The fourth issue of "Black Widow" finds Natasha's boring day on the job rudely interrupted by a whole heap of not-boring. As with its predecessors, this issue has a lot to recommend it. Nathan Edmondson's script is fast-paced and interesting, and artist Phil Noto produces absolutely lovely artwork. While "Black Widow" still needs to get a stronger sense of its narrator and its world in order to really excel, it's an excellent read.
Noto continues to deliver beautiful storytelling. With its softer look, his style is something of a surprise for a spy series, but it fits brilliantly. His Natasha is more willowy and delicate than lean and fierce, but she's no less impressive for that. The pencils give her face a hooded fragility that underscores the series' theme of atonement. Even when she's crowing "I've got him" and leaping across rooftops, she has an introspective, guarded look. In this issue, it's particularly effective in one sequence that shows her expression morph from panel to panel as she realizes that a bomb is about to go off.
This approach also draws the reader's eye to her face again and again. Just as Noto's lines underscore what the series is about, they also emphasize what Natasha herself is about. Though she's a punching and kicking firestorm just like any other hero, she's also first and foremost a spy. The reader's eye really should focus on her face, because facial expressions are a crucial part of the spy's toolkit -- a toolkit that that most of the other Avengers don't have.
The muted, watercolor-esque color palette also makes everything feel very covert. The colors are shadowed but non-threatening, as if everything is happening under the surface. Like the other elements of the art, the colors invite the reader to look closer and focus on the details. It makes for a very pretty, very fitting atmosphere of espionage.
With the script, Edmondson is still struggling to give his Natasha a distinct voice. She alternates between James Bond as a ginger, no-nonsense agent, and -- this issue's surprise -- a wryly disgruntled government employee. Now, a well-developed character could take on all of these voices, but so far neither the combination nor the individual voices sounds specifically hers. The script is still fun to read, and it's nice to see a Natasha who isn't one-note, but the most successful solo series feel more unique than this one has so far.
Cowles' work on letters knits everything together nicely. He's got a great eye for pacing, and he uses the placement of the captions and dialogue to either up the ante or slow the plot down. In all of the frenetic scenes, he places the captions far apart so that the reader's eye darts back and forth. It's a small effect, but it makes the scene feel faster.
"Black Widow" is getting stronger, and I'm excited to watch it grow into its voice. It's been a pleasure to pick up so far, and as the creative team gets deeper into Natasha's world, it should only get better.