Maria: Geez, that guy really is a great motivator— I’m jealous.
Natasha: Director Hill—
Maria: Relax, Romanov. If I wanted you arrested, you’d be doing that weird thing you do with your thumbs to get out of handcuffs by now. You might be on the outs with SHIELD officially, but this one is as off the books as they come. So for as long as Sharon, Steve and I are willing to look the other way— consider this a momentary truce. I just wanted to see how our savior’s doing.
Natasha: Frail. But motivated. You really think he’s got no shot?
Maria: Don’t joke. Everyone loyal to Denz got gassed before iPhones happened. At best, he’ll come up with a few hundred amateurs who were trying to avoid getting drafted into the other two armies. I could give them all Hulkbuster armor suits, and they’d get themselves killed setting off the airbags.
Natasha: So why go through all the trouble?
Maria: Two words— coordinated air strikes. Wait, is that three words? Doesn’t matter. Point is, SHIELD can’t help a butcher like Novoty beat HYDRA. But good old, loveable General Denz? Hero freedom fighter? Him we can drop a lot of bombs for.
Natasha: And when that helps Navoty take back his country?
Maria: This is not the house we live in, Nat— we can’t tell the neighbors what to make for dinner. Novoty might be the most underrated of history’s greatest monsters, but it’s him or the Red Skull. Of the two— which do you think shows up at our door first?

This is just about the first time we’ve seen Natasha outside of her own book since the universe reset. Bigger than that, it’s the first time we’ve seen Natasha interact with Maria Hill since she quit SHIELD at the end of the Edmondson/Noto run.

Spencer’s Maria Hill is even more of a jerk than most other versions, and she seems to lord her moral ambiguities over Natasha here, treating Natasha as almost naive. It’s at once very different from the dynamic they had in the Natasha’s last book, and very much the same classic asshole Maria Hill.

It makes sense: Natasha quit SHIELD to get away from missions like this one, to keep herself from becoming a necessary evil. But Maria Hill won’t quit SHIELD, or can’t. But the ruthless pragmatism that led to Natasha’s double betrayal is also something that’s keeping her out of prison. Maria can still use her.

(This is all complicated a bit by Nazi Steve’s moralizing voiceover, which I’m honestly not sure how to read. I wonder if Natasha’s going to appear more in this book or if this was just a one-off thing…)

From Captain America: Steve Rogers #7, by Nick Spencer and Jesús Saiz.

Hi, I saw you answered something similar and I just wanted to follow up on that. I haven’t read the comic books but you said that it’s implied that Nat is friends with May, Maria, Laura Barton and Pepper. Is she also friends with Bobbi? Since we don’t get to see any interaction between Nat and other women in the MCU, could you give some details about these friendships? I would love to see that!

These are all characters she’s implied to have some sort of rapport with in the MCU, anon. May has Natasha in her cellphone, Maria talks about her with Ward, Laura names her baby after Natasha, &c &c. For the comic versions, this is what we got:

Laura Barton doesn’t exist in mainline Marvel comics. In Laura Barton’s comic universe, she was murdered by Natasha, who was evil in that AU. People mostly bring this up without the AU context to bash Natasha or the Clint/Natasha ship.

May has only recently been introduced to the comic books and hasn’t interacted with Natasha there, yet.

Bobbi met Natasha when she was married to Clint, who was worried about introducing his new wife to his ex. But instead, they immediately hit it off:

Clint: Oh… uh, ‘Tasha, I don’t think you’ve met the Mockingbird. She and I… that is… you see, we’re…
Bobbi: “Married” is the word he’s searching for.
Natasha: Really? Congratulations!! It’s always a pleasure to meet a woman as brave as you must be.
Bobbi: The pleasure’s mine, Natasha!

I’m not sure that I’d call them friends, since their interaction since then has been mostly incidental. I would say they are work acquaintances that get along well. Bobbi is getting her own ongoing series, soon, so I hope we’ll see her non-Clint relationships developed more in that.

Maria and Natasha have the most developed relationship of the list you gave me. They didn’t get along at first due to SHIELD politics and Maria’s dislike of superheroes, but gradually came to respect each other after being forced on an adventure together. When Maria was reinstated as Director of SHIELD, Natasha became her best and most trusted agent.

Maria: Natasha is sometimes the only person I can confide in. She’s valuable to me— she’s my confidant— precisely because she’s close to no one. Because she’s a loner. Maybe that’s selfish… but there’s… the other part.
Isaiah: What’s that?
Maria: She’s the only person I’m afraid of.

As SHIELD director Maria is in a position where she needs to be willing to use anyone, at any time, and that stunts all her human connections. She can only confide in Natasha when Natasha is at her most lonely, most distant. And so when Natasha didn’t like the person that Maria’s missions were making of her, she quit. And that’s about the last thing we’ve seen from either of them! I’m very interested to see what their relationship is like going forward.

Panels from Avengers #239 and Black Widow #14.

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.

Maria: What did Natasha say she was going to do about this?
Isaiah: She didn’t have to say. And she knew you weren’t behind her, so…
Maria: It’s not that simple. We’re in a period of—
Isaiah: She’s always been a loner, Maria. But it’s different when you know friends are there— just in case.
Maria: Natasha is sometimes the only person I can confide in. She’s valuable to me— she’s my confidant— precisely because she’s close to no one. Because she’s a loner. Maybe that’s selfish…

One of the running themes in this arc is Natasha’s startling loneliness: she lives as an Avenger and as an agent and so exists outside of both categories. But Maria and Isaiah are at least equally alone, and here we have a scene that gets at that. Maria is even more cut off than Natasha is, because she is even more connected. She can’t help Natasha now, her hands are tied. Even admitting, in this rare moment of almost-vulnerability, Maria cannot call Natasha a friend, only valuable. The way you’d talk about an employee, or an asset, or a tool, and not how you’d describe a person.

The idea Natasha is fundamentally alone is of course challenged by people like Maria, and Clint, and Bucky moving in to support her, by visions of people she has chosen to care about, over and over again. But who would come to save Maria Hill, if she went off the grid and her superiors denied her existance? Natasha did, once.

From Black Widow #14, by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.

• The end is the beginning is the end is the…
• Unlikely partners have a meeting far away from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.
• The Secret Avengers run comes to its natural conclusion. Prepare your handkerchiefs.