To the best of my ability to contain my excitement about the subject matter, this review contains no spoilers. You’re welcome.
Once upon a time, there was a book on a shelf, and a superhero fangirl pretending to be an adult. The book was Black Widow: Forever Red, and it told the story of Natasha Romanov. Tells. Present-tense. The books’s still around–actually, it just came out recently.
And it’s awesome.
If you’re looking for a happy story, this isn’t the book for you. Black Widow’s history is many things, but it is not happy. But the book has hope. Lots of it. Hope that she can grow past all the pain of her past. Hope for the future.
The events of the story seem to happen somewhere between the events of The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but they tie in deeply with Natasha’s history. There was a brief (very brief, blink and you’ll miss it) hint about Natasha’s relationship with the Winter Soldier, which goes farther back than the films say it does.
It also introduces a new Marvel hero, Red Widow, who I’m going to have to look into more. She seems awesome. Her relationship with Romanov is fascinating. And she’s in a comic book already.
However, the novel does not, as far as I know, stay exactly true to the Romanov backstory of any of the other Marvel universes. And that’s okay.
The author, Margaret Stohl, isn’t just turning a comic into a YA novel. She’s taking an opportunity to look at the character of the Black Widow with her own new way, while still staying true to the essential character. That’s how these characters are supposed to work. If they didn’t, Black Widow would never have progressed past the role Stan Lee wrote for her–and, as much as we all love Stan Lee, each retelling just gets better.
As for why this is a book, and not a comic or film…well. I have some thoughts on that.
First of all, each different medium of storytelling is able to highlight different aspects of a story. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Telling this kind of story in only one or two ways can cripple it. Black Widow deserves better. It’s about time she got a novel.
Also, though there is increasing demand for a Black Widow film, making one about her is risky. Not because she’s a female superhero–well, partly–but because films are so easily messed up. If just one or two key people in the course of making it misunderstand the story and characters, it’s going to have problems. While books have a lot of collaboration involved (Stohl had a long list of people who helped her in her acknowledgements) unless there are multiple authors writing, there’s just one person at the keyboard making the important decisions. That one person happens to be the one who knows the characters and story best. Well, with Romanov, there are probably some hard-core comics fans and folks at Marvel who know her better, but you get the idea.
This novel captures all the intricacies of the Black Widow character without trying to make her something pitiable, or sexualizing her, or ignoring the blend of darkness and light inside her. I’m not sure a film could do all of that as well as the book does.
So, yes, I recommend it. Whether you’re a superhero fan or have never heard of this character, the sheer pleasure of a story well written and a complex character represented right will be well worth your while.