“A Field in the East”
Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Artists: Bill Sienkiewicz and Goran Parlov
Publisher: Marvel Knights
Plot: Last issue an old crony dropped some knowledge on Natasha’s reeling head. This issue it’s an old crone, but thankfully the Widow still manages to stay a few steps ahead of her manipulators and pursuers.
Comments: I admit it, I’ve been seduced by this title. At first I was put off by the seediness of many of the events (truck stop murders, rape, hookers, desperate desert knife fights), but Morgan has really made a virtue out of this shadowy, modern noir world. It helps that Natasha has stayed professional throughout, and as deadly as her namesake.
I also had doubts about Morgan’s over the top hitting of several feminist keynotes. Prostitution, pregnancy, drug reliance, cosmetics, infidelity, lesbianism, the uses and abuses of beauty. Basically, the full roster, but how to deal with it all in one series? I see now he’s doing something deeper than just sounding these notes. While keeping Natasha strong, he’s recasting her past (in a retcon that so far isn’t greatly contradictory, and may not harm her backstory in any way) while exploring what it means to be a woman in her corrupt and dangerous world.
He does so by exploring some timeless and powerful archetypes. Lyudmila Kudrin, a grotesque first seen bathing in nutrient goo, is the Crone, the wise (though far from omniscient) power behind many of the events in Natasha’s life. Phil Dexter’s young charge, Sally Anne, is the maiden, a young initiate who looks rather like Natasha’s last charge, Yelena but is even less skilled in coping with a predatory world.
And Natasha herself is strangely the mother, the middle potent adult in that female triumvirate (even as she learns this issue that motherhood may be forever out of her reach; she still fulfills the role as it’s barren opposite). Not yet wizened, no longer innocent, she’s come into her own in ways that so far have allowed her to survive while her unknown sisters have perished.
I’m not bothered at all by Morgan’s explanation of the Soviet Widow program (a distaff analogue to the American Super Soldier program it seems); in fact, there’s kinky fun to be had in imagining Nat in an Ilsa, She-Wolf of The SS or Satan’s School for Girls setting. Though tragic, it was poignant to learn that her nostalgic past as a ballerina was a ruse. Who hasn't had some ideal dream shattered at some point in life? Morgan seems intent on presenting many of the stereotypes of feminity as just that; simplistic masks. I fully trust his wrap-up next issue will do more good than harm to Natasha’s legend.
Also interesting: Not that I’ve really got their process figured out, but this issue Sienkiewicz seems to have asserted his style more fully over Parlov’s breakdowns. While the result is not quite a full-on sequel to the crazed Elektra miniseries he completed with Frank Miller, it’s probably as close as we’re going to get. Parlov has offered a solid basis in sturdy anatomy to the visionary Sienkiewicz’ in this series. A good example of Sienkiewicz’ genius is how he manages to make Lyudmila a “wicked witch” without sacrificing her humanity to do it. You can still see hints of her beautiful youth in her decay; a remnant of grace remains, fitting for a misguided star scientist.
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