Essential Avengers

Essential Avengers: Black Widow Then & Now

Spy. Orphan. Equality Fighter. Russian. Avenger.

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"Marvel's The Avengers" hits theaters on May 4, and in anticipation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes assembling on the big screen for the first time we're bringing you the Essential Avengers. From accounts of the characters' epic stories from the original comics to looks back at the character with some of their most prominent creators both past and present and interviews with the designers of the heroes cinematic costumes, the Essential Avengers give you everything you wanted to know about the team, its allies and its enemies.

By Chris Arrant
 

She has no super powers or billion dollar suits of armor, but Black Widow is arguably the most deadly member of the Avengers lineup. Trained by the Russian government as a secret agent and assassin, Black Widow has faced off against many of the key Avengers such as Iron Man and Captain America before she broke free of her brainwashing and defected to America and the Avengers. Since then, she’s proven herself as a key ally for the Avengers as a whole as well as acting alongside Captain America and Daredevil.

Black Widow: Super Spy

“Black Widow’s visuals are fantastic from a design standpoint; she’s a stunning redhead in a skin-tight black battle suit,” explains current PUNISHER writer Greg Rucka, who wrote two Black Widow series in the past. “As a whole, she has a level of competence that’s hard to match. She’s a pro, and arguably the most highly-trained out of all the team. Add to that that she’s also one of the smartest characters in the Marvel Universe in a sly sort of way. There’s also an element of sacrifice to her character, of realizing what she had to give up to become who she is today.”

Raised in Russia during the Cold War, she was trained as a covert answer to Captain America, and with that she’s pushed herself into a class of warrior to stand toe-to-toe with super humans, mutants and monsters despite not having any powers of her own.

“There's nothing wrong with being a femme fatale super spy, but what makes Black Widow stand out is that she has no powers beyond her own natural, human abilities--and yet, she manages to hold her own amongst all these other immensely powerful, super-enhanced individuals,” says novelist Marjorie Liu, who wrote the BLACK WIDOW series for a time. “Not one of them would dare underestimate her. Why? Because she is extraordinarily intelligent and savvy, and a master strategist. Plus, she's gutsy as hell.”

Besides her lack of powers, Black Widow has an important distinction from her allies in the Avengers that’s often overlooked but speaks to the core of the character.

Black Widow ready for action

“The fact that she isn’t a super hero but a super spy really sets her apart from the traditional heroes in comics,” continues Rucka. “You can never completely grasp her true motivations for being where she is; she’s a dangerous, devastatingly good-looking red-head woman of mystery.”

Despite that mystery, she’s let a few people see behind the curtain and allied with heroes such as Hawkeye, Daredevil and most recently Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. Although she’s starred in her own series from time to time, it’s her role as a supporting character that’s made her one of the most in-demand confidantes in comics.

“Part of what makes Black Widow work is that she’s mysterious and kind of a badass, and plays at a totally different level of proficiency than most others,” Rucka explains. “If you’re constantly exposed to that level of overwhelming skill, it loses that specialness. To have her show up every so often and deliver the goods, then go off to pursue her own thing adds to that mystique. “

Played in the upcoming “Marvel’s The Avengers” movie by Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow strikes a defiant pose even when standing shoulder-to-shoulder with patriotic heroes, Norse gods and technological titans. While some might attribute it to her fighting skill, it’s what brings her to the battlefield to use those skills that makes her an Avenger and a comics icon.

“Even in the company of all these super heroes, Black Widow is still one of the most dangerous women in the world,” points out Liu. “Not just for her physical prowess as a fighter, but because she's intelligent, ruthless, and never gives up. The strength of her will more than makes up for not being able to fly or see through walls. I find her endlessly fascinating, because there's a part of her that remains mysterious--and totally capable of the unexpected.”

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