I know I’ve been talking this subject in circles, but I’ve been trying to figure out what’s gone wrong for me thusfar, with regards to the title as a whole and with regards to Natasha. I don’t think Secret Avengers has been a bad comic, just a frustrating comic, a comic that is not as good as it could be.
The obvious problem is pacing. It’s felt as if the book takes too long to get to the point of it, and it isn’t helped by random fill-in arcs stuffed in whenever an event gets rolling, sucking away whatever momentum the book had built up. It’s not as though Remender and Brubaker can’t excel at that kind of long-form comic, they just didn’t, for whatever reason.
With Natasha, well, there was something Spencer said that made me think— “You can’t really do this book without Black Widow.” Brubaker said something similar in one of the interviews about his team. And it seems to be true, she’s the only character who hasn’t left the Secret Avengers roster through four writer changes and three big team overhauls. It makes sense: being an Avenger but also a spy is kind of Natasha’s raison d’être, movie tie-ins be damned. It’s the perfect book for her. But despite always being on the team she’s almost never felt central to it.
Secret Avengers has largely been preoccupied with the paradox of its concept. Avengers are big damn heroes, they don’t do things in secret. The shady corners and moral greys that the world of espionage offers don’t appeal to people who go around voluntarily wearing their brightly-colored underwear outside of their pants. So we see a lot of Steve Rogers and Clint Barton struggling to figure out this other way of doing things, struggling to keep ahead of the secrets.
Natasha isn’t like them, she’s not like the rest of the team. She is a superhero and a spy and is very comfortable blurring those lines, lines that maybe shouldn’t be blended. But Secret Avengers hasn’t shown us that, much less tried to explain why or how she got to be that way. Nick Spencer wrote a spotlight issue on Natasha faking her boyfriend’s without giving any insight into Natasha. For Remender and Brubaker she’s just been another face in the panels, kicking bad guys sometimes, but not saying anything important.
Ellis is the exception. He wrote a who seemed chillingly at ease while her teammates were stitched with qualms, a Natasha who kept secrets even from her teammates, and why she felt she had to. And, as a result, I really love Ellis’s run on Secret Avengers and put it on all my rec lists and the whole long bit. It’s not hard to figure out.
But isn’t just Natasha’s problem, it’s the constant problem of team books. The worst Avengers line-ups are the ones where writers chuck Steve, Tony and Thor onto them because hey, it’s the Avengers, and that’s where they belong. That’s not wrong, but you still need to make readers believe it. You have to show why Steve’s the guy people put on speeddial to lead superhero teams, or else he becomes another Hank Pym/Clint Barton/Johnny Storm/&c lookalike.
I know that Remender’s been using Natasha more lately and I wish I could comment on that, I really do, and I actually hate to force this issue, but— Matteo Scalera draws her as a dubiously lurching pair of breasts.
And now I can’t look at the comic without turning into a frothing caricature myself.