Future!Natasha: The lesser-machines— less-thinking— don’t know it, but there is a war going on, Natasha. And we are fighting it on two fronts. The past, from which you came, is in constant conflict with our future… an outlier of its romance with change. And the future— just like any future— seeks to erase the stain of old sins. THese are not philosophical musings, but real things. People— and more importantly, ideas— are dying.
Natasha: Any chance of you checking out?
Future!Natasha: Oh, they made me in your image, Natasha— can you imagine any version of you forgetting how to survive? We hedge our bets, don’t we? You and I— we make it through.

This encounter with the bad robot Natasha of the far future stabs at the core of Black Widow’s character. She is, to the end— to this end— a survivor, a mercenary, willing to deal with the enemy and turn sides to ensure her existance. The future Natasha, like the Natasha of the past, yearns for freedom. But the freedom to do what? She has no agenda we see but continuing. Hickman’s dark mirror for Natasha, then, isn’t evil but amorality. It isn’t Natasha’s whites turned to black, but her shades of grey that are switched.

This scene forshadows a lot directly, from the encounter with future Franklin next issue to Tony Stark’s imprisonment in New Avengers #26. But I thinkt he most interesting thing it sets up is that, when the world is ending, when time runs out, our Natasha doesn’t make bargains to survive. She decides to go down with the ship.

From Avengers #31, by Jonathan Hickman and Lenil Yu.

Maria: You brought down an international terrorist. Even when we left you out in the cold.
Natasha: I don’t exactly have the best public profile, these days.
Maria: But you do have the résumé. I need an Avenger, and an agent who has a bad reputation, so that she can do bad things. Things that others can’t. I need you. The world needs you.
Natasha: This wasn’t ever what I wanted for myself, Maria. Being the odd girl out, the bad girl, the anti-hero. It’s not what I wanted.
Maria: Sometimes you don’t choose your path. You can’t change your past, but you can meet the future head-on. That’s what you’ve always done. I admire you for it.
Natasha: I quit.
Maria: What?
Natasha: Thank you for everything, Maria.

From Black Widow #18, by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.

Tony: According to his rap sheet, that squirrel of a man has been to prison six times. He doesn’t squeal. It’s against his religion. He’s not going to talk to you.
Clint: I’ll talk to him.
Natasha: No, Hawkeye. This is my area of expertise.
Clint: Great. I’ll come with you.
Natasha: No.
Clint: We’ll play good cop/bad cop.
Natasha: No. It’ll just be a minute.
Natasha: Okay, so here’s what’s what…
Clint: That was fast.

From Avengers Assemble #4, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley.

Bobbi: You said you swept the area? Did you find anything?
Specifically, any weapon of Japanese origin?

Natasha:
As a matter of fact, yes. These places have lots of hidey holes, used for many different things. But nothing like this.

Bobbi:
A kusarigama.

Clint:
Another old ninja weapon.

Natasha:
Another?

Bobbi:
An American spy set up as a member of the Japanes edlegates security team was killed last night with a shinobi-zue.

Natasha:
You saw the weapon?

Bobbi
: No, but I recognized the wound. And now this. Hidden in a place where only you would find it. Someone knew you would look.

Clint:
Breadcrumbs, huh?

Bobbi:
How well did you trust this source?

Natasha:
They called in on a secure line only I would know.

Bobbi:
Two calls, leading two people to the same place. Both counted among the dead, but someone knew they would call us. Or reach us somehow.

Clint contributes approximately nothing to this conversation. Bobbi and Natasha basically talk over him, since they are good at spying and he is not.

From Widowmaker #1, by Jim McCann and David López.

Is Yelena Ukrainian or Russian?

I assume this confusion is because she mentions early on that her parents live in Kiev.

You have turned your back on Russia! You are an American now, a super hero! I have parents back in Kiev waiting for me to make them proud. I have not forgotten what the Black Widow is at her core— a spy!

Of course, even as she mentions her parents in Kiev she clearly identifies as Russian. Her whole introductory monologue is all about her pure and unsullied Russian identity; that’s why Natasha calls her rooskaya/русская, which means the Russian. Yelena trained in Moscow and initially appears as an fiercely loyal agent of that state.

Now, why would she have parents in Ukraine, then? It’s tempting to write this off as another geography gaffe, since Marvel is not so good at non-U.S. cultures, customs, or locations. But I don’t think this needs to be the case here: there’s a large Russian diaspora in Ukraine. A significant minority in Kiev identify as Russian. We don’t know if Yelena was born in Ukraine or if her parents simply live there now.

Yelena was likely born before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and when she was introduced in 1999, it hadn’t happened terribly long ago. I think the possibility of Yelena growing up as a Russian in Kiev adds some interesting context to her initial fierce patriotism, especially if her parents were among the minority of Russians in Ukraine that did not support Ukranian independence in 1991. It would explain, I think, some of Yelena’s anger at Natasha’s loss of her “true Russian” identity.

Panel from Black Widow #1, by Devin Grayson and J.G. Jones.

Natasha: …You’re still here.
Ana: That stray is sticking around, thanks to you.
Natasha: A lonely neighborhood for a cat, I suppose, Ana.
Ana: Yes. A lonely neighborhood, for all creatures. But this one waits for you, I think.
Natasha: I can’t let you in, I’m sorry. That’s one mistake I won’t make twice.

I think a lot has been made of Natasha’s commitment to loneliness, to what degree she is or is not a broken, solitary bird. In the case of this panelset, though, I think it is wise to remember the context. She’s just come back from a mission where she defeated the bad guy, but not before he killed some acquaintences of hers, people she seemed to like and genuinely wanted to help. Natasha stands in violent spaces, and people who keep too close do get hurt. That is the nature of her name: a black widow brings death to her lovers. Natasha has done bad things and holds that part of her regret close, but she is also fundamentally a survivor, and that carries its own guilt.

That Natasha feels this, and sees herself in some stabbing instances as a curse and a danger to the people around her is, to me, more proof that she’s working than proof that she’s broken.

Natasha names the cat Liho, in Slavic mythology the name of a creature of bad luck, ill will, misfortune. Black cats live in fairytales and often appear as omens, or at the side of witches. Liho is bad luck, and it is bad luck to be around Natasha. Misfortune is literally waiting for her. There’s a Russian idiom— не буди лихо, пока оно тихо— that means something like “let sleeping dogs lie.” Don’t trouble until trouble troubles you.

The thing is, of course, that Natasha is trouble walking. She can’t stick to the mission, she can’t keep her hands and feet inside the vehicle, she has to do better, has to help, has to keep trying. So of course, she eventually lets the cat in.

From Black Widow #2, by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.