Yet another tribute to Phil Noto’s talent, “Black Widow” #13 is a gloriously colored, beautifully framed issue. Whereas last month found Natasha enjoying the calm before the storm, issue #13 dives into the consequences of Chaos’ scoop to Anderson Cooper and Isaiah’s injuries. Writer Nathan Edmondson is still more interested in getting inside Natasha’s head than getting into the groove of the Chaos storyline, but “Black Widow” remains an undeniably beautiful, absorbingly atmospheric book.
Edmondson fully embraces the metaphor of autumn in this issue, giving Natasha captions about nostalgia, changing seasons and “leaves like fire…and blood.” Noto also goes full-on fall foliage, with vibrant orange and red leaves that swallow up whole panels in impressionistic fire. Noto’s color palette also rather brilliantly literalizes the script. When Natasha sets off a bomb in a wooded cemetery, there’s barely any color difference between the leaves and the explosion.
Colors aside, Noto also impresses with his framing. He uses viewpoint to emphasize Natasha’s emotional engagement or detachment. When she goes on the hunt, almost all the panels are above or below eye-level — over someone’s shoulder, above their head, behind their back. When she’s at Isaiah’s beside, on the other hand, Noto frames the characters’ faces directly. It’s a smart, subtle illustration of Natasha’s mindset.
Edmonson also shows greater subtlety in this issue. One of the failings of “Black Widow” thus far has been that Natasha does so much telling. She narrates rather directly about her introspections and feelings, whereas conventional wisdom and my own reading experience hold that we’d rather see characters show us their layers. However, in this issue Edmondson uses Natasha’s obvious exposition quite well. The contrast between her stated desires — “I just want to know if I’ve changed” — and the way she actually behaves is fascinating. She wants to do things differently, but as soon as the situation gets tough, she reverts to her old favorite solution: violence.
It’s shown as an understandable choice, but Edmondson doesn’t let his protagonist off the hook. When she tries to pass her actions off as retribution for Isaiah’s near-death, Isaiah himself calls her out: “Don’t you dare act like what you’re doing is for me.” In this way, the issue complicates Natasha’s quest for atonement. Wanting to atone may not be enough — she must also be emotionally capable of it, and by calling her capability into question, Edmondson ups the series’ stakes.
Clayton Cowles’ lettering is still the perfect match between utility and creativity. There are few letterers who could make red captions for Black Widow feel nuanced and effective, but I love this choice more and more each issue. They worked especially well with the colors this month, adding a third layer to the autumn metaphor. Cowles is also getting better at working with Noto’s framing, and he adds some nice mobility to the text-heavy panels.
Altogether, “Black Widow” continues to provide a lovely reading experience. I can’t say the plot has me riveted month-to-month, but every time I open an issue, I’m completely absorbed.