This article is part of The Reading List, a recurring column in which we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy movie or TV series and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies. This entry ranks the best Black Widow comics and then supplies a few bonus comic book tales for the super-spy obsessive.
Natasha Romanov has always been the odd Avenger out. She’s a badass, for sure. But she doesn’t have superpowers — no enhanced muscle, no super-speed; she doesn’t even have a quiver of arrows or, really, any other gimmick. She’s a spy, and she’ll turn your world upside down with a word as much as a bullet.
Freed from the usual spandex accouterments, Black Widow can be anything to any writer. And that narrative fluidity makes her an incredibly compelling read. Her comics dip into espionage escapades, superhero punch-ups, and romantic adventures. Whatever your mood, there is a Black Widow comic waiting for you.
Finally, Scarlett Johansson has her solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Black Widow movie delivers on the action as well as the heart and flirts with the many flavors one can find within her comic book continuity. For this week’s Reading List, I wanted to present a Black Widow buffet. These are not only her best comic book appearances, but they bounce around tones. In addition, I’ve also included a couple of other titles that relate to different characters within the new film and two more titles that expand beyond the Marvel Comics universe.
Black Widow: The Ties That Bind
If you walk into a shop today and ask for the best Black Widow comics, this is the first book they’ll hand you. Writer Kelly Thompson is one of the most exciting voices working within Marvel. She recently revolutionized Rogue and Gambit’s relationship in their Mr. and Mrs. X title, and she’s gearing up to do the same for Spider-Man during their impending Beyond storyline.
With Black Widow, Thompson and artist Elena Casagrande present a Natasha Romanov that should be familiar to movie watchers. No matter what side she’s fighting for, as a member of the KGB, S.H.I.E.L.D., or the Avengers, Nat has constantly found herself on the run. Now, her dogs are barking. She’s ready to retire and seek the good life. But can Captain America, Hawkeye, and the Winter Soldier let her go? Can the numerous enemies she’s amassed over the years? No way.
The Ties That Bind is that beautiful balance between spy and hero. Both genres blend well together, and both are certainly super. Thompson and Casagrande unfurl a gorgeous action collection that provides as many smiles as it does set-pieces. Their Black Widow should please both new and old readers. It branches out from the character’s long history but does not get bogged down by it.
Black Widow by Waid & Samnee: The Complete Collection
If Chris Samnee is on a book, you buy that book. The artist is a master sequential storyteller, and writer Mark Waid knows to get out of his way and let the action tell the story. This book is not a silent comic, but it doesn’t waste the reader’s time with endless word balloons or captions. Natasha Romanov writes sonnets via martial art and gunplay, and it is glorious.
Remember how Captain America: The Winter Soldier concluded? S.H.I.E.L.D. was in disarray. All their secrets were out in the open, and Nat shrugged off the gory revelations. Well, Black Widow: The Complete Collection doesn’t technically have anything to do with the MCU sequel, but it does springboard from the idea of dirty laundry wafting for all to see. Nat’s past is out there, and it comes rushing for revenge.
Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread
If Chris Samnee is a master sequential storyteller, then Phil Noto is a master stylist. His books drip sex and violence while somehow being contained by mod fashion. Reading his run on Black Widow instantly upticks your cool points, and you’ll walk away from this comic with more swagger in your step.
When you have a character with so much red on her ledger, one storyline is never going to wash it away. Nat’s sins constantly motivate her to do better but try as she might, she knows she’ll never make amends. Black Widow returns to Russia on a secret mission to uncover the Hand of God. But that Hand has a death’s grip, and it stretches far around the globe, sending Nat to its most shadowy corners.
Black Widow: The Name of the Rose
Nat is all confidence. She’s not Wolverine, but she knows she’s the best there is at what she does. That’s why it hurts so damn much when some jackass gets a drop on her and leaves a black rose atop her crumpled, pummeled body. Once she recovers from her injuries, Black Widow storms through the underworld looking for the would-be assassin. Her fellow Avengers try to help, but the former Soviet sleuth shakes their concern. This killer made her prey. Now, Nat will flip the roles.
Writer Marjorie Liu and artist Daniel Acuña tell a very human tale. They expose Natasha’s insecurities without falling into melodrama or pushing too hard in the other direction. The plot is a tour through Marvel Comics, exposing readers to familiar and unfamiliar faces. You may need to have Wikipedia booted up for a few names, but you can also just let those characters exist as they are in this comic. Knowing every little backstory need not be necessary.
Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her
The Things They Say About Her is another Black Widow on-the-run comic. Certain US politicians have dubbed her a threat, so they send government agents to hunt her down. Nat looks to Nick Fury for some aid, but the spymaster wants nowhere near this red tape. With few options available, Natasha flees to Cuba to find assistance in the other Black Widow agent, Yelena Belova (played by Florence Pugh in the movie). And while those two rivals try to make nice, Natasha’s old flame Daredevil swings in for a confrontation.
The comic comes from sci-fi writer Richard K. Morgan, and he injects a pulpy anger into our protagonist. Boosting that rage is comic book maestro Bill Sienkiewicz finishing layouts provided by Reckless‘ Sean Phillips. So, yeah, this book looks and acts unlike any other Black Widow comics saga. It’s all scratches and scars. It’s gnarly.