Left in inexperienced hands, crossovers fail. They overwhelm the reader with a feeling like they threw a party and everyone they knew actually showed up, but now they’re left wondering how the hell is this going to work? When it comes to crossovers Edmondson succeeds like a Victorian-era calling-card mastermind. His guests aren’t invites to please others or to include popular faces to gain attention, they’re clever as all hell. Daredevil, Black Widow’s almost forever love if he wasn’t so self-righteous; Winter Soldier, if he wasn’t so manipulated to be less of a person to love; and now Punisher are showing up to aid Black Widow for a reason.
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Illustrated by Phil Noto
Last time we left Natasha, she was working off-record with S.H.I.E.L.D to uncover CHAOS and discover how the hell they were able to explode a key-witness on S.H.I.E.L.D’s headquarters. Natasha has found an untraceable oil tanker close to Costa Rica, a hint, and a friend who shows up in the nick of time it takes to be too close to a bomb…
In “Black Widow” #9, it’s the Punisher’s turn to grace the panels to fight the forces of CHAOS with Natasha. But her question, like ours, is whether his efforts helped her at all. It’s as unclear to us as it is to her, and that is all of the point and ten times more of the fun with this arc. Edmondson is forcing the reader to become as skeptical at this revolving door of “help.” He is letting the cameos become uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unexplained. Edmondson is adding layers upon layers of mistrust in our trust in who we think is showing up, and why they want to help Natasha.
(“Punisher” #9 can divulge more of his motives to those into the feisty marine.)
In one panel we hear Natasha admit, “…friend or foe? With my luck? It’s not a real question,” and she’s right. In her line of work that isn’t a question at all. That’s a distinction that she’s never had the privilege to make for herself, and as readers we shouldn’t view any of her relationships as otherwise; doing so would misconstrue our ability to discern characters from their token roles or the roles that they play within Natasha’s life, and the roles she’s always played in their stories. We see how Daredevil could patronize her, and how the Winter Soldier would die for her, and how the Punisher would trust a spy like her — and now we see how she reacts.
Up until this point in her story, Black Widow was choosing to listen to others — leaving San Francisco, escaping a fight — but in this battle Natasha finally decides that she needs information, as it is information that keeps her truly safe. And she gets some. That’s really all Black Widow can ever hope to receive. Of course, the cameos also provide a counter-function. We need to feel skeptical of an onslaught of outsiders swooping in, distracting us in order to miss the character in Natasha’s story who has given all he has without conditions to his employer.
Noto’s artwork sweeps and soars to new heights in “Black Widow” #9. Playing to his cinematic strength, Noto throws the reader into the story’s urgency. We are literally dropped from the sky and sneak on board to an uncharted vessel sailing off-grid. As token Noto-style, we see the same microscopic details that only Black Widow could notice as she sneaks upon the ship. Noto paints as if he has a blueprint of Natasha’s mind on hand, and maybe he does. Maybe that’s why we feel as if we know the scene and the setup as intimately as we do without needing much telling to get us there.
Balanced with backdrops of dark palettes and shadows of uncertainty, we are blurred into an impressionistic mystery. Only Noto could continue to make a dodge of a bullet feel like a cross between Manet and James M. Cain. The action is clear, precise, but always stops to linger on Natasha’s reddened nose, or the squint of eyes, or — god help us — her furrowed brow; in doing so, Noto reminds us that she is processing what we can’t.Continued below
By the last panel we see the face (a breathless rendition) that all previous issues had hid from us so well — the face of Natasha’s fear — and we don’t want to leave her. But, fittingly, this issue closes right where we’d expect Natasha to open up to us dear readers.
Through Edmondson’s minimal writing and Noto’s clear vision, we have nothing left to do but trust Natasha, and as the feelings of new and old alliances shifting heightens in her story we are left with only that to hold onto tightly; we aren’t privileged to know anyone else as well as Black Widow asks us to question (as she does) whether or not knowing someone is possible. Clayton Cowles also helps us view the scene through his generous spacing of dialogue and insights from Natasha, allowing us to fully process each hint or glimmer into Natasha’s thoughts that the story lets us in on like the gifts of humanity they are.
Final Verdict: 9.2 – Well done; Black Widow offers nothing but an issue to run through full throttle without your permission and leaves you wondering why all the pretty pictures went away with your heart and ammunition