TALES OF SUSPENSE #103
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Travel Foreman
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Release Date: 3/21/18
Natasha Romanoff is dead. Except there she is, standing right in front of them. Find out how this all happened in Tales of Suspense #103.
Plot: The comic switches to Natasha’s perspective, explaining how she’s still alive and what’s she’s been doing since Secret Empire. It turns out she was behind all the “murders” Bucky and Clint had been investigating, but there’s more to the story.
Story: After a steady build up during the first three issues, readers finally get rewarded with the truth in Tales of Suspense #103. Well, sort of. Matthew Rosenberg introduces some new plot elements to the Red Room’s program that leave some ambiguity around Natasha’s revival and what actually happened to her. We know she still had her memories and feels like herself, but Rosenberg leaves a lot of things open-ended. Some readers will enjoy this twist, but it can also weigh down an already jam-packed issue at times.
The questions around her revival remind me more of a Jean Grey story than a Black Widow story (though maybe it’s unfair to say these are X-Men level shenanigans). There are moments that remind me of the Mark Waid/ Chris Samnee run, but Rosenberg has taken his spy story a much different direction and takes an even more dramatic turn with this issue.
Oh, and there’s a talking bear. I think it’s fair to say that using Ursa Major, a shapeshifting Soviet mutant created in the 80s, qualifies as a deep cut.
Despite some of the questionable plot devices, the story does a good job of capturing one of the things that make Black Widow so interesting, which is her struggle for morality and battle between nature vs nurture. Since she’s retained her memories, it’s clear Natasha doesn’t want to be an assassin anymore for the Red Room and we see her work against the organization using her spy training and subterfuge before the issue ends on a cliffhanger.
Art: The start of the issue begins with an impressive spread of Natasha’s Secret Empire death rendered in black and white and red that serves the dual purpose of exposition for those who didn’t read that event. Travel Foreman draws the web of lines both in that panel and of her lying on the beach that almost looks like it could be the swirling memories themselves, synapses and neurons all connected and firing.
It’s hard to top anything after that impressive display, but throughout the book there are several instances of intriguing panel layouts including several pages built out of shards that underline the books larger theme of clues being pieced together. There is also a beautiful use of shadow and contrast during the espionage scenes that make it feel more like a spy book. However, as has been the case with previous issues, the characters often lack expressive emotion which hinders some of the storytelling.
Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors continue to be a standout for me. They really bring the panels to life and even with the shift in the main palette this issue she includes a lot of nice callbacks to the earlier issues in the flashbacks. Some of my favorite scenes this issue include the eerie glowing green tanks holding the assasin bodies and the vibrant red of the Red Room trainee lessons.
Verdict: While I enjoyed having Black Widow back and seeing her engage in espionage, the story was a little too clunky in places to fully enjoy. It’s a lot to fit into one issue since Rosenberg is tasked with not only explaining what happened to Natasha after her death but every move she’s made in the past three issues while Clint and Bucky were hunting her. Tales of Suspense #103 does set up the end of the miniseries nicely though, so if you’ve already read the first three issues, no reason to stop now.