This Omnibus-sized collection combines almost all the Black Widow’s appearances from her 1964 introduction as a Soviet Cold War vamp sent to seduce Tony Stark until the mid-1990s dealing with the fallout of post-Soviet Russia. Along the way she fights alongside the Avengers and has a costume makeover, ending the selection working as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The same content is available as the bulky paperback Epic Collections Beware the Black Widow and The Coldest War, themselves combining previously issued material into bulkier paperbacks. This wasn’t a simple process as before 1999 Natasha Romanova had only ever been the solo star of a single series, and as that was in ten page instalments, it only amounts 80 pages in total. The content, therefore is dredged from assorted one-offs in umbrella titles, guest appearances in Spider-Man and Daredevil, early 1990s album-sized graphic novels with a more adult tone, and numerous appearances with the Avengers from the 1960s and early 1970s, some excerpted to present her pages alone. Not included are her 1990s Avengers appearances, or her teamings with Spider-Man in the Marvel Team-Up title. These are collected separately as Black Widow: Marvel Team-Up, and the best of that tops anything included here.

Highlights here are few. Ralph Macchio and Paul Gulacy’s 1981 thriller set the tone for Black Widow’s incorporation into more realistic spy stories and still stands up. Ignore Randy Green’s lapses into objectification, and Scott Lobdell’s final story is a smart investigation of what spy organisations do. It uses a novel narrative voice, and twists on itself so neatly that a three page explanation is required at the end.

Other than those two, these are stories with moments, but none good enough to recommend throughout. However, if it’s just the art you want, a number of first rate artists have drawn the Widow over the years, starting with Don Heck. He didn’t care much for superheroes, but the civilian scenes in the earliest stories are nicely composed and realistic. Charlie Adlard, John Buscema, Gene Colan, George Freeman, Butch Guice, George Pérez, and John Romita are a few of the other talents involved, and while the writing may not have stood the test of time, there are few badly drawn stories here. However, given the hefty cover price, you’d really have to be a major fan of the artists concerned to consider buying this to see their art at a larger size. If that’s the case, there are more pages by Buscema and Heck than the other artists combined, the sample spread combining their work.

Anyone coming to this after viewing the Black Widow film is best advised to run a search on Black Widow’s graphic novels reviewed on the site, and start with anything after 1999, to which the film has a closer relationship.