Women in Marvel’s The Complete History of Black Widow (Part 1)

Welcome to Women in Marvel’s Complete History of Black Widow. We’re going through the complete history of everyone’s favorite super spy, Natalia Romanova. We’re starting from her humble beginnings as a silver age villain against Iron Man in Tales of Suspense, and going all the way to her current status as an Avenger with a troubled past on the path to atonement, and you know, all around ass kicker. 

This week we’re going from Black Widow’s origin in Tales of Suspense #52 (April, 1964) through Avengers #33 (October, 1966).

[History of Black Widow Index Page]

The Black Widow makes her first appearance in Tales of Suspense #52 by Stan Lee and Don Heck in 1964. The Black Widow makes her debut as an Iron Man villain. Marvel at the time was heavily influenced by the Cold War: the Fantastic Four participated in the space race, Tony Stark the arms dealing industrialist, and so forth. It was in this environment that the Black Widow, Russian super-spy, was born. 

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The Black Widow is introduced as one of a pair of Russian spies hired to kill Anton Vanko, better known as the Crimson Dynamo. Anton Vanko had recently defected to the US government after learning that the Russian government intended to kill and replace him. 

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With her partner, Boris Turgenov, Natasha wastes no time infiltrating Stark Industries under the guise of an Ukranian school teacher negotiating a tour of American industry for her her class. Tony Stark, ever the womanizer, finds Natasha beautiful and immediately starts flirting with her, leaving Boris free to infiltrate the munitions plant. Boris and Natasha manage to capture both Vanko and Iron Man, but Vanko sacrifices himself to bring Boris down. Natasha escapes, but still fears for her life.

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It is really interesting that the Black Widow was set up from the very beginning to be a sympathetic villain, even during a time of high tension between the US and Russia. I wonder how readers at the time responded to her? Tales of Suspense #52 was also shown on the Iron Man cartoon back in 1966 in episode 5. Fast forward to 5:30 to begin with Natasha’s first appearance. 

The Black Widow goes into hiding out of fear of punishment from her masters. She comes back out again (with some freshly dyed hair) after news leaks to the press that Tony Stark has invented an anti-gravity machine. Natasha decides to steal it. All it takes is a sappy apology letter to Tony Stark for him to invite her back to Stark Industries and spill everything he knows about his newest invention.

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Natasha steals the anti-gravity machine and makes a pit-stop to steal some jewelry, because, you know, women.

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Silver Age sexism aside, Natasha is consistently portrayed as the most capable of the KGB agents she works with and is really the only one who stands a chance against Iron Man in the final confrontation. In the end, Natasha lifts up a mountain with the device, almost killing the other KGB agents working with her. Iron Man heroically saves the Russian agents, giving Natasha time to escape once again. 

Meanwhile, Hawkeye makes his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #57. Inspired by (and jealous of) Iron Man’s heroism, Clint Barton decides to use his carnival side-show archery skills for good and stops a jewel thief. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding the police think that he was the jewel thief. The new superhero finds himself on the run straight into the getaway car of…

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Naturally, Clint falls head over heels in love with Natasha. The Black Widow provides Clint with some new explosive trick arrows and asks him to defeat Iron Man in exchange. Hawkeye’s new trick arrows fail to penetrate Iron Man’s armor and actually end up putting Natasha in danger when they simply bounce off of the MK III. In the end, Hawkeye escapes with the Black Widow.

The pair go into hiding for some time until it comes to their attention that Tony Stark has disappeared. Natasha decides to take advantage of the chaos by sending Hawkeye to steal some munitions documents from Stark Industries. Iron Man foils those plans, and while Hawkeye escapes the Black Widow is whisked away by her Soviet comrades for a new assignment. We also learn that Natasha’s affections towards Hawkeye aren’t completely fake.

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The KGB directs Natasha to once again kill Iron Man, this time blackmailing her by holding her parents hostage.

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Her employers provide Natasha with her first uniform and a shiny set of spy gadgets. The Black Widow suits up for the first time and reunites with Hawkeye. She gains suction-power boots that allow her to climb walls, and uses a suction-tipped nylon line to swing through the city. The lines extend from her bracelets, an early version of the gauntlets she will don in the future. She dons a mask that looks like Hawkeye’s as a symbol of her love for him.

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The Black Widow suiting up is significant because this is the first time she is shown to have her own physical prowess. Previously, Natasha primarily manipulates men into doing her bidding. She is now seen to be physically capable in her own right, although her skills generally come from various spy gadgets rather than pure athletic ability. 

Anyway, Hawkeye and the Black Widow take Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan as hostages to lure Iron Man to them. An exciting action sequence ensues, the first major sequence that Natasha actively participates in. Granted, Hawkeye does most of the fighting but he needs the trick arrows supplied by the Black Widow to get an advantage over Iron Man. They almost succeed in melting through Iron Man’s suit with acid but the Black Widow is injured in the fight, prompting Hawkeye to stop fighting and take her to safety, much to Natasha’s chagrin. 

 The Black Widow then leaves Tales of Suspense to become a villain in the Avengers. She is captured by communist leaders and brainwashed so that she forgets her love for Hawkeye, although we later see that she still has lingering affection for him.

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The communists send the Black Widow to defeat the Avengers. Natasha hires the villains Power Man (not Luke Cage, this guy) and the Swordsman to help her. During this time Hawkeye reforms his ways and joins the Avengers. Captain America hears some SHIELD intelligence that Natasha has reemerged and notifies Hawkeye. Steve warns Clint that Natasha has been brainwashed, but nothing is getting in the way of Hawkeye reuniting with his love.

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The Black Widow gives Hawkeye a chance to defect to her side, and when he refuses to betray the Avengers, Power Man and the Swordsman capture him. The Black Widow proceeds to capture all of the Avengers, except for an angsty Hank Pym (Goliath) and Wasp. Wasp defeats the Black Widow with her Wasp sting and Goliath defeats Power Man and the Swordsman, but all three villains escape anyway.

The Black Widow is undaunted in her mission to defeat the Avengers. The Wasp decides to go do some snooping around and discovers her secret hideout. Hawkeye asks Captain America if he could go face her alone as he considers this to be a personal matter. Hawkeye once again is easily duped by the Black Widow.

Hawkeye manages to defeat his former mentor, the Swordsman, but is overpowered by Power Man… until the Black Widow unexpectedly saves him! Somewhere in her subconscious she remembers that she loves Hawkeye and cannot bear to see him hurt. Natasha is finally freed from her brain washing and becomes a reformed villain.

Natasha’s first act as a hero involves taking down the xenophobic Sons of Serpent in Avengers #32, the group’s first appearance. She embarks on this undertaking to prove her loyalty to Hawkeye, whom she loves. I guess that last brainwashed betrayal in Avengers #30 broke the camel’s back, as Clint no longer trusts Natasha and demands that she prove herself to him. She accomplishes this by providing valuable intel to the Avengers about the Sons of Serpent. The Sons of Serpent capture Captain America and appear to brainwash him to their cause, but it was all a ruse. While Goliath and the Wasp distract the Sons of Serpent, Hawkeye and the Black Widow rescue the real Captain America and save the day. 

Well, that wraps up the first 2 years of Black Widow. Stay around until next week, where we’ll watch the reformed Black Widow fight to prove herself as a hero to the Avengers! 

Read along with us! Black Widow Reading Order and Resources

1. Tales of Suspense #52, #53, #57, #60, #64. 

  • Marvel Unlimited | Collected in Iron Man Masterworks Vol. 2 (Print/Digital)
  • Stories: “The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!”, “The Black Widow Strikes Again!”, “Hawkeye, the Marksman”, “Suspected of Murder!”, “Hawkeye and the New Black Widow Strike Again!”
  • Written by Stan Lee, art by Don Heck

2. Avengers #29, #30

  • Marvel Unlimited | Collected in The Avengers Marvel Masterworks Vol. 3 (Print | Digital)
  • Stories: “This Power Unleashed!”, “Frenzy in a Far-Off Land!” 
  • Written by Stan Lee, art by Don Heck

3. Avengers #32, #33

  • Marvel Unlimited | Collected in The Avengers Marvel Masterworks Vol. 4 (Print Digital)
  • Stories: “The Sign of the Serpent”, “To Smash a Serpent”
  • Written by Stan Lee, art by Don Heck

TAGS: #history of black widow#black widow#natasha romanoff#marvel#silver age#marvel silver age#tales of suspense#avengers
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