ICEMAN, one of the most powerful mutants within the Marvel Universe, discovers his powers and his outlook on life evolving. He needs to lead the charge with a team who stand proudly by his side in the war to “protect those who can’t protect themselves.” Hercules, Ghost Rider, Black Widow, Darkstar, and Angel re-unite with Marvel’s fearless frozen fighter setting ICEMAN on an all-new path. As more unexpected enemies emerge, can Bobby mature into the warrior he’s destined to become? Hope he survives the experience!

Hercules: Still the mortals stop to stare at me! Is my appearance somehow amiss?
Wanda: On the contrary, Hercules! As the slogan says, you must be doing something right!
Clint: Well, pretty lady, it looks like you get stuck with nothing but a plain-clothes archer!
Natasha: I shall try to survive, my darling… as long as you keep paying me compliments!

From Avengers #46, by Roy Thomas and John Buscema.

Black Widow and Hercules. I have all the questions about them. All of them, like why and how. But recommended reading would suffice.

There— really isn’t any. Natasha/Hercules is seriously a minor footnote in maybe four issues of comics published in 1978. They weren’t actually together during the Champions, they were lazily paired in a single-panel flashback after the team broke up and both were sent off to Avengers, where they bickered a bit for like two issues and then half-heartedly split. Modern writers have kinda made it seem like a bigger deal and/or something that actually happened while the Champions were together. But even that flashback stuff tends to be one-liners about someone’s sexual prowess rather than any insight into why that relationship worked.

The issues where Black Widow and Hercules are together are part of an Avengers arc called the Korvac Saga, which is one of those classic Avengers stories that I am pretty lukewarm on. It’s still sort of a must-browse if you are interested in the big Avengers plotlines over the years. And for a story that I actually like, I’ll throw in Incredible Hercules: Against the World, which makes a good argument that whatever else they make really cute bros.

Anyway, since there was really no explanation or development there and never really has been, that leaves me free to make up my own. When Natasha came to Los Angeles and stumbled into the Champions, she had just left Matt, and was still reeling from that relationship. Before that, she had Clint, and then that was complicated by Alexi— what I’m driving at, here, is that she’d fallen in a lot with broody types that led to a lot of heartbreak and melodrama and Natasha eventually leaving. It’s also worth noting that the Black Widow of this time period had still only recently defected, that the Cold War still informed Marvel’s storytelling, and Natasha was a heroine who was maybe sure of herself, but still searching for her place in the world. (She would find it, I’d argue, in later decades.)

So, with all of that, it sort of makes sense that she’d seek out a fun fling. It’s not really like her, but it’s the exception that informs the rule. (Nevermind that Hercules at the time was written oddly broodypants himself, Herc should be the fun god, so there!)

Fred Van Lente on Black Widow series?

Fred Van Lente on Black Widow series?

Hercules: The others say they have lost heart. Not I, of course.
Angel: This team just doesn’t make sense.
Johnny: Why should such disparate people stay together?
Natasha: Because we’re not “disparate” at all. For this town, we’re typical. Half-god, half-demo, half-human, half-westerner— out west to seek our fortune!

The primary appeal of the Champions was that they didn’t make much sense but tried to be heroes anyway. They weren’t A-list or awe-inspiring, but their hodgepodge nature lent them an anti-establishment, underdog appeal, and that’s why I think the fascination with the team in flashback has long outlived the original not-always good 17 issue run.

The Champions were also the first Marvel team to have a female leader, c. 1975. In the eighties, the X-men and Avengers would follow suit.

From Black Widow: Deadly Origin #3, by Paul Cornell and John Paul Leon.

Bobby: I can’t revive them with my home-grown cold compresses, Warren. They’re out for the count— and then some.
Warren: Then it’s just the four of us.
Natasha: The three of us, Angel. Johnny, only you can withstand those spears. Can you stay here and guard them?
Johnny: Can’t say I like that, but I can see you’re right.
Warren: Well, it looks like you’ve become the leader of our little group in record time.
Natasha: Is that an objection, young man.
Warren: Heck, no! You’re a darned sight more attractive than the last team leader I worked with!
Natasha: Then let’s find the Huntsman before he finds us!
Bobby: Or to put it as Cyclops— the previously referred-to leader— might have put it: let’s go!

So today I’m doing a Natasha leadership HBIC spam. Just eff-why-eye. The “is that an objection, young man?” is so hilariously school-marmy.

From Champions #2, by Tony Isabella and Don Heck.