Black Widow #2

Following their smash-hit debut issue, "Black Widow" scribes Chris Samnee and Mark Waid don't let up on the throttle. In issue #2, ex-KGB assassin (and now ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent) Natasha Romanov shines in stealth mode as she silently eliminates an entire squad of mercenaries in the confines of a cemetery.

But this is no ordinary cemetery. Samnee and Waid reveal that former director Nick Fury established this as the final resting place for S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and its occupants are buried in graves marked only by numbers to preserve their anonymity. The creators remind us that she is one of the Marvel Universe's finest hand-to-hand combatants as she employs a variety of lethal methods to dispatch a whole squadron of mercs. Like the debut issue, Waid and Samnee showcase action over speech, and the smart script expands the scope of Natasha's dynamic physical skills even as the writers allow her to communicate intent via motion. Their "action speaks louder than words" approach requires readers to absorb the subtleties of Samnee's well-plotted art.

Though Natasha's eventual capture doesn't stop the action, Samnee and Waid explore another part of her skill set as she engages in a pointed conversation with Patch Liev, "The Weeping Lion," a Russian agent who orchestrated her current predicament. When he presents her with files containing information she believed destroyed long ago, the writers remind us that the Black Widow is more than just a living weapon; gathering intelligence is also her specialty. Ultimately, Widow is conscripted into Patch Liev's service. This juicy plot device will likely exploit the wide range of her talents and should hopefully have explosive results as the story races forward.

While this issue contains more character exposition than the first, Samnee's art once again conveys much of the story itself. The gloom of the rainy funeral masks the presence of the mercenaries via Samnee's thick inks and Matthew Wilson's dark colors, which are only interrupted by reds from the shock of Widow's red hair and the moments where she kills the "amateurs." Samnee displays her deep concentration and determination of purpose at the funeral through her eyes, so don't skip the wordless panels or you'll miss some thoughtful character development.

Widow's scene with Patch Liev offers more light, more dialogue and more emotion as she is visibly shaken by the file's contents. It's here that Waid and Samnee show her as defiant, but defeated -- or, at least, it seems like defeat when she agrees to his terms; this is the Black Widow, though, so I doubt the Weeping Lion comprehends the trouble he's just created for himself.

Samnee and Waid are off to a fantastic start with this irresistible take on espionage. Yes, they're dusting off the "agent goes rogue" notion, but -- with Black Widow's combination of stealthy brawn and tactical smarts -- they're placing a lethal and cunning spin on the idea.

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