Anonymous asked: Now that Natasha is taking contracts again, what sets her apart from the other assassins in the Marvel U? What is the line that separates her from the more villainous assassins?
Taking contracts “again” is a weird way to put it: Natasha hasn’t been characterized as an assassin until pretty recently in her history. Not quite the instant the “pair of master assassins” line began playing on televisions everywhere, but I think that’s helped sear the idea in the public memory. Comics have gotten way cooler with killing in the past decade or so, though— it’s hard to blame the movies for what the comics were doing . Back when Natasha was bad, no one died, except by accident, she wore opera gloves, did not fight, and was more of a saboteur than an executioner.
Barring some more explicit retconning, Natasha has also, very rarely taken contracts, or operated on a freelancer basis. She’s since worked pretty frequently with SHIELD, as well as other governments, but not much like the set-up we see now. The one exception is the mid-80s, Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run, where we got the feeling she didn’t like it much. Originally, Natasha defected from the KGB to the Avengers, and thought of herself in patriotic terms. I think this might be revisited soon, because by now the Fantastic Four must have had their little spacecapade after the fall of the USSR, but understand that Natasha has usually been the type to work for governments, not for hire.
Of course, the Natasha we see now isn’t working for the money, but out of some possibly warped sense of duty. She doesn’t know how much her jobs pay, she doesn’t want to be a for-profit venture.
Natasha: Listen, Isaiah. I have you for the finances because I want to make sure that no matter what I do, this does not become about gain for me. I appreciate that you found me a better deal, negotiated. All those things I’m terrible about. But I can’t start to think about this as a for-profit venture, this is my…
Isaiah: Atonement. Yeah, you’ve told me before.
Natasha: So the money goes to the trusts and to my web. But I won’t do any work to get rich.
Natasha also isn’t primarily taking assassination contracts. Most of the guys she’s gone after have been maimed but left intact. One of her contracts was a rescue, one was an escape, one’s a SHIELD intelligence-gathering mission. Only one was called a “hit”— but the twist was she was preventing an assassination, not committing one.
How much of this matters? In issue #3 we see her stab an war criminal, the “Butcher of Argentina” after she helps him escape from prison, after she refuses to harm the guards, after she’s taken responsibility for setting him free. In issue #2, she has the previous Iron Scorpion in her crosshairs— a non-lethal shot— but she hesitates, and two people die because of that. Also in issue #2, a bunch of people plan to blackmail Natasha for killing their employer. Isaiah straight-up shanks them, showing none of the remorse or complications of Natasha’s perspective. How responsible is she for that? She did put him in charge of her finances. She did tell him she doesn’t want to know about the money.
What Natasha says is:
Natasha: Your brother was a murderer. I’m a killer.
The bad guy calls this semantics, and he’s not entirely wrong. But the distinction is important to Natasha, or at least she wants it to be. “I was more than a butcher,” she says to herself, as she decides she can’t let Blanco go. The one rule we see her set for herself results indirectly in a car full of people being shot. I think, to some degree, Natasha’s always adopted the morality she’s needed for the situation. It explains why she’s drawn to the Avengers, and the simple superhero stuff, even if it doesn’t pay well. She likes herself best when doing the unambiguous good. But she hasn’t always done that, or been that. And doing good isn’t always about feeling good.
She tries to do the good thing, the least harm, in whatever situation she’s faced with, the space she has room to negotiate. But I think lines is too straight a word. She doesn’t have some unbreakable moral code; she improvises.
I’m not sure that I answered your question there at any point, but I think it’s what the book itself is trying to ask and trying to answer. Nathan Edmondson has an askbox too.
From Black Widow #1 & #2, by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.