The Red and the Black

ForeverRedNowadays everybody knows who Natasha Romanoff is. As the Black Widow she’s an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a charter member of the Avengers Initiative. Seeing her name splashed across magazine covers and movie theater marquees was unavoidable. It was the price she paid for taking up the sacred responsibility of protecting the entire planet.

But she wasn’t always so beloved. There was a time when she was Mother Russia’s deadliest secret weapon. Her pedigree was peerless. As a young girl, she trained in the Red Room, Moscow’s favorite finishing school for spies and sleeper agents. And later, she graduated from the legendary Black Widow program specializing in close-quarters combat, tactical, navigation, military engineering, and artillery. She was a Top Gun superspy. Or as she put it: “I was whatever they told me to be,” she said. “A patriot and a ballet-dancer assassin.”

As the years went by, Natasha slowly turned her back on her beloved homeland. She was forever red, but she was tired of being twisted into knots by skeevy puppet masters. During her career she was shot at, blown up, dropped out of airplanes, attacked with knives, hit by every kind of moving vehicle on the planet, and ultimately betrayed by the country she loved the most. At some point she decided to change teams. And lucky for us, she was now forever red, white, and blue.

Because of her background and experience, Natasha chose to live a Spartan lifestyle. She didn’t want any attachments, emotional or material, that would compromise her mission. To help stay focused, she kept a lone matryoshka doll (a traditional Russian nesting doll) on her kitchen tabletop. The symbolism was clear. The Black Widow was a hollow doll.

But no matter how hard we try to control our environment, fate has a way of spilling our borscht. And that’s what happens here. Natasha discovers a secret from her past that gives her a pinch of humanity and turns her world upside down. And as a result, her latest adventure takes her from Odessa, to the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D., back to Odessa, and finally to the catacombs beneath Istanbul. Forever Red is truly the untold story of Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow.

Author Margaret Stohl has done an excellent job of portraying Natasha as both a flawed human being and a charismatic badass. Yes, she’s tough and inscrutable. But she’s also a little bit vulnerable. And (surprise!) she’s funny too — she can mix it up with Tony Stark when she has to. In addition, Black Widow: Forever Red introduces an important new character that will undoubtedly be part of official Marvel continuity in the future. This isn’t Natasha’s first last stand. To be continued in Black Widow: Red Vengeance.

[Black Widow: Forever Red / By Margaret Stohl / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9781484726433]

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