“Black Widow” #8 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto feels even more haunted than usual, suffused with melancholia and the specters of what-might-have-beens. Natasha’s present has been dominated by her past. In this short piece, it’s not her guilt that fuels the engine of the story, but loss, even if the reader carries the burden of recognizing her loss. The issue is the saddest so far in tone.
The Winter Soldier makes an appearance, and the plot involving a train heist is just a MacGuffin to get Bucky and Natasha on the same page, so that he can be torn by longing, while she remains oblivious. The recap page at the front tells the reader all there is to know — Bucky remembers their old relationship while Natasha does not. The rest is just a play of emotions. Selective amnesia is found in nature less often than lottery winners, but it’s a useful plot device, especially for romance. Edmondson isn’t responsible for this part of Black Widow’s origin, but he plays it up for some sweet but awkward interactions, leaning heavily on what isn’t said vs. what is said to achieve an effect of unrequited love. “Black Widow” #8 is largely a relationship vehicle to give the reader another snapshot of who Natasha is now.
The subplot with Isaiah is stronger, with a lot more substance and just as much atmosphere in a lot fewer pages. He’s an interesting new character and his deadpan quips provide the only lightening humor in “Black Widow” #8. Isaiah’s an unusual sidekick and a foil to Black Widow, and the mystery of his own character development adds suspense to loosely tie the larger storyline together.
All the action in “Black Widow” #8 feels quiet, even when it might better with some noise. It’s not the anatomy, since Noto’s foreshortening and composition are exceptional. It’s the hushed quality of the linework and coloring. Noto’s visuals are best at making stillness and silence memorable, whether the scene is dramatic or mundane. The full page spread of Black Widow aerially cutting across Prague cityscape in sunlit chalklike white and sky blue is gorgeous, as is the quiet third of a doorframe that Isaiah passes though, rendered mysterious and luminous by yellow street lights and thread-thin paths of light rain falling across a glistening brass doorknob.
The setting, the train and all the guns and shooting are just window dressing, though. Bucky and Natasha’s team-up is less about their compatible abilities and much more about the tension between Bucky’s intact recollections vs. Natasha’s rewritten memory. It’s a teaser, and the reader might feel an echo of Bucky’s frustration. Fans who want to see real espionage action will be disappointed at the lack of substance to the action, since it’s just a backdrop to Natasha and Bucky’s non-reunion. That’s one of the flaws of “Black Widow” as a series so far. The connective tissue runs only through the character and not through any of the action. While Natasha can handle the spotlight and the weight, all the action feels thin because it’s just a mirror to her soul. The plot of “Black Widow” would benefit if it was less interior exploration.
Although Edmondson’s narrative approach has drawbacks, it succeeds in its goals. “Bitter Cold” is aptly named, from Noto’s white-and-blue color choices to Natasha’s words in the last panel that reinforce two losses, from past and present, that make her yet more alone.