Black Widow: The Name of the Rose Paperback – Jul 6 2011
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Prior to the launch of this series, Natasha has spent the last few years as a major supporting character in "Captain America" under the pen of Ed Brubaker (who now also writes her in the pages of "Secret Avengers"), and is now the girlfriend of the new Captain America, James "Bucky" Barnes. Natasha tends not to stay in one place for long, so her supporting cast is pretty much all other superheroes (Bucky, Wolverine, Iron Man, Hawkeye - all but Wolverine being current or ex-boyfriends), which Liu runs with here: a mysterious new presence appears on the scene, who exposes Natasha's secret data collection efforts and attempts to frame her as a spy (similar to the JLA "Tower of Babel" storyline, but refreshingly, Natasha's friends aren't surprised by this nor do they have a problem with it). Natasha's on the run, cut off for a time from her most reliable allies, and a number of prominent Marvel characters put in appearances, including Elektra and Lady Bullseye. Liu adds her own new episodes from Natasha's past as well. The final plot resolution isn't especially revelatory (Liu ultimately backs away from some new villain on a personal vendetta to bring in an old Avengers foe), but it's a good story nonetheless.
Every solo series needs a strong character voice for its lead, and Liu's greatest strength is giving Natasha a very good and recogizable one. She's a believable product of her decades of experiences, tough and extremely capable, compassionate but also not without a vengeful streak. And Liu writes her relationships, particularly with Bucky, very well; their romantic attachment and partnership as superheroes comes across very well. The various guest villain characters from the Marvel Universe are well-done, particularly Lady Bullseye in her first appearance outside a "Daredevil" comic. Daniel Acuna's art surprised me quite a bit; I wasn't previously a fan of his work, but he does a great job of rendering Natasha's world as a mix of spy noir and superheroics.
Please don't hold the limits of my reviewing against the book. I could go on about it, really. Lemme just say, if you want to know the Black Widow at her core, this is the story to read. Skip the Origins. Or at least get this one first.
The Name of the Rose graphic novel captures the five-part Black Widow mini-series, where the Widow faces one of her toughest challenges, one that will assault her on a myriad of levels, physical, emotional, and mental, and that will nearly kill her. And that will resurrect people and events that she thought were long buried and forgotten.
The series begins with the Widow being sent a faded black rose and a ribbon. She has some inkling as to what they mean but will not tell even her closest friends and associates. This is her mystery and her fight and she will pursue it alone, on a quest that takes her all over the world as well as to decades in her past. There are some good interactions between the major players in this mini-series, including gems like:
Wolverine: Just a flesh wound, right?
Black Widow: Bleeding stumps are flesh wounds. What I've got is a scratch.
And a lovely bit very reminiscent of a scene in the Avengers movie where Natasha ... well, I won't say any more. This mini-series also understands that, at heart, the Black Widow is first and foremost, a spy, and that continues to have ripple effects through her entire life even after she has, in theory, given up the profession.
So what didn't I like?
- Natasha got taken out far too easily early in the mini-series.
- Based on personal experience, you don't get your abdomen sliced open, then stitched up again, then immediately go out and get into a fight.
- The motivation of one of the secondary villains was, frankly, a bit suspect.
- You really have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to how the major villain found out a crucial bit of information.
Note: I'm being vague because I don't want to spoil anything here. These are all fairly minor issues, though, and just require a bit of the usual "willing suspension of disbelief." Overall, the graphic novel is very good and it really gets to the heart of Natasha's character, as well as offering plenty of mystery, action, mood, and even a little romance and fun. I can recommend it unreservedly if you're a Black Widow fan or if you just like an enjoyable moody mystery and an indomitable character.