Published May 14, 2019

I, Spy: How Black Widow Went From Villain to Hero

Follow the comic transformation of one of Marvel’s greatest heroes, Natasha Romanoff!

Marvel's 80th Anniversary

One of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes always had a lot of red in her ledger – but throughout her decades in Marvel Comics, she has more than made good. In honor of Marvel’s 80th Anniversary, we’re going way back through the decades to take a look at how Natasha Romanoff went from evil Russian super spy to a leader of the Avengers.

Black Widow’s Debut

Black Widow debut

From her first appearance in 1964 against Iron Man, Natasha Romanoff—alias Black Widow—has been slinking through the shadows of Marvel continuity, only ever glimpsed when she wants to be. Black Widow arrived on the scene as a non-costumed Russian spy, a “gorgeous new menace” on the cover of TALES OF SUSPENSE #52. She was sleek and powerful, mysterious and fierce. Neither the heroes nor the readers quite knew what to make of the enigmatic new foe. Her first issue saw Natasha and Boris Turgenov infiltrate Stark Industries in an effort to assassinate Professor Anton Vanko, a Russian defector. This storyline continued into issue #53, and Tony Stark as Iron Man quickly foiled their plots against his company and Professor Vanko.

Meeting Hawkeye

Black Widow meets Hawkeye

It’s at this point that Black Widow recruited archer Clint Barton (Hawkeye) to join her against her new American enemies. The duo faced off against Iron Man in TALES OF SUSPENSE #57 and revisited Stark Industries again in TALES OF SUSPENSE #60 in an effort to raid his munitions plant but, after another failure at the hands of Iron Man, Natasha was sent back to Russia and given new gear. Her updated costume gave her a new look (before this point she was un-costumed) but the outfit also allowed her to scale walls. She was also given a device that let her fire lines to swing from. With Hawkeye’s help, the two almost succeeded in defeating Iron Man (TALES OF SUSPENSE #64) until Natasha was injured and Clint retreated with her to safety.


Black Widow brainwashed
AVENGERS (1963) #29

By this point Natasha was beginning to fall in love with Clint, so she attempted to defect from Russia in order to stay near him. Unfortunately, when her employers learned of her plan, they gunned her down and she was badly injured again. With Natasha in the hospital and Hawkeye helpless to save her from her dark masters, the archer sought out membership to the Avengers with the hope that the super team could help.

After some time in recovery, Natasha was once again sent back to Russia for re-programming. Once she was brainwashed back to her usual level of compliance, she was ordered to hire the Swordsman and Power Man to help her destroy the Avengers (AVENGERS #29). By the next issue the Avengers had foiled the villains’ plan and Nat had successfully fought off the brainwashing efforts. She returned to America with the team.

Joining the Avengers

Nick Fury makes Black Widow an offer
AVENGERS (1963) #38

In an attempt to make amends, Black Widow helped the Avengers fight the racist Sons of the Serpent in AVENGERS #32-33. Natasha went on to help them in their battle against the Ultroids (AVENGERS #36) but her methods were troubling—in AVENGERS #37 she threated to kill the alien leader Ixtar if he did not leave, which won them the battle but violated the Avengers’ code of ethics about killing. Hawkeye covered up her wrongdoings so that she could gain Avengers membership, however, but her time with the Avengers was short-lived. Soon after, Nick Fury offered her a spy position with S.H.I.E.L.D. in AVENGERS #38. He came to Natasha with a proposition: go double agent against the KGB on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D. and she could take them down, make amends, get her revenge—all of it. But no one could know the truth. Not even Hawkeye. His heart was broken but Natasha took the mission (AVENGERS #39).

Double Agent

Black Widow is shot
AVENGERS (1963) #44

Black Widow arrived in China in AVENGERS #41 but was not easily trusted after her prior defection attempts. She was subjected to the Psychotron device to try and brainwash her once more, but by this point she had developed a resistance and was sedated and locked away in AVENGERS #42. When the Avengers learned that Black Widow’s mission had gone sour and that she was now a prisoner of the Communists, the team went to rescue her (AVENGERS #43) and fought off her ex-husband, the Red Guardian. In AVENGERS #44, Natasha and the Avengers defeated the Communist plot to brainwash the Western world using the Psychotron device and she again sought asylum in the U.S.

Free Agent

Black Widow calls for help
AVENGERS (1963) #63

Natasha was injured in the skirmish but after some time recuperating, she decided to give up her life of super heroics (AVENGERS #46) only to jump back into crime-fighting one issue later. By the time AVENGERS #63 hit stands, Nat was finally ready to try another official assignment for S.H.I.E.L.D., preventing Egghead from holding the world ransom. When she was captured, however, Hawkeye used Henry Pym’s growth serum to become the new Goliath in order to rescue her. Egghead was defeated by the end of issue #64, but Clint’s identity as the new Goliath persisted. Their relationship, already strained by many factors, ended in AVENGERS #76.

Gone Straight

Black Widow, suited up

Natasha decided to continue fighting crime in a solo capacity, taking on Spider-Man (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #86) to prove her power. From then on the Black Widow’s time as a villain seemed well and truly over and she spent 1970’s AMAZING ADVENTURES #1-8 facing off against underworld figures and costume-clad villains like the Astrologer and Watchlord. She joined forces with Daredevil for a time (DAREDEVIL #81-124) but mainly worked solo with a few stints at S.H.I.E.L.D. on a more or less freelance basis until the 1990s when she would officially join the organization and become a co-leader with Black Knight.

Most recently, Black Widow has been born anew in a clone’s body. This darker, angrier Widow isn’t a villain, but the vicious and at times somewhat sadistic Nat certainly isn’t a traditional hero anymore. Follow along with Natasha’s newest journey in Jen and Sylvia Soska’s BLACK WIDOW #5, available Wednesday, May 15!

For more information about Marvel’s 80th Anniversary, visit!



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