Natasha Romanoff gets a new perspective in Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande and team’s Black Widow and it’s not what you might have expected. Black Widow is given an entirely new life – complete with a newfound family and, of course, more than her share of villains who are amped to destroy her at any point. In Thompson’s take, Natasha delves deep into a life that is extremely domesticated, but her dark past comes in on schedule in order to shake things up.
* Spoilers Follow!*
The Ties that Bind
Kelly Thompson (Writer), Elena Casagrande (Artist), Jordie Bellaire (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Adam Hughes (Cover Artist)
Writer Kelly Thompson notably expressed a desire to take Natasha away from the Red Room Stories and, to that end, she embraced the possibility of a new beginning for our hero. Natasha’s infamous quest for redemption is tapped into, especially in regards to being denied a life with her lover Nikolai and their deceased child.
Our story starts with Natasha being thrown off of the balcony of her own penthouse. Waking up in an incredibly domestic house and with a new name of ‘Natalie Francisco’, Natasha is an entirely different person. She also has a baby and a husband and is living a picturesque life where she is no longer an assassin but a real estate developer. All of this seems fine and even blissful, but some of the Avengers are alerted as to what happened to one of their members. Bucky and Hawkeye are tipped off after Natasha is accidentally seen walking past a news camera in San Francisco. Knowing that she wouldn’t commit such amateur mistakes as to not be aware of her surroundings, the pair realize that something is amiss. She had gone missing for three months, but it was safe to assume that she had gone undercover or quite simply disappeared.
Her disappearance also brings Yelena Bolova, a sometimes enemy and sometimes friend to her. Yelena hilariously masquerades as a ‘hip’ baby sitter in order to ‘monitor’ the sleeper agent, which reminded me of so many teen comedies of the 90s (add glasses, and boom – new person). It makes sense that Yelena would be concerned with the new Natasha as their history has always been competitive. If Natasha isn’t around, how could Yelena ever claim her throne as being the best sleeper agent Russia has had to offer?
Stumbling upon each other in the bushes of Natasha’s new citadel of domestication, Bucky, Hawkeye and Yelena speculate as to what could possibly be happening. Reassuring the two Avengers that she would keep an eye out, Bucky and Hawkeye reluctantly leave her in charge, promising to help Natasha in any way possible if need be. In a way, it feels as if the three are somewhat happy that Natasha has found the life she always wanted but they also know that in three months time, she could not have possibly had a baby, a new career and a random husband. And so they watch in disbelief and wait with baited breath for the story to unfold.
A Many-Headed Hydra
Turns out, this terrible ruse is orchestrated by Arcade and a bevy of new villains hell bent on Natasha’s destruction. Weeping Lion, The Red Guardian, SnapDragon…just to name a few. The plan was to rid the world of the assassin by domesticating her and it would have worked had Weeping Lion not ordered an army to exterminate Natasha without the consent of the group. Madame Viper (Hydra) was responsible for throwing Natasha from that balcony, implanting a chip in her brain that was supposed to kill her if Hydra chose to. The plan was fool proof as Natasha was out of the way and Hydra could execute her long term goals efficiently. Unfortunately, that plan backfires when Natasha is able to escape with her family with the help of Yelena, Bucky and Hawkeye. Together they discover that Stevie (her ‘son’) had been created in a lab, encompassing Natasha’s and James’ (husband) DNA. She would have been able to maintain her life and Hydra’s plan would have come to fruition had it not been for Weeping Lion’s recklessness. The next goal is to eradicate the assassin and her family with impunity. And unfortunately, they do.
Finding their safe house, Natasha is forced to watch her family murdered before her eyes. After being exposed to such violence in her past (losing love interests and a child), this breaks something within Natasha. Yes, the memories of her wedded bliss and child were implanted into her memory but for the brief three months, it was real. To know that it was given to her by those who wished destruction upon her and taken away in a matter of minutes, the grief is a bit too much. Also, the fact the Stevie was actually her child has to bring out a rage that is unfathomable. Yes, it was fabricated but the personal outweighs the context. But it definitely means that Black Widow is set to return and to exact some extreme damage upon those who dared to tamper with her mission of absolvement.
The Face Behind the Veil
The artwork provided by Elena Casagrande (Catwoman) is the perfect companion to a darkly lush story – utilizing red aesthetics and visually striking centerfolds that mirror Natasha’s experiences. Thompson has succeeded in combining feminist ideals within the superheroics of the Marvel universe. That domestication and “happy wife, happy life!” is weaponized against a notably strong female character is very cheeky. It’s interesting to see the vulnerability Thompson has afforded Natasha, who has traditionally been seen as an ultimate badass and a highly guarded personality. This is not to say that Natasha has not been given arcs that showcase her complexities, but in this particular story we see the many different avenues presented to her. Had the villains really given her an opportunity at normalcy and a life she craved? Could she possibly be relieved of having to deal with the emotional aftermath of her life as a sleeper agent? Furthermore, would she had preferred to live a life fabricated in order to rid her from being used by S.H.I.E.L.D and others, regardless of the good or bad?
Luckily, even though Natasha can be aloof and cold, she still has a support network of the Avengers and (at times) Yelena. If it weren’t for them, she would have to face the villains on her own while also searching for meaning of the past three months. Yelena coming to her rescue also proves that while they may be enemies, they are still assassins, and whether Natasha leaves in order to live a life outside it, they would still exist. Perhaps Yelena empathizes with Natasha because she understands that being an assassin is what they were made to do – and to escape that would be virtually impossible. Yelena does not seek redemption for her work but instead embraces the fact that traditional ‘womanhood’ is not the answer to their problems. Natasha’s conflict with who she is could have spared her falling victim to a fabricated life (but let’s not victim blame!). After having her entire life riddled by the violence around her, it makes sense that Natasha would want to have a home life that is safe and loving. Having no family and being used as a weapon by numerous people against her will, it makes sense that the desire to have something tangible and completely her own as the golden prize.
Natasha’s story has been one of tragedy, so I loved seeing her happy for once! While I hope that she would be able to find some type of solace outside of the nuclear family model, it was refreshing to see her character get to actually experience what she had been denied by the circumstances of her life. In the end, this arc gave us a glimpse of Natasha’s seldom seen vulnerability, and told us a little bit more about who she was (and what she wanted) before the Black Widow came along and changed everything.