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The Black Widow (Natalya Romanova) (Marvel Comics) as a 1960s femme fatale

Black Widow

(Natalia Romanova) (Profile #2 - 1946-1965)


Context

The Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) chronological series of profiles is best read in order. The sequence goes :

  1. . Start there.
  2. 1946/1965. Early adventures, marriage, femme fatale missions. This here profile.
  3. .
  4. 1970s. Dark blue jumpsuit. Strong debut, then classic Daredevil era.
  5. 1980s. Light grey jumpsuit. Transitional era.

There’s also a disambiguation guide to the characters named “Black Widow” that you can use.


Background

  • Real Name: Natalia Alianovna Romanova (previously Natalia Alianovna Shostakova). Her first name is occasionally rendered in Latin alphabet as Natalya.
  • Other Aliases: Madame Natasha, Natasha Romanoff (anglicised version of her name, and thus the most common version in the US), Czarina (nickname from both Ivan Petrovich and “Oksana Bolishinko”), черная жемчужина (“Black Pearl”, a nickname used by Commissar Bruskin and Ivan Petrovitch – “chyornaya zhemchuzhina”), The Girl Who Can Lift Mountains (when she stole Stark’s antigravity device), Чёрная вдова (“Black Widow” in Russian – “chyornaya vdova”).
  • Marital Status: Widowed.
  • Known Relatives: Alexei Shostakov (aka Red Guardian, husband, officially deceased) ; Vindiktor (alleged brother, deceased). Given her patronymic Natalia’s father was presumably named Alian. Both her parents are thought to have been deceased by the time Ivan unofficially adopted Natalia.
  • Group Affiliation: KGB operative.
  • Base Of Operations: Mother Russia.
  • Height: 5’7” Weight: 138 lbs.
  • Eyes: Striking blue. Hair: Red-auburn (usually dyed black – see the Description section).


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Powers and Abilities

During this era, the Widow normally operates as a seducer and femme fatale. In KGB slang she’s a ласточка (“lastochka”, meaning “swallow bird”. Male agents doing the same job were “ravens”). Her assets are thus her exceptional intelligence, beauty and manipulative skills.

Romanova is often considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful women. Combined with her wiles, this has been known to have guys make really, really stupid things for her. Sometimes after she openly admitted that she was manipulating them.

Mind repurposed

Early on, she retains her assassination, military and combat skills. However, after 1957, she forgets that she knows all these. She is then retrained as a manipulator, seducer and spy.

During flashbacks set during the 1960s, Romanova is a skilled pilot and gunwoman, so it is possible she was further retrained in these fields. But these skills never appear in vintage material, only in retcons. The vintage appearances purely depict her as a clever and manipulative femme fatale.


History (continued)

Resuming right where the previous entry stopped… Though there’ll be another musical interlude.


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Birth of the Cold War

What happened between 1945 and 1956 is unrevealed. However, the second half of the 1940s is the least problematic era for the rest of the Red Room memories implantation, biochemical modifications and special training to have taken place.

The late 1940s are also the least problematic time span for Natalia and Ivan to have trained with Commissar Bruskin, a renowned KGB senior officer. Bruskin was apparently very close to his two students, and would contact them for help in 1976. He nicknamed young Natalia “the Black Pearl”.

At some point between 1946 and 1956, Natalia and Ivan left the USSR. They apparently lived as international adventurers, and no longer were on speaking terms with the government. The timing and nature of these events is unrevealed.

Documentation restarts in 1956 with Ivan and Natalia in Berlin. At this point Natalia looked in her 20s.

It is possible that their relationship with the Party went sour right after Stalin’s death (1953). This guess is based on a flashback about Ivan’s life – see Ivan Petrovitch’s character profile.

After Stalin’s death, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev  discovered the plots that had been running under his predecessor. He was horrified by the brainwashing of little Soviet girls by the Red Room. His intent was to peacefully retire the Black Widow agents. However, Natalia and Ivan were either unreachable or did not agree to come back to USSR.

A white house in a red square

However, Ivan was fatally wounded by a gunshot in 1956 in Berlin, where he and Natalia had been fighting gangs. James “Bucky” Barnes, the Soviet super-agent code-named Winter Soldier, reached them as Natalia was attempting to save Ivan’s life.

He made them a strange offer. A rare chemical that would save Ivan’s life and prolong the lifespan of both Ivan and Natalia. But they had agree to come back. Ivan tried to warn Natalia about something but passed out, and Natalia took the offer to save him.

The Black Widow and the Winter Soldiers during their training

The nature of the chemical, and its relationship with the Kudrin treatment, is unclear. A likely hypothesis is that it was a complete lie, since Natalia unknowingly already had a potent anagathic factor . But this leaves open the case of Ivan. His ageing stopped or dramatically slowed down at an unknown point, and he seems to be permanently in his late 40s.

Perhaps Ivan passed out as he was trying to tell Natalia that it was a lie and that neither of them would age. Since there are vague hints that Ivan was already unageing by the 1950s.

These are complete hypotheticals on our part. But taking the statement at face value — that there were Soviet agents in the 1950s running around with longevity/healing potions in order to offer them to soon-to-be-inactive operatives — is considerably harder on suspension of disbelief.

Winter is coming

As she returned to Soviet service, Natalia had a clandestine relationship with the Winter Soldier. It lasted for a few months after the Berlin encounter in 1956. The two arranged to have the Soldier instruct Natalia in advanced hand-to-hand combat, so they could spend more time together.

This relationship was apparently intense enough for the couple to keep vivid memories of it for nearly 50 years – and recover their romantic and sexual chemistry when reunited.

The affair was conducted in secret as it was against all regulations. Karpov, the Winter Soldier’s boss, violently disapproved.

But the two lovers were discovered. The Winter Soldier was disciplined and returned to cold storage for a few months since his conditioning had to be reinforced.


Soundtrack

The hit 1958 performance of Stupid Cupid by Connie Francis is chronologically appropriate. And obviously fitting for a professional femme fatale. Also, I love this silly song and its great bass lines.

 

Available for download on Amazon .


History (continued)

Back to the biography…

Turn the gold to chrome

Natalia’s life completely changed in 1957. The exact sequence of events is unclear, but our best bet is :

  1. Khrushchev still wanted to locate and peacefully retire those Black Widows who could be found. It was apparently decided to re-use Red Room treatments (or something similar) to make them forget that they had been agents.
  2. Natalia was very confused. She simultaneously remembered her life and at least one fictional account of her life. She couldn’t even tell whether she was 17 or 29 (!). She gave her dates of birth of either 1928 or 1940, which is coherent with her known biographies.
    Whether this was a consequence of trying to re-implant her with fabricated memories, or the reason why the government tried to give her new memories as she was breaking down, is unrevealed.
  3. It stands to reason that the retired Widows would remember having been ballerinas, then having had an ordinary life. The conditioning would presumably cheat by making them think that they were much younger than they actually were. Thus Natalia now remembered having been born in 1940, and having been with the Bolshoi ballet before retiring in 1957.

In 1958, she married a famous hero of the Soviet Union. The dashing test pilot Alexei Shostakov was apparently a personal friend of Khrushchev, and knew the truth about his wife.

The early Black Widow flying a Soviet plane

Alexei and Natalia lived together for five years. Though the marriage was rocky, it seems that they genuinely loved each other. These years remain an important part of Natalia’s life. She wanted to be a housewife and a mother, and was hurt to discover that she was sterile.

To have the Widow retired was apparently a decision taken jointly by Nikita Khrushchev and Ivan Petrovitch. Both men had clearly known each other for years if not decades, and were friends.

This being the 1950s, it is likely that the sheer creepiness of Khrushchev handing over to his buddy Shostakov a brainwashed (and stunningly beautiful) wife did not register with any of the three men. They likely thought that they were doing a good deed by giving her such a prestigious husband for her new life.

Now you are truly a widow, comrade

In 1963, Shostakov’s death was faked during an accident at Baikonur . That was so he could become the newest Red Guardian, a costumed patriotic hero of the Soviet Union. The shock of this death apparently weakened his wife’s conditioning. Thus, she now confusingly knew that she had the skills to serve the State.

As the widow of a national hero she demanded to see the Chairman. Natalia Shostakova blamed the Americans for the space race  that had taken her husband from her. She demanded that Khrushchev make her a spy to strike back at the Westerners. Though she was unable to explain why she thought she’d be a deadly spy, she was determined to get her revenge.

Khrushchev and Petrovitch saw that Romanova’s re-conditioning had obviously failed. The Chairman thus agreed to Shostakova’s demands to be made a spy and unleashed against the West. Both men hoped that the widow would eventually build a life for herself abroad.

This is likely at that point that Natalia was trained by Colonel Irma Klausvichnova, an expert KGB operative. This was presumably because she couldn’t consciously remember her Red Room training. What Klausvichnova taught the Widow saved Natalia’s life several times during the 1960s. However, the Colonel was assassinated by MI-6 during the 1970s.

The 52 daughters of the Revolution

This is presumably circa 1963 that Soviet intelligence started a successful disinformation campaign about the Red Room program. Perhaps it was directed by Colonel Klausvichnova. The goal was to make the West and China think that the Red Room was a Cold War program to train a single super-agent. One who would be the deadliest Soviet operative of them all.

This agent would be a woman, as the KGB considered that women had an edge operating as spies in male-dominated societies. The super-agent would thus be code-named “Black Widow” as a symbol of something female and particularly deadly.

It was thought that the “Black Widow” they’d produce was intended from the start to become an espionage legend. She would be a symbol of the KGB’s power and a reminder that the Soviet Union was the society of the future, free from sexism.

The KGB’s Black Widow was often thought to be propaganda, a Cold War bogeywoman. Most modern Russians think that she was a myth from the waning Stalin years.

By 1963, the widow Shostakova was thus a KGB agent under the code name Black Widow. This added a further layer of deception by reusing the name of the program that had trained her during childhood as the name of a single person trained for high-level subornation .

Flight of the swallow

Natalia was re-trained as a “swallow bird” – a female seduction and manipulation expert. She extensively travelled in Western Europe and Northern America.

Using an anglicised version of her name as “Natasha Romanoff”, the gorgeous Natalia preyed on technology brokers. Then she had them killed off by KGB hitmen once she had stolen all their secrets for the Soviet Union.

If you are using a by-date-of-publication timeline for the Marvel Universe as we do, she is active in the US by the next year —Tales of Suspense #52, in 1964. If you are using the official ten-year sliding time scale, Deadly Origin #2 establishes that she was active in Europe for decades, seducing and killing numerous technologists.

The early Black Widow is kidnapped by her KGB colleagues

People did notice that something was off and that Natasha Romanoff didn’t seem to age a day. She was coincidentally nicknamed “the Black Widow” as her lovers kept dying in troubling circumstances. This added yet another layer of misdirection as to what “Black Widow” means.

One of Natalia’s first missions after Shostakov’s “death” had her rendezvous with would-be revolutionary Danny French in the US. They investigated the shadowy Project Four. It would later be revealed to be the brainchild of millionaire Damon Dran, aka the Indestructible Man.

However, French was unreliable. He also kept behaving inappropriately toward Shostakova. French accidentally killed the scientists at Project Four, then fled with the mysterious artefact they had been building. Natalia had to leave empty-handed, though Dran and French would again cross her path in 1972.

A snikt in time

Shostakova is also known to have carried out two missions outside of her usual fare during the 1960s.

In 1964 or 1965, she was a KGB pilot operating in the Soviet Union. She nearly foiled a daring CIA plot to sabotage the Red Storm secret project. The CIA agents were Benjamin Grimm, Logan and Carol Danvers.

Though she was successfully chasing the fleeing CIA agents, Shostakova was ordered not to fire at the last second. This order came to her relief, as she respected Danvers’ piloting skills and did not wish to kill her. Logan thought that Shostakova looked weirdly familiar, but did not have access to the relevant memories at this point.

A brief flashback also displays the Widow surveilling Logan (who had become amnesiac after major upgrades from Weapon X) to prevent his capture and recruitment by Hydra. She intervened with a rocket launcher to stop Hydra agents and left. Logan returned to Canada and his friends Mac and Heather Hudson.

The Hydra incident is impossible to place in time. Based on our timelines for the Widow, Nick Fury and Carol Danvers, 1964 works fine. However, this date clashes with the timelines for Wolverine.

Our Alpha Flight timeline suggests 1968 as the year when Mac and Heather find Wolverine in the wilderness, and official Marvel data implies 1973 or 1974 (Wolverine : Weapon X Files , published 2009).

A lighthouse keeper in the desert sun

Natalia’s best-known work as a 1960s KGB femme fatale involved Tony Stark. Anton Vanko, the creator of the Soviet Crimson Dynamo armor, had defected to the US and was hired by Stark. In 1964 the Widow was ordered to fix that.

Back then, Shostakova was partnered with the engineer, strongman and killer Boris Turgenov. She charmed Stark to distract him. This created an opening for Turgenov to steal the Crimson Dynamo suit and wreck Stark’s plants. However, Turgenov and Vanko killed each other.

Natalia chose to stay in the US. She feared that the KGB would sanction her if she returned after this failure. We suspect that the switch from Khrushchev to Brezhnev  had deprived of her allies within the KGB.

She decided to regain cred by stealing an anti-gravity device developed by Stark. Stark didn’t know yet that she was KGB. Shostakova used the device for sabotage, lifting entire buildings in the air. The crowning moment of her campaign of mayhew was lifting a whole mountain in the air to expose the hiding place for the American gold reserve.

However, Iron Man nullified her device. She narrowly escaped, but Stark now knew that she was KGB.

Mother Russia, Mother Russia

Madame Natasha — as she was often called back then — soon stumbled upon Hawkeye (Clint Barton). He was an adventurer mistaken for a criminal by the police. Telling him that she was an adventurer fighting for world peace by sabotaging weapons merchants, she convinced him to steal plans from Tony Stark.

Hawkeye fought Iron Man. However, Natalia was accidentally hurt by an explosion. As a result, Hawkeye fled so he could carry her to safety.

After she recovered, the KGB sent Natasha against a rival of Stark’s, Williams Innovations. Spider-Man (Peter Parker) opposed her and Hawkeye. Hawkeye realised that she was manipulating him, but could not leave her.

(If using a sliding ten-year timeline, Deadly Origin retcons her activities prior to the Heroic Age as private sector industrial espionage, and being hired to manipulate super-heroes and similar nuisances into fighting each other. In this version, Stark fully realised what she was up to and broke up before she’d make her move.)

Natasha later sent Hawkeye out on a second attempt to steal Stark’s plans. However, while Hawkeye was gone, she was kidnapped by the KGB and returned to Russia. Ironically, she was apparently starting to feel some genuine tenderness for Hawkeye, whereas he was getting disillusioned with both her and himself.

Continued…

This is continued in the .


Description

In her vintage appearances Natalia has black hair in a 1960s do. But in flashbacks she’s often depicted with red hair, and with the same long hair and fringe cut she had in the 1970s.

Natalia usually seems to have black hair that she dyes red. However, starting with books published in 1990 she seems to be a natural redhead. Flashbacks now consistently depicted a red-haired little girl rather than a black-haired one. The most recent Marvel sourcebooks have her as a redhead who used to dye her hair black.

Natasha Romanoff has been described on several occasions as one of the most beautiful women in the world.

Some flashbacks depict Natalia as having pale skin as a child or teenager, but most of the time she has the same skin tone as people around her.


Personality

During her femme fatale years, the Black Widow is a vamp who is incredibly cold inside.

Despite her charms and ability to wrap men around her fingers, she is still devastated by the loss of her husband. As intended by the KGB, the “death” of Alexei made her fearless and fanatical in her devotion to Mother Russia. As she has nothing to lose, the Black Widow repeatedly proves herself a top spy.

She generally comes across as cold, haughty and proud of her reputation. In the original stories she had something of a criminal and vain streak. She once stole jewels just because she could (and found them pretty).

Her love for Hawkeye mollified her. She eventually decided to give up the Cold War and make a life for herself in America with her lover. This is exactly what Khrushchev hoped that she would do, and this is exactly what the Brezhnev-era men nearly killed her for.

Natalia appears to be very romantic and passionate. This is typical 1960s stuff for a Russian character in US comic books.

In retcons, she appeared more as the straight-shooting, noble adversary. She respects the prowess of her opponents and plays the espionage game as a sort of balls-to-the-wall competition.


Quotes

“You sent for me, comrade leader ?”

KGB officer: “I must inform you that your husband Alexei was killed today — when his experimental rocket exploded ! However, you will be glad to know he died a hero… testing weapons for use against our enemies !”
Natalia: “If… if only I could do something… to be worthy of his memory…”
KGB officer: “Perhaps… there is something !”

“I am one whose sting is most venomous, colonel Fury… if you attempt to follow me.”

“Anthony Stark was interested in me before… Like most Americans, he is sympathetic… and therefore weak ! This tender little note may revive his interest !”

“It is fortunate that he is taken with my beauty ! I will be able to twist him around my little finger ! But he must not learn that I am really a Red spy !”

Widow: “The famous Iron Man is a mortal enemy of mine ! Any man who could defeat him would be a man I could learn to love !”
Hawkeye: “He’s as good as beaten, baby !”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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Natasha Romanoff

Dex: 04 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Upholding Russia
Int: 06 Wil: 05 Min: 04 Occupation: Communist !
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 005
Init: 018 HP: 025

Powers:
Iron Will: 01, Regeneration: 01, Systemic Antidote: 02, Damage Capacity: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • All Powers are only active when asleep, knocked out or otherwise unconscious.
  • All Powers are Form Function.
  • Regeneration affects all three Current Conditions.

Skills:
After 1963, Natalia uses the following Skills – Artist (Actress): 07, Artist (Dancer): 07, Artist (Photographer): 03, Charisma (Persuasion, Interrogation): 06, Detective (Legwork): 05, Vehicles (Land): 04.
She is also trained in Vehicles (Air): 06 and Weaponry (Firearms, Heavy): 05 but these are only shown in flashbacks – not in vintage appearances.

Skills:
Prior to 1957, her skills roster probably looks like this – Acrobatics: 04, Artist (Actress): 07, Artist (Dancer): 07, Charisma: 05, Detective (Legwork): 05, Gadgetry (Identify Gadget): 03, Martial artist: 05, Medicine (First aid): 03, Military science (Camouflage, cartography, danger recognition, demolition): 05, Vehicles (Air, Land, Water): 05, Thief: 05, Weaponry: 05

Advantages:
Attractive, Credentials (Red Army, Medium ; KGB, Low), Expertise (Espionage, Wilderness survival), Familiarity (US military secrets, Military Equipment and Protocols), Language (Russian), Financial Backer (Rich – the KGB), Slowed Ageing.

Connections:
KGB (Low), Boris Turgenov (High), Ivan Petrovitch (High).

Drawbacks:
Dark Secret (Red spy !), Misc.: the Widow is sterile, Misc.: Kudrin failsafe scent, Pchelintsov failsafes (see below). Later in that era, Exile (Involuntary).

Equipment:
Her purse held a dose of paralyzing gas [BODY 02, Paralysis: 06, Ammo: 01, Limitation: Paralysis has No Range, and can be defended against with measures against toxic gases].

The Widow could procure all sorts of weapons and espionage equipment, but seldom used this sort of things during this part of her career.


Design Notes

Some of our game stats for the Black Window during the 1960s (in DC Heroes her DEX, MIN and SPI) are guesses based upon her retconned-in background.

It is possible that they were lower during her time as a femme fatale. But it’s impossible to tell as she doesn’t take physical action during the vintage Tales of Suspense stories.



Game Stats — DC Adventures RPG Print Friendly

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Black Widow (circa 1964) — Averaged PL 4.4

STR STA AGL DEX FGT INT AWE PRE
00 01 01 03 02 02 02 02

Powers

Kudrin enhancements ● 3 points ● Descriptor: Biochemical enhancements
Diehard, Enhanced Stamina 2, Enhanced Fortitude 3, Regeneration 2 – all with Limitation 2 (only while unconscious, asleep or otherwise unable to notice the Effects).

Combat Advantages

Close attack 1, Defensive Roll 1, Ranged attack 2.

Other Advantages

Attractive, Benefit 1 (Slowed ageing), Equipment 2, Fascinate (Deception), Language (Russian), Well-Informed.

Skills

Athletics 2 (+2), Close combat (Unarmed) 2 (+5), Deception 8 (+10), Expertise (Espionage) 8 (+10), Expertise (Classical dancer) 10 (+12), Insight 5 (+7), Perception 5 (+7), Persuasion 4 (+6), Ranged combat (Firearms) 2 (+7), Stealth 2 (+3), Vehicles 5 (+8).

Equipment

Varies by mission. Presumably often had a Light Pistol such as a Pistolet Makarova.

Offense

Initiative +1
Unarmed +5, Close, Damage 0
Firearms +7, Ranged, Damage varies by type

Defense

Dodge 6 Fortitude 4
Parry 5 Toughness 2/1*
Will 5

* Without Defensive Roll

Complications

  • Politics The Widow apparently loses her political backers during this era.
  • IdentityThe Widow’s memory has been extensively tampered with, and there exists backdoors and failsafes to control her which she’s not aware of.
  • Disability The Widow cannot bear a child.
  • Secret Natalya normally operates undercover as a “swallow bird” agent.

Power levels

  • Trade-off areas Attack & Effect PL 3, Dodge/Toughness PL 4, Parry/Toughness PL 4, Fort & Will PL 5.
  • Point total 79. Abilities 26, Defences 12, Skills 27, Powers 3, Devices 0, Advantages 11. Equiv. PL 6.


By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Marvel Universe.

Helper(s): Mike Davis, Darci, Hrist, Joshua Dunlow, Woodclaw, Adam Fuqua.

Writeup reindoctrinated on the 17th of May, 2012.

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