Bucky: From the early 1950s through the fall of the Soviet Union, the Red Room was a training program in Moscow. One of many arms of Department X, the KGB’s experimental science division. It’s where Natasha was raised… where she earned the rank of Black Widow… and where, in the late 1950s, she met me.
Back to what I was saying about no-prizing— the continuity in this sequence is wrong. Not wrong in so significant a way that I’m gonna pull out my fan police badge the next time I see Ed Bruabaker, but Natasha wasn’t raised by the Red Room, and both Paul Cornell and Marjorie Liu used the fact of her life before the Red Room to explain both what makes her a fantastic agent and what made her strong enough to stop. Likewise, not only is the original USSR Red Room program still continuing in secret, in much the same way Captain America can always find Nazis to punch c. 2012, but the Russian government still maintains an officially sanctioned post-Soviet Red Room program. That’s where Yelena Belova came from, and it was directly scene as recently as Widowmaker.
But it’s not some omniscient narrator explaining her past, it’s not even Natasha— it’s Bucky. And when we look at this sequence as Bucky not having the whole story, instead of Ed Brubaker not having the whole story, it becomes a lot more intriguing. Remember, back in Name of the Rose, where the plot really spun around her life and loss pre-KGB, she was explicitly lying to Bucky to keep him from finding out.
So, why? If she loves and trusts James, and I think she does, why hasn’t she bled her heart out? Why keep this murky? Because the parts of her that were there before she ever dreamed of being Black Widow are the most vulnerable, the things she needs to keep the most safe. And lies and misdirection are the surest armor she knows. The honesty in their relationship isn’t the brutal, upfront kind— it is honesty that sinks beneath the secrets, honesty that says you do not need to know everything about a person to know everything that matters.
Incidentally, Department X was a real thing, and a lot of Brubaker’s fascination with KGB mindcontrol is historically inspired.
From Winter Soldier #7, by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark.