When it comes to the Marvel films, most people have a good idea of who the characters are. However, as the MCU begins its next big phase, we as an audience are going to be introduced to a lot of new characters who are not going to get their own films to flesh them out. For viewers who have not read the comics, it can be confusing (and downright irritating when you meet those fans who have and are condescending about it). At the end of the day, you don’t have to read the comics to enjoy the films, or the Cinematic Universe as a whole. However, it can be helpful to know the comic origins of the characters who won’t be getting their own stand-alone films. Fortunately, I have read the comics and I have no qualms in helping my like-minded MCU fans fill in blanks and learn a little more about the characters they are seeing on the big screen.
This week, we’re taking a look at the under-appreciated, always amazing, and deadlier than her namesake….The Black Widow!
Now, technically, Natasha Romanoff/Romanov has appeared in multiple Marvel installations, starting in 2010’s Iron Man 2. However, she has never appeared as a main character, and at this point most likely never will. Despite Marvel’s oversight of their amazing female characters, Natasha has still managed to remain a fan favorite, so it feels appropriate that people would want to learn a little more about her.
The Black Widow made her first appearance in 1964 in Tales of Suspense #52. Her debut role saw her as a Russian spy, sent to dispose of both Tony Stark, Anton Vanko (the now reformed Crimson Dynamo), and Iron Man. With her partner Boris, she managed to secretly travel to America via submarine, and gain Stark’s trust under the guise of ‘Madame Natasha.’ Unfortunately for Iron Man, the Black Widow lived up to her name, and her quiet assassination attempt eventually became a full-blown battle, including a sequence in which Natasha impersonates the Crimson Dynamo by wearing his armor in an effort to gain Stark’s confidence. However, at the last moment, Vanko sacrifices himself for America, killing both himself and Boris when an errant ray blast causes an explosion. The issue concludes with Iron Man lamenting Anton’s death and the Black Widow on the run in America without her comrade.
Despite Iron Man 2’s haphazard plot, it actually managed to capture a lot of the Black Widow’s essential first appearance moments.
However, Natasha’s story well predates her first appearance. As her presence in the comics became more regular, she developed a variety of backstories. Again, who she is historically will depend on what you read. In some cases, she is the rescued from a fire (which kills her mother) by Ivan Petrovitch after her mother tosses her from a window. Under the watchful eye of Ivan, she grows to be a great asset to the USSR (at one time becoming a ballerina) and was abducted by Baron Von Strucker to become an assassin. In other versions, she is raised from infancy to be a master killer in the Black Widow Ops program in the infamous Red Room facility. There, she learned the secrets of espionage and martial arts. Her ballerina memories were artificially implanted in her mind. In some versions, she is biologically and psychologically enhanced, as a means of explaining her extended youth and lifespan. In some stories, she is a member of the KGB with her husband Alexi Shostakov, who would later become the Red Guardian (Russia’s Captain America). She has also been romantically involved with both The Winter Soldier and Hawkeye, included in the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated TV show.
Again, much like many comics characters, it all depends on the literature you read.
However, there are some common threads that make their way into all of Natasha’s stories. Her trademark black leather suit as well as her incredible hand to hand combat skills, elite training, Widow’s Bite hand stingers, and red hair are just a few examples. She also is known to weaponize her femininity, which can be a deadly trap for certain male characters (looking at you, Iron Man).
Fortunately for Natasha, she has plenty of literature for her fans to enjoy, including multiple solo runs as well as prominent roles in large ensemble arcs, such as the Avengers.
Unfortunately for Natasha…she is only a supporting character in the MCU. While she does appear in prominent roles in both the Iron Man and Avengers’ franchises, she ultimately is used as a supporting character, and more often than not, a love interest. Though the Widow has a history of using her femininity to overpower her opponents, there are certain instances in the films when her woman-ness takes center stage over her personhood, resulting in somewhat uncomfortable scenes….like equating how her inability to produce offspring and become a mother somehow makes her a monster.
However, where the studios may fail, the fans certainly don’t. Taking control of multiple social media platforms, fans have demanded for a solo movie, as well as better product inclusion for kids who are looking to let their imaginations run wild with the female Avenger. Hopefully, the company will be willing to meet the clear and apparent demand.
As she stands in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Black Widow is a member of both Team Cap and Team Iron Man when it comes to choosing sides, may or may not be able to wield Thor’s hammer (debatable), is a founding member of the Avengers, is one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents, is a ex-member of an elite Russian assassin training squad, is sterile and in a romantic struggle with Dr. Bruce Banner (for some reason), and is quite possibly the deadliest superhero, or at least the one with the highest body count. Whatever the future holds for her in Avengers: Infinity War, you can be sure it will see her reprising her role as the demure, precise, and frighteningly lethal warrior she has always been.
For more information about The Black Widow, check out her Marvel Wikia.