Every kilometer of the road from airport to university holds a memory. Some great… some small… yet each poignant with associations. Here is the street where she played as a child. There is the Bolshoi, where she danced as a woman. So many memories… some fond, some painful. Each of them is a part of her, forming the whole that she continues to become every moment she is alive.
The Coldest War is a Black Widow book that becomes more interesting to me the more I think about it. It doesn’t take Natasha anyplace new, but it goes everywhere she’s ever been with a succinct, elegant melancholy. It was written by Gerry Conway more than a decade after he — according to legend— took advantage of a Stan Lee business trip to kill off Gwen Stacy. Back when he was young and radical, Conway extreme makeovered Daredevil into a partner book exploring gender dynamics. And he made Natasha into his women’s lib star, the Gloria Steinem of the jumpsuit set. (Later he’d be the pen behind the first issue of Ms. Marvel.)
The Natasha of those early Bronze Age stories was fiery, passionate, and forward thinking. She was a woman trying to make a new life, and despite her relationship with one Matthew Murdock, she was determined to make it on her own. Fast forward a couple years and Natasha has become colder, on her own definitively and so perhaps definitively lonely. But Conway doesn’t forget the fire he breathed into her, he simply veils it— and the result is a richer character than the one he wrote circa 1972.
This sequence is ironic in retrospect, but I think it speaks to the dangers of big revealing that all Natasha’s memories, and thus her sense of self, were lies crafted by the KGB to control her. That retcon and the subsequent retcons that half-undid it have made Natasha a wiki write-up from hell at a time where she should be more accessible than ever.
But the other thing is this: what are these characters but the sum, often paradoxical, total of their continuities? And what do we do when we try to subtract from them, instead of add?
From Black Widow: The Coldest War, by Gerry Conway and George Freeman.