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.