Free Agent: Where Does Natasha Romanoff Go After the Soska Sisters’ ‘Black Widow’ Series?
As ‘Black Widow’ ends its limited run, Nat’s past could help shed light on her future.
Filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska’s BLACK WIDOW #5 is on sale now, but what does the end of this series mean for super spy Natasha Romanoff? While it’s true that she’s no stranger to life in shades of grey, Black Widow has been having something of an identity crisis. Her memories and her body don’t feel like her own and she doesn’t know where she belongs. In her long life, Natasha has been a KGB spy and an Avenger but she’s neither of those things anymore. So who and what is Black Widow now? Perhaps her origins might shed some light on the travails she has endured in BLACK WIDOW – and give us a hint of the next leg of her journey.
In the autumn of 1942, air raid sirens wailed, skipping over the cobblestones in the street and vibrating down the spine of Ivan Petrovich. The man was caught in the middle of the chaotic Battle of Stalingrad, the largest confrontation of WWII in which Germany and the AXIS powers fought an entire city for control of the foothold. The invaders stabbed and shot their way through civilians and soldiers alike, culminating in the largest, bloodiest battle in the history of known warfare. Swaddled in the gunsmoke was a baby girl, offered out of the rubble from the trembling, pleading hands of her dying mother. Ivan Petrovich lifted the child into his arms, not yet knowing that this mewling thing hoisted out of the flames had been forged in those war fires and set to cool in the cold, keening ring of scattered screams. Natalia Alianovna Romanova had already been alive for months, but it was in this moment that the Black Widow was well and truly born.
The orphan girl, fondly nicknamed Natasha (a diminutive of “Natalia”), was soon offered up to the Soviet government for their “Black Widow Ops” program. Nat and 27 other orphan girls were brainwashed, trained in combat, and taught the intricacies of espionage in the covert and brutal Red Room facility. Her schooling included extensive training in advanced athleticism, gymnastics, acrobatics, and martial arts in a variety of styles such as Boxing, Karate, Judo, Savate, Ninjutsu, Jiu Jitsu, Aikido, Kung Fu, Kenpo, and the Russian martial art of Sambo. She became a crack shot and weapons specialist as well as an accomplished ballet dancer. The strongest weapon in Natasha’s arsenal, however, was always her mind. Beyond her stellar intellect, she developed a resistance to psychological manipulation as a result of her years of brainwashing and learned to mask emotions (to a fault). She became an expert tactician, strategist, and field commander—all of this, coupled with her range of sophisticated weaponry and equipment, quickly came together to make her the ultimate super spy.
Natasha was granted physically superhuman abilities as well, though the story is a painful one. Before being funneled into the KGB from the Red Room Academy, she was set to marry Alexi Shostakov, a distinguished Soviet test pilot. Soon after their nuptials, her government faked his death in order to conscript him into service as an operative known as the Red Guardian (the Soviet answer to Captain America). Natasha was lost, confused, and on the verge of breaking away from the only life she had ever known. And then there was the mission that changed it all.
In 1956, Ivan Petrovich, then Natasha’s handler, lay injured and dying. She ran for water and for help, but nothing could be done. He reached up to her, the big warm hands that had lifted her from the fires of Stalingrad. He said that it would just be her from now on. He said that he was proud of her, and called her his little girl. Agent James “Bucky” Barnes, alias the Winter Soldier, walked in with a syringe full of a healing chemical agent. His superiors had decided to give them the answer, a serum to make the body resistant to aging and disease with a healing factor well above the normal human rate. Ivan would be saved, but the price was that Natasha had to take it as well. In so doing, she would become their property, forever belonging to the Soviets whose white-knuckled grip from which she had always longed to be free. Ivan begged her not to, but he had passed out from the pain before Natasha turned to the Winter Soldier and replied: “We say yes.”
Black Widow went to America on a mission and fell in love, defecting from the U.S.S.R. to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., the Champions, and the Avengers. One set of limits and responsibilities swapped neatly for other ones. It went on like that for years, until SECRET EMPIRE. Close to the end of it all, a killing blow from Hydra Cap’s shield careened toward Miles Morales and Natasha pushed him away and took it herself instead. She dropped, but Black Widow was gone before she hit the ground.
There was a twitch, a shudder, and then a mighty, spluttering gasp. In 2017’s TALES OF SUSPENSE, Black Widow lurched back to life in a Red Room facility, her mind and essence housed in the body of a clone. (And it is implied that this may not have been the first time that this has happened to her.) Though her handlers were not aware that she retained all her past memories—the result of a bribe from super intelligent Red Room agent Ursa Major, who also happens to be a bear—she started work at once to undermine the operation and make a bid for the takedown of the Red Room once and for all. By the time her superiors were dead, the recruits liberated, and all the other clones killed, Black Widow had made her escape.
She was brainwashed, tortured, and memory-wiped by the Red Room from the time she was a young child, and then escaped that life only to be violently murdered by her brainwashed ally. It seems like Black Widow can’t trust anything or anyone in her world anymore. And with her brand new body and altered mind, she might not even be able to trust herself.
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