It’s a distractingly odd looking Black Widow pictured on the cover, and Gerry Conway’s portrayal inside is of a curiously fallible character rather than the all-knowing and capable agent she’s become of late.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conway’s plot hinges on recontextualising events from years gone by, and takes us back to the Black Widow’s first steps toward becoming a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent after her defection. An early mission returned her to Russia in the company of the Avengers, during which she witnessed the death of her former husband. Or did she? It’s put to her that he’s still alive, and requires medical treatment that he’ll only receive if she performs a mission on behalf of the then crumbling Soviet Union.

An awful lot of inkers are used on George Freeman’s pencils, which usually indicates a project running well behind deadline. His is a decorative style not lacking in detail, so bringing to mind European adventure material rather than standard Marvel comics, and his more naturally proportioned and graceful figures heighten that comparison. Freeman’s Black Widow is troublesome, though, etiolated rather than lithe and perpetually viewing the world through half-closed eyes. Those changes of inker also make a difference, with Ernie Colon, a decent artist in his own right, entirely unsympathetic.

Conway has proved elsewhere that he’s capable of accomplished crime/spy thrillers and his twisting plot matches those of far more acclaimed work of recent times. The execution, though, is very much of its era. Black Widow’s buddy Ivan consistently pulling her fat from the fire comes across as patronising with the hindsight of decades, and there’s an excessive amount of dialogue, not all of which convinces.

When originally published in 1990 The Coldest War was issued as an oversize graphic novel, but the pages have been reduced for inclusion in the Black Widow collection Web of Intrigue and the Epic Collection The Coldest War. If you’d prefer them enlarged instead, you’ll have to pick up The Black Widow Strikes omnibus.