Bixby: Wait…that’s it? You didn’t even tell me your name. Who are you?
Yelena: I’m the Black Widow.
Yelena Belova came into comics in 1999, after a decade of pouches and ediger, contemporary replacement heroes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the miniseries which crashed Yelena to Natasha also returned her to the 1970 all-blacks and half-bouffant, after near to two decades of short, angular hairstyles. Yelena had her middriff bare, Yelena used rifles instead of gadgets, Yelena was very 1999. She was also post-Soviet, young and hungry. Natasha was getting older, getting old; that 1999 mini saw her pass a birthday unremarked and unremembered. It also gave her an archfoe, something she hadn’t had for a while.
Yelena Belova was all these hard worn comic book trope: the edgy nineties replacement, the dark mirror. But because she was the Black Widow, none of that was colored in binaries. Natasha didn’t want to defend her codename— she wanted to save Yelena from it. Yelena wasn’t only the villain— she was also the wronged.
Avenger Black Widow is one of the best bets, as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has already proven herself on-screen, and with a spy skill set that can break superhero cinema out of the usual origin-story rut…But instead of being seen as powerful and dynamic characters who could lead their own films, a double standard is applied to superheroines. The men lead, and the women support, no matter how powerful their characters are. Marvel head Kevin Feige has actually repeatedly expressed happiness at how his company has handled female superheroes. He is perfectly happy to have the female characters support the men, rather than feel pressure over the company’s very recognizable exclusion of female stars: “I’m very proud of the way the Marvel movies handle the female characters […] as opposed to feeling the pressure of ‘When are you doing a female movie?’”
Intentional or not, Feige’s words express a palpable disinterest in the female superheroes audiences clearly want to see. In the same interview, he blows off the idea of a Black Widow solo movie with that same old standby: “If we had a great idea, we’d do it.”
The fact is that if Feige desired it, it would happen — and the Marvel head has a history of making his desires a reality. “It became a secret dream” of his “to have a second bite at the apple” when Hulk crashed and burned in 2003. In five short years, Bruce Banner was back for The Incredible Hulk — another film that missed the mark, before the character finally hit, four years later, when Mark Ruffalo took over in The Avengers. That time, Feige made it happen, and poor returns on Marvel’s investments didn’t stop him.