THE IRON MANUAL: Black Widow

Wed, May 5th, 2010 at 9:58am PDT

Comic Books
Brian K. Eason, Guest Contributor
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"Iron Man 2" debuts in the U.S. in just two days, and CBR is taking a close look at the super-hero and his universe as they make the transition from the from the comic book page to the big screen. This installment of THE IRON MANUAL focuses on the Russian femme fatale, the Black Widow, looking back at her origins and subsequent history and looking ahead to her future in the Marvel Universe, in both the movies and the printed page.


Natasha (sometimes Natalia) Romanov, began her comic-book career as a Soviet spy who wore a lot of dark colored dresses and accompanying veil, looking very much like the typical "widow at a funeral" figure seen so often in fiction - it was a rather clever visual pun. Romanov was presented to readers as the classic femme fatale in a very sexy 1960s type of way. Throughout the Cold War era, the Black Widow proved not only to be the perfect foil for Iron Man, she was also an example of how the "Iron Man" series changed the way readers and creators looked at super-heroics. Instead of a tough male Soviet agent with powered armor - and there were plenty of those as well - Tony Stark had to face off with a woman who was easily as smart as he was and used nothing more than her brains, combat skills and feminine wiles to thwart the capitalist superhero.

The original Black Widow

The groundbreaking Black Widow, the product of the fertile mind of writer Stan Lee and artist Don Heck, inserted herself into the life of the Armored Avenger in the pages of "Tales of Suspense" #52 (April 1964), a mere 13 issues after Iron Man himself debuted in the title. The Marvel Comics of the 1960s attempted to introduce the world to numerous costumeless characters (even Marvel's "First Family," the Fantastic Four, originally had no costumes), but ultimately, for the purposes of recognition if nothing else, virtually everyone in the Marvel Universe ended up wearing colorful long johns into battle. The Black Widow proved no different in that regard, quickly developing from her origins as a behind the scenes manipulator to a full-blown costumed villain in "Tales of Suspense" #57 (September 1964). This issue also featured the first appearance of the archer who would eventually become a cornerstone of the Avengers: Hawkeye. Black Widow used Hawkeye - who was a wanted man at the time - as a catspaw in her plans against Iron Man, developing a romantic relationship with the archer in the process, a relationship that was used to illustrate to readers that the Russian spy wasn't all bad.

The Black Widow eventually made her turn from the shady world of international spies into that of costumed superheroics in "The Avengers" #29 (July 1966) when, brainwashed by her Soviet masters, Natasha took on the Avengers. Once she was able to overcome her instructions, the Black Widow officially defected to the United States and became a regular character in "The Avengers." She eventually became the sixteenth member of the group and served as chairman of the team for over 50 issues.

The Black Widow's early costume and her now iconic outfit as debuted in "Amazing Spider-Man" #86

Interestingly, the skin-tight black costume most commonly associated with the Black Widow (and the one that Scarlett Johansson wears in "Iron Man 2") did not make its debut until her appearance in "Amazing Spider-Man" #86 (July 1970). The then-new look caught on with fans and seemed to propel the character's popularity to new levels, leading to her shot at solo stardom. With the return of the one-time anthology title "Amazing Adventures," Black Widow appeared as half of a monthly double-feature (the other half starring the Inhumans) for the relaunched title's first eight issues (August 1970 - September 1971) before the book returned to its anthology roots. Marvel continued to show their support for the character, having her surface once more in "Daredevil" #81 (November 1971). Romanov quickly became a staple of the series, not only as Daredevil's lover and partner, but also as the co-title holder as the book became "Daredevil and Black Widow" with issue #92. The masthead retained it's double-billing for nearly four years until the Black Widow left the series in August 1975 with issue #124 in order to lead her own team in the pages of "The Champions." Launching in October of 1975, the series only lasted 17 issues.

Over the next two decades, Romanov would guest star in a number of S.H.I.E.L.D., Avengers and Avengers spin-off titles, but it would not be until the late 1990s and early 2000s that Natasha would once again receive the level of attention she had in the 1970s. Starting in 1999, Marvel Comics' Marvel Knights imprint featured a number of mini-series featuring Romanov and her hand-picked successor as Black Widow, Yelena Belova.

Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is very similar to the character's modern comics incarnation

Since the publication of the final "Black Widow" miniseries in 2005, it has been revealed that as a child Romanov was, along with other young women, "biotechnologically and psycho technologically enhanced" and raised within an organization designed to create Black Widow agents. The agents (which also included Romanov's would-be successor, Yelena Belova) were given false childhood memories as well as a dramatically increased lifespan thanks to the enhancement process. Readers also learned that she was trained by and romantically involved with Bucky Barnes, the World War II sidekick of Captain America, during his time as the Soviet super-agent known as the Winter Soldier. As a result, when Barnes was discovered to be alive and took on the mantle of Captain America several years ago, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Tony Stark, assigned Romanov to watch over the hero.

Most recently, she was revealed to have been working for hero-in-hiding Nick Fury, operating as the team leader of Norman Osborn's Thunderbolts under the guise of Yelena Belova. With that assignment now completed, it has been revealed that the Black Widow will continue to be a prominent player in the Marvel Universe, both as a part of Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato's upcoming "Secret Avengers" series as well as the star of her own ongoing series, written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Daniel Acuna.

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TAGS:  the iron manual, iron man, iron man 2, black widow, scarlett johansson

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