Black Widow: Vol. 01 Ties that Bind by Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande

Black Widow comics don’t often click with me. I’ve tried a few of her short-lived ongoing series and none appealed until this one. Written by Kelly Thompson and illustrated by Elena Casagrande, this is a story of Natasha Romanoff as I hadn’t seen her before, vulnerable and lost to herself but also happy. The first issue in this volume introduces us to the Black Widow as we know her – lethal, the most capable spy out there, a veritable force of nature, here giving her best Batman impression to Cap:

It’s not long until she makes her way home, only to find someone in her apartment. She’s too smart to be caught unawares…and yet, even as she dodges one trap, she falls into another. What follows is a four-month time skip and a change in scenery: a very civilian-looking Nat goes by Natalie, works as an architect, has uncanny reflexes, catching litter off a mile-high construction site. It freaks people out:

That’s right, Nat is no longer Natasha but Natalie, a lifetime of spycraft, assassination and superheroics forgotten. Instead, we get family Nat and mom Nat and it the most delightful metamorphosis. There’s a mysterious blue-haired nanny, a pair of creeps stalking the family and altogether too many cute scenes between Nat, husband James, and kid Steve:

Of course, this is a Black Widow comic book, not some slice of life–sinister forces are at work, some of them with different aims, all of them wishing Nat ill. Many questions demand answers, too – how did this kid get so big in four months? Have we finally found Nat’s superpower? How much like a child is Clint Barton, and what-sized?

Let’s move along from the horrific jokes. There is a powerful narrative drive at the heart of Ties that Bind, a throughline whose aim is to give Natasha Romanoff purpose. By the time you close this five-issue trade paperback, you’ll know for yourself whether it succeeds; for myself, I consider this Romanoff’s finest venture yet. Kelly Thompson has done remarkable work scripting this series and I am, for the first time ever, excited to see what comes next for the Black Widow.

The art itself is leagues better than so much Marvel work out there. I don’t say this to be disparaging, but simply because it’s true. Elena Casagrande imbues every panel with so much personality; whenever action is rendered, it is done with a sense of kinetics, of motion, like little else I’ve read by Marvel in recent memory. I can’t wait to see more of that.

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