3 out of 5
Although the name of this title bills both Punisher and Black Widow, it’s more of a tale concerning the latter, guest starting the former.
It’s probably not a good look when the first third to half of your prestige feels like a long exposition dump, and one after which I still don’t know exactly what the book is about… But there are a couple saving graces: while the core story of a maniac trying to steal an annihilation weapon from SHIELD isn’t necessarily a fresh one, writer D.G. Chichester winds their way into the plot by making it into a personal journey for Black Widow, framed around… trauma. She suffers a beating at the hands of the lead heavy, and so the ebbs and flows of the story can be mapped to her stages of recovery, with the wandering narrative in part due to it being told through her fractured thoughts. Widow’s characterization may be off in this regard – i.e. I don’t know if this seeming fragility was consistent for her at the time – but specific to the context of the prestige, she comes across as “real;” as human. Furthermore, the way Chichester writes the inciting attack, it seems like we’re supposed to read it as a more invasive assault, and not just a fight, and there are pluses and minuses to that interpretation – that being indirect about it doesn’t allow it the depth needed, but that it also lends it more weight than a simple lost scuffle might.
Juxtaposing this kind of open-ended approach, Chichester turns Punisher into a one-line dropping cartoon; his presence is almost exactly just comedic intervention – here’s the crazy vigilante, interrupting Widow’s planned hit! – and his part in things seems to encourage dialing up the action movie dumbness as we go along. Widow herself remains a compellingly written character throughout, at least, and setting aside how so much text dumping is done to explain the plot, the structure is well conceived.
The other strong point? Artist Larry Stroman. Figures leap off the page, every panel’s layout is clear and dynamic, and Stroman isn’t hesitant to get wild or go off book slightly, design-wise, if it works for the scene. Visually, even behind walls of text, his stuff just works.
So… Spinning Doomsday’s Web isn’t really a great comic book, or a great Punisher book, and maybe isn’t a great ‘representation’ of Black Widow. But it’s got good, well-intentioned ideas fueling its structure, which read well from a distance, and we are then kept well-hooked by the propulsive art throughout.