Sunday, May 02, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #17: Black Widow

Real Name: Natalia Romanova (aka; Natasha Romanoff)
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #52 (April, 1964)
Group Affiliation: Secret Avengers (upcoming), SHIELD (former)
Gaming Credentials: The Punisher (2005); Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Spider-man: Web of Shadows (2008)Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009); Iron Man 2 (2010); Marvel vs Capcom 3 (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #74

If you've been anywhere online lately, you've probably been well informed by countdown advertising regarding the upcoming release of a little film called Iron Man 2! It's the sequel to the 2008 blockbuster of the same name [sans 2] starring Robert Downey Jr as the titular armored hero whose invention initially saved his own life, but is now an instrument for saving others.

Iron Man 2 brings Downey and co-star Gwyneth Paltrow back, alongside an all-star cast that includes: Mickey Rourke as the vengeful Whiplash; Sam Rockwell as rival industry figure Justin Hammer; Scarlett Johansson as Russian super-spy, Black Widow; and Don Cheadle as Tony Stark's military confidant and soon-to-be armored allie, Jim Rhodes aka; War Machine. Samuel L. Jackson also features Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD in a role he first introduced in a post-credits cameo that set the comic book world alight,

Scarlett Johansson in full Black Widow regalia as she appears in promo photos for Iron Man 2!

If the rolling success of comic book features has been any indication, then Black Widow is sure to become the hottest female property in the comic landscape. Marvel Comics have certainly already begun pumping out various related products to capitalize on this exposure, including a brand new on-going series, which makes it tough not to be a little bit cynical about how the machine has come to work since the break-out success of X-Men in 2000.
While it's questionable how much the comic books themselves have benefitted, it's fair to say that with each blockbuster release the starring heroes have been sure to become the most popular for their brief time in the sun. Even reviled works like Daredevil, Elektra, and Ghost Rider have given their respective properties a moment in the spotlight, even if time hasn't been kind to the balance of popular opinion.

Recently, Captain America was featured as HOTW on the back of controversy surrounding the casting of Chris Evans as the famed flag-waving super-soldier. If you ask me, the bigger concern in casting is probably Johansson, who really doesn't impress me all that much. Regardless, it seems increasingly likely that Iron Man will become the lynchpin for Marvel's proposed composite Avengers film franchise, which is set to be canonized by Captain America's arrival to the big screen in a film dubbed, The First Avenger, and will very likely extend an offer to Johansson's Black Widow.

I hope Johansson can live up to the role of the seasoned Russian super-spy, who should carry a considered aura of maturity and capability that I'm not quite sure is inherent to Johansson's acting or screen presence. These doubts extend largely from an uncertainty about the film itself, and whether or not it can rise above bog-standard summer blockbuster fodder to live up to the potential of the property. Last week I gushed about how much I appreciate the Iron Man concept and history, but I must clarify, very little of that was in reference to the film(s). While the first movie put forward a very pleasing and enjoyable experience, Iron Man ultimately felt like an exciting change in aesthetic, rather than a unique vision of the superhero formula. The Iron Man/Tony Stark dynamic offers a lot of potential to do things unique in this field, but the first film felt a victim to it's origin story, which could've been a film unto itself, and gave way to what finished as a fairly standard, formulaic vision of an action movie.

Here's hoping the movie sequel can do what the comics haven't done lately, which is tell an engaging and exciting story with a great character! There's a popular counter-cultural myth that assumes any mainstream success damns a concept or property to mediocrity. Selling out isn't in and of itself a terrible thing, but I think the Iron Man brand will need to invest in itself to have the longevity that Marvel's plans require, and to avoid becoming a stale disappointment.

Iron Man 2 has already begun screening in France and Mexico, and will drip release around the world over the coming days. It's set for an official release in the United States May 7, but if you're lucky, you might find a few early showings. Drop a comment and share your thoughts if you do!

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