From Black Widow: Homecoming #2, Morgan/Parlov/Sienkiewicz
So Richard K. Morgan has a thing about Natasha’s wrist blasters. To sum up, he thinks they are both sexist and stupid:
In my mind they symbolized everything that needed to change about the character - they were a hideous welding of cod-femininity (bracelets, jewelry) and kitsch James Bond weaponry. I didn’t want my Black Widow to be some cute sub-Bond girl who only lights up when the [male] hero happens by.”
Truth be told, I have some, eheh, issues with Morgan’s “feminism”— particularly his idea that Natasha must be more quote-unquote fucked up because she is a woman, and women are wired to be naturally more cuddly but there’s something to this idea and I think it deserves to be examined.
Originally Natasha’s gauntlets were more akin to bracelets, and they had no offensive purpose. Like Spider-man’s webshooters, they generated a piece of string for her to swing around on, but unlike Spider-man’s webshooters, they couldn’t tie up enemies or incapacitate. Nor that they demonstrate unlikely teenage scientific brilliance. Actually, the KGB just called them bracelets.
From Tales of Suspense #64, Lee/Heck
There is a tendency in the media world to give men guns and women lipstick, and Natasha’s early lack of any fighting abilities or powers whatsoever could definitely be Exhibit 264 A for the prosecution. Batman gets a utility belt, Wonder Woman gets bracelets, and yeah, something rotten, meet the state of Denmark.
However, they quickly became weapons and not just semi-useful gadgets, with a variety of offensive abilities. Hell, now they’ve got a garotte built-in.
From Black Widow #5, Liu/Acuña
Not to say there isn’t room for improvement. I’d like it if Natasha designed the weapons herself, the way Clint does his arrows, or at least we had some understanding of where the damn things came from.
Of course, visually, the gauntlets have changed, too— becoming large, more obvious, and much less like jewelry. There are plenty of male heroes that sport similar wrist apparatuses, though I guess bracelets are semi-unisex to begin with.
Which brings me to Morgan’s other big problem with them:
Put it this way - which Batman do you prefer the Adam West TV incarnation or Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight?’ Exactly. No contest. I wanted to apply the same logic to what I was doing with Black Widow, and that meant the girly shit had to go.
It’s not just the girly shit, it’s the kitschy shit he’s got a problem with. Morgan was trying to take the superhero out of Natasha, and that’s what her gauntlets really are. They’re superhero stuff, and it’s a genre that does bellyflops into a great pool of kitsch. Take away the gauntlets and her belt, and you’ve got an aerobics teacher in a leotard, not a superhero. Which is what Morgan was going for, really: a story of post-Soviet Russia, sexual politics, and corporate intrigue, set in something that might be the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe. (A fine enough take, lemme be clear. I don’t actually hate Morgan’s two minis, I’ve just got a few picking bones with them. And, I wouldn’t mind a Black Widow book in the vein of Punisher MAX, just like I don’t mind the all-ages Marvel Adventures take on things.) He was playing fast and loose with continuity, if he wanted his work to take place in continuity at all. So the change might be appropriate. Although, once you get rid of the genre-factor, why is she running around in something skintight at all?
But that’s the thing: Batman is both Dark Knight and Adam West. These characters exist in a multitude of incarnations, as Morissonian ur-myths that speak across subgenre and metaphor. It’s not just one slice that makes the icon, it’s the whole damn pizza. That’s how comicbook storylines last for decades upon decades, and that’s how some writers can go off the deep end and the franchise soldiers on. Characterization is elastic: it stretches, and if it stretches too far, it snaps back. And you can’t throw out the bathwater without tossing the baby with it.
In spite of all the problematic stuff that happens to women (and characters of color, and B-listers, and A-listers, and whelp, basically everyone, but let’s stick with women b/c that’s the field Morgan’s playing on) you can’t just tear it down and stick in something totally new. It can be tempting, it can be boy-oh-boy tempting, and there are many panels I’d happily stuff into the Dustbin of It Never Happened, Really. But to wholesale ignore history is just another kind of erasure, and dude we are dealing with that enough already.
It’s not in the least surprising that Morgan’s attack on the similarly quasi-sexist “ballerina myth” of her origin, his non-kitsch, non girly shit re-envisioning, denied all the remarkable agency she’d shown in her Silver Age stories. But then, I don’t agree with his central point, that all Natasha had been up until him was a mirror for male heroes to reflect in.