It's no surprise that Marvel launched an ongoing Black Widow series (the third issue is out this week) on the heels of the character's appearance in Iron Man 2 (played by Scarlett Johansson). What is surprising is how good it is.
Marjorie Liu, a novelist with only a few comics under her belt, has crafted a dark and intriguing spy tale that had me hooked with the first issue. She's matched with Daniel Acuna's exquisite art that blends his stunning pinup style with an atmospheric approach that really sells the series' mood and action.
The Black Widow is arguably the gold standard when it comes to female super spies in comics. But she's certainly not the only one. These five XX (chromosome) agents make Nick Fury* look like Maxwell Smart**.
1. Tara Chace
Fearless spy. Dangerous combatant. Self-destructive alcoholic. Tara Chase, a “minder” for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service in Greg Ruka's Queen & Country series, is the type of woman you want to take out a foreign dictator, not to take out for dinner. Tara's problem is that she's too good at her job as special operative, and that's lost her a lover, the father of her child and, some might argue, her mental stability. Although there are no plans for any more comics, Rucka is continuing Tara's exploits in his third Q&C novel.
2. Cameron Chase
She's such a good secret agent that hardly anyone nows who she is. Which is a shame for her short-lived series, Chase, a forgotten gem of the late 1990s (and if you know your comics history, that was a time of few gems). Less spy and more government agent, Chase works for the Department of Extranormal Operations, the U.S. agency in the DC Universe that keeps tabs on people with superpowers. Her secret: the ability to cancel out other people's superpowers. Cameron Chase was a smart, compelling character in a series–crisply written by D.C. Johnson and featuring early work by the incomparable J.H. Williams III—ahead of its time. I would be first in line to buy a revival of this title.
3. La Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
Val's here less because she's an awesome spy and more because she was awesomely conceived from the stylish mind of Jim Steranko, who took the '60s sexiness of a Bond girl and made her James Bond. Steranko created Val as a lover for Nick Fury and also an equal, someone who could kick his ass inside and outside the bedroom (you know spies and their kinky sex). Recently, writer Jonathan Hickman has added a sinister spin to the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in his well-done Secret Warriors series, giving Val another reason to kick Nick's ass.
4. Amanda Waller
Before Judi Dench turned MI-6's M into a ball buster, there was “The Wall.” Amanda Waller has become the kind of Machiavellian, amoral badass that's usually the exclusive domain of men. In the late 1980s series Suicide Squad, John Ostrander and his late wife Kim Yale developed Waller into a layered, multidimensional leader of Task Force X, a woman with a conscience to stand against government corruption but dedicated enough to her job to massacre a criminal cartel in cold blood without compunction. The other thing that makes Waller my favorite secret agent: She's an older, larger black woman, and if you look at this list, that's a rarity in the female spy department.
5. The Shark
One of the best spy graphic novels of the past decade has been Matt Kindt's Super Spy, which collects a series of interconnected vignettes that were originally published online. The enigmatic Sharklink “The Shark” swims beneath the surface of the book as almost a boogeyman for members of the spycraft community. Her fellow spies knows she's “the best assassin and operative in Europe” even if they don't know who she is. It's in the brutal “Looking Glass” chapter that you find out just how deadly The Shark is as she battles with a contemporary to the bloody death on a building ledge. And if you think Kindt should write and draw his own Black Widow story, don't worry, he has, and it's pretty fab.
Other comics to check out this week
- DMZ #54 The best monthly comic book on the shelves. If you're not picking up this look at a United States in civil War–with New York City as the demilitarized zone between warring factions–then why are you even reading comics?
- New Avengers #1 It's the launch of the … 2, 3, carry the 1 … fourth and final regular title in Marvel's Avenger franchise.
- Naoki Urasawa 20th Century Boys, Vol. 9 Urasawa's Pluto might be finished, but his manga series about childhood friends trying to stop their own plans to end the world is still going strong.