My friend told me a story about Steve, Logan, and Ivan rescuing kid!Natasha. Did that really happen? Has it been retconned out of her continuity? What is her relationship with Logan like?

Sure, you’re talking about Uncanny X-men #268, a retro teamup set in WW2 that still felt pretty 1990 thanks to more than the usual amount of ninja. This is a Claremont/Lee joint, the gruff Wolverine and young and idealistic Captain America team up to save a little girl from the Hand. Also Nazis.

Strucker: I’m given to understand— by the old man who leads these costumed fanatics— that young Natasha here has an extraordinary aptitude for the martial arts. Under his tutelage, he will become the Hand’s master assassin.

It was 1941, and Ivan was living from place to place, Natasha in tow, trying to keep her safe from the Hand. Logan was hunting the Hand, Steve was hunting Nazis— together again, for the first time! As to whether or not it’s still in continuity, well—

Jubilee: Her? That old?? Uh-uh. Now way not a chance totally impossible! They’re talking like ancient history!

Uncanny X-men #268 was the first comic to suggest that Natasha was way, way older than she looked. The connection to World War II wasn’t new— in the earliest tellings of Natasha’s early life, she was a Russian war orphan adopted by the soldier Ivan Bezukhov. (I suspect this was all kind of a shout-out to Modesty Blaise.) But that version of her backstory, complete with the Battle of Stalingrad, was established in the early 1970s. Back then, it stuck Natasha in her mid-thirties. In 1990, it made her close to sixty. The issue offered no explanation, and if Claremont had one, he left the book before he could reveal it.

Because she’d only been secretly immortal in one comic from 1990 with absolutely zero rhyme or reason other writers gradually ignored that one comic, and if it wasn’t explicitly retconned it was definitely ignored. When Devin Grayson wrote her 1999 Black Widow mini she pictured Natasha as a creature of the Brezhnev era, and Richard Morgan had his Natasha approaching her fortieth birthday in 2005, not her 70th. These sorts of timelines made Uncanny #268 impossible, and that sort of non-retcon is pretty standard in comics. Reed Richards had World War II adventures, too, those have gradually fallen out of continuity because it makes no sense to acknowledge them.

But, in 2007 Ed Brubaker brought the “Black Widow doesn’t age” idea right back, so that he could retcon in a 1950s romance with his Winter Soldier pet project. Around the same time, Daniel Way did an Uncanny #268 flashback of his own in Wolverine Origins #16, but we don’t talk about that here. Basically, though, the World War II stories were back, and Paul Cornell and Marjorie Liu both worked to make Natasha’s agelessness part her own sombre character instead of just an excuse for cool retroactive team-ups starring dudes.

TL;DR: yes that story is still in continuity.

As for Natasha’s relationship with Logan, the punchline of Uncanny X-men #268 was that Natasha was the first Kitty Pryde, the first of many spunky little-girl sidekicks the man seems to acquire. For this reason it’s kinda creepy that fandom often assumes they’ve slept together. Logan was too transient back then to be a real fixture, a constant influence— it was Ivan who raised her, who was always there, not Wolverine. But when Wolverine was there he was being kicking rad and punching ninjas in the face, so of course he made a strong impression.

I’m not sure I’d call them close, exactly. Natasha doesn’t have the same kind of melancholy heart-to-hearts with Logan as she does with Matt, for example. I’m not sure he’s #1 on the list of persons she’d bare her soul to. But she doesn’t need to, with him, there’s a kind of weary trust there instead, borne of cruel lives that have crossed paths for decades. Logan respects the woman she’s become, but is still perhaps a touch overprotective. He remembers, now, the little girl she used to be. Natasha allows it, maybe because it’s nice that someone does.

MMMOBW 1: Natasha dissolves the UN Charter

So recently I read a nice collection of Memorable Moments of Marvel Women. The write-ups are definitely worth a read, but from my totally-biased lifeguard throne I’m gonna have to call a “where’s Natasha?” partyfoul. I’ll assume this was an omission of ignorance rather than a refusal to admit her copious awesome, because the one disease I can cure and the other I will never understand.

In that spirit I have decided to start a new feautre, Memorable Moments of Black Widow in which I highlight historic moments of Natasha’s superhero career and then blather on about them with my usual teal deer panache. First up is a trip to X-men of the early 90s.

Description: A series of brightly colored blocky panels.  Black Widow is addressing the UN Security council, and hundreds of people are looking on, including most of the West Coast Avengers.

Natasha: Distinguised ladies and gentlemen of the general assembly. As chairperson of the Avengers, I have been asked to order immediate and complete withdrawl of our active roster from the nation of Genosha. I have also been instructed to formally apologize for ignoring the United Nations sanctions placed upon our membership— which would have barred us from an active role in the cessation of hostilities between human and mutate forces of that country. In effect we have been ordered to turn our backs on the citizens of Genosha… to turn a deaf ear to the cries of its children… and blind eye to the continuing slaughter of the entire race. I am hear to tell you the Avengers will not— we cannot— take part in the politics— one could even say the cowardice— that appears to have gripped the hand of this august assemblage.

Natasha was actually Avengers chairperson for more than fifty issues during the first half of the nineties. It’s an accomplishment that often goes unsung becuase it was the first half of the nineties. Plotlines ranged from Teen Tony to incomprehensible X-overs to the interminable Sersi/Black Knight/Crystal lovetriangle, and through it all they wore leather jackets. But Natasha was shown to be a competent leader. She took up chairing the team when Steve took a leave of absence. She kept the job even after he came back.

This sequence takes place during a major Avengers/X-man crossover, Bloodties, which as you can tell had something to do with Genosha, where a Magneto-inspired civil war was rumbling which the UN refused to deal with on the basis of muties suck. As chairperson Natasha was in charge of political fallout and inspirational speechgiving, do or die, and this is what she delivers.

Natasha's speech continues, and people of many nations continue to look on.

Natasha: I will, however, tender an apology… to all the citizens of the world. On behalf of everyone to call themselves an Avenger, I apologize for perhaps losing sight of who we are— and why we do what we do— what we stand for, what it means to assume the mantle of “earth’s mightiest heroes.” Over the years we allied ourselves first with the United States government— and later with the United Nations— because we felt it would facilitate our efforts. But being heroes, being Avengers, is not supposed to be easy. In our haste to do good, perhaps we forgot that. Being an Avenger means having the courage to make the though choices… and the strength of conviction to act upon those choices. From this day forward, people, the Avengers are out of politics. And back in the business of avenging. Thank you.

Natasha had throughout the eighties and nineties identified herself more closely with SHIELD, and she acted as an occasional proponent of government-sponsored superhero work. The apology, the entire speech, is personal— she is admitting her mistakes. It’s probably the harderst and most courageous thing a leader can do.

This was a unilateral decision by Natasha. She was cut off from the bulk of her team. The Avengers were divided on the issue of the UN charter— it wasn’t something they wanted to throw away casually. But all of those who saw Natasha speak was sure that she did the right thing.

From Uncanny X-men #307, by Scott Lobdell and John Romita Jr.

Secret Origins pt 1

Okay, one of the most confusing things about Natasha is her origin, which isn’t all that confusing (in a relatively speaking, Leonidas crying “THIS IS COMIIIICS” like that meme is still relevant sense) but is often confusingly told. I’m going to work some expository magic and hopefully condense forty decades of continuity into an easily digestible and entertaining package. But am I a bad enough dude to save the Tsarina? Let’s find out.

Natasha’s first origin was recounted in a few panels after an awkward meet-up with the Red Guardian, who was apparently her husband or something. Natasha had faked her own treason to go back and operate as a double agent, causing the Avengers and especially Hawkeye much distress. She explains her motivations as a kind of denouement, giving a sort of closure to the character we first saw trying to blow up Iron Man.

By this version her intrinsic goodness, loyal and loving nature are taken advantage of by the Soviet state. It’s also an echo and inversion of the images conjured up by her codename. Instead of a venomous spider who eats her mate, Natasha is a brave woman carrying on in the deceptive memory of her husband.

In Daredevil #88, Gerry Conway fleshed out her early life some, revealing that Natasha had been orphaned during the Battle of Stalingrad. Previously, Natasha’s parents were still alive, we’d seen them on panel, but this is superhero comics and we don’t tolerate any of that parent kind of crap.

Conway also gave an explanation of how Natasha came to attract the KGB’s attention. Intriguingly, by this version Natasha met Alexi while she was already training to be a spy, so her decision had much less to do with him, though his “death” probably helped ensure her patriotism.

The ballerina idea didn’t come until several Daredevil writers later— Steve Gerber had her remark during a training session that she was part of the USSR gymnastics squad and the Bolshoi Ballet. Because hey, those are two things that come from Russia for Glorious Youth Enrichment of the Motherland. The gymnast thing didn’t take, but the ballet did, inserting itself into her backstory despite the Conway stuff having her go at least implicitly directly from college to spy school.

And that was it, for a decade or so, until Uncanny X-men #268, where Chris Claremont, instead of letting the Stalingrad story go gently into the night in the manner of Reed Richards’ WWII service, built a whole storyline around it. With Wolverine. And Captain America. Cameo quota fulfilled.

The story itself features a young Natasha and Logan, Steve, and Ivan’s attempt to save her from becoming a servant of the Hand in Nazi-infested Madripoor. Where it gets tricky is that the story takes place in 1941, which it has to for the rookie-Steve to make much sense. But check your history books: the Siege of Stalingrad was 1942, and Natasha and Ivan’s first meeting was even helpfully stamped with the date. Mysteries wrapped in mysteries…

The big thing we get out of this, though, is the idea that Natasha is really super old.

But how? This issue makes no attempt to explain. Claremont probably had something cooking, but he left the book not long after. (And in X-men Forever all he’s done with Natasha is hook her up with Colossus for the sake of a Romanov/Rasputin joke.)

As the result of this bizarre retcon with none of the scaffolding to hold it up, the “secretly immortal” aspect was mostly ignored for another 15 years. Nothing was really done to explicitly contradict it, but Dixon’s Natasha spoke of her grandfather’s valor at Stalingrad, not Ivan’s or her own. Devin Grayson saw Natasha as the product of the Brezhnev era, not the Stalinist. Which is why people complained when she “suddenly” started turning up in World War II era stories recently, even though the roots of that story really go back to the early 70s.

And that’s the end of Chapter I. Next time: Richard K. Morgan fucks things up.