Anonymous asked: Talk to me about your feelings on the Nat brainwashing that's happening in the new Secret Avengers. I'm so grossed out by them doing this to her :/
Okay, let’s rap.
I think it’s really… confusing that SHIELD is treating her (and Bobbi) as an unpredictable asset. I can get the “Avengers don’t know how to be spies” thing, because Secret Avengers has proved that so far, but it doesn’t apply to Natasha or Bobbi and I don’t know why SHIELD would think it did.
Because Natasha is/has been a level 10 agent, the highest rank there is, and she’s really the only person to ever earn that rank. Nick Fury was a level 10, and he promoted Daisy Johnson when she was still a raw teenager to help cover his ass. And that’s it. That’s all the level 10s. Natasha’s even acted as the director of SHIELD. So it’s a mystery why Coulson/Maria Hill/Nick Jr. et al feel she’s such an ???? factor that they need to brainwash her to get her to go on missions. Natasha’s the opposite of an unknown quantity, she’s been with SHIELD since the sixties, their best agent. If they can’t trust her to do and understand her job, what the heck are they doing?
I’m also worried because when this all explodes as it (surely, inevitably??) must, I don’t know how Natasha won’t straight-up quit SHIELD for an extended period of time. And while I actually am quite intrigued by that storyline possibility, I’m not sure it’s a great direction to take the character in right now from a marketing perspective.
My major worry, though, is a lot deeper than that. I’m not totally grossed out by mind-control stories on principle, though I think there’s a special contextual ickiness when it happens to female characters. Mind control is a very powerful, very comic bookish obstacle: it comes with no subtlety attached, and allows heroes to prevail in a battle of will instead of punching. It’s also a special obstacle for Natasha, since she’s a character fundamentally about agency, self-control, and self-determination. Her story is about being manipulated and freeing herself from that manipulation, so by facing mind-control and then overcoming it, she’s in a sense renewing her origin— reminding us why she’s a superhero. For a good example of this, see Marvel Team-up #81-85.
The problem is that I don’t know that most writers at Marvel realize she has core character themes. I think right now she’s coming across as simply a collection of traits— Russian, redheaded, cold, competent. And if you write a “brainwash Black Widow” story without realizing that her character is all about her fighting back and taking her life into her own hands, you’re gonna be writing a pretty awful brainwash Black Widow story, one that stomps all over her empowering themes to boot.
So that’s what I’m crossing my fingers about, anon. Please don’t screw this one up, Marvel.
Nick Spencer, of course, wrote the book for the Fear Itself tie-in issues, and has done some other work at Marvel, which, imho, hasn’t lived up to the promise of his indie stuff. Luke Ross has drawn Natasha before, he was one of the artists of Brubaker’s Captain America run, but I think his stuff looks better when he’s not trying to line-up with Epting. So, let’s start off with the thing that rings alarm bells:
S.H.I.E.L.D. brings the biggest twist in their approach to the team — using similar technology to what the original Nick Fury employed in 2004-2005’s Secret War, the team’s memories of their adventures will be erased following each mission. Thus the existence of this Secret Avengers a secret to even the Avengers that are a part of it.
“Avengers make for terrible S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. They’re used to calling their own shots, you can’t really trust them with high intel because one of them goes bad every week, or turns out to be a Skrull,” Spencer said. “At the same time, they have mindwipe and memory implant technology. The trick is, the last time they did it, it blew up in their faces and basically set off a chain of events that brought down S.H.I.E.L.D. Of course, they’re going to try it again — the temptation to get their hands on weapons like the Hulk is just too great.”
This is the exact kind of abuse Natasha left espionage to escape, why she actually defected to the Avengers and not SHIELD, and why she would up quitting both for a time. That is her superhero origin story, through every needless retcon— she reclaimed her humanity from people who thought of her as a tool. So, any way you slice it, this is a giant leap back for her.