What do you think of Nat’s reaction to Jess dating Roger in Spider-Woman #17?

Thank you for asking about this anon, because I really want to talk about it! For those of you who aren’t aware, Natasha showed up in the last issue of Spider-Woman to basically, be a huge jerk.

Jessica: What possible right could you have to judge?
Natasha: Well, you see, I was a particularly impressive super-spy. Quite possibly the best ever. Whereas your boy down there… strictly d-list. We’re already expected to bite our tongues about your career change. You belong in the big leagues and everyone knows it.

In this issue: Natasha dismisses Jessica’s new romantic relationship with the ex-villain Roger Gocking, and Jessica’s decision to leave the Avengers to work smaller cases as a PI.

So, it’s pretty clear that Natasha in this issue is mostly the guest-star prop used to define and reiterate Spider-Woman’s themes. It would probably be more “IC” to use Carol in this role, as it’s similar to the role she played in Alias, but Natasha had already been featured in Spider-Woman as the person trying to get Jess back with the Avengers. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that Hickman was completely ignoring the developments in Spider-Woman during his Avengers run and Hopeless & co. had to play fix-it. For these reasons it’s difficult to see this issue as organic character development for Natasha. And that’s okay.

Natasha has been nosy and opinionated when it comes to her friends love lives before. She wanted Clint and Melissa Gold to hook-up and was horrified when Clint started shacking up with Moonstone instead. She played matchmaker for Hercules when she was leading the Avengers and perhaps most famously conspired with Foggy Nelson to end Matt’s controlling relationship with Heather Glenn. She’s usually well-meaning but not particularly nice. So on that level this has precedent.

What doesn’t have precedent is Natasha’s insistence on the A-list/D-list superhero dichotomy. This is actually a recurring trope in comics themselves, particularly when they star women. Carol’s struggle to make the A-list is the initial theme of Ms. Marvel vol. 2, and her current series is about her struggles as the universe’s premier heroine. Hopeless’s Spider-Woman, by contrast, is about Jessica’s rejection of super-hero social climbing for personal happiness. And then you have stuff like Marvel Divas, where the “A-list” heroines are something for the book’s heroines to define themselves against:

Monica: Who invited the A-listers?
Patsy: My agent. Apparently, Sue Richards couldn’t put my last book down. Ditto the other glamazons.

I always thought this A-list/D-list dichotomy showed up in stories about women because comic writers take a lot of their writing cues from teen comedy cliques. But I’ve gotten a lot of weird asks about whether I like D-list heroines over the years, so now I think some fans like to identify themselves with the underdog in the form of these semi-obscure heroes.

But it’s not something that makes any kind of in-universe sense for Natasha to buy into. Her stories require her to be something of an outsider among her peers— because of her lack of powers, her villainous history, and her general Byronic qualities. Her career as a spy, moreover, requires her to keep a low profile, even if out of universe she is now treated as an iconic Avenger.

I do think Natasha would be alienated by Jessica’s choices for other reasons. Before the Hopeless Spider-Woman series, Natasha was framed as Jessica’s Avengers semi-mentor and new friend, so Jessica’s rejection of the Avengers could seem like a rejection of that friendship. Natasha also once refused the Avengers to do street-level stuff with her boyfriend, Daredevil, and that turned out to be a mistake. But more than that, Jessica’s decision to focus on personal fulfillment and happiness is totally alien to Natasha’s worldview. Natasha does what she does because she feels obligated to, not because it makes her happy.

Alternatively: she likes Jess, and she’s just jealous.

Panels from Spider-Woman #17 and Marvel Divas #1.

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