The Golden Age “Black Widow”
Black Widow scored high on our Hardest-hitting Female Heroes post for a reason. She’s much better known for her prominence in the Marvel Cinema movies to most people, but the name “Black Widow” has one of the coolest (albeit weird) backstories in comics. In Mystic Comics #4, August 1940, she was the first super-powered and costumed female character (Fantomah was super-powered and had an alternate identity, but not really a costume. The Woman in Red had a costume but no powers).
She was originally an antihero who killed villains and gave their evil souls to the Devil to repay Him for bringing her back to life. She was one of the earliest female heroes in comics, debuting in that watershed year for women heroes of 1940. She was also very powerful and was able to kill people with an energy blast from her hand, leaving the mark of the black widow on their foreheads.
The Silver Age Femme Fatale
Later, Stan Lee and Don Heck reused the name as an adversary for Iron Man in the early Marvel Age in Tales of Suspense #52. She was dressed in literal black widow’s mourning hat, but mostly blended in with the crowd, opting out of a particular costume.
The Marvel Age Hero
She first became a hero in Avengers #29 (1966) and received her first makeover.
She received one of the greatest makeovers in comic history in Amazing Spider-man #86 (July 1970), a look that has endured since (yes, she had a few hair and costume changes, but for the modern age, she once again sports the original hair and costume).
She spent time in her own series (sharing the book with the Inhumans in Amazing Adventures #1), as an Agent of SHIELD and as a co-star with Daredevil (even sharing the title of the book) then as leader of the Champions of LA (leading a team with hyper-masculine characters in Hercules and Ghost Rider as well as two veteran X-men) before reuniting with the Avengers.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Her current persona in the Cinematic Universe draws from the character as she was in her own series. She doesn’t have superpowers, isn’t immortal, but she never backs down from a fight. She’s a highly skilled martial artist who knows how to use a gun. She holds her own just as well as the other heroes, tends to keep a cool head and even manages to trick Loki (the Trickster) in The Avengers.
Black Widow is definitely a strong female character physically. But her personality is strong, too. In general, she isn’t fazed by the supernatural events she is forced to deal with on multiple occasions. She handles the Chitauri with the same cool-headed stride she handles Batroc and his mercenaries.
She also had no love interest whatsoever in the majority of her movies. This was in character for her; she was a spy, and in that line of work you can’t get attached to other people. She broke her general detachment a couple times, like when she cried over Nick Fury’s “death” in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That was the most frustrating aspect of Avengers: Age of Ultron for me: her strange, sudden relationship with Bruce Banner.
She has a likable, intelligent, realistic character and has awesome action scenes. There is very little to not like about her. I do wish they had more scenes like her interrogating the Russian mob in Avengers. Showing more of her life as a spy.
In Age of Ultron, Black Widow has very few action scenes (understandably, because Scarlett Johansson was pregnant during filming). Hopefully she will have roles more reminiscent of Avengers and Winter Soldier in her future appearances.
There were rumors of a Black Widow feature film. I have no doubt it would’ve done well, probably in line with Winter Soldier, which was essentially “Captain America and Black Widow”. As much as Downey is Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson owns the role of Black Widow. She’s shown quite a range as an actress in this role, giving the character slightly different nuances in each successive movie.
We can’t wait for Captain America: Civil War!