So, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier fast approaching and the interviews are hinting something I’ve long-ago suspected: Natasha probably isn’t secretly 80 in the MCU. Enter the fandom flip out.
It doesn’t bother me, though, because the notion of Natasha’s agelessness is such a recent edition to her canon, both necessitated and enabled by the weirdness of comics. Comic book time is an unpinnable thing. And the Grayson/Rucka plotlines, some of my favorite Black Widow stories, were written before Natasha became immortal. Most of her 50 year history was written before Natasha became immortal. So I know her stories can survive without it.
Remember, when they made up this immortality retcon, it wasn’t for Natasha’s sake at all. Uncanny X-men #268 introduced the idea, but didn’t explain it, to use Natasha in the background of a Wolverine/Captain America team-up. Wolverine Origins drew a nonsensical connection between child-Natasha and its own developing master villain. Captain America #27 drew a connection between Natasha its own developing protagonist. A connection, which, by the way, isn’t used to make Natasha more competent in combat, but the opposite: Bucky explains that since he trained Natasha, he can beat her. And nowhere else, really, is her early-days training with Wolverine and Winter Soldier namedropped to make her more formidable.
Other writers took the immortality retcon and made it say something about Natasha, used it to make her past more of a monster. I like the immortality retcon because it expands on her basic themes— the cost of survival, the monstrous past— and drives them up to eleven. It paints them in comic book colors. And I like it because I know, in spite of timeline vagaries, that Black Widow really was the product of the Cold War, that she has been around for fifty years. Ageless.
The movies are another beast, though, with more defined and shorter timelines. Everyone is a rookie, compared to their comic book counterparts. Captain America fought the war for two years, not four, and is still fresh out of the ice. Nick Fury got removed from the Howling Commandos entirely, probably to make timelines more coherent. It makes sense they’d do the same with Black Widow, who is still likely the most experienced member of the Avengers, who was working SHIELD for however long before Iron Man came to their attention, who was working elsewhere however long before that.
Adaptation is a tricky business, and as a comic fan you have to stomach choices being made to cut out your favorite scenes, and sometimes your favorite characters. (Wasp!!) Sometimes it turns out for the best, sometimes it turns out like the Daredevil movie. But the execution matters just as much as the choices themselves. How they characterize Natasha, how they let her navigate her past, that matters more to me than when they set her birthday.