If Black Widow were a real person rather than a comic book character introduced in 1964, she’d pride herself on being one of the most mysterious people in the Marvel Universe. Whether you look at comic books, television shows, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you won’t find much concrete information about Black Widow since her inception. But that’s exactly what makes her so fascinating in the first place.
Played perfectly by Scarlett Johansson since the onset of the MCU, the only things most fans can say for sure about Black Widow is that she’s Russian, she’s one of the good guys, and she’s got red in her ledger. Don’t you think we deserve to know more?
Taking a look back at the history of Black Widow – the history she would definitely not want us looking into – we’ve compiled a list of 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Widow. Now you can prepare yourself before you head to theaters to see Black Widow in Captain America: Civil War.
12. There Was Another Black Widow Before Natasha
If we’re talking about Black Widow, the first thing we should get out of the way is that the Black Widow we all know (or don’t know) and love isn’t exactly Marvel’s first Black Widow. For those Black Widow purists out there, if you want to go all the way back to the early ’40s you’d find a character named Black Widow that wasn’t Natasha Romanoff at all.
This Black Widow – the original Black Widow – confusingly had another secret identity; Claire Voyant. Since this was the early ’40s and the comic book form was still figuring itself out, Claire Voyant wasn’t meant to be taken as a joke, but was rather a very serious character that actually had a willingness to murder and, not unlike Natasha, do things that no one else would do. Despite the cool name (not really) and the cool suit (not so much), the original Black Widow faded away and made room for the real Black Widow, the one called Natasha Romanoff, but also not called that at all, because of the next point…
11. Her Real Name is Natalia Romanova
Like any good spy Black Widow has alternate identities and a hidden past, but the one thing that’s clear from Black Widow’s comic origin is that she was born Natalia Romanova in the Soviet Union. Perhaps westernizing her name when she came to America, perhaps concealing it just enough to keep her past hidden, somewhere along the way Natalia Romanova became Natasha Romanoff, and that’s who we meet in Iron Man 2 when Black Widow enters the MCU.
Since Black Widow’s past is expertly concealed and/or ignored in the MCU – despite the screentime she’s had over various movies and franchises within it – the movie version of Black Widow is as much of an enigma as the comic book version. However, at least in the comics – over the course of various decades – we’ve been treated to glimpses at her past and references to her real name and past life. Such as this next point…
10. She Was Married To a Russian Spy, Among Other People
Depending on what origin story you choose to believe about Black Widow, you could spend a long time delving into her past relationships and seeing the difference between the Black Widow of the comics and the Black Widow of the MCU. In the comics, Natasha was forced to marry Alexi Shostakov by the Soviets, as he was a renowned test pilot and Soviet spy; a good match for someone as accomplished as Natasha. Eventually – despite their marriage last a few years and being generally happy – the KGB faked Alexi’s death, which led to Natasha diving head first in her studies at the secret Red Room Academy and becoming Black Widow.
Other (failed) relationships included moving to California to be with Daredevil, and contemplating a marriage proposal from Hawkeye. Despite another failed relationship, this time with Bucky Barnes, Natasha – never one to quit – hooked up with Hercules while she was leading an Avengers-like team called the Champions of Los Angeles. Suffice to say, none of these relationships worked out for Natasha, and now she roams the MCU occasionally stroking The Hulk’s hand and giving Captain America dating advice. But maybe she’s the only one who can talk to Cap on his own level, considering she has more in common with him than you may think, especially when you look at this next point…
9. She Was Officially Born in 1928 and Fought in WWII
Different than the Black Widow of the MCU that was born in the 80s, the official Black Widow of the comics is unique because superheroes are often ageless as they move through the decades. Other than Captain America, whose key trait is being a man living in a different time, Natasha is one of the only heroes with a clear birthdate in the comics, and that’s because it’s so integral to her backstory.
Born in 1928 and orphaned during an attack on Stalingrad during WWII, Soviet soldiers rescued her and she was eventually induced into a secret USSR sleeper agent program. Trained with a team of elite female agents, Natasha was brainwashed, implanted with false memories, and continually refined to eventually become a bad-ass killing machine. And from there she became the Black Widow, which wasn’t just a cool name she got to pick, but was rather something not very creative at all considering the next fact…
8. She Got Her Name from the Black Widow Program
If Black Widow was trained within the USSR’s secret Black Widow Program with a bunch of other killer female sleeper agents, then it makes you wonder why her superhero name is “Black Widow.” Was everyone that came out of the Program called Black Widow? Was it just Black Widow that got to be called Black Widow? This is confusing and thankfully not addressed in the MCU; instead we’re just left to assume that she’s called Black Widow because she wears black, her hair is red, she’s flexible, and she can kill you if she really wants.
Although the Black Widow program has reappeared rather recently in the pages of Marvel comics, Black Widow’s history with the program has largely been jettisoned as she has been forced to change with the times and enter the modern era. Despite running into other members of the Black Widow Program from time to time, Natasha’s past with the shady organisation that created her has become as shady as the rest of her past, including this next fact that has made its way into the MCU but is about as unclear as anything else…
7. She’s An Accomplished Ballerina… Or Is She?
Black Widow’s past as a Russian ballerina had been covered very briefly onscreen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and many fans can point to her training as a reason for her flexibility, dedication, poise, and natural athletic skill. It’s a backstory that actually makes sense in the context of her character, but it’s one that has changed over the course of Black Widow’s history in the comics.
While she’s often portrayed in key art with a ballerina’s pose, and while she’s talked about her ballerina training in the past, no one – including Natasha – seems to know what the real deal is in regards to her ballerina training. Some stories of Black Widow claim that she studied ballet as a cover for her spy work, while others say that she was never a ballerina. The latter explanation is uncovered by Natasha when she finds out that she was implanted with false memories of being a ballerina by the Black Widow Program; although it’s never quite clear why. While many fans dissected early trailers of Age of Ultron to point to a Black Widow origin story, that was ultimately never the case, and perhaps it’s for the best considering how tricky her origin would be to explain in the MCU alongside Captain America, if only because of this next point…
6. She’s Biologically Enhanced, Just Like Captain America
File this one under “not in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet” but Black Widow is very much a traditional superhero in the sense that she’s biologically advanced and not your average human. Having been given a serum very similar to Steve Rogers’ Super Soldier Serum during her time in the Black Widow Program, Natasha Romanoff is actually resistant to aging and disease, and she has the same super-human strength and agility that Captain America has. That explains why she’s got to keep her 1928 birthdate this long.
Slipping in some technological enhancements along with her biological ones, the Black Widow Program did a good job of creating the Black Widow we all know and training her to utilize her added skills. Having been broken down and built up to become the ultimate weapon, Black Widow is very much the Russian version of Captain America; which could explain why they get along so well as two sides of the same coin. And on top of all of this, Natasha was trained by Bucky after he had become the Winter Soldier. And that’s when she really came into her own and learned to fight, including with weapons we’ve yet to see on-screen…
5. She Can Handle More Than Just Two Pistols
Though the Black Widow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may seem to have two pistols and (more recently) some type of electric suit, in reality (or comic book reality at least) Black Widow can do a heck of a lot more than shoot people. Adept at nearly every type of martial arts, Black Widow doesn’t even need a weapon if she wants to take someone down. Sure, we’ve seen some of her hand-to-hand combat skills in the MCU, but thanks to the serum she was given by the Black Widow Program she’s also a world-class athlete and is gifted with agility greater than any Olympic gold medalist.
Add to all of that an arsenal of weapons that were designed specifically for her by Soviet scientists as well as S.H.I.E.L.D., and you have a superhero who can do a whole lot more than shoot a gun. Armed with “Widow’s Line” grappling hooks, aerosol knock-out gas, a belt of plastic-explosive-charged discs, and tear gas pellets, Black Widow has a variety of ways to take down enemies. And if getting to those enemies is an issue, she also has a costume outfitted with micro-suction cups which allow her to adhere to walls and ceilings, very much like an actual Black Widow. And like a Black Widow, Black Widow is not someone you’d want to see coming near you, especially in her early days when her bite was directed at the good guys…
4. She Was Initially a Villain
Not always loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D, it stands to reason that when Black Widow was created by the USSR it wasn’t to help America; it was to destroy it. With her skills and carefully brainwashed mind, Black Widow was set lose in her early days to defeat all American heroes and to disband and wipe out the Avengers.
Getting into epic brawls with Spider-Man, Carol Danvers, and Ben Grimm, Natasha manipulated her way into a romantic relationship with Hawkeye in order to get him to work for her and Russia. Although Hawkeye was eventually able to get Natasha to have real feelings for him, turn her against communism and thus get her to defect to America, she still ended up fighting The Avengers before returning to Russia to break ties with her superiors. It was all written off as a side-effect of brainwashing, but not before a significant point in Black Widow’s career as a villain where she attempted to take out one of Marvel’s greatest heroes…
3. She Once Tried to Assassinate Iron Man
Black Widow and Hawkeye start out in the MCU with a deep history that is hinted at having begun far before Tony Stark finds out anything about S.H.I.E.L.D. But in the comics, only half of that origin could be true. Yes, Black Widow and Hawkeye have a deep history together, but that’s only because they worked together as supervillains when they tried to assassinate Iron Man.
An expert at manipulation – perhaps from being manipulated into becoming Black Widow from such an early age – Black Widow romanced Hawkeye and convinced him to help her kill Iron Man. But that was after she had already manipulated Iron Man into a relationship with her, and out of that relationship she got top-secret Stark-Tech until her cover was blown. Now shacking up with Hawkeye, the duo attacked Iron Man and lost, then attacked Spider-Man and lost, then they gave up, turned to S.H.I.E.L.D., and worked for Nick Fury. And is as an underling of Fury that we first met Black Widow on screen, despite that we almost saw her years earlier…
2. A Black Widow Movie Was Written in 2004
Before Marvel made their own movies and ruled the box office they were selling off characters to whichever studios would take them and hoping that a movie stuck. It was during this time, in 2004 to be exact, that Lionsgate bought the rights to Black Widow and started developing an origin story for her. They hired X-Men and X-Men 2 writer David Hayter for the script, and he turned in a draft that saw Natasha adopted as a child, trained as a child assassin, given the Black Widow Program super soldier serum, and eventually defecting from Russia. It was meant to capitalize on the success of recent female-led action films such as Kill Bill and Tomb Raider, but there were two sides to that coin.
With those hit films came bigger female-led bombs, like BloodRayne (what?), Ultraviolet (that’s not a thing, is it?), and Aeon Flux (that was essentially Ultraviolet, right?) When Aeon Flux bombed hard, Black Widow was cancelled three days later and the rights eventually reverted back to Marvel. While Black Widow went on to be played by mega-star Scarlett Johansson and is one of the best parts of the MCU, it’s now 2016 and we’re still waiting for the day that a Black Widow solo movie is announced. And while we’re looking and what could’ve been but ultimately wasn’t…
1. Emily Blunt Nearly Played Black Widow
Emily Blunt as Black Widow isn’t just another one of endless “nearly happened” superhero casting stories. This one actually did happen, as Blunt had officially signed onto the role and was ready to film her first MCU appearance for Iron Man 2. Unfortunately for her, but good news for Scarlett Johansson and everyone that’s a fan of her performance, Blunt had to drop out at the last minute after scheduling conflicts with the film Gulliver’s Travels interfered.
After Blunt dropped out, Marvel turned to Eliza Dushku, Angelina Jolie, and Natalie Portman before settling on Scarlett Johansson; who wasn’t yet the A-lister that she is today. Like they did with Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and most others who have donned a Marvel costume, Marvel Studios finally broke Johansson into the A-list and she is now looked at as one of the biggest female action stars on the planet. And as for Emily Blunt, well, she’ll be okay.
Which of these facts were you most shocked to learn about Black Widow? Do you know anything about the mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D agent that we don’t? Put some red in your ledger, or at least keystrokes in the comments section, and let us know!