I’m not thrilled with the thought of Natasha being beaten up and brainwashed for the sake of some anguished Bucky-to-the-rescue arc, if that’s what you mean. The transmogification of female characters with their own brands and their own heroism into distressed damsels for their boyfriends to rescue is something that runs deep into the bones of the genre. It’s why it’s important for women to star in their own books, in stories about them— because supporting characters are always ultimately cogs in somebody else’s story. It’s also why some people think that superheroines shouldn’t date at all, lest they become “somebody’s girlfriend” and not themselves.
But that’s apocalypse talk. There’s really no reason dating hot guys in tight clothes has to equal a diminished character arc. It’s just that it has many times before. So often, that I think you have to tread extra-careful whenever you play that card, whenever you’re sticking a lady through the ringer in a dude character’s book.
The message-board counterargument I’ve gotten is mostly Bucky fans whining about how he’s always captured and needs Black Widow to save him!11 But that’s not so— in Brubaker’s work Natasha never faces down the final boss. She swoops in for the save so that Bucky can recoup and go fight win. She doesn’t rob him of his heroic moments, she helps set up the stakes for his eventual triumph.
You have to realize that Natasha has had very little stake in Brubaker’s books, outside of Bucky. She has other missions and other duties and her hanging around with Bucky seems like a part-time job, a personal favor. She gets mad when he gets hurt. Her past is only explored in the ways it relates to his— she keeps the other parts of herself secret. The bad guys are never after her, not in an aching, personal way. And that means she can play the hyper-competent voice of reason. But she can’t face down the final boss like that. You need to lose HP to level up.
That’s kind of the inverse echo of the Women in Refrigerators thing: in a world of four-color violence, you have to suffer to thrive. You actually can use a brainwash plotline to do a “look how badass” story. See Wolverine: Enemy of the State, or even the Black Widow arc of John Byrne’s Iron Man. And mind control is Brubaker’s favorite plot device for a reason; it’s propaganda and duty writ large, dialed up to eleven, a metaphor for when you serve something so deep you forget how to say no. And it sets up a mental victory instead of a run-of-the-mill punching kind. But that’s all in the execution, how the story is told and resolved. Basically the good stuff they can’t get to in solicits.
IIIIiii also don’t like the “lol she was brainwashed the whole time” version of Natasha’s backstory and the part of me that hates that retcon is also the part of me that kneejerks whenever its remnants come back into play. The reason Natasha joined up with the KGB is different, more complicated than Bucky’s— and this story should be an opportunity to nuance those differences, not paint them with more of the same. I get that Bucky’s narrating and of course he zooms right to the similarities, but hopefully Brubaker will give me more to chew on.
So basically file this one under “not sure if want” but with the stipulation that I’ll need to see it before I know. I’m trying to give Brubaker the benefit of the doubt here, and Michael Lark is always great.
Re: Captain America and Black Widow! I liked Cullen Bunn’s take on Natasha when he did that one-shot well enough My one caveat is that he might have made her too morally ambiguous, and too unambiguously lethal. That worked for a Fear Itself story where Natasha is in an extremely lonely, desperate place, but it shouldn’t be her default place! But, I’m looking forward to it. There’s a lot of untapped potential in a story exploring Natasha and Steve as equals and I trust Bunn to do that.
If I wasn’t buying it for that, though, I’d buy it again for Francavilla’s art. I’ve been really digging his work for the past year or so. I wish he’d zip up Natasha’s costume more, but that’s what I’m always saying.