In "Fear Itself: The Black Widow," Natasha has been tasked with stopping a handful of terrorists from acquiring France's entire nuclear arsenal, while the world is busy elsewhere with the nightmare problems of 'Fear Itself.' Peregrine is along for the ride, although he doesn't get to do much. Frankly, neither does Natasha.
While this issue starts powerfully with Natasha strapped to a chair and not only facing certain death, but apparently killed; it then jumps back in time to show us how we got to that point. The requisite action and hero-versus-villain dialogue ensues. In the end, when we return to the apparently dead or dying Natasha, the plot cheats us out of an interesting story by giving us a handy deus ex machina.
When you start a book with a jump forward in time to get to the inciting incident, and then backpedal into the less interesting part of the story, when you come back around to that inciting incident, it really better pay off, or you've got problems. When "The Black Widow" comes back around to its inciting incident, readers are then delivered an eye-rolling deus ex machina like cheat that in any movie-theater would illicit vocal groans.
Though Natasha is written well enough overall by Cullen Bunn, in general the story is heavy handed, full of wordy narration balloons, and leaning far too heavily on telling rather than showing. That's a particularly hard sin to bear in comics writing, especially when you have a reasonable artist at your disposal, and this fails badly in that way. Overall it's a throwaway story that does not tie significantly enough into the rest of the 'Fear Itself' crossover, in which you learn nothing about your characters. . . except that Natasha apparently has access to a Life Model Decoy.
Peter Nguyen's art is interesting and, while a bit inconsistent, I found some nice surprises, particularly in the handling of Natasha herself. For a character that artists tend to skew heavily towards cheesecake, it's a nice surprise to see Natasha rendered as svelte and quick, with her costume reasonably unzipped. She's gorgeous as can be of course, but there's a restraint that makes her feel like a superhero rather than a supermodel, which is a nice change. Some of Nguyen's villains are surprisingly well considered for people we're likely to never see again, and the story is easy to follow and reasonably well paced.
Unfortunately, if you're not reading a lot of 'Fear Itself' then the final page, I suspect meant to have serious impact, is mostly lost on you. That, paired with the eye-rolling deus ex machina device makes for a real let down of an ending. On the heels of Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna doing wonderful, very smart, very beautiful things with Natasha in her short-lived "Black Widow" series last year, I've become a big fan of Natasha. It's a shame to see her wasted in such a throwaway tale.