Monday, August 28, 2017

MARVEL FANFARE #10

”WIDOW”
Wealthy Writer: Ralph Macchio | Co-Plottin’ Penciler: George Pérez
Invincible Inker: Brett Breeding | Additional Pencils: Bob Layton & Luke McDonnell
Laid-Back Letterer: Tom Orzechowski | Careful Colorist: Petra Scotese
Amiable Editor: Al Milgrom | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Nick Fury attends a S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting while the Black Widow is assaulted in her Waldorf Towers penthouse. As Fury recaps the Widow’s origin, she fights off her attackers. Eventually she barges into the meeting and demands to know why S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attacked her. Fury reluctantly informs her that S.H.I.E.L.D. has picked her for a mission to travel to Russia and bring back her one-time ally, Ivan Petrovich.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: The S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting is presided over by Sam Sawyer, Fury’s former C.O. during World War II. Fury notes that, although he is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sawyer has final say on the Petrovich operation, and has chosen Black Widow for it against Fury’s wishes.

The Black Widow’s S.H.I.E.L.D. serial number is 27684-R, she stands 5’9”, and has auburn hair and green eyes, per a display during the meeting. All other information is obscured.

Before she’s aware of who sent her attackers, the Widow sure appears to kill one of them (an assessment Ralph Macchio agrees with in the introduction to the WEB OF INTRIGUE hardcover collection of this story). Considering they’re S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sent to test her by Sawyer, I wonder what Colonel Fury has to say about this?

Fury spends several pages telling the assembled agents everything they wanted to know about Black Widow but were afraid to ask. Among these tidbits is the fact that she was found in Russia during the Battle of Stalingrad by Ivan. She was a little girl at the time maybe four or five years old judging from the artwork, but at this point in her history, there’s no retarded aging/suspended animation/etc. worked into her backstory — meaning she’s got to be in her forties at the time this story was published in 1983. (And I have no objection to this at all; I just find it interesting.)


My Thoughts: I guess Macchio and Peréz want to get readers up to speed on who the Black Widow is before jumping into their serial, but even with the action sequences interspersed, making your first issue one big info dump is probably not a great idea. Yeah, Black Widow has an interesting and convoluted backstory, but I don’t think all of it is necessary for the story at hand. I can’t help feeling the information could have either been parceled out slowly over the course of the full saga, or a lot of it could’ve been skipped.

Really, all that’s important to the upcoming adventure is the Widow’s relationship with Ivan, but we’re treated Fury’s recollections of her encounters with Iron Man, Hawkeye, the Avengers, and Spider-Man, her relationships with the original Red Star and Daredevil, and her time among the Champions. I hate to say it, but this is exactly the sort of stuff Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas opposed when they took over Marvel in 2000. Now, I by no means endorse their anti-continuity approach to comics, but I would agree with them that this much pointless historical trivia is totally unnecessary.

Though part of the fault lies with Ralph Macchio, who, even as he writes the stuff in Nick Fury’s distinctive “voice”, makes it all as dry and uninteresting as possible. The artwork from George Pérez is lovely, but it can’t save Macchio’s lackluster script.

Lastly, I’m going to keep count of the number of times the Black Widow is seen partially nude in these issues, because based on the first chapter, it’s going to happen a lot. This issue features her attacked while getting out of the bath, and later, as one of Fury’s flashbacks, shows her changing into her new costume (under which she apparently doesn’t wear a bra, which seems kind of impractical for superheroing). So our overall Semi-Nude Score is 2 as of the first issue.

6 comments:

  1. Ivan was first revealed to have found Natasha during the battle of Stalingrad in Daredevil 88, published in 1972, so the writer Gerry Conway intended her to be in her early 30s. (The main villain of this story also appeared in that arc.) The problem of course is when you repeat the reference a few years later but no time has passed for the characters. (Not to mention that this story came out a few years after it was written.)

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    1. Yeah, I recall John Byrne once noting that when he drew a couple issues of CHAMPIONS, he realized the Widow was in her late thirties, which he thought was pretty cool. I think I read that in more recent years, Marvel has added a suspended animation aspect to her backstory similar to the Winter Soldier, but I wonder if she's still supposed to be in her thirties/forties overall, or if she's now considered younger?

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    2. Well, it's complicated, since Marvel started to ignore the Stalingrad references in Natasha's origin shortly after these issues were published. In Solo Avengers 7, Natasha visits her teenage ballerina teacher, who taught her "eleven years ago", so she's at most 30 in that story. And in the Black Widow: the Coldest War Graphic Novel, her mother's death is depicted as taking place in a normal fire, not Stalingrad, and she's under 35. (Claremont ignored these when he wrote X-Men 268.) Natasha was consistently depicted on the older side as heroines go though- at least late 20s.

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    3. Interesting; so it sounds like Chris Claremont is the one who threw a wrench in the timeline by showing Black Widow as a little girl during WW2 in UNCANNY X-MEN 268. I wonder if he had any plan for that. I'm kind of surprised he was allowed to do it, since she was (I assume) the "property" of the Avengers editorial office at the time.

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  2. I read this as a kid and I think you are too generous to Machio.

    (and Yes I realize you basically did blame Machio, I'm saying his performance here justifies calling him names and maybe insulting his mother)

    My contention is every piece of exposition Fury gives could have been taken care of in one double page spread. Perez is a master at those abstract images that center around a single figure while illustrating the dialogue with little images surrounding them. If you doubt that fact pick up any issue of the Busiek/Perez Avengers run. Busiek dumped his fair share of continuity based exposition a Perez always handled it masterfully.

    I am no writer. But even I could turn each page of Machio’s script into one dialogue box while getting all the same information across. Here is an example using the first two pages of exposition.

    Dialogue Box #1

    “It all began during the siege of stalengrad where Ivan Petrovich, one of the survivors, was searching for his sister. Any sane person would have been long gone but he was stubborn. He didn’t find his sister but he did manage to save a young girl from a burning building just as it collapsed on her mother. That girl was Natasha Romanav and Ivan adopted her as his own. “

    Dialogue Box #2

    “In school she topped every class, academic and athletic. She met and married a man named Alexi. But the Russian’s had different plans for both Natasha and Alexi. They faked his death so they could train him to become the Red Star, their version of Captain America. Then they blamed his “death” on the U.S. and used it to motivate Natasha to become their ultimate spy, the Black Widow. She learned the truth long ago and renounced her soviet connection but she still has a lot of hate and resentment brewing insider her.”

    That’s by someone who isn’t a writer. A decent writer could probably make it even shorter while sounding even better.

    It’s common knowledge that Marvel Fanfare was used to burn off inventory stories that never made it to publishing. Given the incredible work by Perez and Brett Breeding (who doesn’t get enough credit) I can only see one reason this story was shelved.

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    1. I agree, Macchio's writing here isn't great. Though in the interest of fairness, you're comparing Pérez of 1983 (or whenever this was originally drawn) with Pérez of 1998 in your comment above. I'm not saying he couldn't have done a nice flashback spread at this stage in his career, but the guy you're saying should have done it was seasoned by fifteen additional years of drawing.

      But yes, I agree with you that Macchio is, in the end, to blame for this lackluster issue, and I have a bit more to say about him going forward, including in the post for issue 11 which went up yesterday.

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