I really love how Dottie Underwood is shaping as some sort of Early Days Natasha! There was a line in the latest episode about how she’s a Russian spy who failed to complete a mission and now the soviets don’t want her back and she has to figure out what to do in the US. It’s the exact position Nat was in back in the 60s and I’m so glad we’re getting to see some of that explored in the cinematic universe, even if it’s through another character. And Bridget Regan is absolutely phenomenal!

Oh man, I totally agree on this!! They’re doing a lot of cool Natasha classic riffs with Dottie and I’m very down. Like, check out this aesthetic:

The colors are different, though clearly Black Widow inspired. But the dark hair and netted hat, the opera gloves and luxe finishing? That’s a clear visual reference to the Tales of Suspense #52 catalogue.

Natasha: You sent for me, Comrade Leader?

This is the nifty thing about adaptations and multiple universes and all the branching overlaps of Marvel continuities. Seeing things remixed and repeated, and that rewards viewers investment in the details. But the sameness also showcases differences. Dottie isn’t a version of Natasha, and she won’t react to Natasha’s predicament (or her outfits) the way that Natasha did. It’s building a legacy, but it sharpens each women’s uniqueness.

Panel from Natasha’s very first appearence in Tales of Suspense #52.

Natasha: I crave excitement… suspense! And I must have it… as only the Black Widow can!

This seemingly innocuous panel, first printed on page three of Amazing Adventures #1, provoked a red reaction in one Lester G. Boutillier:

“The Black Widow’s statement in panel 3, page 3, indicated a character trait entirely alien and removed from the personality she was depicted with in the Avengers’ stories, and one which I personally find offensive and unladylike. I remember the complaint of a female fan some months ago about the absense of any solo strips of female characters, but you didn’t have to give half a book to a feminist.”

It’s a wonder that someone so long ago had such a strong reaction to such a generic panel, but it’s even more of a wonder how little the comics discourse has changed. In 1970, letters colums were arguing about whether women had too few appearances or too many; today the comments sections are increasingly divided over whether diversity has gone too far. It’s easy to imagine the modern Lester G. Boutillier. “I know that the tumblr sjws always complain… but you didn’t have to make Thor into a feminist.”

But this panel isn’t particularly feminist, and with a few exceptions here and there Marvel and DC both have aspired to mass-market centrism rather than speaking truth to power. Most of their “political” arcs in recent years commit to an aesthetic rather than a position. Civil War seems to be about gun control or the Patriot Act, but those metaphors fall apart if you squint at them, because it is actually about a man in an American Flag body-condom punching a man pretending to be a robot. Most superhero stories, in fact, are about punching, about the possibilities of righteous violence, which only leaves room for certain types of allegories. Some argue that diversity in superhero comics is oxymoronic, impossible, that the ink is too deep to wash out.

Still, the superhero is an empowerment fantasy, something that speaks bold-print to the marginalized. And that empowerment symbolism is weaved in deep enough that the mere ritual of donning a costume is understood as a feminist act by the self-identified enemies of feminism. When fans complain about Marvel’s “political correctness” today, it is mostly because they read threatening feminist symbolism into the way Carol Danvers cuts her hair. The radicalism of the “diverse” superhero is one invented by the reader, by the meanings we invest into four-color avatars. It’s a testament to the superhero’s power as icon that so many feel a claim to it.

From Amazing Adventures #1, by Gary Friedrich and John Buscema.

Tony: Here… let me help you… wha…? I can’t move!!
Natasha: This paralyzing gas will render you helpless just long enough, my handsome fool!
The next moment, as the sricken Stark slumps to his knees…
Natasha: If it can lift a safe… it can move a wall… ah! It is working!!
Guard: Hold it, lady! That’s a restricted area! Stop, or I’ll… holy smoke!
Natasha: Stay up there a while, little man and do not annoy me!

From Tales of Suspense #53, by Stan Lee, N. Kurok and Don Heck.

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.

Clint: Up your horns, fella! I’m not leavin’ without ‘Tasha!
Matt: Keep wishing, Avenger! The Widow’s not up for grabs today!
Natasha: That’s enough— both of you!! I go where I please— with whom I please!
Clint: That’s tellin’ him, Spider Lady!
Matt: Hawkeye, do me a favor: shut up!
Natasha: I wish both of you noble, selfless defenders of the good would start acting the part. Meaning, can we go inside and discuss this like civilized human beings?

Ship wars, c. 1973.

From Daredevil and the Black Widow #99, by Steve Gerber and Sam Kweskin.

Ramrod: An’ ya can forget them Widow’s Stings lady! I don’t even feel ‘em!
Natasha: No? Then maybe
Ramrod: Hey—!
Natasha: — just maybe— you’ll feel this! See, you have to catch me before you can dismember me. Only I won’t let you catch me! Frustrating, isn’t it— for a big strong man like you?
Ramrod: Back on the oil rig, lady, we had a word for yer kinda dame!
Natasha: Tch tch, nasty nasty! You wouldn’t call me evil names, would you? I mean— I blush at such words in mixed company.
Matt: She’s absolutely right, Rammy! Now, you apologize! Better yet— just shut up and go away!
Natasha: Aw! Did wamwod twip on biwwy cwub cable?

People who think Natasha is only a troll in MCU are wrong.

From Daredevil and the Black Widow #106, by Steve Gerber and Don Heck.