I’m definitely glad you and your friend have reached a truce!! I don’t want to phoenix down a dead argument and wish him luck on his baby steps towards enlightenment. But I recently got into this ill-advised tumblr throwdown with some Clint/Bruce shipper who likewise insisted that if you go read the comics you would see that Natasha is this terrible rhymes-with-witch who sleeps around and betrays people for funsies. So, because your friend isn’t listening, and because it’s not just your friend: he’s still pretty wrong. I’m going to try to explain why, not so he can learn, but maybe so that other people can. I love Yelena, and I really like what Devin Grayson did with Natasha, but she didn’t create character depth, she expanded on it. I’m super pleased that there are a lot of recent writers who have approached the character with thoughtfulness and depth. But this whole thing about Black Widow being this terrible untrustworthy minx who slept with everyone and constantly betrayed the Avengers in the 1970s, back when comics were super-sexist? It never happened.
There are a lot of reasons I started this blog, chief among them boredom and a toxic affection for my own opinions, but I was also face-to-palm tired of people trashing Natasha. No character is everybody’s favorite, I get that. But there’s a particular brand of criticism you can only throw at a particular sort of character, and I’ve found there’s really no adequate defense for it because it makes its own rules. Natasha, I learned, over and over, was a bad female character. Bad specifically at womanhood. Not a Strong Woman, not a good role model.
Usually, I discovered, this was because of how all she was good for was sleeping with dudes. It didn’t matter that she actually didn’t sleep with many dudes, that sex was still pretty verboten under the Comics Code, or that writer after writer gave her so much more than just a love life. It didn’t matter that Natasha was the first woman at Marvel to lead a superhero team, in 1975, or that she was the first to star in her own feature, in 1970. It didn’t matter that those same dudes slept with her, but no one was calling them poor male role-models because of it. It didn’t matter that she was aggressively single c. 1977 to 2007. It didn’t matter that having three (gasp! scandal!) love interests from 1964 to 1975 meant that she didn’t revolve around any of them. I found it was a lot easier for some people to believe in comics that never happend than the ones that did. To let one terrible issue count more than twenty good ones. To let Natasha’s gratuitous cleavage say more about her credibility as a superhero than, idk, outfoxing Loki.
I’ve thought for a long time that one of the things we do to promote women in superhero comics is to complain about how the shitty women are in superhero comics. And I worry that, sometimes, by doing that, we’re covering up the complications, we stick characters into this simple sex object box, because it’s easier to describe, because it meets our unchecked expectations. Not because it fits. Here’s how Natasha was written in 1972.
Whore is the first word that comes to mind.