minopoke said: Was 616 Natasha also enhanced with some sort of serum?
Yes, but comics have been vague and contradictory about what it does.
Morgan was the first to suggest the Black Widow program did some kind of chemical alterations, but the enhancements they offered were vague and cosmetic—“you hardly get sick, you don’t age as fast, your hair doesn’t fall out, your skin can take the wind and sun” — not really superhuman power upgrades and not the result of a “serum.” The other thing is that Morgan’s “biochemical rewiring” was also a metaphor for patriarchal control. The chemical treatments that Natasha was given made her tougher and more pretty, but also sterilized her, removing her reproductive agency, and included a pheromonal control mechanism that was supposed to make it impossible for her to turn on her male superiors.
A lot of what Morgan did wasn’t suited for mainline superhero stories, so about half of his Natasha plots were immediately ignored. Shortly after his Black Widow miniseries, though, other stories brought back the idea that Natasha had actually been around since WW2 and had some way of evading the normal aging process. Since this development never had an explanation, fans understandably pointed to the Morgan series as providing a possible reason she didn’t seem to age.
They also theorized that the chemical treatments she got through the Red Room might have been a sort of variant Super Soldier Serum, because comic book Russians have been trying to steal or recreate the Super Soldier Serum forever. So that’s where the idea that Natasha is some kind of knock-off super soldier comes from. It even made it into one of the Official Handbooks right after Civil War, even though it had never been shown that way in any comic.
But Natasha’s stories themselves pretty quickly abandoned that idea. The Official Handbook took out the part about Natasha having a variant Super Soldier formula in their recent updates. Liu and Edmondson in particular stressed in their interviews and that Natasha isn’t a typical hero partly because she doesn’t have powers.
I’m a spy. Not some rooftop-jumping archer, shield-wielding super-soldier, or shiny-metal philantrobot. I need to make it clear on my business card.
Practically, like I said in that post, there’s no appreciable difference between being “normal” peak human and a Super Soldier. Heroes without powers always recover from terrible wounds in an unbelievable way, with no lingering brain damage and no scarring. You don’t need a chemical enhancement to jump from building to building in Marvel 616. Natasha wasn’t shown as demonstrably stronger in Morgan’s series than she was before it, and wasn’t shown as weaker when Edmondson and Liu were trying to portray a non-powered Natasha.
But there is a symbolic difference. Realistically, you can’t expect someone to outpunch a nuclear warhead through sheer willpower alone, but superhero comics aren’t realistic. They’re metaphors. For a character like Natasha, who has always been about skill over brute strength, it makes sense that she doesn’t have powers, because her story is all about her own determination and training. That’s why I think stories have generally rejected the idea of Natasha as a quasi-powered combatant since it was introduced in the mid-2000s.
Quote from Black Widow: Homecoming #5 by Richard K. Morgan, panels from Black Widow #4 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.