"Part 4: No Place Like Home"
Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Artists: Goran Parlov (p), Bill Sienkiewicz (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
As Natasha's investigation brings her back to Russia, we the clues lead her to an abandoned facility where she makes the painful discovery that the happy memories of her childhood were all programed, drug induced fantasies designed to make her a loyal agent of Mother Russia. As Natasha struggles with this shattered illusion, we see she hooks up with a former employee of the program that created her, and he provides her with the next clue in her investigation, as well as a hint as to why the other women were murdered.
A pretty entertaining chapter in a rather slow moving story, and while part of me is a little disappointed that the story doesn't have a little more momentum built up given we're two-thirds of the way around the track, I also have to concede that this issue offers up one of the best character moments that the Black Widow has ever received. I love the idea that the happy childhood memories that Natasha held on to were all an illusion design to keep her loyal to Mother Russia, and the issue ends on a note that can't help but leave one concerned that this knowledge has pushed the character past the point of no return. I also rather enjoy the fact that Natasha is coming across as being far more ruthless in combat than she's ever been presented in the past, and if nothing else it takes the character into terrain that really hasn't been walked by a female character in the Marvel Universe since Frank Miller's Daredevil run. I mean there's a scene where Natasha lays into a pair of guards where the character is a truly scary presence, and she doesn't really come down off this ledge before the issue's end, which can't help but leave one concerned about her mental state. The supporting players that this book offers up are also quite engaging, with the grizzled old man who was part of the program that created the Black Widow offering up some highly intriguing bits of insight, such as the idea that there have been many Russian operatives that went by the name Black Widow.
The idea that Bill Sienkiewicz is only providing the inks for the latter issues of this miniseries remains a little disappointing, but I will concede that Goran Parlov does bring a greater sense of clarity to the title, and perhaps it's for the best that the more striking elements of Bill Sienkiewicz's art have been toned down, as one's enjoyment of this story is largely dependant on one being able to follow the actions of the various characters. The art also does a wonderful job capturing the emotional state of the characters, such as Natasha's expression on the opening page as she realizes that her homeland is no longer what it once was, and the panel where the security guards discover Natasha does an amazing job selling the idea that she is not someone they want to be dealing with. I also have to say Greg Land turns in yet another fine cover, and that this month's effort does a wonderful job of hinting at the big development that we get inside without spoiling it.
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