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Fuck Yeah, Black Widow

Fallaces sunt rerum species

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Black Widow created by Lee, Rico and Heck & is © Marvel Entertainment.

Anonymous asked: So I'm confused: It's probably because I haven't been able to get my hands on many comics that aren't really recent. Daredevil and Natasha seemed very on again/off again in their relationship from what I've seen/heard though. Just how many break ups and make ups were? When did things end for good??

Matt and Natasha met in Daredevil #81 and quickly started dating.. Their relationship was tumultuous, and there were several almost break-ups— Matt dumps Natasha abruptly in Daredevil #85, but changes his mind just as quickly and they get back together the next issue. Natasha leaves in Daredevil & the Black Widow #99 to join the Avengers for one issue before deciding she’s more happy with Matt. After that, Matt decides to move back to New York, and they are separated for a while until Natasha can move, too. The relationship ends when she leaves him in Daredevil #124. And they never got back together after that.

After that, though, she still made a lot of guest appearances in Daredevil, as a SHIELD contact, superhero, ex-girlfriend or some combination of the three. There’s a lot of flirting and near-misses and lingering sexual tension. Sometimes one of them wants to get back together. But the end of the story is always the same: they don’t get back together. All of the almosts give a dimension of inevitability to their relationship. They will always have feelings for each other, probably, but it will never work out.

Kevin Smith sort of implied the two might have had a friends with benefits thing going on at some vague indeterminate time in the past, but I think they’d both be really bad at that, so uh, I tend to think that mostly happened in Kevin Smith’s fanfic. (If Matt could sleep with anyone without making things complicated, the women of New York city would have a much higher survival rate.)

So in conclusion: they were together basically from 1971 to 75 give or take a few melodramatic Bronze Age fights, and have flirted a lot since, never crossing the finish line.

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Natasha: You know I used to be the most dangerous spy in the world. Matt? Men used to tremble at my name. I didn’t like myself much then. Then I met Hawkeye, helped the Avengers, joined SHIELD, and did a few other noble things. I liked myself better. Then I met you. Didn’t you see it happening? The liberated lady you fell in love with became you— sidekick. I used to be so darn strong, Matt— and I feel it slipping away from me.

Metatextually, this is a bit of a dig at Steve Gerber, the guy who just left the book. When Conway brought Natasha into the series and renamed it Daredevil and the Black Widow, he was, in his sometimes imperfect ways, trying to showcase Natasha as a “liberated lady” and an equal partner. When Gerber took over, he wasn’t interested a partnered-up DD, so he found various (sometimes humiliating) ways to minimize Natasha’s presence in the book.

But that’s not why I like this moment. I like this moment because it Natasha’s strength not so much to being terrible & fearsome, but to her own perception, her self-image. What matters most isn’t what other people think of her, but how she feels about herself.

From Daredevil #120, by Tony Isabella and Bob Brown.

Natasha: What’s wrong with you, Matt? Is your radar malfunctioning? You could’ve gotten yourself killed.
Matt: ‘Tasha. I don’t know… it’s all wrong. San Francisco… you and me… it’s wrong, all wrong.
Natasha: You never stop beating yourself up, do you? You never stop. I spent every penny I had just to give us a fighting chance out here. But…
Matt: No… it’s not that… listen to me.
Natasha: We could have been happy together, Matt… but I’m never more than the rebound girl, am I? So brave in a fight, yet such a coward when someone tries to touch you. To really touch you. It’s such a disappointment.

From Daredevil #100, by Ed Brubaker and Gene Colan.

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Matt: No! If it is Blackwing, he’s too dangerous for the Widow to tackle alone. Natasha! Hold it a minute!
Natasha: You’re getting awfully liberal with your hands, Daredevil. Once, it’s horseplay. Twice, it’s developing into a decidedly bad habit.
Matt: I… I’ve got to go to that warehouse alone! I can’t explain why. You’ll just have to trust me!
Natasha: What? Are you forgetting that Nelson got captured saving my life? I’m not about to sit on the sidelines! Not now or ever!

To ruin a funny old panel with context, here’s what was really going on in Daredevil during that arc. Tony Isabella came on the book with the intention of breaking Matt and Natasha up, and to do that he exaggerated the Matt’s well-meaning chauvinism under Conway to in-retrospect hilarious degrees. Isabella felt that the relationship did both characters a disservice, and after Steve Gerber’s run, that was probably true.

The central problem, as Isabella presented it, was that Matt wanted to have a girl he could rescue and take care of. He has a real need to be The Man in the relationship. Natasha, on the other hand, loved Matt deeply but couldn’t stand to be coddled. She knew she had to be the one to save herself, and after a few issues of trying, still, to make it work, she left him.

Over the years Matt has developed into someone who needs to play the protector but is sexually excited by women who won’t let him, leading to a cycle of romantic misery and a billyclub of broody manpain +2. (He’s also developed into one of the most textured and interesting of Marvel’s protagonists, precisely because his comics give him room for his flaws.) But this wasn’t the same as Reed Richards declaring wives should be kissed and not heard— Reed’s casual misogyny was for Sue’s own good, and Sue even agreed with him that “females” were scatter-brained and emotional. It was the sexism of a comic book era that had little idea it was being sexist. A decade later, though, and Isabella wrote Matt Murdock doing hilariously sexist things to point out some of comics’ pre-existing tendencies, and to show Natasha questioning and rejecting them, despite her deep love for Matt. That last bit is important, because “women’s liberation” in this era of comics was often an empty synonym for man-hating. Natasha didn’t hate men, and she loved Matt. But in the end she loved herself, too.

From Daredevil #122, by Tony Isabella and Bob Brown.