This! THIS! THIS!
It has always bothered me that Liu’s Black Widow run had such an awful excessively cheesecake-y cover because it is one of my all-time favorite comic arcs, not just BW or Marvel arcs, but overall comics-wise. Even I stayed away from reading it longer than I should have because of that cover. I know there’s always going to be some cheesecake in comics, but sometimes it’s used too much and in the wrong place.
Yeah, I didn’t mention in the write-up, but go back through the When Fangirls Attack! archives, and see the women-in-comics blog-o-reaction to that series being announced. The reaction wasn’t just “hooray! a new ongoing title with a female lead and a female writer!!” It was also of skepticism based on that cover. And a whole lot of just glossing over the book entirely.
I don’t want to put all the blame on Marvel here, because they put out a great book. But there is a disconnect between angry internet posts and actual purchasing habits. I think that’s partly because it’s much easier to hit “reblog” than it is to fork over $2.99, and partly because the system of comic retail distribution overwhelmingly favors existing customers and demographics, not new ones. But there’s also a place where things get lost in translation. Marvel put out this wonderful, woman-friendly, accessible book, but a lot of would-be readers didn’t know about it. I’ve had dozens of people tell me it’s one of their favorite arcs; I know two people besides me who actually bought it in singles.
And I strongly suspect the cover played a part in that.
So, I have a few asks coming in about My Imaginary Black Widow Ongoing and what sort of book it would be, and I will answer those eventually, pinky-swear. But I wanted to tell you something important about My Imaginary Black Widow Ongoing: it doesn’t have the same cover.
What do I mean by this? Roll tape.
These are the three most recent Black Widow #1s, and they are all the same cover. Natasha stands in the foreground, quasi-dynamically but not interestingly posed, more boob is shown than necessary, and a foreign landmark is used as a backdrop. Other common options: a fast car, an explosion.
These books were quite different. One is a flashback mini focused on hammering out Natasha’s origin story, one is an ongoing set firmly in the current 616, one is a prequel mini to the Avengers movie where Natasha doesn’t wear clothes. One of these books is actually set in Russia, none of them involve cars or explosions, in two of these series the cheesecake is kept to a minimum and Natasha’s costume is drawn on all the way. You can’t tell which is which by the covers.
Two of these covers in no way match the look of their books’ interior. Now, me, I think for a comic to really work, it needs to have an aesthetic, a visual tone that matches the tone of the story. A really great example is the Waid relaunch of Daredevil— there have been a few pencillers on that book, but they’ve all been able to work with the manic swashbuckling and create an atmosphere distinct from the previous volume of Daredevil, which had its own aesthetic created by artists like Lark and Maleev.
Black Widow Strikes had no aesthetic: it was a book with five or six artists listed per issue drawn vaguely to invoke the Cinematic Universe. Deadly Origin had two aesthetics, one for the present, one for the past, neither of them remotely the plastic blow-up doll look of Greg Land. The Acuña run on Black Widow had a terrific aesthetic, one that matched Liu’s moody, poetic voice. That book was dark without being gritty, stylish and feminine without being frivolous. But you get none of this from the cover, because it’s the same damn cover every other Black Widow series has had.
This would maybe be less of a problem if other Black Widow books had been runaway successes, but much to my eternal sadface, they haven’t been. The cover of a #1 issue shouldn’t just show you what the book is about, it should show you what about it is different. Here are some recent #1 covers that have been way more successful than the above three.
You might think, “Hey, that Captain Marvel #1 issue is the same standing-around thing that the Black Widow covers have, except for some reason artists always remember Carol’s zipper goes all the way up.” Well, yes. But the new costume and codename were a big buzz-worthy controversy, and highlighting those two things showcases the fact that this new series is an important turning point for Carol. (The giant #1 doesn’t hurt, either.) Obviously this strategy isn’t going to work with Natasha, who can’t get a drastic makeover because movie synergy.
Hawkeye immediately stands out because the white space sets the book off-kilter. It stands out because hey, it’s not just the hero posing in the foreground. The logo-dressing is brand new for the current volume, emphasizing that this is an exciting new direction, and the cover also nicely sums up that direction. The image of an archer standing lone and lonely on an urban rooftop, splinters hanging over him, that’s a visual summary of the themes Hawkguy Now! is dealing with. David Aja’s design sense is huge part of the book’s appeal, and it’s on full display in all his covers.
When I say I wish they’d treat Natasha with the same care and thought they’ve given to Hawkeye, this is what I mean.