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Fuck Yeah, Black Widow

Fallaces sunt rerum species

Здравствуйте from FYBW, your one-stop tumblr shop for Black Widow news, no-prizing, and oversaturated .gifs. Some MCU, mostly comics. Often overwritten. Always overthinking.

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

Ben: S’funny. I been the Thing now for a lotta years, and most o’ the time I hated it. All I wanted wuz ta be plain ol’ Ben Grimm again. But… today I did sum’pin’ no one else could’a done by pullin’ that bomb up. I saved a hunnert million people. I maybe saved the whole blamed world. Me, the Thing. If I’d beenBen Grimm, Reed, Suzie, Franklin, Alicia— they all woulda died. Kinda makes the pain worth it. Sheesh! I’m a philosopher a’ready.
Natasha: I got SHIELD— they’re on their way. And Ms. Masters is fine. I also found some vintage champagne— I think we’ve earned a glass… Za zdorovia, Mr. Grimm.
Ben: Mazel tov yerself, Widder-woman.

Chris Claremont was probably the best at managing huge casts of characters and giving them significant, meaningful interaction. (As a consequence he’s probably also the king of dropped plotlines.) Superhero comic books are a strange sort of fiction based more on character than plot. Writers, storylines, artists, costumes, these things come and go, but trademarks are forever, and the character and character brand is still at the core of what makes them tick.

That’s why what Ben says here is important: I did something no one else could have done. Natasha doesn’t echo him, but we know it goes the same for her too. In this whole smorgasboard of Avengers X-men event hopping, it’s, uh, really easy for the same twenty characters to appear in dozens and dozens of comics. But they don’t always appear, if you know what I mean. They’re not always doing something only they could do, saying something only they would say. The best team books, the best team-up books, always provide the space needed to make every character interesting— not likeable, not victorious, but interesting— and to be interesting, you have to be unique.

Trust me, if I could buy one Natasha appearances a month where she got the kind of love she did in Marvel Two-in One #10 c. 1975 I would take that every time over six appearances a month where she drives the Avengers plane and kicks one (1) goon in a big group fight scene. And if this frees up the comic time to give other cool characters (I know Marvel has some characters that don’t appear in any movies…) meaningful appearances, bonus points.

Marvel Two in One #10, by Chris Claremont and Bob Brown.

And the hours pass, and the Widow bites again. And again. And again. The odds had been a hundred-to-one against her when she started. Now they are seven-to-one.
Little Man: Stop her! Stop her! She’s only a lousy woman…
Natasha: Wrong, little man. I am the Black Widow…
Natasha: …and that’s more than enough to handle the likes of you.

Game, set, match.

Yeah, Natasha just took out literally a hundred guys. But I think this whole sequence works because it doesn’t make her invulnerable. We see her get captured at the beginning of the story, and spoilers: she needs Ben’s help to take down the last remaining bad guy. Natasha can’t fight them off by brute force, she has to use every scrap of cunning, she has to devise ways to corner them in small groups, she has to disappear when it’s convenient. Her weapons run out of gas, she has to make every shot count. But it all works because of that, because she’s taxed to the brink, because you need to be to make impossible odds count.

In short this is basically how Natasha should always be written. Not necessarily fighting off a hundred goons!! But her vulnerability should help reveal her strength, not someone else’s.

From Marvel Two-in-One #10, by Chris Claremont and Bob Brown.

The Widow runs in the shadows now, moving thru the vast complex like some eldritch wraith, and when she’s seen— it’s only when she wants to be. And when she strikes, it is without warning… and without mercy.

I’m not going to post the whole issue, here, but just rest assured there are a few straight pages of Black Widow being badass narrated with in florid Claremontese. I love how smart she fights in this whole sequence, not just these panels: using stealth and her surroundings, only going hand to hand when she needs to. There’s something very cerebral in her approach, ruthless and true to character.

From Marvel Two-in-One #10, by Chris Claremont and Bob Brown.

Natasha: I can do it.
In a flash, the Widow’s moving, scrambling up the gantry towerwith a grace and ease that would have shamed Olga Korbut… remembering suddenly, absurdly, that she’d once told a man she loved that the Black Widow used to be thebest spy in the world… the best! Now was her chance to prove it.
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 back 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 your— sidekick. I used to be so darn strong, Matt—and I feel it slipping away from me.

There was actually a time when I think Matt was good for Natasha, when he offered her something she needed— a fresh start, no judgements, action and adventure and chance to do good. I can see why she fell for him, why she needed to remind herself she could love somebody and not have it all fall apart. When Conway moved her and Matt to San Francisco together, it was an era of comics that if not good were at least interesting— comics that let Natasha be heroic, compassionate, and vibrant.

Then Conway left the title and was replaced with Steve Gerber.

Gerber didn’t want to write Natasha. He liked Matt best as a loner, and so he kept coming up with increasingly humiliating ways to write her out. Natasha couldn’t find a job, became homeless, was sidelined for a whole parade of new and otherworldly women for Matt to flirt with. A running storyline, then, was Natasha’s jealousy. When Gerber wrote an earlier issue of Marvel Two-in-One (#3, starring Daredevil), Natasha appeared as a brainwashed goon for Matt to angst over. In his final humiliation, Natasha was literally wedded to a misogynist mutant ape. (For some reason, this last story was included in the recent Women of Marvel omnibus, and is why I refuse to buy a product that otherwise really gets me.) It was the nadir of Natasha, made worse by the fact that she was still, technically, co-headlining the book.

Anyway, I’m not the only one who noticed how terribly Natasha was treated under Gerber. Tony Isabella, the next Daredevil writer, immediately set out to do some rehab, letting Natasha address her diminishment and react to it. By referencing this scene in particular, Claremont is voicing his intentions, too: he wants to showcase Natasha, to show why she’s still the best in the world, and nobody’s sidekick. This isn’t as overt as his famous response to Avengers #200, but I absolutely believe this story is Claremont’s in-continuity middle finger to Natasha’s awful mishandling in the pages of Daredevil, and the way the superhero parts of women are too often reduced.

From Marvel Two-in-One #10, by Chris Claremont and Bob Brown, and Daredevil #120, by Tony Isabella and Bob Brown.

Ben: I got it!
But having the bomb is a far cry from holding it…
Ben: My hands… friction… burning ‘em! Can’t…hold on…the pain!
And yet hold he does.
Goon: Kill the fool— Agamemnon commands it!
Natasha: And the Black Widow says no!!

This sets up the major damage for the issue. Ben has to rope up this giant bomb, a tremendous feat of strength, endurance, and will. And Natasha has to help him by fighting off all the goons single-handed. Teamwork!

Mostly though: Natasha used to refer to herself in the third person, with an article. Like a supervillain. And I love it.

From Marvel Two-in-One #10, by Chris Claremont and Bob Brown.

Ben: Now we’re talkin’widder, I… uh, what d’ya think yer doin’?
Natasha: Getting us out of here,of course. Could you peel the body mold off my back, please?
Ben: Huh?
Natasha: The first thing a good agent learns is never go on a sticky job without a gimmick— in this case, a surprise package Ivan worked up from SHIELD stores.
Ben: Wow.
Natasha: Voilà! One organic body mold containing organic weaponry… completely undetectable from even the most sophisticated sensors. the modules fit together like so— forming a small, but efficient, field disruptor rifle. The only drawback is, you have about ten seconds to break thru that door before this toy overloads and fries me to a crisp. Can you do it?

Okay, so this is the origin of the weird false-back that appeared more famously in Marvel Fanfare. This is a bit to “wat” for me, and I’d really like it if Natasha had secret weapons that didn’t force her to disrobe. Still, there’s a remarkable lack of cheesecakery in this panel sequence, and I do appreciate Natasha’s no-nonsense approach.

Even if this gadget is too comic book for its own good, I do wish Natasha would use more crazy gadgetry in general. It seems like such an obvious overlap between the superhero and spy genres. Claremont tried to make Ivan a sort of Q, which is one of the few actual good uses of Ivan Marvel ever came up with. But now that he’s gone, that’s an easy hook for a new character, right?

On the subject of teamwork, note the symmetry here: Ben can’t knock down the force field without Natasha’s gizmo-rifle, but Natasha can’t knock down the door without Ben’s super strength. They’re both contributing in meaningful ways to their mutual escape, even if I’m cutting some of Ben’s panels off.

From Marvel Two-in-One #10, by Chris Claremont and Bob Brown.