57 Years of Black Widow: Her Origin and Abilities Explained
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The upcoming 2021 Black Widow movie promises to shed light on the checkered past of Natasha Romanoff, a fan-favorite character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since she made her film debut in Iron Man 2 in 2010, fans have been eager to learn more about the KGB assassin-turned-Avenger. But Marvel has only teased bits and pieces of her past in the movies.
Fans have turned to the comics to learn more, but that’s led to more questions than answers for most. Black Widow’s origin can be difficult to follow, as the character has gone through several confusing story arcs since she was introduced 57 years ago. To help you get up to speed before the new movie releases in July, we’ve created a condensed biography of the master spy and assassin.
Biography of Black Widow
When Natasha first appeared in the comic “Tales of Suspense #52” in 1964, there was no mention of her childhood indoctrination or the Red Room facility. Instead, Natasha was introduced as a posh Soviet spy and villain to Iron Man. Natasha had been brainwashed to believe she was a former ballerina and Olympic athlete. Hints of her troubled past were not revealed until much later on in the comics. She recruited and fell in love with archer Clint Barton (Hawkeye) before ultimately defecting and becoming an Avenger.
Here’s more on what the comics detail from her life.
Natalia “Natasha” Romanoff was raised by Ivan Petrovich, a Russian soldier who rescued her from a burning building when she was an infant. Ivan quickly adopted her and became a large influence on Natasha. While her exact family lineage is still unconfirmed, it’s rumored that she’s related to the last ruling czars of Russia — the Romanov dynasty.
Natasha was later assigned to master spy Taras Romanov to begin her training as an assassin. Part of this training included combat training with Logan (who later became the Wolverine). Natasha grew close to Logan, even affectionately calling him “Uncle” during their short time together. Natasha was then kidnapped by Baron von Strucker and an organization called “The Hand” during World War II, before being saved by Logan and Steve Rogers (Captain America).
After the war, Natasha was enrolled in the KGB’s Black Widow Program, where she was brainwashed and trained in combat and espionage at the covert facility known as the Red Room.
Raised in the Red Room
The 28 orphaned girls chosen for the Red Room facility were put through strenuous training and drills, which included acrobatics, weapons training, martial art and ballet dancing. Girls were also sterilized to prevent anyone from coming before their mission.
As part of the Black Widow program, Natasha was enhanced with a Soviet version of the Super-Soldier serum, similar to what was given to Captain America. This gifted her with increased reflexes, agility, durability and reduced aging. The Red Room is also where Natasha was conditioned and given artificial memories making her believe she was a former ballerina dancer. Natasha became a puppet of the KGB, where she was willing to do its dirty work without question. Natasha ultimately rose through the KGB ranks and earned the famed title of Black Widow before defecting to S.H.I.E.L.D and becoming an Avenger.
Trained extensively in martial arts and espionage, Black Widow’s combat skills are virtually unmatched. Simply put, she’s always able to get the job done, no matter how difficult or dangerous. Because of this tenacity, she has become one of the best operatives at S.H.I.E.L.D. and works as an Avenger when major threats arise. However, Natasha is a spy at heart and is at her best working as a lone wolf in the shadows.
Black Widow’s Power & Abilities
Natasha received specialized training while at the Red Room facility, along with a variant of the Super-Soldier serum. As a result, many of her body’s physical capabilities have been heightened to those of a world-class athlete.
- Master Assassin – Trained in assassination techniques from an early age, Black Widow advanced to become the KGB’s deadliest assassin and eliminated numerous enemies.
- Master Martial Artist – Black Widow is trained in various forms of martial arts and can hold her own against skilled fighters, like Wolverine, Winter Soldier, Elektra, and Punisher.
- Master of Disguise – Black Widow can infiltrate bases by impersonating enemies with convincing results.
- Super-Serum – Thanks to a Soviet version of Super-Soldier serum, Black Widow possesses increased reflexes, durability, and agility. She also heals five times faster than the average human with little to no scarring.
- Weapons Expert – Black Widow is an excellent marksman and is experienced with most small arms weapons. Her weapon of choice is often her Widow’s Bite gauntlets, which fire electro-energy blasts capable of stunning most superheroes.
- Slowed Aging – The Super-Soldier serum extends Natasha’s lifespan and preserves her youthful appearance, despite being born in 1928.
- Polyglot – Black Widow is fluent in eight languages, including Russian, English, French, German, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, and Latin.
Notable Enemies & Villains
Black Widow has made many enemies during her run. Here are a few of her main enemies.
Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov)
The former husband of Black Widow, Alexi Shostakov, was an acclaimed test pilot before becoming the Red Guardian and receiving the Super-Soldier serum. The serum gave him many of the same abilities bestowed upon Captain America. Red Guardian battled Black Widow and the Avengers numerous times.
Like Natasha, Yelena Belova was chosen to undergo the Black Widow training at the Red Room facility. As such, she possesses the same training and skills, even beating Natasha’s high marks at the facility. Following her training, Yelena was selected as Natasha’s replacement as Black Widow. Yelena believes herself to be the rightful successor to the Black Widow title and often attempts to eliminate Natasha to prove her dominance.
While Taskmaster and Black Widow have not crossed paths in the comics previously, he is her foe in the upcoming movie. It is not fully clear why Taskmaster is Black Widow’s enemy yet; however, there are some things already known. Taskmaster possesses photographic reflexes, which allow him to mimic the fighting styles of any superhero he chooses. This skill can be done without prior practice and after watching them a single time, making him a formidable foe. In his lifetime, Taskmaster has studied the fighting skills of countless superheroes and villains and will often predict their next moves during fights.
However, there is a price to pay for his power. The more knowledge Taskmaster gains, the more memories of his past he loses. For this reason, he prefers training villains and henchmen in combat rather than performing crimes himself.
Natasha’s story is one of redemption. She was raised as a spy, spending most of her life an assassin before a chance encounter with the Avengers led her down the path of becoming a superhero. While she’s certainly flawed, we think it’s what makes her character so compelling.