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Secret Avengers #16, 18, 20 – Ellis, McKelvie/Aja/Maleev
It turns out SA vol. 1 is something of an anthology book, with a core team and guest stars and a new artist each issue. Or so I gather from some very sporadic sampling. #16 involves Cap, Natasha, Beast, and Moon Knight exploring a supposedly deserted underground city that is of course not actually deserted. McKelvie does a great job capturing the shiny retroness of the place and that vastness of its open spaces. Also there's an atomic Cadillac. Need I say more.

#18 is Cap, Sharon, and Shang-Chi in a... multiversal transmatter ship (I think?) where The Laws of Physics Have No Meaning. (Sorry, gratuituous SPN reference there.) Anyway, it's all very Escher. Aja is great; he's very much in Hawkeye mode here, and in particular he has great fun with the Escher stuff. Plus I like the ridiculous wierdo worldbuilding. A universe where frozen water turns into music instead of ice, indeed.

#20 is a Black Widow solo in which she engages in lots of time-wimey shenanigans to prevent the firefight that kills her teammates. I enjoyed following the stories of the side characters as Natasha’s timeline intersects with theirs. Art by Maleev, so very Serious. Spoiler: there is no Serious way to draw Hank McCoy.

Black Widow #1-6 and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her #1-6 – Morgan, Parlov/Phillips
Technically this is a set of two consecutively published minis, both written by Richard K. Morgan, which name I know from politically-minded prose SFF (although I've never read any of his novels myself). I'm not sure quite what to make of them.

The first has some fairly pointed commentary about men's expectations of women and men failing to understand the world from women's perspective which I didn't feel was quite successful, if only because it felt too pointed. Much of this commentary is delivered by Natasha's fairly slimy ally, an ex-SHIELD flunky who eventually dies to no one's great grief. I think he was meant to be a foil, but mostly I just found him dull and unpleasant. Natasha is also sometimes accompanied by a civilian, a sixteen-year-old named Sally Ann whom Natasha saves in a parking lot from two truckers trying to rape her. Natasha then keeps Sally Ann hanging about while Natasha the flunky enact top-secret plans, which seemed, well, dumb.

The mini has some pretty important Natasha backstory, though, the key being that most of her fond memories of Russia were implanted, including her history as a ballerina; she was in fact an orphan trained by the KGB from a very young age. She was even given treatments that make it impossible for her to rebel against superiors wearing a certain pheromone, which Nick Fury not only uses to keep her under control but used to get her to defect in the first place. Nothing about this pheromone thing pleased me, but I was really unhappy with that last bit. Way to retcon away Natasha's agency from forty years ago.

The second is much less important to Natasha backstory, and is mostly about Natasha rescuing Sally Ann from the people who've taken her to Cuba, for Reasons. (No, seriously, by the end I still didn't know what the reasons were.)

Natasha's main ally here is Yelena Belova, who... has given up her life of espionage to live it up in Cuba, start a lingerie line, mastermind several softcore porn channels, and generally and explicitly work the patriarchical bargain for all it's worth. On one hand, I'm not opposed to the appearance of that kind of character, especially as a deliberate attempt to deal with some of this women vs. patriarchical themes Morgan's trying to explore. OTOH, this seems so completely unrelated to any previous characterization of Yelena that I really feel we'd have been better off with an all-new character. Yelena seems basically happy to see Natasha, she's happy to help her out and save the day in various ways, she's helping girls get off the streets in her spare time – I see nothing here of the ambitious-turned-bitter-turned-disillusioned would-be new Black Widow. Seriously, mind: boggled. I cannot fathom why Morgan thought this was a logical use for her.

I'm also a bit bemused by Natasha's determination to save Sally Ann at all costs, given all the people Natasha shoots, stabs and explodes along the way. Natasha's valuing of life here is... weird to me? It really looks to me like she's investing a bunch of personal significance in Sally Anna as just a way to channel her own anger and sense of thwarted justice. This especially since Natasha rescues Sally Ann from where she's being held without evincing even the slightest curiosity about the other prisoners kept there. That they eventually get rescued, too, is all thanks to Yelena and Matt Murdock.

Oh, also: the interior art was fine on both, sort of rough/sketchy, very moody. The covers, however. It's like Marvel was specifically trying to make these books as unappealing to women (and anyone else with good taste) as possible. The first mini has covers by Greg Land, which results in gems like this Natasha Does Bad Boys. But the second, dear heavens. This is the cover for #1 of the second mini. On the positive side, I guess, THERE IS NOWHERE TO GO FROM THERE BUT UP.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Comment here or there. (comment count unavailable DW replies)


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2014 02:54 am (UTC)
Those Secret Avengers issues sound pretty cool

She was even given treatments that make it impossible for her to rebel against superiors wearing a certain pheromone, which Nick Fury not only uses to keep her under control but used to get her to defect in the first place.
Ew. That sounds really obnoxious and also kind of repetitive because Spider-Woman emits pheromones and Laura Kinney's handlers conditioned her with a trigger scent. Then again, I guess about half of Marvel got their superpowers from radiation one way or another....

I tried to read The Things They Say About Her but the art was really unappealing to me, I don't know very much about Yelena, and the plot bored me, so I never got past the first issue.
Feb. 19th, 2014 03:00 am (UTC)
The SA issues were a lot of fun! And I like anthology series, where each issue is self-contained and doing something different, so it was right up my alley.

Somehow even Laura's trigger scent doesn't bother me as much as this. Yes, it triggered her to kill, but it didn't trick her into making decisions and then leave her thinking that she made them. Just. Yuck.

Nothing you could have known about Yelena would have applied to The Things They Say About Her, regardless. It was a really missable arc (although I do think the first arc had some interesting things and was worth the read).
Feb. 19th, 2014 03:10 am (UTC)
but it didn't trick her into making decisions and then leave her thinking that she made them
Yeah, that is really skeevy and upsetting.
Feb. 19th, 2014 04:28 am (UTC)
Yeah, those covers are awful. :/ One of the things I love about the new series is that the covers are gorgeous, very atmospheric and beautiful rather than sexualised. In fact, all the new female-led solo comics have had distinctive, eye-catching covers without the cheesecake sleaziness that plagues a lot of mainstream comic book art. It's like Marvel is finally learning!
Feb. 19th, 2014 04:55 am (UTC)
Isn't it wonderful? It's a good time to be a woman reading Marvel, methinks. Or at least, better than most times previous.
Feb. 19th, 2014 05:48 am (UTC)
Yeah! There's still a lot of work to be done, of course. Six female-centric books is still a pitifully small number compared to the number of male-centric books (which makes the fanboys whining about the feminists taking over all the more stupid) and only one of them is centred on a woman of colour, plus several female characters have been fridged in other books and Greg Land keeps getting work. But it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Feb. 19th, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC)
Yes, certainly. Still a long ways to go. For now, though, I just want the stuff we do have to get to the target audience, ie, people besides the standard 30-45 white male block.
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