Bixby: Wait…that’s it? You didn’t even tell me your name. Who are you?
Yelena: I’m the Black Widow.
Yelena Belova came into comics in 1999, after a decade of pouches and ediger, contemporary replacement heroes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the miniseries which crashed Yelena to Natasha also returned her to the 1970 all-blacks and half-bouffant, after near to two decades of short, angular hairstyles. Yelena had her middriff bare, Yelena used rifles instead of gadgets, Yelena was very 1999. She was also post-Soviet, young and hungry. Natasha was getting older, getting old; that 1999 mini saw her pass a birthday unremarked and unremembered. It also gave her an archfoe, something she hadn’t had for a while.
Yelena Belova was all these hard worn comic book trope: the edgy nineties replacement, the dark mirror. But because she was the Black Widow, none of that was colored in binaries. Natasha didn’t want to defend her codename— she wanted to save Yelena from it. Yelena wasn’t only the villain— she was also the wronged.
One thing that I actually think CA: TWS did really well, which— taken in isolation from my issues with the movie— is encouraging, is representation of women. I don’t mean in numbers— it’s nice that there 3 female heroic characters, but they’re still essentially sidekicks in this narrative— but in the way the female characters are represented.
(Cutting for spoilers)
As pieced together by me from all the retcons. Will add citations for each of these events later. The dates preceded by asteriks are conjecture; the ones without are dates which are officially given in comics.
1928 (Birth) – Natalia Alianovna Romanova is born in Stalingrad, USSR
1928-1930 (age 0-2) – Natalia is orphaned as a toddler; adopted by Ivan Petrovitch Bezukhov
1938 (age 10) – Ivan leaves for war; Natalia recruited for Romanoff’s Spy Academy; brainwashed to believe Taras Romanoff is her father and forget Ivan. Meets Logan (Wolverine) and befriends him.
1941 (age 13) – Kidnapped by the Hand, taken to Genosha, rescued by Wolverine, Captain America, and Ivan. Later that year, she is given a mission to kill Wolverine, who was given a mission to kill Taras Romanoff. She allows him to kill her ‘father’, and disappears into the woods.
*1942 (age 14) – Found in wilderness by Ivan and his unit of soldiers, who she joins.
1944 (age 16) – ‘marries’ Nikolai, a soldier in her unit, while serving together; becomes pregnant with his child. Nikolai dies in the war, and the baby is stillborn.
*1945 (age 17) – Recruited to the Black Widow Ops program. Given treatments that enhance her physiology, but make her unable to have children.
*1945-1956 (age 17-28) – At some point during her training in the Red Room, meets the Winter Soldier and begins a clandestine relationship with him.
1956 (age 28) - She and Ivan are beaten badly in Berlin. With Ivan near death, both were given the gift of a life-prolonging chemical from the Winter Soldier; her aging is nearly halted at this point.
1958 (age 30) – Forced to break off her relationship with the Winter Soldier and marry Alexi Shostakov; brainwashed to believe she is a ballerina with the Bolshoi, covering her entire history to this point with happy, false memories and repressing her spy training.
*1961 (age 33) – The Kremlin fake the death of her husband, predicting (correctly) that she will offer to serve her country in honor of his memory; she begins spy training anew, and takes to it easily due to her repressed memories.