A True Understanding
Sadly, Natasha has been given quite the shove in recent memory. She has made mostly minor appearances in other comic books, and the only reason she has been given more attention recently is due to her portrayal in Iron Man 2. I am a loyal fan of the Black Widow and I was satisfied with her character in Iron Man 2, as it carried most of the prominent characteristics that Black Widow fans should expect. Regardless, this dedicated series was a long time coming, and I believe Majorie Liu has seriously repaid the debt owed to Black Widow.
As with all of my reviews, I do not delve into the plot. I will be analyzing what made this an incredibly impressive read.
I am a huge fan of all things spy. Espionage, black market dealings, covert operations; the mention of such things gets me excited. Majorie Liu delivered exactly this. What most writers forget is, at heart, Black Widow is a spy; not a superhero. Of course, as Clint Barton remarks in Black Widow: Deadly Origin: "Being a super hero is what saved you". That may very well be true, but Natasha thrives when she operates amongst the shadows, not being held back by politics and bureaucracy. Liu immediately established that this is not a predictable run with the Black Widow; this is deadly serious. From back alley brawls, brazen moonlight assassination attempts to shockingly confronting abuse, this is the stuff of true spy literature. This is real.
As a writer myself, I know that, if a scene shocks you as you are writing it, then you are on the right track. Shocking scenes often are the stepping stones to greater emotional connections with characters. The horrible surgery scene(s) are shocking enough. I won't spoil it, but let me simply state that your respect for Natasha will undoubtedly double after reading those scenes. Majorie should be commended for taking a daring leap such as that, as comic books are often restricted by their ratings (shockingly, the rating was only T+, which raised my eyebrow). Make no mistake, I love confronting stories. Not everything is fluffy and warming, especially in the world of the Black Widow.
One other exceptional talent Majorie Liu has expressed is her narration skills. Having read the entire Name of the Rose story arc, her narration standard does not drop a single point. Liu perfectly crafts an efficient and oddly transparent mind for Natasha. Liu highlights what Natasha holds dear, and just how incredibly mature the woman is. I say this truthfully, if the entire volume was just a Black Widow history lesson, I would be more than satisfied. That is how engaging Majorie's writing ability is.
Finally, and an achilles heel for many writers today, Majorie has done her homework. Not just on Natasha, but the relationship with other characters she bears. The three special guests are Tony Stark, Logan and James Barnes; all three of whom have very close ties with Natasha. I was highly impressed by the level of heart Natasha shows when she is speaking with Bucky, as it respects Ed Brubaker's work. If you are unsure what I am talking about, I encourage you to read my James Barnes Blog where I go into greater detail regarding their relationship. Quite simply, I respect that Majorie Liu is willing to go as far as to have Natasha say 'I love you' to James. This seriously impresses me, as she has been following Brubaker's run and is paying respect to the bond that Brubaker has crafted between them.
Sadly, what prevents this comic from receiving five stars is the artwork. Daniel Acuna is an extremely hit and miss artist. There are portions where he perfectly crafts Natasha's face, highlighting the construction of her complexion and also detailing her wise eyes, but at the same time, he scrunches her face and makes her easily ignored. Acuna never seems to be able to reach a medium, his art work is either highly rewarding or poorly constructed. For example, the street-surgery scene was handled brilliant, and the different panels of Natasha's face was done with expert quality. Yet, the restaurant scene alongside James Barnes was horrible; Natasha was barely recognizable. I am not an artist, so I cannot comment on the procedure, but one does wonder how exactly can a character look perfect one moment, but then look completely horrid the next? Thankfully, the good art mostly outweighs the bad ... mostly.
All in all, regardless of whether or not you are a fan of the Black Widow, I highly recommend this series. Each issue is as captivating as the last, and Majorie Liu does not drop the ball at all. She perfectly handles every thought and motion of Natasha, and not only that, but she explores one of the most personal and emotional aspects of Natasha's shrouded past.