It’s a summary of the last book to get people caught up and interested in the sequel. There was another Ava Orlova short comic published for Forever Red— these comic stories take place in the same continuity as the books.
That said, the various Marvel universes aren’t as separate as I think fans sometimes want them to be. Ideas cross over all the time and specific events and timelines are highly mutable. The YA novels are a good example of that, since they incorporate a bunch of stuff from both the MCU and 616.
Natasha isn’t a super soldier but she doesn’t age normally. This isn’t uncanon: her 616 relationship with Winter Soldier relies on a shared Cold War past that has been referenced as recently as last week’s issue of Thunderbolts.
But it is something that comics will only mention if they want to. Some writers are really interested in Natasha as a relic of a dead era, or a metaphor for the Russian century. Others want to tell more immediate, contemporary stories without the complication of “lol surprise i’m actually 80.″ And both of these storytypes kind of co-exist without acknowledging the other.
As a reader, you learn to not to think about timelines.
I don’t think “little one” is really a specific to Yelena— it’s a way of mimicking a generic Russian diminutive in English and so it gets thrown into Natasha’s dialogue a lot. Rooskaya/Русская is a much more specifically Yelena nickname. As for Natasha and Anya being the same age, I don’t really think it matters in this context: Anya is marginal compared to Natasha and they both know it.
Re: the similarities with Yelena, it doesn’t bother me that much because those Yelena stories happened more than fifteen years ago, and if comics don’t actually repeat themselves, they do tend to rhyme. As someone who does like and care about Yelena, I don’t know that I would want her at the center of a story about bringing the old style Soviet Red Room back into its old child-trafficking glory.
Because Natasha doesn’t react to Anya the way she did to Yelena— she was cruel and twisted with Yelena but never lost sight of their shared victimhood. But Anya wasn’t part of the Red Room, was always an outsider, and the way to defeat her is to keep her out, to close the circle. The stakes have changed: for Natasha real victims are the girls that Anya is making, not the person Anya has made herself into.
I didn’t particularly like it, but in a normal, “I never really cared for Gob” kind of way, not in an alien mind control way. Storylines always seemed forced when you don’t like them, it’s the number one adjective applied to every pairing you hate, but even in stupid super comics where alien mind control is a clear and present danger, it is usually not alien mind control, just bad writing.
The problem with Bucky over the last few years is that Marvel has tried to move on creatively from the Brubaker run and that redemption arc while at the same time capitalizing on the popularity of films which have largely been reworkings of Brubaker’s run and that redemption arc.
The biggest thing is that comics Natasha is much older. I don’t just mean in terms of the number years since her birthdate, the origin stuff, though that’s true enough as well. What I mean, though, is the number of stories she’s been through, the number of redesigns and reinvisionings and retcons. There is just more of comics Natasha, and not all of it matches up. MCU Natasha is wrapped pretty tightly around the theme of redemption, and in comics Natasha has only been about that some of the time. She has also been a feminist icon and a fashion designer!
Overall I think the main thing is that she’s more confident, more sure of herself. Comics Natasha isn’t as attached to Fury or the Avengers as a support system, she has a much more developed sense of her specific self worth. It’s not always an accurate sense, but it allows her to be more independent. She’s much less dependent on webs of loyalty and that sense of obligation and debtedness. Comics Natasha has had many more significant relationships and ended many of them on (mostly) her own terms— she’s still pretty distant, most of the time, but not a stranger to emotional intimacy, and not so deeply convinced she’s unworthy of it. Natasha in the comics isn’t searching for her place in the world, even though what that place is varies a lot from book to book.
When Matt and Natasha moved to San Francisco, her secret I.D. was public but his wasn’t. One reader, Paty, actually wrote in to ask about this and was published in the letters column of Daredevil #90:
Okay— question time— if… ‘Tash moves to ‘Frisco is Matt gonna follow her? If… he follows her, will it be for good? If… so… what’s going to happen to his DD identity? EVERYONE with an eye for detail and a nosey nose for super-doop sniffing around will KNOW what’s up! If the move doesn’t give away the ol’ identity game, the Tasha— Murdock— DD obvious triangle WILL! OH WOW! Ger— how are you gonna resolve the whole schmuck?
And in fact, some people were suspicious.
Reporter: “Who is Daredevil?” Several interesting coincidences— the appearance of Daredevil and the Black Widow in San Francisco— coupled with the arrival of a certain trial lawyer known for his recent connection with that same infamous lady— leads this reporter to the conclusion that Daredevil and Matt Murdock are one and the same! Matt: Oh, no— no! Ivan: Those irresponsible idiots! Do they realize what they’ve done? Matt: Think, Ivan— think! We’ve got to work a way out of this—
Natasha was more of a celebrity in those days, and the press had covered her relationship with Matt Murdock as it began in New York. So, how did Matt get out of it? By appearing in the same panel as Daredevil, thereby proving he couldn’t be Daredevil, of course!
Commissioner: Maybe you better explain! I thought— Matt: That I was Daredevil? No, Commissioner— the original Daredevil was my brother, Mike Murdock— he died over a year ago— and another Daredevil, whose identity I can’t reveal, took over. Mike asked him to look after his blind sibling— so when I moved to Frisco— Commissioner:San Francisco, friend. This new Daredevil came with you, eh? And teamed with the Black Widow? Matt: Now you’ve got it, commissioner.
Mike Murdock, btw, is the fake twin brother Matt invented to convince Foggy and Karen that he wasn’t Daredevil.1 Eventually he faked Mike’s death and told Foggy and Karen someone else had taken over the identity. Foggy wouldn’t learn Matt’s secret identity for another 20 years, and he didn’t appear much during the San Francisco era, since he and Natasha didn’t get along.
So, if this other Daredevil isn’t Matt and it isn’t Matt’s fake twin brother Mike, who could it be?
T’Challa: Some guy, that Murdock. Getting me out to the coast— giving me this mask— his costume— all to keep his true identity a secret!
For some reason T’Challa has enough free time to show up in SF 2 dessed in full Daredevil cosplay when asked politely. Anyway, much much later this random scene became important foreshadowing when T’Challa pretended to be Daredevil for realsies after the mid-life crisis that was Shadowland.
Panels from Daredevil #92. 1. The real life Mike Murdock, incidentally, has a twitter account that I like to imagine belongs to someone’s fake twin brother. 2. This is the correct and appropriate way to shorten San Francisco. Frisco is obviously wrong, but San Fran is also right out, friend.
Matt went full One More Day during the 8 month gap between Secret Wars, sacrificing his relationship with Kirsten McDuffie to mindwipe everyone into forgetting he’s Daredevil. This extends to Black Widow and Spider-Man and everyone who knew Matt’s identity even before he was outed way back in Bendis’s Daredevil run. Foggy is the only one who knows Matt is Daredevil now, and he’s mad about it. There was a recent arc with Elektra that contemplated the way all his relationships have shifted:
How does she remember it, I wonder? She was with Matt Murdock… and she was with Daredevil… at the same time. I did one small thing— put my secret identity back in the box— and suddenly she’s a cheater. Her and the others—Milla, Natasha. One small thing.
Exactly why Matt felt he needed to do this or how he accomplished his little mass brainwash are still vague. Spider-Man was able to figure out that some of his memories of Daredevil seemed off, but not to remember Matt correctly. Elektra was extra brainwashed (to mess with Matt, of course!) and there’s some implication that whatever mindwhammy Matt pulled made her more vulnerable to someone’s else’s manipulation.
Marvel isn’t “against it” and never has been. But there are a lot of coincidental things that have kept it from happening.
From what I understand, originally Widow Hunt was supposed to be a three part mega-arc that ended with Natasha having her memories back. But the book got cancelled midway through and so Brubaker awkwardly rushed an ending into the second act. Then Winter Soldier got un-cancelled, but Brubaker had already made non-Marvel plans and didn’t come back. When Jason Latour came on he, understandably, wanted to write his own story and not step all over Brubaker’s intended conclusion. And then the book got cancelled for real, and that was that.
So this was never meant to go on like it has. It also doesn’t make much sense as a long-term plot point. I don’t think it will last forever because it cuts Natasha off from one of her more significant relationships for no reason. People are still interested in the Bucky/Natasha pairing; Brubaker’s Captain America stuff where it features is still seen as a modern classic that inspired some of the MCU’s better films. It’s not falling into the “let’s all pretend this never happened” soft-retcon category like some other recent Bucky directions.
But the same editorial hurdles and creative hurdles that resulted in the storyline being fucked up in the first place are still in play. Marvel is still interested in pushing Bucky and Natasha as characters, but their specific ideas for Bucky have been pretty far removed from the character-driven espionage that Brubaker started out with. And the creative teams who have handled Natasha have been (understandably!) more interested in developing their own plotlines for Natasha than returning to bad old ones. Thunderbolts needs to be about the Thunderbolts first, and the ongoing drama of the Marvel universe second. Fixing a broken plot point from several years back is going to be way down on the priorities list.
The current cycle of endless relaunches, moreover, means that books are forever re-establishing their status quo, with less time to visit dangling plot points. Furthermore Bucky and Natasha are both being promoted individually, not as part of a set. It’s hard to see a Winter Soldier writer being given the creative freedom to use Natasha the way Brubaker did— and that was unusual even at the time, something grandfathered in from 2007. It’s likewise difficult to see a Black Widow creative team being able to use Bucky freely. He’s already being used. And this probably isn’t going to stop so long as Marvel has a specific interest in developing these two properties. So any extended plotline involving the two of them is going to need to clear the approval of two editorial offices.
You don’t need an extended plotline to fix this mess, but any throwaway line revealing Natasha’s memories of Bucky are back is going to be a confusing one to the current-day readers who aren’t familiar with Winter Soldier #14, which is most of them. And the longer this goes on the more obscure this plot point gets.
Like I said, I think that eventually, someone will want to write a story about Bucky and Natasha enough that they’re willing to jump through all the hoops necessary to make it happen, and the timing will eventually be right and not thrown off by a superimposed schedule of tie-ins and mega-events. But there are real obstacles and reasons why they don’t fix this plotline every time they could.