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Fuck Yeah, Black Widow

Fallaces sunt rerum species

Здравствуйте from FYBW, your one-stop tumblr shop for Black Widow news, no-prizing, and oversaturated .gifs. Some MCU, mostly comics. Often overwritten. Always overthinking.

Black Widow created by Lee, Rico and Heck & is © Marvel Entertainment.

March 2014 Diamond Breakdown

Disclaimer first: the Diamond estimated sales figures are estimates, based fancy guessing and also orders of Batman. They are not what Marvel uses in their secret cancellation calculations. They do not include digital figures, newsstands, international markets, and only kind of maybe tell us how many books Diamond shipped— i.e. how many retailers thought they could sell, not how many they actually sold.

Comic book sales go down, so the test of the Marvel Now #1s will be not just how high their first issue hits, but how well and how quickly they find an audience afterward. So, here’s Black Widow through March:

Rank	Title			#	Est. Sales	
20	Black Widow (2014)	1	53,879		—
63	Black Widow (2014)	2	31,260		-41.98%	
70	Black Widow (2014)	3	28,127		-11.13%
78	Black Widow (2014)	4	27,378		-2.66%

The -2.66% drop is close to “standard attrition”— after four issues it seems like Black Widow is pretty close to finding a steady level. The title is seeing significant if not overwhelming reorders, too, indicating that for all Marvel’s numbering tricks retailers underestimated the initial demand for Black Widow. (Retailers have to guess how many copies of a new series they’re going to sell before a customer gets to see it.) Here’s what the chart looks like with the reorders added:

Rank	Title			#	Est. Sales	
20	Black Widow (2014)	1	56,553		—
63	Black Widow (2014)	2	33,603		-40.58%	
70	Black Widow (2014)	3	30,187		-10.1%
78	Black Widow (2014)	4	27,378		-9.31%

The difference from issue #3 to #4 is, of course, a lot bigger, but you can see the # of reorders have been pretty consistent from issue #1 to #2 to #3. Jason Enright, who analyzes these charts for The Beat, notes the positive reviews and strong reorders. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a slight uptick in orders for March or April.” I wouldn’t be surprised, either. Marvel press talks about “rising sales” on this book, and I think that’s what you see in the reorders. Eventually the reorders and the initial orders are probably going to meet up.

There’s also a movie, with $162 million domestic and counting, that features Black Widow in a large, tangible way. Black Widow #1 was also printed with Superior Spider-man #30, so readers have lots of reasons to jump into Black Widow this month.

I want to go back to the movie, though. The popularity of the MCU hasn’t turned Iron Man or Captain America into month-to-month sales dynamos. Some people say this means the death of the industry, some people say it just means Rick Remender is some kind of evil. I tend to think, though, that it speaks to the impenetrability of comic shop culture.

To make a dent in the Diamond sales charts, retailers have to see you coming. To buy monthly comics, you have to track down a special store, and then be brave enough to walk into it. And to matter most, you have to keep coming back, you have to tell retailers what books you want before they happen. The extra interest from the films we can expect reflected in the Diamond sales is from dedicated comic readers: people who already bought Batman but never thought Captain America was cool until they saw the big screen explosions. They likely to be aren’t brand new readers, fished in. There’s very little room for that kind of fishing.

But that’s not to say that these films don’t have an effect. Here’s where I can draw up the sales for Natasha’s last ongoing, launched around the time Iron Man 2 swept the theaters.

Rank	Title			#	Est. Sales	
55	Black Widow (2010)	1	32,807		—
63	Black Widow (2010)	2	23,384		-28.7%	
103	Black Widow (2010)	3	19,892		-14.9%
111	Black Widow (2010)	4	18,665		-5.8%

The 2014 Black Widow is selling way more than the 2010 edition, and I think there are a couple reasons for that, but one of them is probably the Avengers. I know a lot of fans who cite Name of the Rose, the story these issues turned into, as their favorite Natasha story, but not a lot who bought it when the book was coming out.

I figure a sizable audience came to Natasha’s comics after seeing the Avengers, like Marvel would want, but they came to Natasha in trade, buying collected editions in bookstores, off of Amazon, digitally— places much more accessible to a new or casual fan than a comic shop. (I’m sure a lot of people came to her comics through illegal downloading, too, but that’s another fish kettle.) Name of the Rose recently hit #1 on Kindle, years after the issues came out in singles, but not long before Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in theaters.

With another Avengers film on the horizon, I think there’s a specific incentive to publish new Black Widow stories— not just for the month to month market but for the readers standing outside of it. When Avengers: Age of Ultron releases next year, there should be two trades worth of new Natasha stories that came out since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And if I’m really lucky, those trades will make an easy jump-on point for a series that’s still running.

As always, if you want to support Black Widow, or any book, buy it, and pre-order if you can, either through your local comic shop, an online vendor, or digitally via comixology.

When The Avengers hit theaters almost two years ago, a lot of people made fun of Hawkeye and Black Widow because they were regular human beings teamed up with a super-soldier, a man in a flying metal fighting suit, a giant green monster with unimaginable strength, and a god. And it’s true that Hawkeye seemed like he existed primarily as a plot point, but Black Widow, now, she kicked ass and showed some serious depth as a character.

If you’re still skeptical, try thinking of Black Widow this way: She’s an human being without super powers. She’s an amazing athlete with serious expertise in several martial arts. She dresses in black, and wears a belt. She sometimes uses gadgets. She’s incredibly stealthy. Some seriously bad things have happened to her in the past. She doesn’t always exactly follow the law. Sound familiar?

I’m not saying that the Widow is precisely a female version of Batman – there are many obvious differences, most prominently her use of guns and willingness to kill. But I’d be willing to bet that most of the people who scoffed at the Widow’s presence in The Avengers would never dream of saying anything of that sort about Batman. The fact is that Black Widow, as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a terrific character who absolutely belongs with the more conventional superheroes.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Black Widow has a much bigger role in this film than she’s had before, and you get to see just how multifaceted her character really is, as well as see her kick some more very serious ass. In movies, she’s the best argument there has been so far that calling characters like her “female superheroes” or “superheroines” is just silly: she, and they, are superheroes; the fact that they’re female really isn’t relevant.


Isaiah: I get it, I got it. But you want all these trusts funded, and you don’t have the income to do it. If you spent more time on jobs, perhaps, and not on the Avengers—
Natasha: Tell Dubai I accept.
Isaiah: My dog listens better than you sometimes.
Natasha: I’m a spy. Not some rooftop-jumping archer, shield-wielding super soldier, or shiny-metal philantrhobot. I need to make that clear on my business card. Espionage is shadow warfare. Cold combat.

I think these two sequences work deeper together. Natasha’s nearness has been something clever in this series— she lives in an immigrant neighborhood, not the Statue of Liberty. She buys plane tickets, gets stuck in traffic. Her bones break. But she’s still an Avenger, still the one woman SHIELD sends when things turn hot instead of cold.

Superheroes wear masks but are not secret; they’re celebrities in tight, primary colored clothing. And Natasha has been taught to be none of that. Financial interest, basic self-interest, all the instincts she’s learned and trained into herself, they’d tell her to stop. But she doesn’t run away from Molot, here. She jumps the rooftops. She’s an Avenger. Because she wants to be, has to be. Whatever.

From Black Widow #1 and #4, by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.

Natasha: Wow! You win, Steve— my work for SHIELD has taken me all over the world… and that is, without a doubt, not just the best milk shake in Brooklyn… but on the whole darn planet.
Steve: Told you. There’s a reason this place has been open since I was a kid— way back before World War Two. Of course, in those days the malteds were just a nickel…
Natasha: And you had to walk uphill both ways to go to school, right?

From Captain America: Homecoming by Fred Van Lente and Tom Grummet.

So let’s talk about Captain America and Black Widow… | »

So let’s talk. It doesn’t twist and shock me that after this film, people are waxing pages about whether Steve and Natasha should hook up. Evans and Johansson share a practiced chemistry, they’re appealing to watch on screen together, and word to Ed Brubaker, fans have been trying to get Marvel Body Part A next to (possibly metal) Marvel Body Part B since before I discovered the internet. And yet—

You do what you can, when you’re the only lady in a boy’s club. Which is why it feels weird to take up “Who Will Black Widow Hook Up With?” as a talking point.

This is actually why it isn’t weird at all, EW. When it was announced Natasha would get significant screentime in the Captain America sequel, one of the leadoff questions was: would she hook up with Steve? This is because the only role for women that these solo super movies seem to offer with significant screentime is designated love interest: and no matter how else the story breaks around them, they will be evaluated according to how well they match up with the leading man.

Which is why it isn’t weird that EW is running this article about how Steve and Natasha should totes makeout, just vague and hollow and disappointing. And why it isn’t weird that the thinking is as pitched why Natasha works for Steve, and not the other way around.

I mean there’s some compelling analysis, here:

Cap turns the conversation around, talks about how little he really knows about Widow. “Who do you want me to be?” she asks — a question that seems to be all subtext, insofar as most things at this particular cultural moment of ScarJo feel like subtext.

Here, I will write you some subtext: Natasha plays the dating game with Steve but never makes herself a contestant. She flirts because that hooks at Steve’s vulnerabilities, and Natasha needs to look for vulnerabilities. She latches onto his loneliness because it covers up her own. And that loneliness is her own, a legacy of some unspoken past; it can’t be kissed better by some gallant-eyed prince charming. Her resolution is no romantic comedy.

Agent 13 is dismissed as all-capslong BORING, boring for her ineviatbility and not anything she actually did onscreen. The women are evaluated in terms of each other, and in terms of their suitability for Steve. In the end Natasha becomes a collection of adjectives, not a collection of actions. (“Leather-clad” among-them, which hellotailor chopped up into easy-to-digest pieces.)

The interesting thing is that the author seems to realize the fundamental limitation of women’s roles in this generation of big time superhero film. The female lead has become synonymous with romantic foil. Marvel Studios has tried to address this limitation by expanding the love interest role: having these characters played by Oscar-quality actors, having them contribute more to the plot than chemistry. But they are still evaluated and dismissed according to the criteria of their man— “mere” love interests, we call them, even when they’re the ones to save the day. And Marvel is still not writing women of other sorts. There is no superhero woman with her own film, and no big bad, either.

EW posits that the reason the Captain America/Black Widow “romance” is so interesting is because Black Widow is not so clearly made for that love interest role. She’s the only good love interest because she’s not a “mere” love interest. If the idea was more Agent 13 in Cap3 and Natasha getting her own finally film, then scratch that. Cancel Sharon, cancel Black Widow, it’s time for “narrative improv” for the sake of “the most interesting super-romance since Batman Returns.”

But by this logic, a Black Widow reprise in Captain America 3 will kill everything interesting about her. If she becomes his designated sweetheart, there is nothing to separate her from characters like Sharon, who is only BORING because she is designated. It seems to me the better fix would be to write more female sidekicks, more female leads, more villains— and maybe then it won’t seem so much like every woman is there to find their man. Maybe we won’t try to force Natasha into a love interest role she wasn’t meant to fit. Maybe superhero romance won’t seem so boring if it isn’t so much the default.