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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

I finished Black Widow: Forever Red and Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 on the same day 04/13/2018

screenshot-from-2018-04-13-02-20-30By coincidence, I finished reading the collected Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 a few hours before competing the audiobook Black Widow: Forever Red.

I began reading Daredevil comics off the drugstore spinner rack with #113, late in 1974. By 1977, I had worked for two different comic book dealerships, and completed a Daredevil collection #1 to the mid-140’s.

That done, I sold ’em to buy a tennis racket’and a bicycle. That’s what Daredevil was worth in those days, because Frank Miller hadn’t come along yet (that happened in 1979) to turn the character into something great.

In the mid-’70s, Daredevil was such a C-list Marvel Universe character— with a gallery of enemies like Stilt-Man, Man-Bull, and Leapfrog— that they paired him with the Black Widow for a few years, putting her in the masthead: “Daredevil and the Black Widow”, though teaming them up didn’t do anything to help either hero. Look at the cover of #106: They tried guest appearances by the great Jim Starlin character Captain Mar-Vell, but nothing helped that book. On most of those covers, Natasha is a hostage. Not Joss Whedon’s Natasha, you bet.

It wasn’t until Frank Miller found the recipe for success by setting Daredevil against the Kingpin in a Batman-Joker kind of relationship that’s been in place for almost 30 years. The Black Widow didn’t come into her own until Joss Whedon plus Scarlett Johansson made Natasha an absolute badass in “Marvel’s The Avengers”.

Now they’re both A-list characters. The first season of the Netflix Daredevil series met with my approval. I have not watched season 2, for I felt like quitting while I was ahead. (I never watched the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, and never will.)

Daredevil as a good broadcast series, and the Black Widow has two novels (there were two Daredevil novels, one of which was a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and the other — Assassin’s Smile by Christopher Golden — was forgettable).

The first of the Widow novels, “Forever Red” by Margaret Stohl, is aimed at the “young adult” market. As ever, the Disney machine follows the money; the young adult market produced the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series, which I can’t complain about, since the “Twilight” movies kept the lights on for my future wife Anna Kendrick.

Because Forever Red is designed to appeal to teenaged girls, it did one thing that absolutely smack of cosmic-level reboot: It introduced Ava Orlova, whom Natasha Romanoff describes as her “Mini-Me”. Orlova is such a Black Widow Mini-Me that she has Natasha’s mind inside her head, and a code name “Red Widow”.

I think this says: When Scarlett Johansson is nearly done playing superheros, they’ll introduce the Red Widow in The Avengers’ timeline, and they’re set for the 2030’s.

Forever Red does another thing, one that had me asking: “Is this canon? Is this canon? Really? This has Marvel’s OK on it as canon?”. They gave Natasha a young brother.

I borrowed Black Widow: Forever Red hoping for the Widow to kick lots of ass, but it’s mostly an origin story for the Red Widow with a romantic teenage angle. Natasha spends 1/3 of the book being grilled by the feds, an an expository device.

When I figured out what was going on, I lowered my expectations, so Black Widow: Forever Red was OK. The sequel sends Natasha and Ava out as a team. Maybe Natasha dies. I’m just speculating, but you can see they’re planning for this inevitability.

For a while, I didn’t want to read the comics that comprise Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18. They moved Daredevil to San Francisco, which was an incredibly lame move that also happened in the ’70s. Was it Gerry Conway who wrote those? Matt Murdock belongs in New York, beating up bad guys in Hell’s Kitchen, and running into Spiderman on the rooftops.

The way Mark Waid tells the story, though, it makes sense for Daredevil to move. His secret identity has been completely blown in an arc that took years to develop and unfold, and in celebrity-obsessed California, Matt puts that to commercial use.

Mark Waid’s initial Daredevil stories made him my favorite Daredevil writer, ever. That’s saying a lot, right? I’ve been reading this comic since I was a kid, and this writer has emerged from 500 (or is it 600?) issues as the best of them, in my view.

Before Waid came along, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker wrote some of the darkest Daredevil stories imaginable. Waid said he felt like crying after reading some of those, and he set out to restore the fun to Daredevil. Not only did he make Daredevil fun again, he told good adventure stories, to boot (Waid’s Legion of Super-Heroes stories were also outstanding; that guy writes really good comic book stories).

*And* Mark Waid remembers who Matt Murdock’s real love is: Karen Page.

Frank Miller turned Daredevil from C-list to A-list, but he had to retcon Elektra into Matt’s history, as his college girlfriend— *before* Karen. It’s canon, and I accept it as canon, but I have never believed that the retconned Elektra was a greater love for Matt than Karen.

In Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18, Matt’s got a new girlfriend, a deputy district attorney who’s a badass. It’s critically important for Matt’s girlfriends to be badasses, because otherwise they just die or go insane. That’s a big part of the narrative, Matt worried about having this relationship because his girlfriends always have unhappy endings.

Also, Foggy Nelson has terminal cancer. In Daredevil #1 back in 1964, there was Matt and Foggy and Karen. In the late ’60s or early ’70s, Karen was “put on the bus”, written out of the book. Then Frank Miller and Kevin Smith retconned her move to California as her turning to acting in porn films and turning to heroin. And Kevin Smith killed her. THANKS A LOT, WRITERS. (Clearly, the Netflix Karen is NOTHING like the retconned comic book Karen.)

So it’s only Foggy who survives since #1, and he’s dying. I didn’t want to read those issues, but I did, and they’re pretty good. I wish Waid hadn’t moved on to other projects.

Listening to Black Widow: Forever Red and reading Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 on the same days reminded me of how far the characters have come: None of the writers want to remember that Matt and Natasha were ever together. It’s like those lame comics — from a time when both characters were almost extinct — have been retconned out of existence.

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