On April 24, 2020, we’ll all learn new secrets about Black Widow in her own prequel movie. It’s a solo movie fans have been asking Marvel Studios to produce for years and it’s the perfect time to shed some light on Natasha Romanova’s past. We’ve already seen some staples from the comics appearing in the trailer, like the Red Guardian, the white suit, and Natasha’s connection to the Red Room.
If you’re dying to see that film and all its secrets, hold yourself over with Black Widow Epic Collection: Beware the Black Widow, out now in comic shops and in book stores soon. This new series collects the introduction of the character in Tales of Suspense, features her rise as a super-spy and eventually superhero in Avengers. Having never delved into Black Widow’s origin, I was surprised to find some amazing facts about the character I never knew.
#1 Black Widow and Hawkeye were lovers…sort of
This book is a delight if you know nothing about Black Widow. It opens with the character acting as a political agent more than a superhero, who manipulates from afar. She’s typically a damsel of sorts and was certainly a femme fatale. As the story progresses, we learn Hawkeye and Black Widow are in a sort of relationship with each other, which makes sense since Hawkeye wasn’t a good guy at the time. Their relationship ends up being a major reason she’s dragged into the hero business since Hawkeye ends up becoming a hero as well. At one point he literally demands Captain America make her an Avenger even though she has a sketchy past.
Typical of comics in the 1960s, the relationship isn’t as serious as one might assume–there is no lovemaking and Hawkeye seems to be infatuated more than anything else–especially when we find out Black Widow is married to the Red Guardian. This is yet another shocking twist I was not prepared for and it’s hilarious to see Hawkeye deeply hurt when he finds this information out. Soon, we learn Black Widow thought her husband was dead, the Russians made him crazy and violent, and all is forgotten so that Hawkeye and Black Widow can carry on with their tryst.
#2 Black Widow was a double agent for Nick Fury and even brainwashed so she wouldn’t reveal that to the Russians
Stan Lee sure knew how to throw twist after twist at readers. Case in point: Black Widow’s allegiances, which at first seem deeply villainous as she works for Russia, but soon we learn she’s having doubts. Midway through the book she tries to make amends and takes on a mission from Nick Fury.
Later we learn Black Widow wasn’t even aware she was working with Fury so as to resist a device called a Psychotron. Black Widow takes it lightly that Fury brainwashed her to believe she was a spy and all is forgiven. It might be worth stating this origin was retconned and changed years later–a few times, in fact–but it’s interesting to note how then-editor Stan Lee and writer Roy Thomas wanted to make her a purely good hero without any complicated ulterior motives.
#3 Black Widow had a spider-themed costume with gizmos and retired it for one of her own design
The original Black Widow costume was rather over-the-top in its ’60s sensibilities. Complete with a tiny mask around the eyes and cape, Black Widow also was covered in fishnets. The combination of grey and blue did the costume no favors, either. The Russians also outfitted the costume with suction cup shoes so she could sneak around on ceilings, which one character not-so-aptly points out is “just like Spider-Man!” The costume’s suction cup shoes and other gizmos never really mattered in the grand scheme of things and seemed to be part of the costume so she wasn’t just a spy in a costume.
It wasn’t until The Amazing Spider-Man #86 that Black Widow retired the costume and moved on to her all grey spandex look. In this issue, drawn by John Romita and Jim Mooney, Black Widow uses her shedding of the new costume as a means to move on from her complicated life (see above). In rediscovering herself, she is inspired to learn how to gain Spider-Man’s powers by seeing him swing around. She then rushes off and makes herself the new grey spandex costume–a logical first step if she’s going to learn how to get Spider-Man powers, I guess?–and then rushes to find Spider-Man. This issue was printed in 1970 and it’s worth pointing out the design suits the new decade very well.
What a wild and surprisingly enjoyable blast from the past this book is if you’re even fairly familiar with the character. There are many factoids I never knew about in Black Widow’s origin, which makes this a delightful read. If you’re interested in seeing a character mold and shape over time, this is a superb way of seeing how nothing is sacred in comics and everything can change.