The Black Widow is the name of two fictional super-spy characters in the Marvel Comics universe. The first and best-known, Natalia Romanova, also known as Natasha Romanoff, was created by writers Stan Lee and Don Rico and artist Don Heck, and first appeared in Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964). For a time in the 2000s, Romanova lost the title of Black Widow to a younger Russian spy, Yelena Belova.
The Black Widow's first appearances were as a recurring, non-costumed, Soviet-spy antagonist in the Tales of Suspense feature Iron Man, recruiting a besotted Hawkeye to her cause. Her government later supplied her with her first Black Widow costume and high-tech weaponry, but she eventually defected to the United States after appearing, temporarily brainwashed against the U.S., in the superhero-team series The Avengers #29 (July 1966). The Widow later became a recurring ally of the team before officially becoming its sixteenth member.
The Black Widow appeared for the first time in her trademark skintight black costume in The Amazing Spider-Man #86 (July 1970). In short order, she starred in her own series in Amazing Adventures #1-8 (August 1970 September 1971), sharing that split book with the feature Inhumans. Immediately after her initial solo feature ended, the Black Widow co-starred in Daredevil #81–124 (November 1971–August 1975) and then in the super-team series The Champions, which ran 17 issues (October 1975–January 1978).
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Black Widow appeared frequently as both an Avengers member and a freelance agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She starred in a serialized feature within the omnibus comic-book series Marvel Fanfare #10–13 (August 1983–March 1984), written by George Pérez and Ralph Macchio, with art by penciller Perez. These stories were collected in the one-shot Black Widow: Web of Intrigue #1 (June 1999).
The Widow guest-starred in issues of Solo Avengers, Force Works Iron Man, Marvel Team-Up, and other comics. She appeared in several mid-1980s issues of Daredevil, as well as a four-issue arc in issues #368-371 (October 1997–January 1998) and as a recurring guest in Daredevil Vol. 2 (1998–present). She co-starred in two graphic novels — Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty with Nick Fury, Marvel UK's Night Raven and Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday's Web with the Punisher — as well as a three-issue arc, "The Fire Next Time" by writer Scott Lobdell and penciller Randy Green in Journey into Mystery #517–519 (Feb.–April 1998).
The three-issue Black Widow (June-August 1999), under the Marvel Knights imprint, starred Romanova and fully introduced her appointed successor, Captain Yelena Belova (see below), who had briefly appeared in an issue of the 1999 series Inhumans. The writer for the story arc, "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" was Devin K. Grayson while J. G. Jones was the artist. The next three-issue, Marvel Knights miniseries, also titled Black Widow (Jan.-March 2001) featured both Black Widows in the story arc "Breakdown," by writers Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka with painted art by Scott Hampton.
Romanova next starred in another solo miniseries titled Black Widow (November 2004 - April 2005), also under the Marvel Knights imprint and written by science fiction novelist Richard K. Morgan with art initially by Bill Sienkiewicz and later by Sienkiewicz over Goran Parlov layouts. A six-issue sequel, Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her (November 2005 - April 2006; officially Black Widow 2: The Things They Say About Her in the series' postal indicia), by writer Richard K. Morgan, penciller Sean Phillips, and inker Bill Sienkiewicz, picks up immediately where the previous miniseries left off, continuing the story using many of the same characters.
She starred in the solo graphic novel Black Widow: The Coldest War (April 1990), and co-starred in three more: Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday's Web (December 1992); Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir (July 1993); and Nick Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty (June 1995), also co-starring Marvel UK's Night Raven.
Black Widow is also featured in the short story Love Is Blindness, where she instigates a humorous fight with Elektra over Daredevil's affections. The comic is stylized to look like Japanese animation and uses images, not words, inside the speech and thought bubbles to convey what the characters are saying/thinking.
Natasha was born in Stalingrad (now Volgograd). The first and best-known Black Widow is a Soviet agent trained as a spy, martial artist, and sniper, and outfitted with an arsenal of high-tech weaponry, including a pair of wrist-mounted energy weapons dubbed her "Widow's Bite". She wears no costume during her first few appearances but simply evening wear and a veil. Romanova eventually defects to the U.S. for reasons that include her love for the reluctant-criminal-turned-superhero archer Hawkeye.
Romanova's parents were killed in a fire when Romanova was a child. She was saved from death herself by Ivan Petrovitch, who raised her as a surrogate father. He first appears in Marvel continuity in the Widow's 1970s Amazing Adventures feature, in which he is introduced as her chauffeur and confidant, without this back-story revealed. Romanova as a child appears in a flashback to 1941, in which the superhero Captain America and the mutant Logan, before he became the superhero Wolverine, rescue her from Nazis on the fictional island principality of Madripoor.
A revised, retconned origin establishes her as being raised from early childhood by the U.S.S.R.'s "Black Widow Ops" program, rather than solely by Ivan Petrovitch. With other young female orphans, she is trained in combat and espionage at the covert "Red Room" facility. There, she is biotechnologically and psycho technologically enhanced — an accounting that provides a rationale for her unusually long and youthful lifespan. While there, she was trained by, and a lover of, the Winter Soldier . Each Black Widow is deployed with false memories to help ensure her loyalty. Romanova eventually discovers this, including the minor fact that she had never, as she'd believed, been a ballerina. She further discovers that the Red Room was still active as "2R". Natasha married the renowned Soviet test pilot Alexi Shostakov. When the Soviet government decided to make Alexi into their new operative, the Red Guardian, he is told that he can have no further contact with his wife. Natasha is told that he had died and is trained as a secret agent separately.
On her first mission in the United States, she and her partner Boris Turgenev were sent to America to assassinate Prof. Anton Vanko and Iron Man. The pair battled Iron Man, and Boris stole and wore the Crimson Dynamo suit. Vanko killed himself and Boris to save Iron Man, using an unstable experimental laser light pistol. Natasha later met Hawkeye and set him against Iron Man, and later helped Hawkeye battle Iron Man.
Matt broke up with his long-time love, Karen Page, so that he could be with Natasha and the two moved to San Francisco to start a new life together. They fought against menaces such as Man-Bull, Blue Talon, Dark Messiah, Angar the Screamer, Ramrod, Terrex, Kraven the Hunter, Death-Stalker, Owl, El Jaguar, HYDRA, and Damon Dran, the Indestructible Man.
Natasha wanted to find a new career for herself beyond the day-to-day adventures she and Daredevil enjoyed and attempted to become a fashion designer, but her career never took off. Eventually, her relationship with Matt became strained. Natasha left Daredevil briefly to accept an offer of membership in the Avengers after aiding them against Magneto, but she soon left them after determining from a battle against the Lion God that she did not fit into a team environment. Natasha and Matt reconciled for a while, but after a lengthy romance, Natasha finally broke up with Matt because she felt he did not treat her as an equal in battle.
Her friends often call her "Natasha", the informal version of "Natalia". She has sometimes chosen the last-name alias "Romanoff" — evidently as a private joke, as that form wouldn't be applicable as a Russian female's last name. She has been hinted to be a descendant of the Romanov royal family and a relation to Nicholas II of Russia.
Natasha later becomes aware of another Black Widow, a younger woman named Yelena Belova who had also been trained at the Red Room. Yelena, obsessed with being the sole Black Widow, encounters Natasha while each attempts to retrieve the "Endless Fury" bioweapon, which explodes near them. Natasha later has herself and Yelena trade appearances through plastic surgery. Natasha later discovers that dozens of other women had been trained as Black Widows, and all are now being hunted down and killed. While investigating the murders, freelance agents Max Hunter and a female known only as Kestrel are hired to kill Natasha; during their pursuit of her, they gun down Natasha's old friend Phillip Dexter. In retaliation, Natasha kills Hunter and publicly humiliates Kestrel. With information gleaned from Kestrel, Natasha finds and kills the mastermind of the Black Widow murders: an aging CEO who intended to use part of their genetic structure to create a new chemical weapon.
Later, Tony Stark assigns Natasha to convey the late Captain America's shield to a secure location, but is intercepted by her former lover, Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, who steals the shield. Natasha and the Falcon then rescue Barnes from the Red Skull's minions, and bring him to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, where Stark convinces Bucky to become the new Captain America. Afterward, Natasha accompanies Bucky as his partner for a brief time until she was called back by S.H.I.E.L.D. She later rejoined him and Falcon for the final confrontation with the Red Skull, helping to rescue Sharon Carter. She and Bucky appear to have restarted their relationship. She later plays an important role in the capture of Hercules. However due to her respect of the Greek god, she let him go. Soon Natasha, along with the rest of the Avengers, gets involved in the current Skrull invasion.
The Black Widow uses a variety of equipment invented by Soviet scientists and technicians, with later improvements by S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists and technicians. She usually wears distinctively shaped bracelets which fire "widow sting" energy blasts, as well as "widow line" grappling hooks, and tear gas pellets. She wears a belt of metallic disc-charges containing plastic explosives. Her costume consists of synthetic stretch fabric equipped with micro-suction cups on fingers and feet, enabling her to adhere to walls and ceilings.
Black Widow would also seem to have enhanced physical abilities above the human norm, although the exact extent of these enhancements is unknown. Among these enchanments would seem to be a reduced aging process, as it has been shown that she was alive as a child in World War 2, but looks to be no older than her late 20's or early 30's.
Yelena Belova, the second modern Black Widow, was initially a post-Soviet Russian spy of the GRU. She debuted briefly in Inhumans #5 (March 1999), and was fully introduced in the 1999 Marvel Knights miniseries Black Widow. A second miniseries, also titled "Black Widow" and featuring Natasha Romanoff and Daredevil, followed in 2001. The next year, she did a solo turn in her own three-issue miniseries, also titled Black Widow (officially Black Widow: Pale Little Spider in the series' postal indicia) under the mature-audience Marvel MAX imprint. This June to August 2002 story arc, by writer Greg Rucka and artist Igor Kordey, was a flashback to the story of her becoming the second modern Black Widow, in events preceding her Inhumans appearance.
She is lured back, however, by the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and becomes involved in the agency's mining of vibranium in the Antarctic Savage Land. Shortly afterward, she barely survived an attack by Sauron, receiving severe burns and being subsequently approached with an offer for revenge against S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers.
Belova is genetically altered by the terrorist organization HYDRA. Belova had suffered debilitating and disfiguring injuries after her last encounter with the Avengers in the Savage Land. HYDRA recruited her with the prospect of revenge and after hiring the services of A.I.M. transferred her mind into a new Super-Adaptoid body. This body appeared as Belova had originally until it began to absorb powers, at which time it changed as the original did, though now yellow in color.
Now equipped with the ability to copy all of the Avengers powers, she engaged the superhero team in combat. She was eventually defeated by a combination of Tony Stark's 49 successive Iron Man armors — from the first, Tales of Suspense #39, to the then-current — and the Sentry's use of his Void persona, which she absorbed with the rest of the Sentry's powers and energy. When she was defeated, HYDRA killed her using a remote self-destruct mechanism they had implanted in her, rather than let her reveal intelligence to the Avengers.
She has since turned up alive and working with a vigilante group, the Vanguard.
Natasha is still working (and sleeping) with Count von Doom during Marvel 1602: Fantastick Four, when she is captain of his flying ship. However, when she questions his plan to take the ship to the edge of the world, he pushes her over the side and appoints the Wizard captain.
Natasha Romanova is a former KGB spy and assassin, nicknamed the Black Widow. She was originally part of the Ultimates' covert operations ("black ops") team but with the emergence of the Chitauri threat was subsequently moved to public status after a publicly acceptable background was written for her. The Widow has genetic or cybernetic enhancements making her far better in combat than the average human. After accepting a marriage proposal from Tony Stark, she receives a black suit of Iron Man armor as an engagement present, along with a set of nanites bonded to her skin to control the armor.
Romanova is later revealed as a traitor, responsible for killing Hawkeye's wife and children, revealing Bruce Banner's connection to the Hulk to the public and collaborating with the Liberators in their invasion of the United States. After she holds Stark hostage in an attempt to extort his fortune, Stark activates the nanites in her bloodstream, freezing her body in place, before knocking her unconscious. She appears later in an emergency clinic, having had cut open her wrists to bleed out the disabling nanites. Hawkeye kills her in revenge for her part in the murder of his family.
By Ultimates 3 #1 a sex tape between Natasha and Tony Stark has been leaked to the public. According to Janet Pym, the tape is of unknown origin and seems to have been professionally done with "close ups". Stark is shown to be in a state of depression over Natasha's betrayal and subsequent death.