Black Widow: The Ties That Bind collects comic issues #1-5 and is written by Eisner Award nominee Kelly Thompson and is joined by rising star artist Elena Casagrande. In this arc, Natasha Romanoff has retired and is living the best life. Natasha, now known as Natalie, has a loving fiancė and a beautiful one-year-old boy who mimics his mother’s gift of escape. But as the story unfolds, things aren’t quite as peachy keen as they first seem. Natalie can’t help but feel like there’s something missing from her life, but she just can’t place it. However, she is about to find out what that is. Prepare for a can’t-miss thrill ride!
How the story begins
As the story begins, Natasha is on a “leave no trace” mission for Captain America. She retrieves a hard drive relatively quickly from a safe inside a high-rise apartment and meets Cap on a nearby rooftop, as superheroes do. Natasha and Steve have a moment, one of many for Natasha coming later. On her way home, Natasha notices that the tape with a piece of hair she left stuck on the doorjamb is broken, which can only mean one thing. Invasion!
Natasha cautiously enters her apartment, opens a window, and walks out onto the ledge but sees nothing suspicious. As she reenters, she is hit in the neck with three tranquilizer darts and falls out of the window. I would not have walked out onto the ledge. But that’s just me.
The first few pages of The Ties That Bind are stunning. Casagrande floods the pages with reds and blacks, and she does a brilliant job capturing so much emotion with the eyes. When Natasha is holding the hard drive, you can see the cold eyes on a mission. Her eyes soften when she’s talking to Steve, and you can see her shock when she’s falling. The saying goes, eyes are windows to our soul, and they’re also a peek into Natasha’s complex life and the choices she’s had to make and live with.
Natasha’s new life
The story picks up three months later in San Francisco. Natasha is now Natalie, and she works as an architect. While walking home from work, she passes by a sweet motorcycle in a showroom window. On the sidewalk in front of the building is a news reporter reporting the news. Amazing, I know. The cameraperson catches Natalie walking by but isn’t the only one. At home watching the news is Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye. Hawkeye sends the link to Winter Soldier (James “Bucky” Barnes). As the two discuss what to do next, you learn that neither has seen Natasha for a few months even though she hasn’t been undercover. Barton reveals that he and Natasha had an argument, but “it wasn’t fatal.” So the guys decide to check on her. Although she’s Black Window and surely does not need a guy checking on her.
As the first issue concludes, Natalie bought the sweet bike and returned home to her fiancė? Okay, interesting. She’s engaged now. The final full-page panel reveals a guy named Arcade, and he wants Black Widow dead. Dun Dun Dunn!
The Ties That Bind is so well written you don’t even notice it until you stop to think about it. Thompson’s writing is so natural that it flows from panel to panel like it was meant to. I loved Clint and Bucky’s brotherly chemistry the most. Clint is the child who always talks a little too much and annoys Bucky to no end.
Something isn’t right and that’s wrong
To summarize where Natalie is with her life, she is engaged to James and has a one-year-old son named Stevie. She has a great job, pretty much the perfect life, and no memory of ever being the Black Widow. It’s sort of Black Widow’s version of WandaVision. And that doesn’t sit right with Clint or Bucky. So Clint decides to pay her a visit.
As Natalie is working on a project in her garage, Clint stops by to check out Nats’ new bike. Keep in mind as far as Natalie goes, she has no idea who Clint is, or that’s what we’re lead to believe. Clint briefly meets James and Stevie and then leaves. Later, Clint and Bucky know that that’s Natasha but for some reason isn’t acting like Natasha, and they need to help her. But in doing so, it would tear her from her perfect life. It’s a tough choice. Do you support a friend that is obviously not themself but is also incredibly happy with their life, or leave them to live an illusion?
Shortly, Natalie and James go out on a date where they leave little Stevie with a babysitter. Remember this because the bad guys sure do. After the dinner date, James leaves for a business trip of some kind. On her walk home, Natalie helps a woman who is getting assaulted by several guys. Evidently, Natalie retains some of her previous skills. When Natasha returns home, she chats with the babysitter, who then leaves Natalie then checks on Stevie, and then resumes her project in the garage. Then, something clicks. She’s building a bomb!
Black Widow is on forced hiatus
Now the plot thickens like a seven-layer cake. What happened to Natasha, and why is she now Natalie? Well, it’s a scheme collectively hatched by Viper (Madame Hydra), Arcade, Weeping Lion, Snapdragon, and The Red Guardian. Nuts! The idea of the scheme was to brainwash Natasha into convincing her she is a different person with a different life to basically get her out of their way. Bananas! However, Weeping Lion isn’t keen on Natasha living happily ever after after she murdered two of his cousins. You can say Weeping Lion was being a crybaby. Without telling the team, Weeping Lion deactivated the brainwashing implant, which caused Natasha to forget her past. Bad guys’ own worst enemy is their stupidity, for sure.
And she’s back!
Natasha is back and reveals herself to her fiancė. For James and Stevie to stay safe, they need to forget Natasha ever existed and get the heck out of dodge. Again Casagrande does an incredible job illustrating exciting action panels that don’t lose you; they make sense from one to the next. Oh, and that babysitter? It’s Yelena Belova.
Although Natasha isn’t clear who injected her, she thinks it was either Hydra or A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics). A.I.M. and Hydra share beds, but not the blankets. They kidnapped her, performed some crazy medical procedures on her, created James and Stevie in a lab, and “built beautiful lives for us,” as Nat puts it. Talk about being violated.
Hawkeye and Winter Soldier join Yelena Belova and Natasha in a battle against Madame Hydra, Snapdragon, with Red Guardian and hordes of disposable henchmen. Arcade has split the scene since he doesn’t have the stomach for physical violence. How typical. I won’t say what happens to James or Stevie; you’ll have to read the book for that. You should read it anyway. It’s so good! Red Guardian, by the way, reveals that he was an unwilling participant. Whether or not he joined, they were going to move forward regardless (irregardless if you root for the Red Sox).
Natasha and Yelena and Clint and Bucky
After the fisticuffs are over, Natasha shares a couple more near-intimate moments with Clint and then Bucky. With Cap, Clint, Bucky, and even her fiancė, James, Natasha shares several deep connections with significant others, but she doesn’t allow herself to get too attached because of her responsibilities/abilities/training. The only one who was allowed in was James, and that was because Natasha was Natalie. Whether it was real or not, James was real enough for Natalie.
The Ties That Bind is an impressive first arc for Kelly Thompson. I enjoyed it immensely, and I want to see where Natasha goes next. I may even check out some of Thompson’s work on Captain Marvel. And I can’t get enough of Elena Casagrande’s art. If you’ve seen Black Widow, I’d recommend The Ties That Bind for more Yelena and Red Guardian. And if you haven’t, check out Episode 334 of Skywalking Through Neverland. Natasha is one of Marvel’s most intriguing characters with what she went through to become Black Widow and how she deals with that in her personal life.
Links to read Black Widow
A Little About Me
My name is Eric Onkenhout, I live in Massachusetts, and Star Wars is my jam and I’ve been in this fight since I was 6 or 7 years old. Besides Star Wars, I also enjoy Marvel and Game of Thrones. I love to write, whether it’s fiction, reviews, or journalistic articles. I also enjoy long walks on the beach!
As far as movies, books, comic books, or tv shows, I tend to gravitate towards good writing regardless of the genre. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English-Creative Writing; I like sports like hockey, football, and soccer.