If you'd told me a year ago that a book co-penciled by Tom Raney and John Paul Leon could mesh their two styles together in a way that worked, I'd have laughed in your face. In the case of "Black Widow: Deadly Origin," though, I would have been forced to eat my words. With "Iron Man 2" hitting in theaters next year, this is going to be a story that I hope movie-goers buy as a direct result.
Paul Cornell steps back in time with "Black Widow: Deadly Origin," filling in some previously unknown pieces of the Widow's back story. It's more than a simple origin story, though; here, he uses what happened to the Widow in the past as a way to have those moments directly affect her in the present. Even as everyone she loves is being targeted by the deadly Icepick Protocol, it's those early betrayals in her life that are the greater pressing force. Shifting between past and present is an old narrative trick, but Cornell keeps it from becoming a gimmick thanks to a close integration of the two timelines into a greater whole.
That said, while I enjoyed Cornell's script (and with an average artist I'd still have ended up happy with "Black Widow: Deadly Origin"), the shining star here is Leon's art as he draws the flashback scenes. I've loved Leon's art from "Static" #1 on, but lately he's produced some of his best work to date. With sharp lines and colors, sometimes it's hard to believe that you're looking at a comic page; it feels more like a movie poster from decades ago, or perhaps a carefully preserved etching. With sharp lines that carve out each character, every page is a fully-composed work of art in its own right. It helps that Leon provides his own colors here, letting him use soft, delicate shades that almost meld into the pages. It's a gorgeous final product and for those pages alone, "Black Widow: Deadly Origin" is a must-buy.
Fortunately, Tom Raney and Scott Hanna do a good job with the present-day pages as well. It's a big jump in style from how Leon draws his own pages, but the two curiously work together side-by-side, perhaps because Raney and Leon provide such a contrast between past and present. The past is rigid and unyielding, while Raney's pages in the present are loose and supple, Raney's characters wriggling across the page in a light, energetic style. Here, we get an almost playful Black Widow, one who survived all of the bad times and gets to rejoice in the present.
"Black Widow: Deadly Origin" is a fun comic, more than I'd expected. While I'm especially thankful for Leon's contributions to the book, Cornell, Raney, and company do a fine job in their own right. Together? Well, don't blame me if you miss out on all the fun.