When Black Widow was first introduced in Marvel comics' Mystic Comics #4 in May of 1940, she was a femme fatale (a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations) and a psychic by the name of Claire Voyant and she looked like this:
|pretty different than what you're used to, huh?|
In April of 1964, Black Widow was re-introduced into the Marvel comics spotlight in Tales of Suspense #52, this time as Natasha Romanoff, a Russian spy after Tony Stark:
At this point, Natasha was an un-costumed recurring character. Her signature red hair was dyed a dark black and she had a talent for seducing men and failing at the last moment. In Tales of Suspense #60 in December of 1964, Natasha disappeared.
It wasn't until Tales of Suspense #64 in April 1965 that she resurfaced as a costumed villian:
Upon her return, she tracks down Hawkeye and explains that she had been taken back to Russia where she was forced to do her government's bidding under threat of her family's lives and upon completing her task, was shipped off to America with a new suit allowing her to scale walls and climb ceilings and bracelets that shot rope to swing on. With Hawkeye's help, she kidnaps Pepper Potts, demanding Iron Man show himself. She is injured in the ensuing battle and Hawkeye whisks her off to safety.
At this point, Natasha begins to develop feelings for Hawkeye. When her country learns of this, they have her gunned down, leading Hawkeye to go straight and join the Avengers and Natasha to be brainwashed into fighting the Avengers.
Black Widow returned in June 1966 in Avengers #29 having enlisted The Swordsman and Power Man to take down the Avengers. After the battle, Natasha escapes and the effects of the brainwashing wear off. To make amends, she fights alongside the Avengers against the racist group Sons of the Serpent in Avengers #33 in October 1966.
Afterwards, she makes a bid for membership in the Avengers, but when Nick Fury hires her to spy on her former government, she is forced to decline said membership and publicly break off her relationship with Hawkeye. Branded a traitor as part of her mission, she leaves the US.
After her mission goes sour and she is left hospitalized, Natasha decides to give up costumed-heroics for a while, donning it again a few more times before the debut of her red hair and classic black catsuit in Amazing Spiderman #86 in July 1970:
Here, Natasha decides to take on a solo career, determined to prove herself worthy by besting Spider-Man in battle. Naturally, she fails, but she continues on, determined to make a name for herself. She debuted in a new solo series: Amazing Adventures, which ran from August 1970 - September 1971 where she mostly fought underworld figures and costumed villains like Astrologer and Watchlord.
After that, she co-starred in Daredevil #80 - 117 from September 1971 - January 1975 where Black Widow becomes a pawn manipulated by the computer Baal from the distant future Earth-71778 where mankind has been wiped out and the history of Black Widow and Daredevil played a crucial role. The two go their separate ways and Natasha goes solo once again, freelancing for S.H.I.E.L.D. and other organizations.
It's during this time that she develops a nasty relationship with the Hand, rejoins with her long-since-thought-dead husband Alexi Shostakov and another claims the title of Black Widow: Yelena Belova.
We'll get into Belova in a later post, but I'll give you a teaser here:
Yelena attacks Natasha to claim the title of Black Widow. After she is defeated, Yelena is genetically altered by the terrorist organization HYDRA and embarks on a mission of revenge against The New Avengers. She is defeated by Iron Man and killed by HYDRA.
Natasha retires again and lives in Arizona for a while before being drawn back into action by a plot to kill off all Black Widows (re: Black Widow Program, a team of elite female sleeper agents of which Natasha was one). She then joins the Mighty Avengers, infiltrates the Thunderbolts and finally settles into the Secret Avengers.
Natasha Romanova is probably one of the most matured characters in the Marvel universe. She was introduced in a time when audiences craved spy stories and developed over time into one of the most interesting and complex (female) characters in comic books today.
I know there's a lot of details missing, but were I to include every detail, this post would be...well, the length of all the comics Natasha has ever appeared in.
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