@darklabrynth replied to your post: So do you prefer the more solidified history or the more malleable one?
Short answer: it depends.
Long answer: I’m a historian, so I like having dates. And I do think that Brubaker’s approach, with everything precisely dated, set in specific time, instead of vague time, adds a sort of narrative heft— it gives you a when and a where, and not just a long, long ago. So I understand that impulse.
With the Winter Soldier retcon specifically, I think Brubaker laying out a specific timeline like he did was almost necessary. You have to remember, there was a time when Bucky stayed dead, and when people thought he should stay dead. Bucky coming back wasn’t like Wolverine coming back after being “dead” since the last big event. Bucky was coming back after being dead since the modern Marvel universe began— his death was the loss of innocence that brought Steve into the current timeline, with all its complications. A storyline that brought Bucky back therefore had to preserve some sense of that original tragedy but also provide an engine for future stories— a story where Bucky was found amnesiac, ancient, and in a hospital bed, presumably to die shortly thereafter doesn’t really provide something new, does it? But if Bucky survived the war and is active enough in the present day to be interesting, you also have to explain how he hasn’t aged in that time.
So the dates were— I’m not totally sure they were necessary, but they were convincing, which is what the story did need to be. They also helped answer some of the other questions that inevitably arose from bringing Bucky back. How come Steve hadn’t run into him before? Well, he’d been decommissioned since the eighties, well before the Avengers fished Steve Rogers out of the ice. See, even though Brubaker’s story was defiantly nailed to a time, it made use of the sliding timescale. Because of the sliding timescale, the fifties through the eighties are basically dead years in the Marvel timeline— everything that was actually published then now happened in 2010. So Brubaker could plant a whole character there and it made sense that no one had met him. The exceptions, like Nick Fury, were few, and could be explained specifically in the comic itself.
There are also thematic reasons I think it also worked— Captain America is already a “man out of time” story, and Cap and Bucky are both obviously pinned to the a historical era. Because of this, a the Captain America mythology already features lots of temporal alienation and lots of Nazis who have somehow survived WW2.
Moving Natasha’s origin back to the 1950s is trickier. Paul Cornell’s Deadly Origin builds off of Brubaker’s plotlines and uses a similarly dated approach— we see Natasha as a child in 1928, for example. But while Brubaker was essentially creating a new story and plopping it into an empty timeline, Cornell was mushing a lot of existing stories together and then sticking dates on them. This doesn’t work nearly as well, because most of these stories are things that happened onscreen already. By fixing Natasha back to the Cold War, many of her older stories read differently. Like, for example, her romance with hotshot rookie Hawkeye might come across strange if read with the knowledge that she’s actually sixty years older than him. Or the constant death and rebirth of her ex-husband Alexei— is he also, then, unaging? Is Ivan? By pinning his story to specific dates Brubaker could avoid plotholes like this, pinning Natasha to specific dates creates them.
Natasha had never previously been concieved of as a timelost, immortal character, and her many decades of prior stories weren’t necessarily equipped to handle a retcon of that scope. To his credit, Paul Cornell really tried to make it work, but he also had to use mind control and false memories to do it, which are plot devices I’m not very fond of. Creators, though, are still running into this problem, because while temporal alienation isn’t an important theme for Natasha, her past is. A good example is the recent Samnee/Waid run with Weeping Lion, someone who lost a relative to Natasha as a child, and has nursed a grudge since. The way the story is told he’d have to be around Natasha’s age— but instead of explaining his apparent immortality, the comic just ignores that and presents the parts of his story that matter. I think that was the right call. Fans like me, who know and care about continuity, and how Natsha’s actually 88, can no-prize themselves an explanation. And fans that don’t know or don’t care aren’t subject to a narrative aside that clutters the story and makes things more confusing, as explaining Marvel timelines always does.
I think that’s the approach I’m most in favor of for Natasha for now: be vague enough about flashbacks to let people imagine the origin story they want. Dating will make things confusing. Explicitly retconning the “Natasha is secretly 88” thing will also be confusing, because then how does she know Winter Soldier? Best avoid it unless you have an good reason, and imo continuity porn is not a good reason.
On the flipside, Nadia Pym is an example of the storytelling opportunities the sliding timescale brings. Hank’s first wife, Maria, died a very long time ago, but because Marveltime is really compressed, you can introduce a character with an interesting legacy built in. And you wouldn’t really get that if you played strict with the idea that the Red Room shut down in the 1970s. She can just be a teenager and it works and doesn’t need to be impossibly complicated, like this answer.