Meet Yelena Belova, the White Widow
Who is White Widow? Learn how former Russian operative Yelena Belova went from super villain to super hero, just like her inspiration Black Widow.
Many of Marvel's greatest heroes started out as villains. Before they were Avengers, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Scarlet Witch debuted as villains, but they turned away from a life of crime to embrace a more heroic destiny.
While dozens of heroes have followed this path, the transition from villain to hero isn't always a smooth process, and it certainly hasn't been for Yelena Belova. After going through the same tortuous training as Natasha Romanova, Yelena faced off against her fellow Black Widow, battled the Avengers, and led some of the most notorious criminal organizations in the Marvel Universe before deciding to take her destiny into her own hands.
Now, let's take a closer look at Yelena Belova and how she evolved from the villainous Black Widow into the White Widow as she starts her next chapter in WHITE WIDOW (2023) #1 by Sarah Gailey, Alessandro Miracolo, Matt Milla, and VC's Travis Lanham.
HOW YELENA BECAME THE BLACK WIDOW
Yelena Belova was created by Devin Grayson and J.G. Jones, but she originally debuted as a supporting character in INHUMANS (1998) #5 by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. Obsessed with Natasha Romanova, Belova wanted to make her parents proud by becoming the best Black Widow, so she joined the Red Room Academy, where Russia trained Black Widows to be peerless spies and assassins.
Although she did not go through the program's standard psychological training, Belova excelled, scoring higher than Romanova on some of her tests. After her trainer, Colonel Starkovsky, was killed, Belova killed his murderer, a woman named Petra, who was obsessed with replacing her. Following this, she claimed the mantle of Black Widow.
When Romanova was tasked with retrieving a rage-inducing bioweapon called Deathless Frenzy, Belova volunteered to monitor her mission for the Red Room and the Russian government in BLACK WIDOW (1999) #1 by Grayson and Jones. When the Black Widows met while fighting soldiers in Rhapastan, Belova told the Avenger she was her inspiration. However, she also claimed Romanova had betrayed her homeland.
Despite that, Romanova encouraged Belova to be herself instead of another Black Widow. After Romanova faked her death, Belova continued their mutual mission and impersonated Romanova to stop the Deathless Frenzy from being unleashed. Romanova ultimately revealed this was all a ruse to manipulate Belova while she neutralized the bio-weapon.
THE BLACK WIDOWS FACE OFF
Following their initial encounter, Romanova dedicated herself to stopping Belova from following in her footsteps as the Black Widow. Determined to make Belova understand that her government viewed her as disposable, Romanova orchestrated a plot where the Black Widows traded places and pretended to be each other starting in BLACK WIDOW (2001) #1 by Greg Rucka, Devin Grayson, and Scott Hampton.
With help from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., Romanova had Belova captured and their faces surgically swapped. When a confused Belova woke up and was made to believe she was Romanova, she was tasked with assassinating the fake Belova, who was the real Romanova.
Once Belova worked through her identity crisis with help from Daredevil, she saw how her superiors used her patriotism to manipulate her into being their unquestioning soldier. After Belova fought her spymaster and faced off against Romanova, the veteran Black Widow explained this was the essence of a spy's life: to be a tool that a government uses.
With her appearance restored and ideals shattered, Belova stepped away from espionage, established a successful clothing company, and distributed medical supplies through Havana, Cuba. Despite their previous encounters, Belova also offered Romanova a safe house and even stepped out of her early retirement to help Daredevil rescue her after she was kidnapped.
YELENA BELOVA VS. THE NEW AVENGERS
Despite Romanova's warnings, Yelena Belova returned to the world of espionage. She began working with a rogue faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who ran an illegal Vibranium-mining operation in the Savage Land in NEW AVENGERS (2004) #6 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch. When Belova's squad stumbled upon the New Avengers and Sauron, she shot the pterodactyl-esque villain in the head and ordered her team to kill the Avengers. However, Sauron recovered from his injuries and blasted Yelena with his fire breath, leaving her body covered in severe burns.
While recovering in the hospital, Belova was recruited by a Hydra agent, who promised her a chance to get her revenge on the heroes. Thanks to A.I.M.'s scientists, Belova was transformed into the new Super-Adaptoid in NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL (2006) #1 by Bendis and Olivier Coipel. With her new abilities, Belova could replicate the powers of any superhuman who attacked her.
Just as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones were about to get married, Belova attacked the Avengers, absorbing the powers of the Sentry and the abilities of Iron Man's armor in the process. But when she took on the Sentry, she also absorbed the Void, the immensely powerful and corrupting entity within him. She struggled to contain the Void's influence, leading Hydra to activate a remote destruct device that seemingly reduced Belova to a pile of goo.
DEATH OF THE WHITE WIDOW
Despite all appearances, Yelena Belova survived her apparent demise and found a new role as a leader within A.I.M. After Romanova briefly posed as Belova to infiltrate Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts, the real Belova was revived and recruited by A.I.M. Scientist Supreme Andrew Forson in SECRET AVENGERS (2013) #2 by Nick Spencer and Luke Ross.
Belova joined Forson on the A.I.M. High Council, where she served alongside villains like Graviton and Taskmaster. Belova acted as the Minister of State on A.I.M. Island, a nation formed on the island of Barbuda. Thanks to Belova's Super-Adaptoid abilities, A.I.M. successfully stole the Iron Patriot armor, which its agents used to carry out various attacks.
When S.H.I.E.L.D. sent an Avengers strike team to A.I.M. Island, Belova seriously wounded Black Widow and captured Mockingbird. When the heroes attacked the island again, Mockingbird and Belova fought in close-quarters combat in SECRET AVENGERS (2013) #15 by Spencer, Ales Kot, and Ross.
During the battle, Mockingbird slipped a holographic image inducer on Belova, which made her look like Mockingbird. At the end of the fight, Belova was shot and killed by one of A.I.M.'s snipers, who thought he was shooting Mockingbird. Still under the impression Mockingbird had been shot, the Avengers recovered Belova's body and realized what happened after Hawkeye deactivated the image inducer.
WHITE WIDOW'S REBIRTH
Yelena Belova was later resurrected by the same process that restored Natasha Romanova, who was killed during SECRET EMPIRE (2017). Both Black Widows were cloned by a new incarnation of the Red Room as part of an effort to resurrect the Black Widow Program's best agents, as revealed in TALES OF SUSPENSE (2017) #102 by Matthew Rosenberg and Travel Foreman.
Although the clones were supposed to be resurrected with partial memories of their old lives, Romanova's allies ensured she was reborn with her full memories. Instead of taking out her targets, which included surviving Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives, Romanova ultimately dismantled this Red Room base and freed its subjects, with a bit of help from Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier.
As she fought against the Red Room, Romanova activated and killed two clones of Belova to cover her tracks. To make amends, Romanova fully restored the memories of the final Belova clone and left her to find her destiny. When another Red Room graduate framed Romanova for several murders, Belova helped Romanova catch the imposter and clear her name in WEB OF BLACK WIDOW (2019) #3 by Jody Houser and Stephen Mooney.
HOW YELENA BECAME THE WHITE WIDOW
With no one to answer to except herself, Belova became known as the White Widow and started operating as a mercenary. After freeing the Red Guardian from a former S.H.I.E.L.D. base, she began working with the former Soviet hero in WIDOWMAKERS: RED GUARDIAN AND YELENA BELOVA (2020) #1 by Devin Grayson and Michele Bandini. However, that partnership ultimately fell apart when the White Widow and Red Guardian faced the Winter Guard, a group of Russian superhumans, for a hard drive filled with state secrets in WINTER GUARD (2021) #4 by Ryan Cady and Jan Bazaldua.
When several of Romanova's enemies manipulated her into living a seemingly idyllic life with a husband and child, White Widow helped break Black Widow free and get her family to safety. Following that incident, Black Widow and White Widow decided to work together as partners in BLACK WIDOW (2020) #5 by Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, and Rafael De Latorre.
Together, they moved to San Francisco and teamed up with Araña and the electricity-generation hero Marigold to battle the villain Apogee and the Olio, his cult-like followers. With help from Winter Soldier and Hawkeye, the Widows and their team also defeated the Living Blade, an assassin who cut Romanova's arm off, and his employer, the Host.
Now, the White Widow is on her own again in WHITE WIDOW (2023) #1. After Captain America encouraged her to be more than a mere mercenary, the White Widow began working as a consultant for assassins from the comfort of her new home in a small town called Idylhaven. But with the mysterious corporation Armament sending her former trainees after her and the town's other residents, the White Widow's journey of self-discovery has already started to take an explosive turn.
Catch up with Yelena Belova in WHITE WIDOW #1, now on sale!
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