Black Widow finds herself entangled in Chaos’ web once again after Rashid, once the object of a rescue mission, turns against her and kidnaps her lawyer Isaiah. With the odds stacked against her, Natasha enlists the help of Laura Kinney — better known as X-23, Wolverine’s clone — for a not-so-covert op to recover him. In “Black Widow” #11, Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto offer a study in style with a spectacular team up that is as profound as it is action-packed.
Although its circumstances are left to one vague throwaway line, the pairing of Black Widow and X-23 makes a lot of sense from a storytelling perspective: both lost their childhoods to secret weapons programs, performed morally questionable services throughout their adolescence, and eventually turned hero while struggling with the sins of their pasts. Rather than engage in a philosophical debate over the direction their lives have taken them, however, Edmondson leaves the connection implicit and lets them do what they do best (hint: it isn’t very nice). He even forgoes Natasha’s usual narrative voice for this issue, splitting the story evenly between Natasha and Laura, as they discuss their objectives and ultimately the turnout as equals. This decision works wonders for the subtle compare/contrast element that Edmondson sets up and Noto carries to fruition.
Phil Noto is the true star of this issue. Both Laura and Natasha aren’t big talkers, so Noto shoulders a lot of the story in their silence — and he pulls it off magnificently. He particularly excels in action, highlighting the difference in their fighting styles; where Black Widow dresses up in her signature black leather body suit complete with gadgets, X-23 dresses down, removing her jewelry and shoes in preparation for her much more primal method of attack. X-23 is open and direct, throwing her full body at her targets, with a wonderful red overlay that emphasizes her berserker rage; Black Widow opts for a stealthier route through the window with careful planning and execution. Seeing them on a page together is an absolute treat, emphasizing their individual techniques while proving them to be equally effective. Their teamwork — like an elaborate dance — is a wonder to behold under Noto’s guidance.
Noto also puts a lot into the finer details of the issue, keeping a close eye on continuity through thoughtful attention, like Laura’s shirt maintaining its bullet holes. His pencils, though they continue to be soft, seem to be one iota darker than in previous issues, which improves the overall clarity of these details. He brings a further distinction between Natasha and Laura to light through his coloring choices, keeping Laura in a loosely fitting, soft blue tank and pants when Natasha swaps out for her usual black outfit.
“Black Widow” #11 is a gorgeous piece of art. Though soft spoken, its subtlety and deft execution will yield more and more nuance with each reread. Nevertheless, the sprawling nature of this arc — and the mystery behind Chaos, which only becomes even more steeped in ambiguity in this issue — is starting to grow a little wearisome and frustrating. With more answers and less questions, “Black Widow” could get even stronger going forward.