Widowmakers: Red Guardian and Yelena Belova #1 Review

by Charles Martin on November 18, 2020

Widowmakers: Red Guardian and Yelena Belova #1 Review
Writer: Devin Grayson
Artist: Michele Bandini
Assistant Inker: Elisabetta D'Amico
Colourist: Erick Arciniega
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Widowmakers is a one-shot that updates us on two of the coolest satellite characters orbiting the Black Widow: Yelena Belova, her would-be replacement; and Red Guardian, her sometimes-dead-but-not-right-now ex-husband.

The first thing to note is that Yelena is firmly in the point-of-view seat here -- to be expected when her original creator gets to write the script. 

She's doing a little freelancing work, accepting a "break my scientist pal out of an ex-SHIELD prison in Antarctica" mission from a billionaire. 

There are plenty of twists along the way; the best thing I can do to describe the plot without getting too spoilery is to say that Yelena and her client are both playing each other.

Red Guardian just happens to be a captive in the same prison, of course, and by the time he shows up, the doublecrossing has progressed far enough for Yelena to welcome an impromptu assist from a countryman.

Devin Grayson's script is a model of complex structure done well. She loves that trick where a character's narrative captions diverge from the action shown in the art, and it works perfectly here. And Yelena's prison infiltration scene adds another trick; besides the divergent narration, it also features flashback briefing panels woven seamlessly into the contemporary spycraft panels.

Ms. Grayson also finesses Yelena's voice. Instead of lame "moose und squirrel" accent work, she breaks Yelena's English diction in subtle ways to indicate it's produced by a Russian rather than a native speaker.

I like the way the results sound. But I do also think it may slightly upset the flow of the story, particularly at the busiest action points. The effort required to parse the narration sometimes pulled me out of the action.

But slipping back in was not hard thanks to Michele Bandini's excellent art. His character work is impeccably clean; he's a great example of the "only add a line if it's doing something important" school. 

More to the point, the way the script is set up, he's often left to carry the full weight of the contemporary story while Yelena's narration is philosophizing or she and the Guardian are reminiscing. And he never drops the ball; his panels flow smoothly from one to the other with the development of the action always made clear.

Erick Arciniega's colours complement Mr. Bandini's lines very well. He uses intelligent gradients to play light and shadow across the characters, creating all-new details with smart colour work. For the overall palette, he uses lots of grey and icy blues to keep the setting feeling properly Antarctic, without ever letting things feel drab.

What's Yelena talking about in all those narrative captions? Well, she's developed a very dim view of one-percenters, most of whom she coldly dismisses with the label "cheater." People accumulating obscene profits off the pain and weaknesses of others offends her as both a human being and a Russian. And she's decided to do something about it.

So this might not be the comic for you if you're pro-billionaire. But otherwise? It's a nice, self-contained super-spy blast.

Widowmakers throws Red Guardian into the mix as Yelena Belova handles a prison break and formulates an egalitarian plan to go after the sort of billionaires who think they have the right to solve their problems by hiring a Black Widow. Thanks to a naturalistic voice and beautiful, action-packed art, this one-shot is a compelling read. It doesn't have much to do with the current run of Black Widow, but it's a good story in its own right.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
I really dig Yelena's white & grey version of the classic Widow catsuit. Mr. Bandini works it impressively.