Black Widow: Forever Red
Marvel seems to finally be realizing that there is an audience for works about their superhero women. There’s still no word on a much-desired Black Widow movie, even though she’s, due to her being part of The Avengers, their best known female character. Instead, she gets a book, one written by best-selling YA author Margaret Stohl.
I didn’t think, going in, that I wanted to know more about the super-spy. I’m ok with her being a kind of female Wolverine (especially since he’s gone from the Marvel universe currently), a bad-ass taciturn super-fighter with a mysterious dark past. So I put off reading Black Widow: Forever Red, assuming from the title that it would be more about the murderous history of Natasha Romanov.
That’s part of the context, but smartly, Stohl creates her own characters to focus on, while revealing parts of Natasha’s history. This is really the story of Ava. She’s rescued as a child by Natasha from the manipulating Russian who raised Romanov to become the Black Widow. Now Ava’s a teen, and she finds herself having mysterious dreams about an attractive young man. (You can see a comic version of this introduction in the backup story in Mockingbird S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1, written by Stohl and drawn by Nico Leon.)
She meets the literal boy of her dreams, Alex, and the two find them swept up into a mission of Natasha’s, going on the run and working to save the world. Ava has a mysterious connection to Natasha which also gives her super-spy skills. I understand that the two of them are paired due to the underlying plot device, but it’s a bit too convenient that there’s also some kind of mystic connection between Ava and Alex that I didn’t think was sufficiently explained. I know that a female-centered fantasy YA novel needs a charming boyfriend, but he never came as alive for me as a character as Ava and Natasha did.
Comic fans will appreciate the cameos by Agent Coulson and Tony Stark, while just about anyone who enjoys spy thrillers will find everything they need in the book, without a lot of other comic knowledge needed. It’s not my favorite genre, so I didn’t love the book, but fans of the character will enjoy the read. The voices are well-done and the events could fit into the next movie or comic book. Although there’s a new revelation about Natasha’s past, it’s told in such a way that everything is reset by the end, putting the toys back the way they were found, as they should be in a shared universe. (The publisher provided a review copy.)