I don’t think Natasha lacks a personality. I think that being part of an ensemble cast is similar to being in a solo shot in that Natasha has more of an opportunity to be “real” instead of twisting herself to fit the personality challenges of the dude lead. I think that, in the same way Avengers used sexualized peril and “mewling quim” to give Natasha something to subvert, the mock-romance role Winter Soldier slotted her into was partly about her and partly not.
A lot of the differences in Natasha’s character from film to film have to do with different scriptwriters and different roles that movie logic forces her into: how she has to interact with Tony or Steve to force his character arc along, or to force the team narrative forward. I think it was a clever bit of scriptwriting to make that cipher aspect a product of Natasha’s character and not the creative process; I also think it’s honest to her character, something kicking around since Iron Man 2. I didn’t miss the her whole plotline in this movie, if that’s what you’re trying to ask me.
Maybe this is all personal backlash against people who praised Winter Soldier for “finally” giving Natasha a character, as though she weren’t at the emotional center of the Avengers plot, as though Winter Soldier didn’t benefit from having all this previous characterization built-up. So much meta surrounding female characters is about proving that they are characters worth talking about, and the way you can mistake “finally, a character worth liking” for “finally, a character you like” plays into that.
Like I said, Winter Soldier gave me the exact character arc I wanted for Natasha, it’s just that I think the same thing, pretty much, about Avengers. It’s hard to call one “better” for me than the other. The real point I’ve been trying to make is that there’s a lot more Natasha stuff to talk about than which versions are better and which are worse.
I mean, what are you doing? I say I liked Natasha a lot in Winter Soldier, just that I also liked her maybe even more in Avengers, which is a pretty nondrama statement. Why this “okay you say this thing and that’s completely fine but didn’t you really think x y and z, really really, right” direct inbox anon message? It’s cool if you like Winter Soldier best and that all these things about it vibed with you. I’m glad. But why the attempt to get your words into my mouth? Does it matter what I feel that much? Am I liking something wrong?
It was kinda cheating for me to use Matt Fraction in my example because I actually do not like most of the times he has written Natasha, but I also think Hawkeye is a good comic and the dude himself is a bright & pretty cool guy.1 I saw him at ECCC and he was wearing a Valkyries t-shirt and also offered to sell me his cat for $30. He is good at writing some things and less good at writing others.
I have no desire to make him into the new Non-Problematic Fav because he’s writing Ody-C now and that retroactively makes his X-men stuff brilliant, but I also can’t pretend he is an anti-feminist nightmare because of something I didn’t like in Iron Man five years ago. Stapling a list of past mistakes to people strikes me as a strange form of activism, and I think it turns these mistakes into something to be gawked at rather than examined and hopefully learned from. The way tumblr flipped so hard on Fraction speaks to how narrow and empty these labels can be and also how many opinions it has about Tony Stark.
1. Just to cut off an endless string of asks: I think Natasha was weirdly mean and weirdly incompetent in Invincible Iron Man, at odds with Maria Hill and randomly outspyed by Pepper Potts. Then in Hawkeye she grew a random accent, and I have Strong Pre-existing Biases about that. I think if Fraction were to write a Natasha story instead of a bunch of Natasha cameos, he’d probably do a better job.
Oh, it’s no big deal! I’m not one of those people who came out of that film shaking with anger about the 1984 birthdate. From a character arc perspective, I got exactly what I wanted from the movie. But I prefer the more comic booky deadpan and debted dialogue in Avengers to the flirty matchmaking dialogue in Winter Soldier. I wouldn’t say I’m “not a fan,” because I don’t think either is wrong, it’s just a preference of mine, the same way I like the voice Warren Ellis gives Natasha more than say, Matt Fraction. This is for Natasha only, so like, I don’t have the same opinions about Steve.
I am skeptical of the sentiment that the Russo brothers are the new King Feminists of lady characters and that they will lead us into new ways of being non-problematic, unlike Whedon with his awful tropes. I don’t mean this as a defense of Joss Whedon, whose uncomfortables are well documented at this point!! Rather, I am skeptical of fandom’s need to crown the shiny and new as well as their own fannish preferences as better on a moral-sj axis. I think the Russo brothers did a good job with Natasha in Winter Soldier, but they did actually consider using her as Steve’s love interest, which seems to me like a immediately terrible idea. (Just like Whedon wrote a whole script about Jan and then didn’t actually use it: immediately terrible idea.) Moreover, I’m convinced you can’t write a Civil War plot without pissing people off, so we’re gonna get lists of everything wrong with Winter Soldier when, idk, Loki shows up in Avengers 3 and is either too sympathetic or not sympathetic enough.
We create this cycle of unrealistic expectation and jaded disappointment and in traveling this ferris wheel we can alienate people with the sheer size of our rhetoric. Like, did you know that before he became the tumblr darling, Matt Fraction’s name was talked about the same way we talk about Rick Remender right now, for the terrible crimes of his Iron Man run? Agent Carter is either the best thing ever for women or the worst thing ever for race, but it’s not actually an either/or. I think we could get better discussions of the good and the bad in canon if we weren’t so fixated on underlining the good and the bad.
I realize that might seem a bit hypocritical from me, but whatevs, there are worse things.
Further CONTROVERTIAL OPINION: I like Natasha’s Winter Soldier flat hair more than her Avengers hairstyle. I am large and contain multitudes.
Of course! I actually liked her characterization more in Avengers than I did in Winter Soldier, which may now have stormed into ~unpopular opinion~ territory. (I liked her a lot in Winter Soldier, though, so it’s not a particularly strong statement.) I’m looking forward to seeing Natasha interact with a whole team and also hopefully crosses fingers with Wanda.
I’m p. nervous about Age of Ultron, too, though. The promise of more of Natasha’s backstory is basically adding new ways the MCU could fuck her up!! And just in general, it’s hard for sequels to be even as good as the originals, especially when you dearly want them to be.
So I’m excited/nervous, the way you are before a big sports game where your team is playing. Go sportsteam, go Avengers, be the good movie you can be, somewhere, deep inside.
The “First, last, and always!” line comes from Daredevil and the Black Widow #94, by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan.
I’m actually not too fond of this line. In context, it’s a pretty ridiculous overreaction. Superheroes save each other all the time, that’s why they team up. But in the 1970s a lot of dude writers mistook feminism for "women never wanting to accept help ever” instead of, you know, equal treatment. This led to a lot of unkind characterization of feminist characters— Natasha got a lot of it when Steve Gerber took over Daredevil, Carol Danvers and Greer Grant did when they joined Avengers and West Coast Avengers respectively.
I think Conway meant Natasha to be a sympathetic character and genuine role model, not a man-hating strawman, though, and I think this outburst was meant to reflect her and Matt’s relationship struggles more than anything. But he could still have his awkward “Bronze Age dude writing women’s lib lady” moments, and this is one of those, for me.
The “27 other Black Widows” thing comes from Richard Morgan’s Homecoming miniseries. In that series, they were all murdered, mostly off-camera, and Natasha is the last survivor. Homecoming is only dubiously-canon, but the 27 Black Widows thing was mentioned again in Deadly Origin, confirming it, at least for now. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out some of them are not as dead as Morgan made them.
Daredevil is my favorite superhero franchise, and it was also my introduction to Natasha. So I’m basically all the way down.
I also think where Natasha is now in the MCU is about where she was when she met Daredevil in the comics. She’d ditched SHIELD and left the Avengers and was trying to prove herself a hero without all these strings attached. Natasha went to trial for crimes she didn’t commit and made an easy public scapegoat because of her past and Russian identity. Matt Murdock was the lawyer who defended her, and I think it meant a lot for Natasha, at that point in her life, to have someone not mixed up in her past trust her, and defend her, and believe in her.
You can see the parallels, there with her ending in Captain America: the Winter Soldier, testifying in congress and deciding to quit the world to find herself. Street level is my favorite genre of hero comics, and I think Natasha could benefit from leaving the alien battles and international conspiracies and just seeing the good she could do at the local human level. Seeing the change she could make up close would mean that she’d have to confront it.
It wouldn’t have to be romantic, and it wouldn’t have to last. I mean, as long as we’re in never-gonna-happen land, it would be a great way to set up a Black Widow movie, and provide a connecting chapter between Avengers 2 and wherever.
& I’m contractually obligated at this point to mention the Daredevil and Black Widow show that went into quasi-development in 1975. It was too expensive to produce and never got off the ground, but pictures survive on the internet: