Okay, I've got two questions: Was Natasha raised in the Red Room or did they train her there after she accepted Bucky's miracle drug to save Ivan? And, did Ivan know what they were doing to her? Thanks for your time! :)
I cover this in more detail in my Secret Origins series, which has three parts: one, two, three. I also have a tag for origin stuff you might want to look through.
Basically, though, the “Natasha was raised an orphan the Red Room” idea comes from a series that decided everything we ever knew about Natasha’s history was wrong, and ran with it.
Anyway, after that story got published, it was really easy to be confused about her history, which is a big side effect of rewriting a character’s entire past. So Marvel published another miniseries, Black Widow: Deadly Origin, in part to clarify a new official version of her origin. In that series, she enters the Red Room in her twenties, as the price for saving Ivan. That is the “real” continuity as it currently stands! But stories can change.
As for Ivan— he knew enough that he didn’t want Natasha to enter the Red Room, even at the cost of her life, and I think it makes sense that they pursued him because he had some connection with Soviet intelligence. While Natasha was there, they were kept separate, but she still tried to confide in him. What he knows exactly is up to how the reader wants to shade it. But no one knows the everything of the Red Room.
Has Natasha ever worked together with Black Panther?
The closest I can think of off the top of my head is Avengers #111-112, when Natasha guest stars for a while with an Avengers lineup T’Challa is part of. #112 focuses on the two of them in parallel character arcs, but they do not directly interact much.
Natasha also shows up in Black Panther during the Civil War crossover event, but that’s a pretty standard “cameo appearance character gets hosed to demonstrate how badass our book’s protagonist is” one-off. T’Challa is also weirdly sexist! Civil War, man.
Natasha: Don’t make me have to— T’Challa: I would never fight a woman. I have people for that.
The best team up between Natasha and Black Panther is imo Klaws of the Panther #4, which features Shuri in the Black Panther role. Shuri recruits Natasha for her infiltration skills, but Natasha also helps Shuri confront her fears and guilt and anger. The writing is very old school exposition-y, but I’m a sucker for this kind of team-up story.
Shuri: I’m afraid I’m going to lose myself in it. That the person I want to be will be subsumed and only the killer will remain. Natasha: …Of all the weapons ever made, the most powerful by far is compassion. But you have to have compassion for yourself before you can have it for anyone else.
Natasha is, ofc, sometimes better at giving advice than applying it to herself. This is the final issue of a 4 issue miniseries, but it’s easy enough to follow as a single story.
Panels from Black Panther #23 and Klaws of the Panther #4.
Whenever I see people talk about women led films, it's always about white women. Hunger Games, Divergent, etc etc etc. Do you think Marvel will ever gives us something not revolving around a white woman is am I asking for too much?
I don’t think Marvel will even make a film about a white woman, anon, but I do not think you are asking for too much.
To be fair, Catwoman and Elektra were terribly written movies. Catwoman's plot was completely stupid. I firmly believe that a female superhero movie given the same level of writing and the same budget that Iron Man was given would be be a spectacular success. Unfortunately, because they greenlit shitty movies with otherwise good female leads they now have an excuse to say 'well it doesn't sell' when the truth is they bombed because they were bad movies, not because of the leads.
I agree but I don’t think that’s the whole of it. I’ve been running a Black Widow blog too long to not think there aren’t weird double standards female leads get pulled to. Like, Catwoman and Elektra were bad and it was easy to see that they were bad, that the marketing served them up poorly and played up the action and sexy fights specifically to drag men into it. But there’s a reason there’s a perceived dichotomy between sex appeal and character depth and lots of bad lines in a trailer drove moviegoers away from Elektra but Daredevil did okay enough to get the spin-off. There’s a reason the the Globe and Mailevaluated Johansson’s performance in the Avengers explicitly as a “token sexy female” stocktype and felt comfortable reviewing her literally in terms of his own fourteen year old boy lust. (“A pale pink at best” he says, on a scale of his hormonal reds.)
I mean, I don’t think a female led action movie is an impossible mountain. Hunger Games exists and has millions and millions of dollars in the bank. Lucy just hit #1 at the box office based solely on trailers that played up Johansson’s Black Widow action-cred. It could sell, we’ve already been selling it, people are thirsty for this. We’re in such a fucked up situation we’ve convinced ourselves that a movie about a white lady beating people up would be an important feminist triumph.
But these blockbuster action films are traditionally laser targeted at men and boys aged 18 to 39 and Disney bought Marvel so it could sell toys to boys. Women make up almost half the audience of these Marvel movies but like, none of the lead roles, a fifth of the cast and a fraction of the merchandise. And the the problem isn’t just that there aren’t many Black Widow action figures, is that we tell girls and boys they need to play with separate toys, and we tell boys they don’t need a Black Widow to complete the set. Like, it’s that kind of marketing thought that makes “female led vigilante films” a category in the first place, and doesn’t make room for other contexts. It feeds back into itself, like a snake eating its own tail, and meanwhile we just get thirsty.
Broken record blogging: the reason there hasn’t been a Black Widow movie is because the Black Widow movie in development was cancelled. It was cancelled because Elektra bombed and Ultraviolet bombed and Catwoman bombed and the studio decided female vigilante films were hard sells and that it wasn’t worth the risk. The time wasn’t right. It hasn’t been right since.
It isn’t because her comic book story isn’t thick enough. Wanted was a six issue mini. Scott Lang has never titled a book and has a fraction of Natasha’s appearances. It’s not because spies and superheroes are out of joint and don’t mix and don’t sell. They made Winter Soldier, and the Captain America sequel didn’t need to be a riff on 70s espionage flicks. It’s not because she doesn’t have powers. Batman is the most popular hero on the planet. It’s not because she’s too obscure, because Guardians of the Galaxy just happened and Blade was the spiritual beginning of this generation of superhero films. It’s not because her costume doesn’t have a mask, cracked, because did you even think that one out? True story, Natasha is super easy to adapt to film, and that is why she’s been in three films and counting.
But the reason she doesn’t have her own movie is because she’s a woman. Because the movie she did have was cancelled because women vigilantes are box office poison, or used to be, and no one wants to test the theory.
I don’t want a Black Widow movie because she’s a woman, because she’s the only female superhero I can name. Me, I want to see the darker and more ordinary shadows of the Marvel Universe, I want to see Winter Soldier pushed further and superhero franchises pushed out of their origin-story formula. I want redemption and I want the stakes to hurt and it exhausts me to pretend her gender is the only remarkable thing about her because Natasha is my favorite superhero ever and that is why I want a Black Widow movie.
But the reason she doesn’t have a movie already is because she’s a woman. If powers were the problem they’d make Captain Marvel, maybe, if we needed a household name to fly they’d have Wonder Woman done by now, tried and tried again the same way Superman has been. But they haven’t.
It’s not as simple as sexism, because sexism isn’t simple. These films are pitched and calibrated to demographics that don’t buy girl-shaped action figures; we live in a world where female characters are spoken of gender first. We read women into a separate category, evaluate them as “females”, and find ways out of them we don’t look for in our default male protagonists. They have to be better than good to deserve their own stories, as though stories are medals to be hung around necks, the finish line and not the race. We make big long lists of “reasons they haven’t made a Black Widow movie or any superhero film that happens to star a woman” and we point to those already overcome obstacles, whisper, “but Ant-Man was a founding Avenger" and insist gender really has nothing to do with it.
Hello! It's a shame that marjorie liu didn't get the chance to write an arc where Natasha was Laura's mentor. There will never be enough narratives where Natasha influences teenage heroines (if there's any). I love your blog btw!
You and me both, anon. Christos Gage has said that Laura was training with Natasha between appearances in Avengers Academy, so we can imagine. Natasha did make a cameo in X-23 #20 to set up her planned arc, and it will hopefully make a nice prologue to October’s Black Widow issue:
If you’d like to read another story where Natasha influences a teenage heroine, I recommend Nomad: Girl Without a World #1-4 and the backup story in Captain America #611-614, Underneath the Skin. But I agree, it’s never enough!
“Every single Marvel Studios movie has centered around a presumably straight, white, male protagonist, even if white women (mostly love interests) and men of color (support roles) have played roles in the film. The franchise is a box office juggernaut and has a ton of movies on this list, but we’ve gotten two to three movies about each of the men on the Avengers and there’s yet to be a film about Black Widow. Both of Marvel’s ensemble films—The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—trimmed down the superhero teams for their film adaptations, and the women characters, save for one, were the first to be cut. Most moviegoers will never know that women of color and LGBTQ characters were cut from Guardians of the Galaxy, but audiences will get to relate to the talking raccoon and the talking tree.”—Marissa Lee, Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blockbusters Overwhelmingly White, Male
With Bobbi in the MCU hopefully we finally get some decent interaction between them, either in the comics or the movies. I'm not even picky. I just want them to interact more.
Yes, I agree! I’d love to see more of Bobbi, anywhere, really. I think they’ll both show up in the next few issues of Hawkeye, Our Series of Perpetual Delays, based on the cover for issue #21. Whether they will actually interact is something else.
Does Natasha have any female friends that she works or hangs out with?
Natasha’s had several friendships stop and start— historically Marvel has had a problem keeping a female lead book going long enough to develop and sustain friendships beyond one issue or run. And for whatever reason, comics tend to remember Natasha’s romantic entanglements with men more than her connections with other women. Her two-second, after the fact affair with Hercules is what Champions flashbacks always show, not the friendship she made with Darkstar, a fellow Soviet defector.
So, let’s see: the first Marvel Knights series had Natasha develop a deep friendship with Dagger that’s not been referenced since. In the second volume she worked with Helen Kim, a non-costumed SHIELD agent who disappeared after that series was axed at issue #6. Marjorie Liu planned on bringing Natasha in to be a mentor in X-23, but the book was cancelled before she could write that arc. (Liu also pitched a series about Laura, Natasha, Elektra and Mystique that never got picked up.)
Natasha and Sharon Carter had a few team-ups that spun out of Brubaker’s Captain America run, including Captain America and the Secret Avengers by kellysue, but Sharon is dead now and no one outside of Steve’s book seems to have noticed. Natasha was a complicated influence on Rikki Barnes in Nomad: Girl Without a World and the associated backups, but Rikki’s dead now too.
Natasha: Why didn’t you call me yourself? I found out from cage. Angela: I didn’t want to impose— you’ve already helped me— Natasha: Hurting the Chaeyi? No imposition at all. Angela: You’re right, Natasha— I didn’t think I’m sorry. Natasha: Don’t let it happen again.
Natasha was a huge encouragement to Angela Del Toro when she was starting out her hero career in tamorapierce's White Tiger mini, but Angela’s fallen into comicbook limbo. A+X #2 showed Natasha making a connection with Rogue and implied the two now hang out regularly, but like everything else it’s never left that issue. (I guess Rogue’s been dead recently, too.) Natasha took Crystal of the Inhumans to a superhero theme night at a pizza buffet/all-male revue once during the nineties, but, okay, I can see why that’s never been revisited.
The central premise of the current Black Widow series is that Natasha doesn’t let herself take days off. She takes extracurricular missions, instead. And one of the major consequences in this story is the isolation that she creates for herself, and how that lonliness frays her. Natasha keeps parts of herself compartmentalized; she can be a difficult person to know. But she is also nosy and meddling and driven to help people who tug at her.
Natasha’s major SHIELD contact right now is Maria Hill, and they share a subtle, professional relationship that is one of the highlights of the current book for me.
Natasha: And you think I can succeed where you failed? Maria: I am not paid for uncertainty, agent. Do your thing.
In the wider MU, Natasha shares a developing friendship with Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew. This started in Avengers Assemble, has been nodded to once in the main Avengers title, and is now a key component of the ongoing Secret Avengers series.
Jessica: Can we do this every month, until, like, the next major catastrophe happens and everyone has to go beat up some aliens somewhere again? Natasha: We can do this even twice every month. Wars never last. It’s going to be back to business as usual. Then we get more massages.
I’m not totally thrilled with Jessica’s characterization in that book, but I am totally thrilled to see a friendship like this survive more than one author. Maybe we’ll see Natasha pop up in Jessica’s just-announced book, eventually.
Panels from White Tiger #6, Black Widow #5 and Secret Avengers #1.
Hello, I just had a quick question regarding what was said in the deleted clip from 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' (deleted scene 4, part 1) where Alexander Pierce references "the children's ward" which makes Natasha pause. I remember hearing something about it before, but I don't quite remember what this could be a reference to as I'm fairly new to Black Widow. Would you be willing to provide more detail if possible? Thanks very much and I love your blog! :)
Thanks for the nice comments :) The “children’s ward” could be a callback to the hospital fire Loki mentions in the Avengers:
Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Drakov’s daughter? Sao Paulo? The hospital fire? Barton told me everything.
But all these hints of Natasha’s past are hints, not secret handshake references for fans in the know. There’s not a comic book adventure that takes place in a children’s ward. (Which, I know, sometimes there are secret handshake references, so it’s not a hard thing to wonder!) When we do learn the lines of Natasha’s MCU origin story, I don’t think it will connect every dot, or Nancy Drew every mystery. The audience is asked to believe in who she is now, and who she is trying to become, without knowing the the whole weight of who she used to be. We are asked to trust her as she learns what trust costs.
“I very much believe in doing it. I very much believe that it’s unfair to say, “People don’t want to see movies with female heroes,” then list five movies that were not very good, therefore, people didn’t go to the movies because they weren’t good movies, versus [because] they were female leads. And they don’t mention “Hunger Games,” “Frozen,” “Divergent.” You can go back to “Kill Bill” or “Aliens.” These are all female-led movies. It can certainly be done. I hope we do it sooner rather than later. But we find ourselves in the very strange position of managing more franchises than most people have — which is a very, very good thing and we don’t take for granted, but is a challenging thing. You may notice from those release dates, we have three for 2017. And that’s because just the timing worked on what was sort of gearing up. But it does mean you have to put one franchise on hold for three or four years in order to introduce a new one? I don’t know. Those are the kinds of chess matches we’re playing right now.”—Kevin Feige, continuing to say a whole lot of nothing about a Marvel Studios female-led film. He admits that it “can be done”, but his new excuse is that he is making too many movies to make one of them about a woman.
In the MCU, it’s Agent Barton was sent to kill me, he made a different call. In the comics they were star-crossed lovers and supervillain partners against Iron Man. Clint later lobbied for Natasha to join the Avengers, they fell apart when Natasha decided she wanted to try normal for a while. It was a major relationship that impacted both of them for better and for the worse, painted in comically uncasual language. (Darling, my dearest, &c &c.) But Natasha left Clint in 1970, to star in her own feature and they haven’t gotten back together since.
It’s somewhat unique in comics. Usually your first major love interest is the one your story orbits forever, and this goes double for women introduced in the Silver Age. But Clint and Natasha went their own way, and now I think it’s easy to forget how major they were originally.
One of the most frequently asked of frequently asked questions is how Natasha’s name works. Is it Natasha or Natalia? Romanoff or Romanova? Which is her real name?
The tricky bit is this: Natalia and Natasha are both forms of the Russian name Наталья. The Natalia/Natasha equivalency doesn’t exist in English, leading to tail-chasing confusion about which is real and which is fake. Natasha is a diminutive form of Natalia, the same way Bill is a nickname for William. “Natalia” is not more authentic or more Russian, it’s just more formal. “Natasha Romanoff” is not an alias the way “Nadine Roman” or “Nancy Rushman” are.
The Romanoff/Romanova issue is just a question of transliteration. The Russian surname is Рома́нов, which has been written Romanoff or Romanov depending on the decade. In Russian, women’s last names take feminine endings to match their grammatical gender— Ivan Belov becomes Yelena Belova, Aleksandr Belinsky becomes Aleksandra Belinskaya. But the feminine endings often get dropped in English translation, e.g. Nastia Liukin, and not Nastia Liukina.
I want to make it out that there isn’t really a standard, “correct” way to translate a Russian name into English. Sometimes the patronymic is dropped, sometimes it isn’t. Immigrant women use the feminine form, or they don’t. It’s a matter of preference, and can also be generational.
I also want to emphasize that comics have never been able to make up their mind.
When the Melissa McCarthy led Tammy came out, it made less than a lot of analysts predictions and lead to a lot of disappointed rumbling. This is surprising because the film made a lot of money at the domestic box office, relative to its budget (it cost $20 million to make, and took in a little more than that in just its opening weekend.)
So why were people so disappointed? Probably because Melissa McCarthy’s films have a history of ridiculously overperforming. (The Heat, Bridesmaids, Identity Thief). For Melissa McCarthy, incredible return on investment is the norm.
When I examined the 100 highest performing films in 2013 and 2012, as well as films released so far in 2014, a pretty clear pattern emerged: female-led films leave male-led films in the dust, once you pay attention to their production budget. Melissa McCarthy is just an extreme example of this trend. I’ve included highlights from my analysis under the read more.
TLDR; Looking at box office take relative to production budget, female-led movies have overperformed for the past three years.
“In another big win for Universal Pictures, Lucy took first place with over $44 million… Lucy's success can be attributed to a few factors. First, the movie had an intriguing premise (what if we could use more than 10% of our brains?) that was front-and-center in action-packed, visually-stunning advertisements. It helped that actress Scarlett Johansson's lead role here seemed like a natural extension of the butt-kicking brand she's built as Black Widow in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”—
I’m not saying Lucy is a feminist triumph or a good movie, I’m saying it made Universal Pictures a lot of money this weekend. The action-stuffed trailers were totally deceptive but capitalized on action star appeal Johansson has created as Black Widow. Universal stuck that Marvel Studios brand onto its French artsy sci-fi flick and spun it into millions of dollars Marvel won’t get. Because Marvel maybe doesn’t believe a Black Widow movie could make money. Because Hollywood is still afraid of superheroines.
Look: Marvel says we should vote with our voices, if we yell and we yell one day they’ll hear us, probably, some time after Ant-Man 2: Still No Janet Van Dyne. What happens, though, if someone else takes the niche they’ve created and ignored, and makes that money first?
“I want to tell you, we take you seriously. You don’t understand the power that you have over what we do day in and day out. I work twenty hours a day to make sure that the imagery we bring to film is the best we can bring you. When we do see more Captain Marvels, more Gamoras, more Black Widows, we see that and it matters. The women and the men behind us care about what you love and what you want represented. Take that to heart because we take you to heart!”—Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios EVP of Visual Effects
“Although [Perlman] didn’t write any other feature film, she did write a treatment for a Black Widow spin-off that Marvel apparently liked. She was asked if that was something she hopes to take a step further sometime in the future. “I do hope it gets developed….The Black Widow project didn’t get to the script phase, it was just a treatment but it was pretty in depth, and hopefully one day we’ll see it, Fingers crossed!”—Screenwriter Nicole Perlman On Choosing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Over Other Properties [x] (via fyeahmcublackwidow)
“And then Jessica Drew is much younger than Ben, but because she’s been through the Ultimate Universe, she’s lost a lot. The Ultimate Universe is a pretty grim place. Tons and tons of characters — friends of hers, people she’s fought with have died, and died for good. There aren’t a lot of resurrections in the Ultimate U. The city was destroyed and flooded, and her Peter Parker is dead. In a lot of ways, she has a more mature outlook on life than Ben Reilly does, because she’s lost a lot more.”—Mike Costa on the just-announced Scarlet Spiders miniseres
Hi! I was wondering if you know what Rooskaya means?
Rooskaya (русская) means Russian. It’s the feminine form of the adjective. When Yelena first confronts Natasha, she’s full of patriot identities:
My name is Yelena Belova. And I am a student from the Red Room in Moscow. You remember it, then? Yes, I thought you would. And yes, it is still active. You are its greatest legend, Natalia Romanova, even though you are no longer truly Russian.
Natasha calls Yelena rooskaya because Yelena says that Natasha is not.
Marvel Studios has apparently hired one Chris McCoy to rework Nicole Perlman’s Guardians of the Galaxy screenplay. This isn’t uncommon in Hollywood, and there’s a good chance her name will still appear in the credits, as Zak Penn’s did on The Avengers. From what I can tell, she was probably hired for GotG based on two other screenplays she had written about the American space program (do I sense a potential Captain Carol Marvel screenplay here?). Chris McCoy’s wheelhouse is quirky humor, which is no doubt necessary for a film containing Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
However, this news came with an intriguing tidbit I hadn’t heard before:
He’ll rework a well-regarded draft by Nicole Perlman, who as part of Marvel’s now-defunct writing program so impressed executives with a Black Widow script that she was brought in to work on “Thor.”
So Perlman’s Black Widow script was so impressive they brought her on crew (uncredited) for Thor, and gave her the first crack at a Guardians of the Galaxy script. And The Avengers showed audiences what a badass Natasha is.
So how much longer do we have to wait for a Black Widow movie, Marvel?