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Black Widow (1980s Marvel Comics) gray costume and short hair

Black Widow

(Natalia Romanova profile #5 - the 1980s)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

This profile starts with Daredevil v1 #187, in late 1982. This is the first appearance of the light grey jumpsuit with a spider logo on the left breast. It ends with Avengers v1 #329 as the Widow joins the main Avengers team. Another good cut-off point would have been the The Coldest War Graphic Novel, which was released but a few months earlier.

Sequencing

As you can infer, the Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) chronological series of profiles is best read in order. The sequence goes :

  1. 1927/1946. Origins and childhood. Start there.
  2. 1946/1965. Early adventures, marriage, femme fatale missions.
  3. Second half of the 1960s. Minor super-heroine with ties with the Avengers.
  4. .
  5. 1980s. Light grey jumpsuit. Transitional era. This here profile.

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


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Background

  • Real Name: Natalia “Natasha” Alianovna Romanova ; previously Natalia Alianovna Shostakova.
  • Other Aliases: Madame Natasha, Madame Widow, Czarina (nickname from both Ivan Petrovich and Oksana Bolishinko, often spelled “Tsarina”), “widder woman” (nickname from the Thing), “Black Pearl” (nickname from Alexei Bruskin), Nancy Rushman (cover identity — innocent elementary schoolteacher from upstate New York), Laura Matthers (cover identity – defecting American scientist with strong pro-Communist sympathies), “Red” (nickname from Spider-Man), Agent Widow (occasional mode of address by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents).
  • Marital Status: Widowed.
  • Known Relatives: Alian (father, presumed deceased), Unnamed mother (presumed deceased, Alexi Shostakov (Red Guardian I, husband, officially deceased), Vindiktor (alleged brother).
  • Group Affiliation: Contractor for S.H.I.E.L.D. ; reserve Avenger. Former member of the Lady Liberators, leader of the Champions of Los Angeles, partner of Daredevil, briefly an active Avenger. Was also brainwashed into being a member of Black Spectre for a time.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile on S.H.I.E.L.D. missions ; at least one of her safe houses between assignments is in New York City (in Manhattan’s East Side, not far from the UN Plaza).
  • Height: 5’7” Weight: 130 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Red-auburn


Powers and Abilities

The Black Widow is steadily continuing her development as a super-spy, agent and martial artist. Her combat style is now more powerful, aggressive and acrobatic. She favours kicks.


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She uses the Widow’s Bite less often. It’s heavy and hard to maintain since spare parts have to be machine-tooled from scratch. She also needs it less, since her blows are now markedly more powerful. She will sometimes operate without the Bites, or with just one to provide a swingline. I suspect Ivan may have built a lighter version that only has a swingline.

Her other ’superspy‘ skills are also progressing. In particular she becomes, with enough prep work, able to ghost through even the toughest security. On the other hand she is still relatively easy to bring down by two-fisted super-hero standards. She relies on not getting hit and on taking out most of her targets (chiefly goons) before they can return counter-attack.

For several weeks after killing Jack Hazzard she had the Guilt Drawback. She carried his handgun as a memento, though she certainly did not intend to ever use it.


History

With the last profile we left Natasha as a full-time contractor and agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.. She remained one, cementing her status as Fury’s best operative. She handled the toughest assignments that Fury or his cadre of longtime allies (such as Clay Quartermain or Jimmy Woo, and occasionally Captain America) were not handling themselves.

At some point she changed her looks, perhaps to distance herself from her previous life with Daredevil. She cut her hair and adopted a light grey costume.

Ninja poison

Around 1982, one of her missions went particularly sour. She was tracking down genins of the Hand, as S.H.I.E.L.D. had gotten reports of increasing ninja activities throughout the world. The Widow caught one team stealing a corpse from a morgue in New York City. But during the fight, Natalia stepped on a poisoned caltrop and quickly passed out.

The strange toxin defied all medical efforts of S.H.I.E.L.D.. They estimated she had at best one week to live. Refusing to stand still for further analysis, the Widow burst out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base and eventually went to Daredevil for help. Perhaps she had intelligence about his involvement with the Chaste.

The Black Widow using a swingline during the 1980s

She located Daredevil as he was conferring with his sensei (Stick) and three other Chaste members (Shaft, Claw and Stone). Natalia was easily cured of the Hand toxin by Stone, who even resurrected her from clinical death using his own chi . She recovered fully within minutes thanks to Stone’s life force.

The Widow fought alongside Daredevil and the four Chaste masters against an onslaught of Hand ninjas. These assailants seemed to be human ninjutsu experts, and not the usual…whatever an ordinary Hand genin is.

These men managed to apparently kill Claw. This left Stick and Shaft no choice but to absorb the assailants’ life forces within themselves to kill them all. This brought their own apparent destruction.

Daredevil’s shadow

Natalia easily bounced back from those events – perhaps as part of her Red Room conditioning preventing her from realizing her recuperative powers. At this point the Widow seemed chiefly interested in investigating the changes she was sensing in Matt Murdock. She had a discussion with his closest friend, ’Foggy‘ Nelson.

Nelson explained that Murdock’s impending marriage to Heather Glenn was a disaster. He asked the Widow to forge two breakup notes to shatter their relationship. In the meanwhile, the Widow fought along with Daredevil and Stone, eventually preventing the Hand from resurrecting a new champion – Elektra.

The Widow stuck around Matt Murdock’s place for a bit. She finished her recovery and trained herself back into top shape after her death from the Hand’s poison.

Daredevil was then severely wounded in a confrontation with Bullseye. This prevented him from intervening when a conspiracy to kill Foggy Nelson was discovered. Still amicable toward the former D.A., Romanova foiled the conspiracy.

She them resumed missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., staying in luxurious hotels between assignments. During one such break, she and several other reserve Avengers helped Wonder Man develop his media profile. They appeared along with him on a very special edition of Late Night with David Letterman.

During this reunion of Avengers veterans, she met with the wife of her former paramour Hawkeye. Surprisingly, the two women went along fine with each other. The Widow also helped fight off robotic assaults from Fabian Stankowicz, live on TV.

Misc. cases

The vast majority of the Black Widow’s work continued taking place off-panel. In other words, she did not have her own magazine. She was mostly seen in minor adventures – such as :

  • Helping Daredevil and Spider-Man solve a murder case and prevent the imprisonment of a criminal who was innocent of that crime.
  • Getting rescued by Daredevil from a sadistic HYDRA commander as part of her daring gambit and Machiavellian plan to steal a microchip from them.
  • Helping Daredevil recover from a terrible ordeal in the trapped house of Elizabeth Dawes Sterling (the mother of Death-Stalker).
  • Getting blinded by the Cossack and working with Daredevil to defeat him (and save Glorianna O’Breen from the Gael).
  • Teaming up with Daredevil while assigned to recover a missing canister of fear gas lost in a swamp following a plane hijacking that ended in a crash.
  • And helping the Avengers deal with the treason of Quicksilver and his alliance with the Zodiac.

REPTILE – Agent Hazzard

Natalia was then employed by an unspecified US military intelligence agency. She was to track down and terminate rogue super-agent Jack Hazzard. Though she had a code against killing she took the mission. This was likely to prove that she was better than any of the agency’s regular hitmen – a crew of musclebound, misogynistic, macho blokes.

Tracking Hazzard to his mother’s house in Hell’s Kitchen, she stopped to have a chat with Matt Murdock, who offered his help. Though she initially refused, she realised that DD’s costume could confuse the religiously-fixated Hazzard due to his schizophrenic state. She accepted his help without telling him why.

Following an ambush by Hazzard, the Widow barely survived the mission. She was forced to hold Hazzard at gunpoint using the soldier’s own pistol. While she was unable to execute him despite his demands that she does so, Hazzard pounced on the gun and pressed the Widow’s trigger finger.

The Black Widow fighting AIM agents during the 1980s

This death of a good man weighted heavily on the Widow. While he wanted to die they had the same employer, and the Widow developed guilt over her role in Hazzard’s death. This was perhaps aggravated by unconscious memories of her own treatments by the Black Widow project, which were not unlike what Hazzard had been through.

REPTILE – Agent Crock

This haunted her until, a short time after, she was stalked by another super-soldier from the same project (Project Reptile), Agent Crock. Her guilt made her unable to fight back against Crock, whom she was afraid to kill, and she barely escaped with her life.

Unable to get over the guilt, she requested Daredevil’s help. He convinced her that the only way for her to get over the trauma of Hazzard’s death was to overcome Crock, lose her fear of killing him and save him. Although it was extremely difficult, the Widow managed it.

It was implied that she later ’dealt‘ with the doctor behind Project Reptile. This likely also involved destroying Hazzard a second time after he had been reactivated despite his clinical death.

Those harrowing events likely marked a key point in the evolution of the Black Widow and her eventual evolution away from the path of the super-hero and toward the role of the ruthless spy.

Just say no the the apocalypse

For a while, between the Hazzard and Crock cases, she acted as a spokeswoman for one of the “say no to drugs” campaigns of the 1980s. It was led by the wife of the Florida senator. This may have been from a combination of instinctive distrust toward drugs from her Black Widow conditioning, and her old political stance as a ’hero to the people‘.

She eventually left the initiative. She realised she was being manipulated for political gain, and that abusive associations of super-heroes with mutants made her presence counterproductive.

Later on, she let go of her guilt over Hazzard’s death after saving Crock from the hell he had been plunged into.

The Black Widow was also present during one of the major events in New York City in the 1980s. During the “fall of the mutants”, the arrival of Apocalypse plunged the city into a blackout. A general feeling swiftly arose that it was either World War III and/or the end of he world.

Within hours, the city was plunged into anarchy and armed, roaming bands emerged to take control of stocks of guns, foods and drugs. A gang leader, Ammo, rapidly emerged as a warlord within Manhattan.

Daredevil and the Black Widow, aided by a few Việt Nam invasion veterans, took out and disbanded Ammo’s entire war band. They also helped other Manhattanites remain calm and civilised until the end of the crisis.

Oksana

In 1988 the Widow received news about her old ballet teacher, Oksana Bolishinko. Now an invalid, she had been allowed to fly to the Soviet embassy in New York City so she could receive surgery for her blind eyes from an American doctor.

Wanting to apologise to her teacher for not having become a dancer, the Widow broke into the embassy. Her goal was to symbolically give her back an old piece of jewellery Mrs. Bolishinko had given her.

Her aged teacher reassured her that it was OK not to have become a dancer. She said that she was proud of her for serving the Soviet Union in her own manner. The Widow left under the watchful eye of a KGB colonel who also had been a pupil of the old dancer.

Looking back, there are signs that “Oksana Bolishinko” may never have existed as a ballet teacher. She may have been a KGB handler building on implanted memories. The Soviet embassy was weirdly understaffed and light on security, and the one competent agent on the grounds just let the Widow go.

It is entirely possible it was all an operation intended to check up on the Black Widows who were in the area. All such subjects remembered having been Bolishinko’s star pupil and having let her down. Perhaps reeling in *another* Black Widow sleeper agent was the goal, and Natalia Romanova was just a collateral element of the operation.

Inferno

The Widow was also in Manhattan during another major crisis – the “Inferno” demonic invasion. In the early stages of the invasion, as the city gradually started turning hostile toward its residents, Daredevil was believed dead.

The Black Widow firing her Widow's Bite during a Letterman show

Romanova came to offer support to his girlfriend Karen Page. She also sought after two of her ’charges’, the small kids of the Fatboys skater ’gang‘. Natalia had previously met then while visiting the free clinic where Murdock and Page both worked.

As the Inferno events ramped up, she provided bodyguard duty for Matt’s three friends. She saved the two Fatboys from a demonically-possessed elevator doing its best to kill them.

Wackoes

In the same general time frame, the Widow started losing contact with S.H.I.E.L.D.. The organisation was entering a major crisis in which she was apparently not involved. She switched to missions for other intelligence concerns.

At one point she ran into superior forces when attacking an AIM base hidden under a mall in or near L.A.. She sought backup, getting in touch with the West Coast Avengers.

Hawkeye flew in, shadowed by Mockingbird. The couple had broken up, but Mockingbird still felt jealous. She thought that Hawkeye had started calling his old girlfriends right after they put their marriage on hold.

Hawkeye and Black Widow, not suspecting they were aided by Mockingbird, defeated a combat robot called the Attackoid. They then vanquished the unfortunately-named cyborg SODAM (who would soon become MODAM).

Reserves

Natalia was next seen as a reserve Avenger. She helped the team along with other reservists against Atlantean troops during the Atlantis Attack crisis. Romanova was later present at the meeting where Captain America formalised the existence of Avengers reservists and reorganised the active teams.

This soon proved useful. The Widow was one of the few reservists available to handle an emergency at the sunken Hydrobase, when the Mad Thinker stole the Heavy Metal robots held there.

She also was on hand to help during the Acts of Vengeance battles. She and Hellcat were the first two Avengers who reached the ruins of Avengers’ Mansion to engage the Mandarin and the Wizard. Those regular contributions paved the way to her eventual full Avengers membership.

The Widow occasionally helped with Matt Murdock’s charity work in New York City. She also once swung in to assist the Shadowmasters and the Punisher against Sunrise Society’s power armour  troopers.

Alexei… alive ?

Her next appearance was much more major. KGB agents contacted her and fed her ’proof‘ that Alexei Shostakov was still alive. They asked her for a “small service” to make sure he would continue to receive medical and psychological care.

The “small service” was a typical KGB trap. She was filmed breaking into the UN office of the American representative to steal an unimportant document. The real point was to have blackmail material. Then the KGB could thus force her to help with their actual objective – stealing the computer control chip of the master matrix for the latest S.H.I.E.L.D. LMDs .

The Widow did so. Of course, everything was part of her plan to ultimately turn the tables on the KGB, after having checked what was going on with her deceased husband.

’Shostakov‘ turned out to be an android, and the Widow proceeded to destroy this insult to the memory of her husband. She had the KGB team that had attempted to manipulate her arrested by pro-Gorbachev  KGB factions contacted by Nick Fury.

Have bite, will travel

The Widow was next seen in Madripoor. She was running surveillance on the Strucker twins (aka Fenris) but was attacked by a cadre of Hand genins. She allied with Wolverine, Psylocke and Jubilee. Yet the “Fenris twins” and the “Hand leader” turned out to be ringers intended to distract them away from an operation by the real ones.

Interestingly, both Wolverine and the Widow could remember their 1941 adventures in Madripoor. They discussed them to the amazement of Jubilee, who could not understand how Romanova could possibly be in her 60s.

The Black Widow next briefly clashed in Paris with Silver Sable when pursuing the same criminal as her.

Romanova was next seen as a reserve Avenger again. Captain America was briefly thought to be missing in action, and she was contacted as the nearest Avenger to check up on him. The Widow initially tangled with Diamondback (Leighton) thinking she and her snake-themed colleagues were behind it. But she later learned she was now Cap’s friend, and that her presence was not suspicious.

Soon, Diamondback and the Black Widow teamed up against Captain America, who was delusional and on drugs following an accidental inhalation of ice. Natasha took the feverish Cap out by exploiting his drug-fueled aggression. Her job done, the Widow left with some advice for Diamondback, who was rather impressed by her performance.

Next – the Black Widow joins the Avengers – full time ! And she gets to wear a leather jacket !


Description

See illustrations.


Personality

During most of this period, Natasha is almost angrily out to prove herself as one of the very best spies and agents in the world. She will strive to be successful in all of her missions no matter what the cost. She has a proud and fiery temper.

I have assumed that this was at this point Natalia started what would become one of her hobbies – literature. In particular Russian literature, and in particular Russian literature that was censored or banned in her native Soviet Union.

She also becomes increasingly apolitical. Her old ’hero to the people‘ convictions likely faded with the Reagan-era anti-Soviet propaganda. Likewise her feminist stances are less vocal and less visible. Perhaps since this is a period during which she is slowly redefining herself and has fewer certainties.

Ruthless

This is also the point where she starts occasionally evidencing the Machiavellian, deadly ruthlessness that will mark her later career as a spy.

Early on during this era, she gives her HYDRA captor enough information to find and kill an old man who had asked for her help. She sacrifices him, since it will buy her time and give further clues to Daredevil to stop HYDRA and complete her mission.

Likewise, she is starting to use coldly efficient brutality and even Killing Combat without hesitation. Yet this is never gratuitous and only when she arguably doesn’t have much of a choice. When operating with Daredevil, she tones down the violence of her blows out of respect for his ways, and almost never uses Killing Combat.

At this point, the Widow is still walking a strange path. She exists between the super-hero she was and the stone-cold, extremely dangerous 00 agent she will become. Perhaps to stall this evolution, she still refuses to use guns, except in the direst circumstances. This is especially true after the death of Jack Hazzard.

Men of nostalgia

The Widow sometimes seems comfortable taking part of a case as Daredevil’s sidekick/partner despite the pride she usually displays. She seems to have occasional episodes of nostalgia about Matt Murdock and Daredevil. From time to time she lets things happen as if it were San Francisco all over again, only without the conflicts.

It is more common for her to clearly mark her independence from DD, though, unless she desperately needs help due to one of her high-risks missions turning sour.

With the events in Russia and the encounter with the Red Guardian android, the Widow turns a page of her life. She becomes a colder, tougher, more ruthless, scheming, professional super-spy and special agent.


Quotes

“I am not the quiet type. I’m Natasha Romanova — the Black Widow — superspy extraordinaire. I’ll find my *own* way out of this, thank you very much.”

“Don’t call me ‘toots’.”

“You forget the Black Widow was trained at two of the finest schools in the world. I have my own methods.”

“I wished to ascertain how well your ultra-senses function in this alien environment. We were likely to team up, and I always know my partner’s capacities.”

“It was necessary, Matthew. And she is not badly hurt.”

(Coldly and flatly) “When I finish this job, we’ll meet again.”

“I’ve been freaked out ever since I killed Hazzard… Matt, it was like killing myself. We were both working for the same secret government agent ring. And I killed him, one of my own !”

(As a kid hands her an assault rifle) “I won’t need this.”

“Sterling, you believe in a market-driven economy, don’t you ? Putting economic principles to work… unless you want my Widow’s Bite to cut off the *supply* of blood to your brain, I suggest you meet my *demand* for safe passage off this yacht.”

(At a jet-set cocktail party) Ivan Petrovitch: “Conspicuous ? I’m not the one wearing a $5,000 Armani original, babe.”
Natalia Alianovna: “Hm… consider it camouflage.”

“The KGB is staffed with thugs and fools… and you are a prime example of both.”

Red Guardian android: “A Russian woman is always ruled by her heart. Even one who hides her heart beneath a sheath of ice.”
Black Widow: “I hide nothing. My heart died long ago.”

(As Diamondback freaks out after the Widow takes out Captain America by blasting him point-blank in the head) “I know my opponent. I know my weapon.”


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Black Widow

Dex: 07 Str: 04 Bod: 04 Motivation: Mercenary
Int: 06 Wil: 06 Min: 05 Occupation: Adventurer
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 021 HP: 050

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:
Acrobatics: 08, Artist (dancer): 06, Artist (fashion designer, photographer): 04, Detective (legwork): 07, Evasion (Ranged only): 08, Martial artist: 07, Medicine (first aid): 03, Military science (camouflage, cartography, danger recognition, demolition): 05, Scientist: 03, Vehicles (Air, Land, Water): 05, Thief: 07, Weaponry: 07

Advantages:
Confidant (Ivan Petrovitch), Credentials (S.H.I.E.L.D., Medium), Familiarity (Literature), Expertise (Russian literature), Language (Russian), Lightning Reflexes, Slowed Ageing.

Connections:
Col. Nick Fury (High), S.H.I.E.L.D. (Low, from Credentials – this Connection becomes useless during the Deltite plot), Daredevil (High), Hawkeye (High), Franklin ’Foggy‘ Nelson (High), Freddie the Nerd (Low – a highly talented hacker and researcher in New York City, relevant Skills around 06 APs), Espionage world/Intelligence community (Low), Wolverine (Low), Avengers (Low).

Drawbacks:
Exile (Involuntary), a conditional Unluck (see below), Misc.: the Widow is sterile, Misc.: Kudrin failsafe scent, Pchelintsov failsafes.

Equipment:

  • BLACK WIDOW COSTUME [BODY 05, Cling: 04, Radio communications: 07]. This costume has micro-suction cups to allow Cling, and a concealed radio transmitter in the wrist, which can be relayed by S.H.I.E.L.D. radio stations.
  • WIDOW’s BITE [BODY 05, Detect (homing device): 12, Lightning: 07, Stretching: 03, R#03, Limitation: Stretching does not have Fine Manipulation (-1), cannot be used to transmit EV above 02 (-1), has No Defensive Bonus (-1) ; Detect is tuned to a pair of homing devices – she wears one and Ivan the other. While the Bite is usually used for blasting, it has very occasionally been used as a low-EV whip. If the R# is met she is out of power for Lightning, even including the spare powerlets on her belt.].

Shadow of the Devil part 2 – Devil’s Luck

At this point, the Eclipsed Drawback that was Natasha’s lot during the 1970s softens. Now she suffers from Unluck when she appears in a Daredevil adventure (even if Daredevil has yet to appear from her point of view !), but not otherwise.

This still provide opportunities for the Widow to fumble something and have to require Daredevil’s help, but this is considerably less severe than the previous penalties.


The things they say about her

This writeup mostly sticks to traits that have been actually demonstrated in the comics. Since the Widow has a fairly low number of appearances during this era, most of which were as a Daredevil ally/supporting character, some of the abilities demonstrated during the times covered by previous writeups are not displayed. Those are:

  • Manipulation skills. Neither her Charisma Skill nor her Attractive Advantage are used during the 1980s. During that time she is envisioned much more as an action/combat/acrobatics heroine. Given this vibe her manipulative abilities likely become Minor Marginal for a while.
  • Improved Widow’s Bite. By the end of the previous writeup the Widow uses a better model of her famous bracer weaponry. But those new functionalities are not seen at all during the time covered by this writeup, except IIRC for technical diagrams in the OHOTMU handbooks.
    This is likely because the various writers forgot or did not know about them.
    A possible in-character explanation is that she starts getting tired of the weight and maintenance issues of the Bites, and prefers to carry a stripped-down version. It is still credible for GMs to use the Improved Widow’s Bite stats from the 1970s writeup if they want to, though.
  • The Artist and Medicine Skills are not demonstrated during that era, but as background Skills I left them in.
  • Likewise she may very well have kept older Connections. It is implied at several points that the Widow has an extensive network of helpers and experts, and it would be odd if she dropped old allies from that list.
  • At the very end of this era, her BODY goes up to 05. I would say this occurs just before the The Coldest War Graphic Novel. And her DEX likely had reached 08 just before her appearance in the ’Streets of Poison’ Captain America story arc, a short time before she joined the Avengers.
  • Likewise, just before The Coldest War, her Thief Skill goes up to 08. Hey, I *said* this GN was the other good cut-off point. 🙂

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Marvel Universe.

Helper(s): Gareth Lewis, Darci.

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