festering soul-rot they cultivate and unleash in others, all while deflecting blame from themselves. Here’s a scapegoat, they say. They always say that, offering a bauble or a distraction or a prince to take the fall. It almost always works.
Black Widow is made of sterner stuff and is not so easily distracted. She will hold them to account in the most visceral way possible because as a good person, you cannot do less. There’s nuance, sure, and various shades of gray in our increasingly complex world, but if you torture kids and/or allow kids to be tortured, then you deserve anything that someone like Nat can bring you. This is a story of rage, of Natasha finding those responsible and holding them to account. Jen and Sylvia urge us to do the same: fight evil where and how we can to the best of our ability.
This tale plays to all of Nat’s strengths, featuring some sleuthing, a lot of action, and a heart desperate to make good. It’s about kids going missing and showing up in Dark Web torture videos being watched by people with more wealth than sense, people that never learned that their actions have consequences. She’s played with and betrayed as she delves deeper into the madness, looking for those responsible, thinking that the victims she cannot save may never recover.
It’s the biggest trick the Soskas pull, and a minor spoiler: Natasha is an icon for people tortured and left broken, proof that shattered souls can still do incredible good. It bookends the tale, Nat visiting Cap after she’s done all she can with a renewed sense of purpose: he can fight in the light while she navigates the shadows, he creating a better world while she finds those that would stop him. There would be no place for her in the world they’re working to build, she thinks, but that world is a process and her work will never be complete.
She’s okay with that. Those that feel that sort of debt almost always are.
Clayton Crain handles cover art duties and he’s as good as he ever is here – clean lines and hard action, preparing you for what you’re going to find inside. Flaviano handles the art inside the book and they use thicker lines for emphasis, high expressive movement and expressions lending weight to a visceral tale and illustrating the horror without being exploiting it for cheap shock. There’s beauty here, and an impressive use of shadow that plays well with Veronica Gandini’s bright colors. Your eye follows the story and what needs to stay with you does, making for a dynamic and engaging experience that’s hard to put down and will stick with you after you do. VC’s Joe Caramagna handles lettering duties, and there’s a reason that dude is everywhere in the industry – he’s a master of subtle emphasis, of flawlessly distancing word and art so you get the best of both.