The next phase of Marvel is here and it’s giving fans another kickass female character!
It’s the first prose novel from Marvel YA called Black Widow: Forever Red. Written by Icons author and Beautiful Creatures co-author Margaret Stohl, Forever Red introduces the world to Ava Orlova, a former Red Room trainee rescued from brutal experiments by S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff. But it’s never as simple as making an escape and soon their former cruel mentor, Ivan Somodorov, is after his most valuable Red Room students once again. To survive, they must learn to embrace their horrifying connection and outwit the man who taught them all they know.
It all starts with a few dreams. Living in a YMCA basement in Brooklyn, Ava has dreams about Alex Manor, a vivacious athlete with a Black Widow tattoo. When she goes to Philadelphia to compete in a fencing competition, feeling like an out-of-place charity case among some of the most refined schools in the country, Alex is there. And when all hell breaks loose shortly after the arrival of Natasha Romanoff, Alex is caught up in the action alongside Ava.
Ava hasn’t seen Natasha in many years and there’s little love between the two, but it soon becomes clear that it doesn’t matter. They’re part of a terrifying conspiracy that threatens the entire world’s infrastructure and now, Alex is involved too. Without minimal assistance and no authorization from S.H.I.E.L.D., Ava and Natasha must come together to stop Ivan and save the lives of countless others victimized by the Red Room program.
If you’re familiar with comics, you know how origin stories work. Almost every superhero has a gut-wrenching origin story. In many cases, you see it strewn in as multiple flashbacks after a character has already been established. It’s the character’s motivation, but it isn’t treated with the same reverence as whatever current action they’re involved in. But Black Widow: Forever Red is different. This is the backstory of Ava Orlova aka Red Widow. We meet her when she’s young and jaded and watch the chaos that leads her to become a powerful force, the latest Marvel heroine. The details of her backstory are laid out at length and they are important, treated with a respect that backstories rarely receive. Seeing it all spelled out feels really good!
Perhaps more controversial is what this story means for the more established lead, Black Widow. The story alternates between the point-of-view of Ava and Natasha with transcripts from a Department of Defense investigation between each chapter. Ava isn’t the only character discovering and processing new information. Natasha gains new layers in the novel, giving her a vulnerable, human side that admittedly, some Marvel fans may not enjoy if they prefer the character as a completely mysterious Russian assassin with questionable intentions. Still, they do her 100% more justice than that plot line in Age of Ultron.
If you love comics and YA stories like we do, we think you’ll be happy with the Red Widow origin story we see in Black Widow: Forever Red. There’s plenty of the action we love seeing in Marvel entertainment, appearances from character we know and love, and a deeper, richer take on a fan favorite. That said, we felt like the story occasionally had some pacing issues as the plot took a while to get started and sometimes lingered too long between big action moments. There’s definitely a bit of romance for our younger characters, which works well without overpowering the rest of the story.
And the ending? It will tear you apart, put you back together, and make you wish for one of those infamous Marvel-style twists or perhaps even (dare we say it?) retcon.
Black Widow: Forever Red is a smart, satisfying new look into the different but devastating moments that lead two young girls into dangerous life, but also make them strong, independent badasses who take charge of their destinies. We really enjoy Natasha Romanoff and her new, somewhat accidental protege, Ava, and we think you will too!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Black Widow: Forever Red is out Tuesday, October 13th.
Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.
Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments-until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.
When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned-and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams. . . .