By Craig “Mr. Silver Age” Shutt
Dear Mr. Silver Age,
My favorite member of the Avengers in its early days was The Black Widow! Did she perform an especially heroic feat to gain membership during The Silver Age?
Mr. Silver Age says: Funny thing about that, Di. The Black Widow never actually joined the Avengers during The Silver Age. The one time she was offered membership, she declined. When she finally was inducted, in the early 1970s, her affiliation lasted one issue before she resigned.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t have plenty of adventures with the assemblers along the way.
You might think that her membership chances would have been hurt by her early career as a villainous international spy battling Iron Man. But in those halcyon Avenging days, that résumé probably helped her chances. She wouldn’t have been the first former (or even current) villain to join the team.
Natasha Romanova burst upon the Marvel Universe stage in “The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!” in Tales of Suspense #52 (Apr 64). The Black Widow and her sidekick Boris (get it? Boris and Natasha?) were sent to America by the commies to kill Prof. Vanko, who had defected after Iron Man defeated him as The Dynamo back in ToS #46.
While Natasha kept the debonair Tony Stark busy, Boris kidnapped Vanko. Then, he returned to finish his assignment of killing Stark and Iron Man by disguising himself as The Dynamo. Vanko sacrificed himself to stop Boris, and Natasha escaped in the confusion.
She returned the next issue, apologizing for her transgression. Tony was forgiving but wary, but he was no match for the scheming, quick-witted Widow. She stole his latest invention, squared things with her commie masters, and returned to kill Iron Man. That didn’t work out, but she managed to slip away yet again.
Natalia laid low for a few issues, until she met “Hawkeye, the Marksman!” in ToS #57 (Sep 64). She had learned of his prowess and thought she could use her beauty to wrap him around her finger, just as she had Stark. What a surprise, she could. She hid her true allegiance and plotted with Hawkeye to kill Iron Man. But during the battle, she was wounded, and Hawkeye broke off the attack to escape with her.
They laid low until ToS #60, when Natasha once again convinced Hawkeye that stealing the plans for Stark’s newest weapon was actually striking a blow for international peace. Hawkeye was pretty gullible back then. Sadly, while he was engaged in that mayhem, commie agents ambushed Natasha and flew her behind the Iron Curtain for interrogation. You know that didn’t go well.
Surprising Hawkeye and us, The Black Widow returned to The States in ToS #64 (Apr 65), wearing a tight black super-costume, mask, gloves, boots, and fishnet tights. The costume gave her the ability to walk on walls and shoot nylon lines from her bracelets, making her more similar to her namesake. She explained she’d been given the costume and the assignment of killing Iron Man. And her parents were being held hostage to keep her focused on the job at hand.
Hawkeye wasn’t too keen on following the orders of commies, but Natasha batted her eyes and explained that he didn’t need to betray his country, he just needed to help her kill Iron Man. Oh, well, in that case, he was ready to go. They kidnapped Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts to lead Iron Man into a trap — but Tony Stark went in his place, claiming IM was out of town (probably on a “space mission,” as Superman always was).
That gave Iron Man the chance to ambush his ambushers. During the mayhem, The Widow again was injured. Rather than finish off IM, Hawkeye rescued her, and they escaped justice yet again.
That led us, the next month, to the legendary “The Old Order Changeth!” in Avengers #16 (May 65) and the arrival of Hawkeye on The Assemblers’ doorstep. Before they could pound him into the pavement, he explained that he’d been misunderstood and then misled by that evil commie, The Black Widow. But the previous week, Hawkeye had been unable to save BW when she’d been attacked by commie agents and carried away, near death.
Hawkeye managed to convince The Avengers that he could be trusted and proved himself in battle. Meanwhile, The Black Widow was being revived and brainwashed by her Commie Masters behind the Iron Curtain. She finally returned a year later in Avengers #29 (Jun 66) and approached Hawkeye. Clint was happy to see her, but not after he discovered she’d teamed with The Swordsman and Power Man and wanted his help to defeat The Avengers.
He wasn’t up for it, so they captured him and then ambushed the other Avengers so they could brainwash them to serve the commies, too. Ultimately, The Assemblers escaped but Hawkeye allowed BW to get away yet again. Next ish, they met again and went at each other, but, by issue’s end, she had fought off the brainwashing and partnered with Hawkeye to help save the day.
Freed from her Commie Masters at last, Natasha vowed to make up her betrayal to Clint by helping him and The Avengers, and she started doing that in Avengers #30 (July 66). Hawkeye became so certain of her change of heart that he took her with him to an emergency team meeting in Avengers #36 (Jan 67) and proposed that she be admitted to the membership.
Captain America demurred, saying that it wasn’t the time and that a special voting meeting would have to be held. Goliath quickly spoke up to say he was voting against her, and it’s easy to see why he might feel that way, given her history.
Even so, The Widow tagged along on the mission to rescue Quicksilver (long story) and did her part, which continued into Avengers #37. The mission ended when The Widow threatened to kill the evil alien criminal mastermind behind it all, reminding him that she was not bound by the Avengers’ oath against killing. Seeing the look in her eyes, he surrendered.
So the day was saved, but Hawkeye was a little worried about whether she’d actually have done it — and he didn’t tell the other Avengers how things had gone down, for fear it would jeopardize her chances for membership.
Goliath and Hawkeye went at it again in the next issue, when Goliath reiterated his objections to having The Widow join, despite her help. Pietro wasn’t against it but he didn’t think they needed another member.
She wasn’t there to speak for herself because Nick Fury and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had kidnapped her. That was just their wacky way of offering her an ultra-secret assignment, which she took in the hopes of proving she was no longer working for the commies.
Naturally, “ultra-secret” mostly meant not telling Hawkeye what was going on. So she simply told him she had to travel behind The Bamboo Curtain and boogied on out of there. Stung, Hawkeye said good riddance and watched her leave. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents never have it easy in the romance department.
Her mission was revealed in Avengers #40, when she learned of The Psychotron from her former Commie Masters. But she also discovered they suspected her of working for S.H.I.E.L.D., so they allowed her to be the first victim of the Psychotron’s brainwashing. The brainwashing didn’t take and she tried to escape but was recaptured.
That led us to Avengers #43 (Aug 67), where she woke up to find herself imprisoned next to Hawkeye, who’d been lured into a trap after learning Natasha’s whereabouts. Her joy at seeing him was tempered by the identity of their captor, The Red Guardian — aka her husband! That kind of took the edge off for Hawkeye, who felt betrayed on yet another level by his spy lover.
Natasha again convinced the commies that she was on their side, and she and The Guardian plotted to ambush the other Avengers, who were following Hawkeye’s signal. Mayhem ensued, but The Black Widow completed her mission of destroying The Psychotron with the Avengers’ help. She ultimately needed to have her bacon saved by Hawkeye, who did the job admirably because he’d had practice.
From her hospital bed, she explained the mission (and how she’d been hypnotized by S.H.I.E.L.D. so she could pass the polygraph test the commies had given her when she claimed yet again to be on their side). She also explained that she had believed her husband to be dead but she’d only been told that so he could train to become The Red Guardian. He was most sincerely dead this time, having been blown to smithereens.
Saving the world at the behest of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave her pretty good street cred, so she finally was offered membership in Avengers #45 (Oct 67). But she turned it down! Captain America announced Hercules’ membership but added that BW had decided to no longer fight crime in costume and couldn’t accept Avengers membership.
That didn’t last long — one year, to be precise — as she was back hanging from Hawkeye’s ceiling in Avengers #57 (Oct 68). Clint gave her a cool reception and then was called away to an Avengers emergency, which didn’t sit well with Natasha. So she returned to working for S.H.I.E.L.D., although she still wore her super-costume, which was a bit gaudy for a secret agent.
She returned in Avengers #67 (Apr 69), when she contacted Hawkeye to help save her after she’d been captured by Egghead on her current S.H.I.E.L.D. mission. Hawkeye figured out where she was being held, but he decided he’d have a better chance of helping her with different powers.
So he donned the recently discarded Goliath costume and took a swig of the handy growth serum Hank Pym had left behind in his locker when he’d become Yellowjacket. Once the mayhem died down and she was freed, the two went to Avengers Mansion to bring the others up to date.
Their romance continued to simmer until she showed up again at the Mansion in Avengers #76 (May 70) to talk with Hawkeye during one of his workouts. This time, she said it was over between them, that she’d never loved him, and that she never wanted to see him again. Ookay.
Hawkeye was mystified by this, as were the readers, since it came out of nowhere. Fortunately, we remained mystified for only two months, until she made a dramatic return in Amazing Spider-Man #86 (Jul 70), spying on Spidey as he swung around the city. She explained (to readers) that her tumultuous life had led her to decide to chuck it all and disconnect from everything in her past, including Hawkeye/Goliath.
So she became a playgirl and international jet-setter, a dramatic change when she had a guy who loved her hanging out with The Avengers. And guess what? She wasn’t enjoying it all that much, big surprise. So she decided to return — with a jazzed-up costume more in keeping with the swinging ’70s.
Boy, howdy, did she jazz it up. She squirmed into the tight leather catsuit we’ve come to know and love, attached her widow’s sting bracelets and that chain belt with her spare web lines, and was ready for action. (You’ll find that image over in our Avengers history.)
That led into her very own series the next month in Amazing Adventures #1 (Aug 70), where she lasted eight issues until her roommates The Inhumans bumped her out. That kept her pretty busy, and her cause for Avengers membership wasn’t aided by her teaming up with the female Liberators in Avengers #83 (Dec 70) to battle the male Avengers, albeit with two other female Avengers (The Wasp and Scarlet Witch) at her side.
Her big opportunity finally came in Avengers #111 (May 73), when she and Daredevil (her new lover) helped The Assemblers and X-Men defeat Magneto. The Avengers were grateful for the duo’s help, so Captain America — eschewing that “special meeting” he previously had considered so important — offered the duo Avengers membership.
DD declined for them both, but The Widow objected. She’d been feeling a bit smothered by their closeness and wasn’t sure where their relationship was headed. So she decided to accept the offer. “You don’t own me!” she told Matt. “All right! If that’s the way you want it!” DD said, swinging off.
Sadly, her membership lasted all of one issue, until #112, when she resigned to return to San Francisco to be with The Man Without Fear. It’s ironic that, after spending so much time wrapping heroes around her fingers to start her career, she ended her Avengers membership by running after one across the country.
Natasha has stuck around ever since, taking part in all kinds of missions and epic events. She’s remained a part of DD’s life, albeit in the background, as well as helping The Avengers when the situation warrants. But her official membership time during her early years was not much to write home about.
Special thanks to the members of Captain Comics’ Mr. Silver Age Forum for bringing up this topic just as I was considering this month’s column! You can read all about it in the “Silver Sightings: Goliath and the Black Widow” thread at captaincomics.ning.com.