I’m going to tell you why Black Widow doesn’t have her own film.
You can’t blame Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. Mostly, because then you just wind up arguing with fans who are really excited about a movie with their fav and not, you know, rich movie executives who are actually in charge of making these decisions. Fan on fan violence is why no one should go to comic book messageboards!
But you also shouldn’t blame Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man because those are the wrong movies. Catwoman, Elektra, and most of all Ultraviolet— those are why Natasha doesn’t have her own film.
She did, once. They announced a Black Widow movie before the first Iron Man came out. Solid Snake was involved. There was a director and script attatched. This should tell you something.
First, that everyone who says Natasha doesn’t have a movie because there’s no story there is speaking some straight-up bullshit. People who say they’d never try it because no one’s heard of Black Widow are also wrong. (The recognizability argument is a huge red herring— the Blade trilogy opened the way for the current wave of vigilante films, and Iron Man was no household name pre-RDJ.) The truth is, Natasha is extremely well-suited to film. The pitch is easy and understandable. “It’s James Bond meets Spider-man!” Her look is easy to translate, her powers don’t require a huge special effects budget, and her origin story is self-contained. (The continuity is complicated, but it slims down nicely.) Look: they stuck her in the MCU films basically the first chance they got.
Look: Captain America 2 is adapting a comic book arc that takes a bunch of the themes Natasha had first and then respinning them with extra manpain. There’s no reason a Black Widow film couldn’t work. Except one.
I think if you want a Black Widow film you should be rooting hard for Guardians of the Galaxy to do well, because that will encourage the big rich studio people to take more risks. But they are taking a different kind of risk with Guardians and Ant-Man. Those films are risky because the concepts are strange, because of talking raccoons and because size change powers still just evokes Honey I Shrunk the Kids and the name Ant-Man evokes ridicule.
Natasha’s film was cancelled, not because of its own flaws, but because of other films. Ultraviolet tanked, so did Elektra, so did Catwoman, so they didn’t want to make any more films starring women. Not then. And apparently not now. This isn’t my conspiracy theory, this is what the director actually said.
The reason there is no Black Widow film is because she’s a woman. Don’t forget that.
I’ve been google trolling for Black Widow news since NYCC rolled around, and I came upon this slightly stale Atlantic article. Quoth the headline: Fanboys Don’t Like Black Widow’s ‘Huge’ Role in the Avengers Sequel.
You might remember our last big nerd meet, where Whedon was quoted as saying, “Natasha is a huge part in the sequel.” He explained that you want to focus on the characters without their own franchises. Look, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America have scripts standing by and sequels to throw money at. Whedon has to put those guys back in the box when he’s done. It’s the characters like Natasha or Bruce or Clint he can really take from point A to point B, and that’s how the comics work too. New/Secret/Uncanny/Avengers/World can’t be the Steve/Tony/Thor manboat all the time, you have to have characters like the Wasp or Luke Cage in the mix to be the moving parts.
This concept is too much for one Steve L. of Unleash the Fanboy, whose site is down but apparently who whined loudly enough to get a whole Reddit thread started. (Reddit, that bastion of feminist thought.)
I’m pretty sure when Nietzsche wrote about the abyss staring back, he was referring specifically to comic book messageboards. Pretty sure.
she is attractive but she was the worst choice for a russian assassin, she is too short, I would had pick milla jovovich
I mean this is astute and compelling analysis of Whedon’s weak points as a director, and not just a lazy comment reducing acting talent to phyisical appearance, yes?
The problem is that the Abad-Santos treats these redditors like their opinions are not just valuable, but absolute.
That column opened up a can of worms. “For me, I just think she’s boring. She didn’t come across to me as cold and calculating, just boring,” a Redditor wrote, explaining why he or she wasn’t thrilled with the decision. And some of the discussion then evolved into speculation about why a character like Black Widow would have a “huge” role in a movie featuring behemoths like Thor and Ironman. Some surmised that the biggest contribution her character could muster up would be her death. “It makes sense to drop her character because as they continue to add to the roster of heroes with powers, a normal chick with a pistol and luchador fighting moves seems rather boring,” another Redditor opined.
This is all even more evidence that Marvel hasn’t really delivered on its female heroes. Because it didn’t develop Black Widow enough… the studio is now seemingly faced with two options: propping up what feels to fans like a token character or fans thinking that the only thing she can contribute is her death
Let me break this down. In the Avengers, Black Widow had stand out scenes, memorable lines, a clear motivation. She was the one who gathered the team together, the one who figured out how to close the whispy blue space door, the one who saved the world and her partner. She’s a badass normal and so we see that this is situation unnormal and that she is badass.
But some people don’t see that at all, they see tits and ass and the shape of Scarlett Johansson’s eyes, because that is all they are looking for. And because all they are doing is looking, not watching, not listening, not seeing.
I don’t, of course, disagree with the article’s central thesis: Marvel needs to do better by its female characters. One female Avenger and zero female protagonists doesn’t cut it. But the solution isn’t a simple as “do better”— there are real biases against women in the action genre.
And it brings us back to square one — Marvel needs to take a page from its own comics and realize that its female characters are part of the reason people read comic books. Bring a character to life that isn’t just a prop or a means to an end, and you’ll have fans willing to take her seriously.
Right? But giving Natasha powers won’t stop the fanboy from unleashing, and giving her a movie won’t stop the internet from calling her ugly or useless. Take a lesson from comics, where giving Carol Danvers her own series will keep hasn’t stopped fans from saying mean things about her hair.
Yet there are also fans who love Natasha, and take her seriously, storming Joey Q’s panels demanding their Black Widow film to real and virtual applause. That same Joss Whedon quote that had Reddit on a rampage got over 5,000 overwhelmingly positive notes here. Even on Reddit, not everyone is chanting for Whedon to kill her off. “She was actually one of the more interesting parts of Avengers for me, so I am hoping to see more of her,” writes one. “I thought Black Widow was awesome in The Avengers. One of the films highlights,” says someone else.
I know that I’m no more legitimate a source than something called “unleashthefanboy”— but that’s the point. If Steve L.’s nerdrage is noteworthy, damning, why isn’t mine? There is no last word on how fans feel about anything. The fanboy, that monolith that encompasses all geekery and lives in his mother’s basement, is dead, or maybe only ever lived in the hearts and minds of 80s teen flicks.
If we’re going to to have a productive conversation on sexism, female characters, and superhero movies, we need to look at why some fans have strong negative reactions to female characters and not assume the answer lies completely with the female characters in question. Too much “women in comics” talk is bound up in determining whether a lady character is “good” or “feminist”, which leads to this simplistic assumption that making them better (how?) will fix the biases in Hollywood marketing departments and with audiences.
Okay tumblr, seatbelts, because it’s time for a Tale of Two Sexy: two Black Widow minis that could have featured awful Greg Horn covers (one did!), and sex, and going undercover at a fetish parlor because, sure, that makes sense.
Nikki: You think we are perverts, maybe? But nothing happens unless the client wants it to, you understand? We’re here for their fantasies, not ours.
Yelena: And Colonel Starkovsky’s fantasy? Was it to be whipped and beaten in the Red Room?
Nikki: Yes and no… his fantasy was you, Black Widow.
This is from Pale Little Spider, a Yelena story by Greg Rucka and Igor Kordey, that deals overtly with the sexiness of the spy genre, the parallels of fantasy between prostitution and espionage. It’s set at a sex club, there’s a reason it’s set at a sex club, and the setting forces the themes of power, consent, and identity. These are all classic Black Widow themes remixed, painted darker.
Kordey’s art is really perfect for this story. There’s a deliberate ugliness in his linework that highlights all the edges to this setting. And this is a story that wouldn’t work if Yelena’s bodylanguage were the same as Nikki’s. The women here have their own faces. This book was published under the MAX imprint, so they could have gone boobs out if they’d wanted, instead of teasing with conveniently placed sheets. But this story was about control, not titillation.
It’s not an easy story, but there’s substance.
Some Dude: Sounds good. Just watch your back, agent. Everyone else will be.
This is the Black Widow Strikes mini that we all know I hate, which also deals with themes of identity by submerging Natasha in various “sexy” personas. She dresses up as a fetish waitress, in a bikini, in this super revealing evening gown with weird shoes. She never loses herself in the identity of a schoolteacher, or a McDonalds cashier, but bad guys do charge in when she’s changing, “necessitating” a fight scene in underwear.
All the scantily clad stuff feels like a detour from the plot, not an expression of it, but it’s so omnipresent that it’s hard to tell what the plot is for. Look at the above panels where boobs are emphasized in panel after panel despite playing no part in the action of the scene. They’re emphasized because it’s assumed that is what we want to see. It’s the sort of sexy that depends merely on not wearing many clothes, not on mood, or intent, or expressions of desire.
This comic came out ten years after Pale Little Spider. I think comics in general or improving, or I’m desperate enough to make myself think so. But it’s not a simple linear progression from Reed Richards being a jerk to Carol Corps issue #17. (Though I am excited.)
I’m a woman, I’m straight, I read comics, and I can appreciate comics women being sexy because sometimes I want to be. But that kind of sexiness demands atmosphere, it needs mood, it has character. It isn’t about cartoon boob close-ups, or the vague visual promise of Scarlett Johansson naked. Tell me a story. Don’t take detours for cleavage. (I know what boobs look like, I have my own.) Make it complicated, make it fun. Give me something to chew on, to fall in love with. That’s sexy.
The trouble is, when comics say sexy, I don’t actually know what they mean.
Inspired by this blog, I have started some research for a field work project for a class on material culture. I am going to different retail stores and counting the Avengers toys, keeping track of how much each Avenger is represented in toys. I gave myself a couple of ground rules:
- I only counted toys. No school supplies, clothes, or anything else that might be official Avengers merchandise.
- I only counted toys that had the Avengers logo on them. I didn’t count anything licensed under Iron Man II, non-Avengers related Superhero Squad, or any other Marvel based property.
I’ve visited two Targets, a Wal-Mart, a Toys R Us, and a Disney Store so far. While I am not done visiting stores just yet, here is a visual representation of what I have found so far:
The top graph represents how much screen time each Avenger received in the movie. I found this here. Black Widow is featured the third most of all the Avengers at 33:35. The Avenger just below her, Hulk, didn’t touch 30 minutes.
The bottom graph represents how many toys I found that featured each Avenger. The Avenger with the most toy representation is Iron man at 413 toys. Black Widow is the least represented at 24 toys. It’s not pictured, but Black Widow just beat characters who were not featured in the movie, such as Super Skrull, which equaled 21 toys.
A couple of interesting notes:
- I kept track of “action figure/doll” toys vs “prop” toys such as Hulk Hands. There were no instances of Black Widow “prop” toys.
- Any time Black Widow is present, she is packaged with other characters. A vast majority of her toys were the LEGO Quinjet, which at around $70 is not the most accessible toy for low income families. She was also present in a “Special Value pack” that included 4 inch figures for every Avenger, Loki, and Nick Fury. These are the only two toys that featured Black Widow.
Starting this fieldwork I expected a deficit of Black Widow. But I didn’t expect something this drastic.
Look at this interesting blog I found several months late!
Today is International Women’s Day, aka Working Women’s Day, a holiday with socialist roots that was officially adopted in the Soviet Union following the October Revolution. So, internet. Let’s talk gender.
Once upon a time ComicsAlliance commissioned a mock-up of the Avengers movie poster line-up. All the dudevengers were replaced with a female counterpart— She-Hulk, Thor Girl, American Dream. Black Widow got, uh, Dead Husband.
I wasn’t lying!
The comments section brags about its vast collection of Dead Husband™ merchandise and, in the grand tradition of comicfan pedantry, lists some possible alternatives. Like Red Guardian, Natasha’s real actual occasionally dead husband, or Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker’s one-man world tour attempt at making Bucky Barnes relevant. But I’m gonna call it, the picture is right. There is no male counterpart. Here’s why.