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Black Widow: Bad Blood

I belong to the Goodread’s group, I Read Comic Books, and entered a contest to win a free podcast about the Black Widow. I was pleased to find out I won a free subscription to the premium digital audio and reading platform Serial Box for the fourteen episode series Black Widow: Bad Blood. While I am familiar with her through the Avenger movies and am looking forward to the delayed solo movie about her, I actually have not read any graphic novels about just her.

Warning- some spoilers

Episode One: Blackout Protocol

We are introduced to Natasha Romanoff, who as a freelance spy, is wrapping up a job in Chicago in which she was tasked with catching online espionage. She fights a modified villain Viscose, contacts Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D. to report in, and then plans how to disengage from her undercover job that had lasted months. During her time as a mild-mannered IT employee, she had made friends with several other women and heads out for the last night out with them, as she has told them she is moving for another job opportunity.  But the night ends badly…

Episode Two: Something Stolen, Something Red

Waking up from her mysterious attack, Natasha is weak and unclear as to what happened. She barely remembers what happened or how she escaped, but she knows she needs answers. She makes her way to Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, a scientist who she hopes will help her discover what was done to her. There she finds out her blood was removed for some sinister reason. But why?

Episode Three: Bury Me Face Down

Natasha realizes that if she is being targeted, another enhanced human would be too- Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier. She has a history with Barnes, as he was loaned out from Hydra to trains future widows in the Red Room. She heads to Albania where Barnes is hiding out and tracks him down.

Episode Four: Sleep When I’m Dead

Natasha finds Barnes’s hideout, but not him, but clues lead her to believe he was attacked. Banner lets her know there have been other thefts of biological data, and she heads to the VECTOR Institute for more answers.

Episode Five: Flashback City

Novosibirsk, Russia, is her next location and it brings back memories of her training in the Red Room. On the outskirts of the Institute, she encounters Barnes and he attacks her. But he seems off, as he seems not to remember her and physically he isn’t in top form, which allows her to escape him. She is able to bring him back to reality and convinces him to partner with her so they find out what happened to them both.

Episode Six: A Trap with a View

Natasha relives her shared experiences with Barnes, as they both deal with the trauma of their training and the guilt they carry for their past actions when they were part of evil organizations. She decides not to let S.H.I.E.L.D. in on her plan and starts to pull together the threads of her Chicago job together with what is happened to her and Barnes now. Are they being led towards something?

Episode Seven: Of Monsters and Men

Leaving Barnes briefly to recuperate from his ongoing illness, Natasha explores the area and is disappointed with herself when she falls prey to two thugs. But she quickly turns the table on them, and during her interrogation of them is pointed to a female scientist from VECTOR who might have some answers she is looking for.

Episode Eight: Old Friends

Utilizing several costume changes to gain access to the VECTOR compound, Natasha infiltrates the government building. But she doesn’t get all the answers she is looking from, despite finding the scientist she was clued into by the thugs from the previous episode.

Episode Nine: Black Tie

This was a bit of a filler episode- Natasha and Barnes head to Geneva, Switzerland, to infiltrate a black-tie event that the philanthropist that might be behind the stolen blood will be at. They get fancy duds, look great and the chemistry between the two is obvious. That’s it.

Episode Ten: White Nights

This episode made up for the last one, with Natasha and Barnes meeting Holt, who was waiting for them despite all their precautions. Turns out he has been leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow so he could meet them, along with a certain associate that Natasha had dealt with earlier. A second wave of sickness prevents her from learning more.

Episode Eleven: The Carrot and the Stick

Scheduled to meet with Holt the next day, Natasha recovers enough for her and Barnes to head to his laboratory. Holt’s pleasant demeanor masks his ulterior methods as he leads them deep into his bunker to reveal his reason for taking these two soldier’s blood. Although they are wary, Natasha and Barnes want answers, but are they putting themselves at the mercy of Holt?

Episode Twelve: A Rock and a Hard Place

Bleh, it was the typical crap villain plot in which an evil leader wants to create a master race just minus the race and religion aspect of it. But then another villain gets into the action and chaos erupts.

Episode Thirteen: Fast and Dirty

Natasha and Barnes escape and use Holt’s state-of-the-art helicopter to chase down the parasite from being unleashed on the world. Of course, they know how to fly the helicopter- don’t all good spies and assassins know how to?  They grudgingly agree to let Nick Fury in on the details and ask for his help.

Episode Fourteen: Friends in High Places

Natasha and Barnes locate the two trucks carrying the parasite in the Alps, and fight Viscose to prevent the parasite from being released into the world. While dealing with a realistic recovery afterward, the ending hints at further adventures…

This was a highly enjoyable podcast that was wonderfully voiced by Sarah Natochenny and  I looked forward to weekly, as new episodes dropped. Natasha was fleshed out, she wasn’t just some unrealistic superhero hottie who could win any battle and had a quip for every comment. Barnes was as much an unknown character to me as Natasha, so his involvement gave me some additional insight into him too. One thing that I very much appreciated in this story was the emphasis on Natasha’s friends in Chicago. Typically a loner because of her spy status she had allowed herself to make friends during her undercover job and missed them. A problem with so many books and movies is the lack of authentic female friendships, so their inclusion in the story was indeed refreshing (although the depth of their friendship in just two months was unrealistic). That these friendships were brought up in the last minutes, make me wonder what is in store for them, if and when a second season is produced.

-Nancy

Written by Lindsay Smith, Margaret Dunlap, Mikki Kendall, L.L. McKinney, and Taylor Stevens. Edited by Taylor Stevens. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Narrated by Sarah Natochenny.

Avengers: Endgame question extravaganza!

Your favorite blogging duo have teamed up for this post: one mega Avengers: Endgame post! We decided it would be more fun to come up with a set of questions that we both answer about the movie and extended universe rather than writing a standard movie review. Our questions come courtesy of Michael at My Comic Relief and Jesse at The Green Onion. Please enjoy!

***There are spoilers ahead for Endgame and the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe***

1) Avengers: Endgame serves as a complete, beautiful ending for the first generation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, there are many characters to go forward and many potential stories to tell in their next generation/phase. What character/story are you most excited about seeing be developed in the future?

Nancy- I have a few. I really liked Scarlet Witch but her storyline fell off once The Vision died. I’d like to see her developed in further movies, although I have always associated her more with the X-Men (and now Disney has rights to these characters!). I was excited to see Sam get Captain America’s shield, and as he was rather bland as the Falcon, this could be his time to shine. Plus, I want to see more of Black Panther and everyone in Wakanda. Add Storm from X-Men into the mix and we have a great story!

Kathleen – I’m not a huge Marvel fan, as most of you know. I haven’t even seen all the movies! But, there is potential for further growth here. Like Nancy, I am STRONGLY of the opinion that Black Panther, et al, need more screen time. Of the Marvel movies I’ve seen, Black Panther was by far one of the better ones, and I’d love to dive deeper into the lore and Wakandan country. I would also love to see more adventures of the people of Asgard under Valkyrie’s rule.

2) Alternately, are there any characters for whom development didn’t go as you expected, or were disappointed with?

Nancy- I was not pleased at all that Black Widow died. There is only one chick in the six core Avengers and they have her die. DC got ahead of Marvel by featuring Wonder Woman in a female stand alone movie, and finally Marvel got around to it, but choose Captain Marvel as their first heroine to get the spot light. Hey Marvel- what about Natasha? While a prequel about her has potential, they will need to digitally de-age her. While Black Widow’s death scene was certainly plaintive, Iron Man gets a huge funeral while she doesn’t. Again, not fair. And while I’m complaining, I wasn’t a big fan of the Bruce Banner/Hulk merge. While there was some comedic relief in his new persona, I was kinda creeped out by it.

Kathleen – I was not at all pleased with Thor’s character development. However, I was pleasantly surprised Wonder Woman ripoff Captain Marvel was not a part of Thor’s complete developmental nosedive. I was afraid such a powerful character’s introduction into the universe so late would undermine everyone else’s carefully crafted development over the past 10 years, Thor’s especially. But it seems he did that all on his own well enough, so I had nothing to worry about! I was very glad her role was confined to the barest minimum, except for her deus ex-machina moment during the big battle.

3) This was a film with a great many emotional moments. Yes, there were big action set pieces but there were also so many quiet, intimate, emotional moments. Of them all, what scene emotionally affected you the most? Why?

Nancy- I have been very vocal about my dislike for Iron Man, as I find him an arrogant ass. But to see him happy with Pepper and their daughter Morgan and his plea for her to remain in his timeline was very touching. I wanted him to be able to raise her, so it was heartbreaking for Morgan to survive but without him. I also really enjoyed Hawkeye’s interactions with his family as his deep love for them was evident. Thus, when he lost them his deep grief shaped him into vengeance seeking Ronin. As a mother myself, it comes as no surprise I found the family moments the most poignant.

Kathleen – I answer this question and the next below, as they are very closely related for me!

4) Which character’s arc in this film did you find the most satisfying (however you wish to define that term)? Why?

Nancy-  Captain America! He has always been so pure with a good heart, but the pain of losing Peggy was always with him. So the ending where he stays back in time with her made me so happy I teared up. And I’m about to reveal something big- Chris Evans might have for just a moment eclipsed Chris Pine for me in The Great Chris Debate! The joke about him being America’s ass was spot on. I very much enjoyed Evan’s ass.

Kathleen – Well, after my conversion during our Battle of the Chris’s, Evans and Pine are at least tied for me. While I’m not sure if Chris Evans will eclipse Chris Pine for me, it came very, VERY close here. The very end got me crying, when we see Steve and Peggy slow dancing in their living room to the radio. Part of it was because (as Nancy says above), he had finally gotten her back all this time, and the guilt about missing their date had finally been lifted. Part of it was, too, that my fiancé and I do that all the time and it was like glimpsing into our married life! Elderly Steve passing the Captain America mantle on to Sam, after finally living the life he’d always dreamed of, was a touching and satisfying wrap up for his character, and the best ending for me.

5) While we did have our great A-Force team-up shot at the end as they battled Thanos, the film still committed the classic MCU fault of sidelining/not knowing how to handle their female characters, leaving Captain Marvel, Okoye, and Valkyrie out of the Time Heist. If you could chose one of those women to be included on the Time Heist, who would it be? Why? Which team would you put them on and why?

Nancy- Reminding me of A-Force triggers me to remembering the convoluted WarZones Secret Wars mess I read a few years ago! There was the obvious female empowerment moment during the ending battle (which I appreciated) but I have to admit it didn’t register with me who was on what team for the Time Heist. I’d have to watch the movie again to ascertain if I felt some women were wrongly placed on certain teams, although I agree that the female characters deserved more characterization and action.

Kathleen – OKOYE!!! Valkyrie came very close (it would have made much more sense for her to go back to Asgard instead of the hot mess Thor became), but ultimately I think Wakandans were grossly and outrageously underrepresented in this movie. It makes absolutely NO sense for Okoye to sit back and let others save the world; she would want to save Wakanda, and serve her country and her king (queen? Did the queen die? I didn’t even know Shuri died before this movie so it’s possible she did, but even so). I am, however, stuck on which team she would work best on, because I feel she would have done well on either the space team or the New York team.

6) Did you prefer Infinity War or Endgame and why?

Nancy- They were both special in their own way- with a yin and yang balance. There was such a huge cast of characters to cover, so everyone beside the original six Avengers were just cameos. Having just seen Endgame it is fresher in my mind vs Infinity War, so I’m going to go with Endgame as my (slight) favorite just because it went to such pains to give everyone a chance to shine.

Kathleen – Infinity War. While Endgame was a stunning, marvelous (pun intended), and above all, satisfying and FITTING end for a cinematic story 10 years in the making, no doubt about it – Infinity War was the better movie for me. There was more urgency in Infinity War to stop Thanos before the snap, and it felt the stakes were higher. Endgame wasn’t as urgent for me in that respect. Everyone just wanted everything to go back to the way it was instead of trying to stop an immediate threat. Though they were both gigantic in scale and magnitude, Infinity War was more ambitious in the crossover aspects, while Endgame was (understandably) more scaled-down. Ultimately, they were two halves of the same story, but Infinity War was the better half in my opinion.

Nancy- Kathleen has swayed me in her statement above that Infinity War was better!

Thank you once again to our expert Marvel consultants, Michael and Jesse, for helping us craft our questions! We would both love to hear what you thought of Endgame as well, dear readers!

– Nancy & Kathleen

Black Widow: The Name of the Rose

Black Widow is a spy – lies and secrets are her trade. She’s been accepted into the Avengers and they trust her, despite her past. Someone from the old days is haunting Natasha, leaving her black roses and ribbons, and exposing one of her most well-guarded secrets. That trust her friends and fellow heroes have for her may not hold up so well. Furious and determined to get to the bottom of it, Natasha sets out to expose whoever is behind it. ‘Tasha couldn’t care less if she gets hurt – but they’re going after her friends, and they’re going to pay for that.

I’m not one for spy stories or movies  (unless it’s Archer) but I enjoyed this story well enough. I like Marjorie Liu’s other graphic novel work, and that’s what prompted me to pick up this Black Widow comic. As a first-timer, I was a little confused as to the lineup change of one of the Avengers, but I eventually figured it out. Other than that, it was easy to follow, but I might have to seek out a different title for first-timers who may only be familiar with the movies.

The art is deceptively simple: mostly figures with very little background, detail, or other exposition. I believe this was done purposely so the reader focuses on all the action – which, of course, as a spy story, never lets up from page 1. It made for a surprisingly uncluttered look and reading experience and I appreciated it immensely. Some graphic novels written at a fast pace like this one also try to pack as much detail as possible into the art, which can make a book overwhelming. The creators of this one scaled back a little on the art to showcase the writing more, which in my opinion was an excellent design choice.

Sorry this one’s a little late – was having too much fun over PoGo Fest weekend and I’m trying to catch up ;D

– Kathleen

Liu, Marjorie, and Daniel Acuña. Black Widow: The Name of the Rose. 2010.

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