Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Widow gets dangerous: Sting of the Widow

Reading Black Widow: Sting of the Widow alongside my Silver Age reread made me much more aware what a game-changer the early 1970s was for Natasha. Though the collection includes Black Widow’s debut in Tales of Suspense $52, the focus is her short-lived Amazing Adventures series, the crossover with Spider-Man that led into it and a post-series crossover with Daredevil (the latter led to them becoming lovers and crime-fighting partners for several years). The storytelling is uneven but the changes are significant.

When we first see Natasha her weapons are her looks and the cunning to use them.The rough stuff is handled by her musclebound partner Boris (yes, Boris and Natasha, Stan Lee’s little joke). Even after the Soviets equipped her with boots for walking up walls, a webline and a “widow’s bite” bracelet ray-weapon, she still relied on men to handle most of the mano-a-mano work — Hawkeye, then later Power Man and the Swordsman. In 1970, that changed.Amazing Spider-Man #86 starts with Natasha in what’s now her old costume ——but she soon upgrades to the sleek black look she’s worn, with minor variations, ever since. While she resembles both Emma Peel and late-1960s Diana Prince, John Romita credits Miss Fury, an earlier superhero, as his inspiration. Either way, the look works.And she’s now a deadly karate master to boot. Fighting prowess has become such a part of her identity, it didn’t register until now that it wasn’t part of the original concept. The story itself is mediocre — Natasha battles Spider-Man because, reasons — but it’s still a landmark.

The Amazing Adventures run establishes that she’s now a wealthy international jet-setter to boot.No hint where the money came from — did she appropriate funds from the KGB? — but in any case she soon decides the life bores her and swings back into action. We learn she has a chauffeur, Ivan, but he becomes much more important once Roy Thomas starts writing the book. Ivan is now her devoted servant/sidekick, Alfred to her Bruce, plus he’s a powerful guy in a fight and spouts American gangster slang, having learned English from old Warner Brothers films. While he faded out of the picture eventually, in the 1970s he was always at her side.

Roy Thomas also tried to give Natasha a spider-motif —— but I don’t belief that little detail caught on at all. Small loss — and even with the red markings, I’m surprised a New Yorker’s first thought wasn’t of Spider-Man.

Logo aside, this was a reboot that worked, even when the stories didn’t.

#SFWApro, Art top to bottom by Don Heck, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Romita again, John Buscema and Gene Colan.


  1. David107

    Re where Natasha’s money came from. Her last name was Romanova. House of Romanov was the Russian imperial family until the 1917 revolution kicked them out of power, so Natasha’s wealth might have been old royal Russian wealth stashed away in the USA, which Natasha had recently uncovered.

  2. Le Messor

    I have the same collection! I remember it being okay, but mostly unmemorable.

    With a New Yorker not thinking ‘Spider-Man’, I’ve noticed a common problem with comics is, they tend to forget they’re in a shared universe. eg: I’ve just read the first appearance of The Vulture, and he’s thinking ‘not even Spider-Man can stop me!’ because it’s in Spider-Man’s book, though he’s never interacted with any superhero at all yet; but there’s the Fantastic Four (who Spider-Man has met by now), Thor, The Hulk, Ant-Man, The Wasp possibly Captain America, The Avengers, and the X-Men…
    But, no, his mind goes straight to Spider-Man and only Spider-Man.

    I’ve also thought that when we’re in the Marvel (or DC) universe, and somebody says something like, ‘you’re an alien? That’s unbelievable!’… but then I figured, it might be the same reaction I’d have if somebody came up to me and said ‘I’m really a spy!’.

    1. It is unmemorable. Very self-consciously relevant — see the Widow fight alongside young radicals while urging them to work within the system!
      I have the same reaction, worse when it’s someone like Batman who’s had plenty of hands-on experience with the supernatural and ETs. Him going “a ghost can’t come back from the dead for revenge” makes me want to rage quit the comic.

      1. Alaric

        Batman: “A ghost can’t come back from the dead for revenge! I’d better get a message to my old friend Deadman to see if he can help me solve this mystery! There must be a rational explanation, and he’ll help me find it!”

        1. Le Messor

          As long as he doesn’t try to say there’s some guy who’s come back from the dead to possess the living. That’s just too unbelievable, and he’s always trying to push that.

          I always remember the line from Justice League Unlimited:
          (Flash: A gorilla spoke to me.)
          Green Lantern: I’m supposed to believe this?
          Flash: Hey, we’ve both got a Martian’s number on our speed dial.

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