Published May 3, 2023

Black Widow & Winter Soldier's Romantic History

Before Bucky Barnes and Natasha Romanoff face off in 'Captain America: Cold War,' rediscover their history together, from the Red Room to the Avengers and beyond.

After they were forged into human weapons by insidious forces, both Bucky Barnes and Natasha Romanoff had to overcome their own instincts and programming to become some of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Eventually, this shared struggle blossomed into one of the Marvel Universe’s most beloved romances—but it should come as no surprise that their love story is as tragic as it is beautiful. With the duo meeting up once again in CAPTAIN AMERICA: COLD WAR (2023), here’s what you need to know about Romanoff and Barnes’s romantic history.

How Bucky Met Natasha

During World War II, Barnes served alongside Captain America in the fight against the Axis powers. However, Barnes was presumed dead following a mission in which he and Rogers crashed an experimental plane with an explosive device onboard. Rogers plunged into the icy waters below them and was frozen for decades, while Barnes was presumed dead in the ensuing explosion. 

However, the young hero didn’t die. Instead, the USSR found Barnes alive, though amnesiac and without his left arm. The Soviets then turned Barnes into the Winter Soldier, a deadly assassin who worked for Russia’s Department X. 

Bucky ended up at the Red Room, an assassin training facility, where he participated in the Black Widow Ops program as a trainer—and that’s where he met Romanoff for the first time. The two soon started having an affair. Their handlers discovered what was happening and forcibly separated them, largely by keeping Barnes in cryostasis when he wasn’t on a mission. Both eventually presumed the other had died.

Bucky and Natasha, Reunited

After decades of working behind the scenes, Barnes returned in CAPTAIN AMERICA (2004) #6 as the Winter Soldier, who had been activated to steal the Cosmic Cube from Red Skull. This led to a fight between Winter Soldier and Captain America, which ended when the latter used the Cosmic Cube to restore the former’s lost memories. As a result, Bucky returned to the side of good. 

Not long after, CIVIL WAR (2006) pitted Rogers against Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, over the Superhuman Registration Act. In the aftermath of the conflict, Rogers died at the hands of Crossbones and a brainwashed Sharon Carter

As a result, Barnes decided to reclaim Captain America’s shield, with the goal of killing Iron Man in revenge. When he intercepted the convoy carrying that iconic weapon, though, he encountered Black Widow again. They recognized each other immediately and discovered they both had enhancements that gave them abnormally long lifespans. They fought, and Winter Soldier beat Black Widow to take control of Captain America’s shield. 

Barnes’ confrontation with Iron Man did not end with either hero’s death. Instead, Stark—with help from a letter from Rogers—encouraged Barnes take up the mantle of Captain America. The former assassin then began working with Black Widow to take on powerful villains, including Red Skull and Doctor Faustus. The two also rekindled their romantic relationship, and for a while, things seemed good.

Tragedy Breaks Bucky and Natasha Apart

Barnes and Romanoff’s breakup begins with Rogers. Technically, Rogers didn’t die at the end of CIVIL War. Instead, his mind was trapped reliving events of his life, but he eventually recovered and took back the mantle of Captain America. At that time, Barnes faked his death and resumed covert missions as the Winter Soldier. Black Widow joined Barnes for many of those jobs. 

During WINTER SOLDIER (2012), a Red Room-trained assassin named Leo Novokov began targeting Barnes, seeing him as a traitor to Russia. Novokov managed to capture Black Widow and tamper with her memories. This forced Barnes and his allies to take on both Novokov and Romanoff. In the end, they successfully recovered Romanoff, and she regained all of her memories—except those relating to Barnes. Believing he’d caused Romanoff nothing but trouble, Barnes recused himself from the situation and continued working without her. 

Although their romantic relationship ended, Barnes returned in several of Black Widow’s solo stories, providing a watchful eye and helping out whenever she needed him. Later, in BLACK WIDOW (2016) #10, Romanoff hinted that her memories of her time with Barnes had returned following a confrontation with a telepath named the Weeping Lion. Still, their romantic relationship remained complicated. 

Most recently, in BLACK WIDOW (2020), a cadre of villains kidnapped Romanoff and made her forget her life as a spy. To keep her occupied, they gave her a fake family that consisted of a baby named Stevie and a fiancé named James. After learning the truth about what happened to her, Romanoff confessed to Barnes that the villains had likely chosen James—Bucky’s given name—knowing that his name would make her feel more comfortable with that fake reality. 

Still, Black Widow and Winter Soldier were unable to reignite their relationship because Romanoff still needed to process her feelings surrounding the loss of that family, whose deaths had been faked for their protection.

In that same BLACK WIDOW series, Romanoff and Barnes left their romance on a decidedly more promising note. Following a deadly confrontation with the Living Blade, Romanoff and Barnes had a touching moment in which she pointed out that they always come back to one another, leaving open the possibility that they might reconcile one day.

Now, that relationship is about to get even more complicated thanks to CAPTAIN AMERICA: COLD WAR. Taking place across CAPTAIN AMERICA: SENTINEL OF LIBERTY (2022) and CAPTAIN AMERICA: SYMBOL OF TRUTH (2022), the crossover event deals with Barnes’ role as the New Revolution in the Outer Circle, a powerful cabal manipulating the course of history. Although Barnes intends to take the group down from within, he’s made some morally questionable decisions as of late—and that’s not something Black Widow takes lightly.

To find out what happens next in Black Widow and Winter Soldier’s relationship, pick up CAPTAIN AMERICA: SYMBOL OF TRUTH #12, available now, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: SENTINEL OF LIBERTY #12, on sale May 17!

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