WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire and Secret Empire: Omega #1
The dust has barely settled from Marvel's Secret Empire event, and one of the most shocking Avenger deaths of the series is already being undone. We're sorry to let down fans who hoped to see Bruce Banner's Hulk resurrected (again), as well as those who still can't believe Marvel would murder Agent Phil Coulson. The same goes for Jack Flag, Rick Jones, and the many Marvel heroes and villains either maimed or murdered in Civil War II or Secret Empire.
No, the lucky lady is Black Widow herself. Natasha Romanoff was one of the few members of Marvel's heroic community who let their rage and betrayal push them to kill the Hydra-loyal Captain America... only to have her assassination attempt thwarted by a self-sacrificing Spider-Man. Black Widow was killed by Steve Rogers instead, and in the wrap-up issue Secret Empire: Omega #1, her body is finally laid to rest.
Well, somebody's body is laid to rest. Because apparently, Black Widow's death was all one big fake-out.
The Death of Black Widow
The murder of Natasha Romanoff at the hands (shield) of Steve Rogers in Secret Empire #7 came as such a shock, it was hard to believe Marvel had actually done it - despite the fact that Agent Phil Coulson had already been killed. But when Issue #8 rolled out not long after, the lack of any follow-up confirmed that as unexpected, as unaddressed, and as quickly overshadowed as it may have been by other Secret Empire twists, Captain America had really killed Black Widow.
In the grand scheme of things, the murder itself was hardly a blip. Under the Hydra-loyal Captain America's leadership, his empire had killed hundreds of thousands of people by bombing Las Vegas into oblivion, and was routinely and systematically imprisoning, torturing, and executing any number of dissidents. So as incidental as the death itself had been - and as hard to believe as Widow accidentally running directly into the path of Cap's shield may be - it was representative of a larger truth.
Whether intended or not, when powerful people on a mission they deem virtuous focus only on the fight in front of them, innocent people can get hurt. Granted, Widow was actually trying to kill Captain America herself before having her spine severed, but Cap didn't actually know that, so he can't claim the excuse.
Secret Empire Falls, And Heroes Mourn
There was even less time to mourn the loss of Widow than Coulson or any of the other victims of Steve Rogers's fascist regime, what with the real Captain America returning to life and smashing his doppelganger's empire with help from Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Thankfully, the special extra issue of the Secret Empire event - Secret Empire: Omega #1 - is tasked with exactly that, bringing a close to the many dangling plot threads and unresolved issues of the event as a whole. Although much of the Omega issue focuses on a conversation between Cap and his Hydra reflection, the first aside puts Natasha Romanoff in the spotlight. And for fans of Hawkeye, it's a heartbreaking moment.
With HydraCap sorted and the world recovering from its many wounds, the time has come to lay Natasha Romanoff to rest. Any questions about how much Clint Barton had once again come to care for Black Widow are put to rest when he collapses at her coffin - leading even Old Man Logan to try to console the Hulk-killing archer. But as Hawkeye is seized with grief at Natasha's side, James "Bucky" Barnes recognizes his devotion from halfway around the world.
And in a twist that few fans would ever have seen coming - for a variety of reasons - Bucky reveals that he's looking for Natasha Romanoff in anything but a closed coffin.
Surprise: Black Widow is Alive!
That's right, as Bucky keeps a close eye on a newly-minted political manipulator in Madripoor, a sudden assassination confirms to him that Natasha Romanoff is alive and well. The victim had been a military figure before aligning with Hydra, meaning plenty of people who would want to exact revenge not that the tide had turned. And as a bullet fired from a nearby building kills the general in a heartbeat, Bucky claims that all the "rumors" and "whispers" were true.
Black Widow lives, and is apparently crossing names off her list of those who used Hydra to oppress the innocent. That may be a bit more altruistic than usual for Nat, but if she somehow managed to fake her own death - to the reader as much as the heroes of Marvel's Universe - then Widow still has some tricks up her sleeve. That won't help her case with those critical of Secret Empire for the perceived deception, half-truths, or misdirection from both the books and Marvel Comics.
How could Widow have recovered from such a traumatic injury so quickly? Who could have helped her pull it off? And perhaps most importantly, did she really abandon the rest of the Resistance without knowing the real Steve Rogers would save the day? The questions are obvious in the wake of Omega's revelation, so here's hoping the explanation is as clever as it is clear.