Wonder Women: Black Widow

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Welcome to another instalment of Wonder Women – the fortnightly celebration of women in comics; creators and creations!

I had a tough time deciding which character I should start with. The world of comics is unbelievably diverse and there are a lot of great icons out there from heroes to villains, survivors and civilians! However, with the anticipation of the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the BGCP IMAX Premier competition, I decided perhaps the best place to start would be one of Marvel’s most recognised but perhaps underappreciated assassins.
Natasha Alianova Romanova: the Black Widow.

She has earned a prominent place in the Marvel universe, being present in the most major storylines, as well as working alongside (and sometimes against) Hawkeye, The Avengers, Daredevil, Thunderbolts, and (of course) SHIELD.
Her past is an interesting one which has been greatly explored. Born in 1928, she was orphaned in Stalingrad before being taken in by Taras Romanov. She trained with a variety of organisations, such as the Black Widow Programme and the Red Room Academy, where she honed her special skills which make her such a deadly assassin. She was given a variation of the Super Soldier Serum, giving her peak human strength, a toughened immune system, and slowed her aging. Despite her extensive training to become a powerful killing machine, Natasha also dedicated some of her preparation time to ballet; reminding us that she’s not completely lost to violence.

The brain-child of Don Rico, Stan Lee, and Don Heck, Black Widow made her first appearance in the comics world in ‘Tales of Suspense #52’ (April 1964), where she was introduced as a soviet spy sent to kill Iron Man. She acted as one of Marvel’s deadliest human villains for some time, until her past was slowly unveiled. With Hawkeye’s help, Natasha discovered she had been brainwashed into becoming the Black Widow. It was this feeling of betrayal from her homeland which influenced her decision to stop fighting against the West, and to fight with them.

A lot of time has been spent discussing and exploring Natasha’s conflicted past, with various Black Widow publications considering the fine line between her actions as foe and ally. Consequently, her dark history is one of the better known and most examined in the Marvel Universe.

However, I would argue that perhaps the most successful interpretation of Natasha is Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s current Marvel: Now – Black Widow series; which focuses on Natasha’s present and future, as she acts to compensate for her past, rather than dwell on it.

For a character which is firmly cemented in the world of Marvel, Edmondson and Noto skilfully spin a thrilling web of espionage which allows the reader to become more familiar with Natasha and her life today outside of the high-flying company of the Avengers. As someone who feels the Black Widow traumatic backstory may have been slightly overdone, my hopes weren’t high for this series; but I’m glad to have been proven wrong! The series is very grounded and reveals Natasha’s true strength. As Edmondson explains “Her world is real; her apartment is small. She dangles on steel wire outside of Dubai hotels, she doesn’t have a jetpack.” Indeed, if this series has proven anything, it’s that Natasha is definitely able to keep up with her superhero comrades in action without needing their special powers.

In this new insight into Natasha’s life, we see that she is driven by atonement in order to amend her villainous past. It is evident that each of her choices carry a great weight from her dark past, ultimately adding a great sense of humility to her character. We discover that she is a loner, as she retreats to her apartment after her fast-paced missions each night only to be greeted by a stray cat which appears to have adopted her. However, she is not depicted as miserable in solitude, but as strongly independent with her eye focused solidly on her own mission of redemption. Series Editor Ellie Pyle lately stated “we have no immediate plans to see any of the once or future men in Black Widow’s life…this is NATASHA’S book.” This solidifies Natasha’s independent role: she doesn’t need rescuing as she’s perfectly capable of doing things herself.

Visually, the series is stunning. Noto’s style suits the book down to a tee, providing very elegant and beautiful art in a tale of missions, murder, and mystery; ultimately reflecting Natasha’s character. Noto attempts to use different styles throughout, varying depending on the location and action taking place. It is definitely one of the most visually pleasing books out there at the moment!

A mysterious woman through and through, the Marvel universe has developed a compelling character with a dark, flawed history; portraying her conflicted journey over the years, ultimately allowing readers a detailed knowledge of her difficult character. It’s exciting to now be able to look into her future as an independent warrior woman who can take on the toughest of challenges and foes in a mission of atonement. As Edmondson argues, “The Avengers need a secret agent, and SHIELD needs a bad ass. She’s the only girl for the job.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Issue 4 of Marvel: Now! Black Widow was released yesterday!

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