Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fictional Role Models: Black Widow

After Iron Man 2 came out back in 2010, I was surprised to hear so many people talking smack about Scarlett Johansson’s performance as the Black Widow. “It was lame,” one friend said. “She sucked so hard,” another said. “I thought she was fine,” I replied, and they gave me pitying looks. This year, when I read the DC new 52 title Winter Soldier, I understood why they were so upset: Black Widow is awesome. She is a tough confident woman with deadly skills and moral complexity. And Iron Man 2 had reduced her to a hot babe in a skintight jumpsuit.

But I wasn’t sure that was completely Johansson’s fault.

When The Avengers came out a few weeks ago, those same friends were pleased to report that she was “fine” and even “surprisingly good” as the Black Widow. When I finally got around to seeing it myself, I was thrilled with the character.

SPOILERS AHEAD! (Although box office returns suggest that many of you have seen this movie.)

Our introduction to the Black Widow finds her tied to a chair being tortured. Of course, as we soon find out when she easily frees herself and beats the crap out of her supposed captors, she is only pretending to be the helpless victim in order to glean information from these men. The Black Widow is excellent at taking men’s impressions of women—as weak creatures ruled by their emotions—and twisting them to her own ends.

She does this beautifully in a scene with the imprisoned Loki, allowing him to insult and threaten her brutally, as she pretends to cry, until he reveals the information she was looking for. Then her mask of emotion slips off, and she is Black Widow once more: cool, tough, and always a step ahead.

The Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanova, has been around as a character since the 60s. A former Soviet agent, Natasha defected to the US and was retrained as the Black Widow, simultaneously training as a ballerina, which is why her fighting is so athletically graceful. She has been through many incarnations in the comics, joining S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, and The Thunderbolts, as well as teaming up with many other superheroes over the years. Her long print history can be a little intimidating to dive into. Luckily, the awesome Kelly Thompson, who writes She Has No Head!, has put together a list of Black Widow required reading. I can’t wait to dig in!

(Images: top, movie poster from Marvel Studios; bottom, cover of Black Widow #1 [April 2010] by Daniel Acuna)

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