I recently read an interview of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee in which they said that Both Natasha and Bucky have had a crush on Steve Rogers. Is this true? Have there been instances in the comics relating to this?

Natasha did have a crush on Steve Rogers back in 1990s Avengers comics. And reader, I really hated it:

Natasha: Why do you insist on keeping your fellow Avengers in the dark? As chairman, I should be angry with you…but oddly, when I see you lying like that, I find it quite impossible. look at you— exactly the same as you were when I first laid eyes on you long ago— another world, really— in Madripoor. You are a very handsome young man, Steve Rogers… And for the first time, perhaps, I’m allowing myself to see that…

So, look. Steve Rogers is objectively hot. We’ve already seen that Natasha has had a long-time thing for Clint, and given that he and Steve look exactly the same, it makes sense that she’d also find Steve attractive. My problem isn’t even that Natasha’s one-sided crush is introduced via her recollections of first meeting Steve as a six year old, which is creepy and objectively not hot.

But this plotline was part of Bob Harras’s Avengers run, which should have been a great period for Natasha on the Avengers, but wasn’t. Like this text references, Natasha was the leader of the Avengers at the time, so it should have been great to see her making tough decisions and developing as a leader. Instead, she acts as Steve’s sidekick almost the entire time, being weirdly deferential despite technically outranking him. Like, she can’t get mad at him as a leader because he’s too pretty here, which isn’t usually something Natasha suffers from even when surrounded by very pretty men.

Probably the best example of this weird lowkey OOCness for Natasha through this entire era is when the Avengers fight over the use of lethal force, and Natasha unblinkingly takes Steve’s “no-killing” sides, when Natasha has been okay with using lethal force in basically every other appearance. She fought with Daredevil about this during their partnership, so this was basically worse than 1970s Daredevil in terms of giving Natasha a credible PoV. That’s not good kids.

Imo, the attraction of a Steve/Natasha relationship should be them both overcoming drastically different points of view and learning to work together and appreciate the other’s perspective. They should challenge each other. But when the idea was developed in canon, it was “Natasha goes along with everything Steve says because Steve is Always Right.” Thankfully, this was all dropped completely when a new writer came on the Captain America book and no one mentioned it again. That writer was actually Mark Waid! CBR did a retrospective of the dropped plotline a while ago if you are curious.

As for Bucky’s crush on Steve, that’s always been much more IC and well-attested to. Here’s some panels from Samnee:

Bucky: For the rest of my training, I couldn’t stop thinking about this ‘Captain America’— whoever her was. And I kept goin’ back every night to see more newsreels… studying his every move.

Panels from Avengers #382 and Captain America & Bucky #620.

What do you think of Nat’s reaction to Jess dating Roger in Spider-Woman #17?

Thank you for asking about this anon, because I really want to talk about it! For those of you who aren’t aware, Natasha showed up in the last issue of Spider-Woman to basically, be a huge jerk.

Jessica: What possible right could you have to judge?
Natasha: Well, you see, I was a particularly impressive super-spy. Quite possibly the best ever. Whereas your boy down there… strictly d-list. We’re already expected to bite our tongues about your career change. You belong in the big leagues and everyone knows it.

In this issue: Natasha dismisses Jessica’s new romantic relationship with the ex-villain Roger Gocking, and Jessica’s decision to leave the Avengers to work smaller cases as a PI.

So, it’s pretty clear that Natasha in this issue is mostly the guest-star prop used to define and reiterate Spider-Woman’s themes. It would probably be more “IC” to use Carol in this role, as it’s similar to the role she played in Alias, but Natasha had already been featured in Spider-Woman as the person trying to get Jess back with the Avengers. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that Hickman was completely ignoring the developments in Spider-Woman during his Avengers run and Hopeless & co. had to play fix-it. For these reasons it’s difficult to see this issue as organic character development for Natasha. And that’s okay.

Natasha has been nosy and opinionated when it comes to her friends love lives before. She wanted Clint and Melissa Gold to hook-up and was horrified when Clint started shacking up with Moonstone instead. She played matchmaker for Hercules when she was leading the Avengers and perhaps most famously conspired with Foggy Nelson to end Matt’s controlling relationship with Heather Glenn. She’s usually well-meaning but not particularly nice. So on that level this has precedent.

What doesn’t have precedent is Natasha’s insistence on the A-list/D-list superhero dichotomy. This is actually a recurring trope in comics themselves, particularly when they star women. Carol’s struggle to make the A-list is the initial theme of Ms. Marvel vol. 2, and her current series is about her struggles as the universe’s premier heroine. Hopeless’s Spider-Woman, by contrast, is about Jessica’s rejection of super-hero social climbing for personal happiness. And then you have stuff like Marvel Divas, where the “A-list” heroines are something for the book’s heroines to define themselves against:

Monica: Who invited the A-listers?
Patsy: My agent. Apparently, Sue Richards couldn’t put my last book down. Ditto the other glamazons.

I always thought this A-list/D-list dichotomy showed up in stories about women because comic writers take a lot of their writing cues from teen comedy cliques. But I’ve gotten a lot of weird asks about whether I like D-list heroines over the years, so now I think some fans like to identify themselves with the underdog in the form of these semi-obscure heroes.

But it’s not something that makes any kind of in-universe sense for Natasha to buy into. Her stories require her to be something of an outsider among her peers— because of her lack of powers, her villainous history, and her general Byronic qualities. Her career as a spy, moreover, requires her to keep a low profile, even if out of universe she is now treated as an iconic Avenger.

I do think Natasha would be alienated by Jessica’s choices for other reasons. Before the Hopeless Spider-Woman series, Natasha was framed as Jessica’s Avengers semi-mentor and new friend, so Jessica’s rejection of the Avengers could seem like a rejection of that friendship. Natasha also once refused the Avengers to do street-level stuff with her boyfriend, Daredevil, and that turned out to be a mistake. But more than that, Jessica’s decision to focus on personal fulfillment and happiness is totally alien to Natasha’s worldview. Natasha does what she does because she feels obligated to, not because it makes her happy.

Alternatively: she likes Jess, and she’s just jealous.

Panels from Spider-Woman #17 and Marvel Divas #1.

I actually have never liked the Widow/Bucky pairing; it seems *far* too easy & pat to me. In fact, I’d rather they expanded Natasha’s sexuality and let her be bi in her sexual expression. She just doesn’t strike me as a woman to subordinate herself to a man for too long. What do you think?

Well, I don’t think you need my permission to read Natasha as bi. I’m not a big OTP person and I like Natasha with a lot of different characters. Some of them are women. I’d be pretty excited for canon Sharon/Nat.

But I also think being in a relationship with a man isn’t the same thing as Natasha “subordinating herself” to a man. A huge part of what I appreciate about Natasha’s character is that she is brave enough, sometimes, to pursue romantic relationships and pursue them wholly, even though it would be easier to push everyone away, even though every love she’s known has been doomed. That’s strength, not subordination.

Hey, so I would like to hear your thoughts on the CW deleted scene where Nat tells Steve about visiting her parents graves. Do you think this conflicts at all with the orphan backstory we know so well from the comics and/or what we thought we knew of Natasha from the MCU? I think it’s entirely possible that she was given up from a very young age so the orphan backstory is still kinda true. Mostly I’m frustrated at the lack of real investment Marvel seems to have for her backstory . . .

There have been a coupe different “orphan stories” we’ve seen in the comics. Natasha’s parents were actually seen to be still alive in one of her very first appearances, where the evil Soviet government was holding them hostage to make sure Natasha did what they wanted.

Khruschev: And so, I took the liberty of bringing your parents here! If you have no fear for yourself, surely you don’t want the state to treat them as the parents of a… traitor!
Natasha: Mother! Father! Oh no!

Of course, Natasha defected anyway, and we never saw these parents again. So I guess they were executed for her betrayal? Whoops!

Paul Cornell later tried to reconcile this with the later developments of Natasha being orphaned and found by Ivan and then trained at the Red Room by explaining these parents were just actors who Natasha was brainwashed into thinking were her parents. So that’s always a possibility I guess.

Anyway, my grandfather grew up in an orphanage despite having living parents— his family was just so poor they couldn’t afford to raise him, so that’s certainly a possibility. There’s also comic precedent for the Red Room girls not all being orphans raised by the state. Yelena’s mom was still alive in Black Widow: Breakdown.

Voicemail: Yelena, it’s your mother. Where have you been? We’ve been worried about you… why haven’t you called your aunt Olga?

Natasha’s stories have never been very interested in her parents. She’s never been motivated to avenge her dead parents, like Batman, or to discover the truth of her unknown heritage, like every fantasy protagonist ever. Being an orphan is just kind of her natural starting place. So, that’s kinda weird.

Personally welcome the vagueness in Natasha’s backstory because it allows me to imagine a version of her origin that I like better than the one I expect Marvel would come up with. But I agree, it doesn’t really seem like they have a good idea of what they’re keeping vague.

Panels from Tales of Suspence #64 and Black Widow: Breakdown #3.

minopoke said: Was 616 Natasha also enhanced with some sort of serum?

Yes, but comics have been vague and contradictory about what it does.

Morgan was the first to suggest the Black Widow program did some kind of chemical alterations, but the enhancements they offered were vague and cosmetic—“you hardly get sick, you don’t age as fast, your hair doesn’t fall out, your skin can take the wind and sun” — not really superhuman power upgrades and not the result of a “serum.” The other thing is that Morgan’s “biochemical rewiring” was also a metaphor for patriarchal control. The chemical treatments that Natasha was given made her tougher and more pretty, but also sterilized her, removing her reproductive agency, and included a pheromonal control mechanism that was supposed to make it impossible for her to turn on her male superiors.

A lot of what Morgan did wasn’t suited for mainline superhero stories, so about half of his Natasha plots were immediately ignored.  Shortly after his Black Widow miniseries, though, other stories brought back the idea that Natasha had actually been around since WW2 and had some way of evading the normal aging process. Since this development never had an explanation, fans understandably pointed to the Morgan series as providing a possible reason she didn’t seem to age.

They also theorized that the chemical treatments she got through the Red Room might have been a sort of variant Super Soldier Serum, because comic book Russians have been trying to steal or recreate the Super Soldier Serum forever. So that’s where the idea that Natasha is some kind of knock-off super soldier comes from. It even made it into one of the Official Handbooks right after Civil War, even though it had never been shown that way in any comic.

But Natasha’s stories themselves pretty quickly abandoned that idea. The Official Handbook took out the part about Natasha having a variant Super Soldier formula in their recent updates. Liu and Edmondson in particular stressed in their interviews and that Natasha isn’t a typical hero partly because she doesn’t have powers.

I’m a spy. Not some rooftop-jumping archer, shield-wielding super-soldier, or shiny-metal philantrobot. I need to make it clear on my business card.

Practically, like I said in that post, there’s no appreciable difference between being “normal” peak human and a Super Soldier. Heroes without powers always recover from terrible wounds in an unbelievable way, with no lingering brain damage and no scarring. You don’t need a chemical enhancement to jump from building to building in Marvel 616. Natasha wasn’t shown as demonstrably stronger in Morgan’s series than she was before it, and wasn’t shown as weaker when Edmondson and Liu were trying to portray a non-powered Natasha.

But there is a symbolic difference. Realistically, you can’t expect someone to outpunch a nuclear warhead through sheer willpower alone, but superhero comics aren’t realistic. They’re metaphors. For a character like Natasha, who has always been about skill over brute strength, it makes sense that she doesn’t have powers, because her story is all about her own determination and training. That’s why I think stories have generally rejected the idea of Natasha as a quasi-powered combatant since it was introduced in the mid-2000s.

Quote from Black Widow: Homecoming #5 by Richard K. Morgan, panels from Black Widow #4 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.

Hi! The MCU Natasha is physically a lot weaker than the one in the comics. What are your views. Do you like it? I don’t, personally.

I’m not sure that she is physically weaker in the MCU. Remember, Natasha’s first appearances were as a mastermind supervillain in the 1960s. She didn’t fight at all in her first few appearances, and needed Clint to bail her out of basic physical dangers:

Eventually she got gizmos she could fight with, but Natasha didn’t really become a master of hand to hand combat until the early 1970s, and she wasn’t alone in this. Marvel was pretty reluctant to give women punchy-stabby powers in the Silver Age, and it wasn’t until the 1980s, with characters like Elektra and She-Hulk, that we saw female characters really defined by their combat prowess. As a result, Natasha’s spent quite a few decades as a competent planner and operative but a pretty second-rate fighter.

It’s only recently, with more stories that have focused on Natasha alone, that we’ve really gotten to a place where could fight Elektra to a standstill. There were plenty of messageboards that thought that was OOC when that happened, anon. And that was in 2010!

The point is: comic books are all over the place with physical abilities. There’s stuff comic book Natasha does all the time that probably isn’t technically possible, like swinging around on a tiny wire attached to her wrist. But if 616 Natasha has done more impossibly badass things than her comic book counterpart (see: the first issue of the Samnee/Waid run), then she’s also had much lower lowpoints. MCU Natasha came in with a set level of badass that they haven’t really deviated from.

If one thing frustrates me it’s that the MCU seems really set on defining Steve/Bucky as on another physical level. The Super Soldier Serum gives vaguely defined “peak human” abilities in comics, which are of course fantastic and unbelievable, but basically every comic book character is an Olympic level athlete in like five different sports, which is a roughly equal degree of nonsense. And thanks to the nature of the medium, you don’t really seewhich characters are punching hardest or running faster the way you do in comic books, so I always pictured characters like Bobbi, Steve, and Batman to be on the same basic level regardless of minor chemical tweaking. Like, sure, maybe Steve would win in a marathon, but how often does that really come up in the day to day business of Nazi-punching?

But I’m also a weirdo who doesn’t need or even want her favs to be their most powerful selves. I’m still low-key annoyed MCU Bucky is even a super soldier.

Panel from Tales of Suspense #57 by Stan Lee and Don Heck.

Is it just me, or does it not seem more appropriate to her character that Natasha be bisexual, or at least lesbian? And in any event, I can’t see her getting all soppy and romantic for *any* man. What do you think? (The Winter Soldier thing seems WAY too pat.)

Natasha comes from the Silver Age of superhero comics, a place where men and women (and only men and women) could fall in love with each other in the space of three panels. Over the years, though, the typical action heroine has sacrificed emotional for physical competency. The type has become more deadly, but also more cold, more withdrawn.

Natasha has occupied both extremes. She’s been lonely and unfeeling and also breathless and desperate— and I don’t think either is the “right” or the “wrong” way to handle her. That’s more about the quality of the story, which varies so widely it’s impossible to make any knind of sweeping statement. But I do think the contradiction in her romantic outlooks makes Natasha a much more nuanced and interesting character than she would be otherwise.

Anyway, not everyone likes the Winter Soldier romance, and there were certainly some stuff related to it that I wish didn’t happen, but he wasn’t the first retroactive love affair she had, nor the first person she’s cried over. I’m not sure what “at least lesbian” means but I think you could certainly read Natasha as bisexual. There’s also lot more flexibility in the MCU version since the amount of canon there is so comparably limited.

You’ve mentioned before how every character iteration of Natasha from the comics to the movies varies. But as a character, what do you think are some defining traits of Natasha? Ones that maybe you’ve seen carried the most throughout various runs, or ones that you simply think are important to understanding her as a character in general? She’s such a complex character with shades of subjective “good” and “bad”, and there’s a lot that different creators tap into–I’m curious about the constants.

Natasha’s defining traits, I think, are: 

  • She’s Russian 
  • She’s a spy— the genre aspect here isn’t always emphasized, but this is a background and a powerset, she operates at the baseline human level and her abilities come from gadgets and intense training 
  • Her codename is Black Widow 
  • She used to be a villain but isn’t anymore— Natasha is treated as varying degrees of moral, and the redemption angle isn’t always played up, but she’s generally positioned as someone to root for  

That might seem like not much but it’s actually remarkably consistent. Compare her with Carol Danvers, who has been through numerous powerset and codename changes in addition to having her emotional memory wiped, or Wanda’s constantly shifting powerset and ethnic background.