Secret Avengers #20 review

Now here’s a real time twister. Black Widow stars in a done-in-one story that spans seconds, weeks and decades, depending on your perspective. Natasha Romanov’s perspective is that she’s going to undo the killings of Steve Rogers, War Machine and Sharon Carter after an assault on the Shadow Council goes wrong.

The obvious thing to do would be to use the time jump device a dying War Machine hands her to pop into the recent past, grab some Avengers big guns and come back before the deaths, and prevent them. But it’s not that easy, Avenging brain Hank McCoy tells Natasha on a briedf foray to one month earlier.

So it is that Natasha must embark on a complicated journey across time and around the world, using enemies as allies, to gather the information and technology that may save her friends.

If this non-linear trip demands concentration from the reader – and believe me, it does – imagine how much more complicated it is for the Widow as she plays four-dimensional Jenga … one misstep and never mind not saving the Secret Avengers, she could destroy time itself.

There are no missteps from writer Warren Ellis as he retools a classic science fiction concept to suit the Black Widow. We’re used to seeing her in fast-paced action strips, and that’s just what we get here, but barring the present-day sequences, the action is of the cerebral, rather than the physical, kind. And while there are Avengers with more-lauded minds, I doubt any of them could better Natasha on this mission, her cool resignation proving perfectly suited to the challenge

Drawing this back-and-forth bonanza is Alex Maleev, and he conjures up the consummate Black Widow, the Russian beauty who moves like liquid lightning. To make things even more interesting for artist and reader, Ellis gifts Maleev a short sequence in the style of the Modesty Blaise newspaper strip. It’s a pitch-perfect homage to Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway’s sexy secret agent, a nice nod to Natasha’s sometime-influence and all the better for being so unexpected. I’m not sure if the authentic formatting is all Maleev, or whether Marvel production staffer Mayela Gutierrez had a hand in it, so let’s just shout out all the key creatives; as well as the aforementioned, that’s colourist Nick Filardi and letterer Dave Lanphear.

The issue is topped off by a cute John Cassaday and Paul Mounts tribute to Jim Steranko that’s wonderfully appropriate for a story that’s more spy-fi than superheroes. When more organised bloggers count down the Best of 2012, don’t be surprised to see this entertaining, intelligent, fascinating story in there.

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