When an assignment brings Black Widow to San Francisco, she inevitably comes face-to-face with the city's resident superhero: her ex-lover Daredevil. With a story that centers much more on her relationship to her associates than her present mission, "Black Widow" #7 signals a return to one-shot adventures for the titular KGB-asset-turned-SHIELD-agent, at least for the moment. Although the issue suffers from some uneven pacing, Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto add another solid story to the book's strong run with some wonderfully humanizing moments and lovely artwork.
So far, "Black Widow" has treated Natasha in much the same way that Matt Fraction and David Aja's "Hawkeye" handles Clint Barton: showing that downtime -- for an Avenger, anyway -- isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Albeit with a more serious spin, "Black Widow" also finds its protagonist in her more humanizing moments, and this is where the book -- and this issue, in particular -- excels. Edmondson and Noto stuff this issue chockfull of action, but not without taking a few moments of respite to show Natasha at a moment when she is exactly not at the top of her game. From her evident sleepiness after a poor night's rest to her conscience-wrenching confrontation with Daredevil, Edmondson shows that -- not only does one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best agents have a bad day in the field once in a while -- even her cool, collected judgment may become clouded by the task at hand. For a character that is so often shown as the best and most relentless in her field, this story shows her vulnerabilities in a deft, tactful way.
However, this issue has a few hiccups. The pacing swings between its quieter moments to action rather abruptly, as does its shift from Natasha to Isiah. Although it was a relief to learn more about Natasha's rather mysterious assistant, the story spent far too much time on him where it could have been fleshing out the tense confrontation between her and Daredevil -- the true defining moment of this one-shot, which skillfully set up the issue's conclusion with a hefty dose of parallelism. As such, this serious, climactic moment felt as though it were cut short on Isiah's account.
As always, Noto's artwork is luscious and on point throughout the issue. His soft pencils contribute to the intricacy of Natasha's world; for instance, the web of cracks in the glass of the windshield she shot through gives the issue's opening a delicate yet dangerous atmosphere that he carries for the rest of the issue. With a style that generally uses a muted color pallet, his choice of neon green for Natasha's heartbeat absolutely pops off the page, adding extra emphasis to Natasha's development through the years in a clear, exquisite way. His emphasis on the background is truly lovely as he gives his readers a rich world filled with graceful brickwork and hazy San Francisco skylines. Though he provides some wonderful figure work through Natasha's solid frame and Isiah's unassuming appearance, his characters -- particularly, an unnamed sniper -- come across as a little stiff in this issue, especially during a rooftop chase. However, with work this sophisticated, it fortunately doesn't draw away too much from the scene at hand.
"Black Widow" #7 is another capable installment in a stalwart run. Edmondson and Noto succeed in all the best ways with this issue, highlighting a tough but needed reminder about the morally gray nature of Natasha's work.