Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - Basic BLACK WIDOW
Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - Basic BLACK WIDOW
Natasha was the first to graduate from the program and adopted “Black Widow” as her official codename. Realizing she followed a personal code of honor and refused to kill under what she considered to be the wrong circumstances, her superiors used a combination of brainwashing and false memory implants to keep her obedient. Her superiors even faked the death of her husband, a government agent called Red Guardian, in order to further manipulate her attitude. Eventually, she became an enemy of Tony Stark AKA Iron Man and repeatedly attempted to steal the secrets of his technology. Later on, she recruited the masked archer Hawkeye in some of these missions, before he finally recognized he was being manipulated for criminal means and then left.
Natasha eventually fought off her mental programming and left Russia behind. She joined the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and started working alongside the Avengers, now using wrist-mounted weapons that grapple lines, tear gas, a "Widow's Kiss" sedative gas, and an electro-static stun weapon called the “Widow’s Bite.” During her new career as a hero, she briefly led the California-based superhero team known as the Champions and, years later, served as leader of the Avengers for several months. A few times, she also crossed swords with Yelena Belova, another women who claimed the name of Black Widow after she was trained by some of Natasha’s old teachers.
Recently, Natasha learned the full truth of her past and has adjusted her view of the world and herself. Whether she's operating on her own or with her friends in the Avengers, the Black Widow is a formidable force for good. Even if she's not always nice about it. She currently stars in the comic book titles Secret Avengers and Avengers Assemble, alongside her old lover Hawkeye and her old enemy-turned-friend Iron Man. You can also see her portrayed by actor Scarlett Johansson in the film Iron Man 2 and the upcoming Avengers movie from Marvel studios.
As usual, this article will focus on mainstream continuity rather than parallel universes and alternate timelines.
BEFORE NATASHA, THE FIRST BLACK WIDOW
Claire showed up in about five stories and was introduced as “a human tool of Satan whose very touch means death.” She was a person who’d died and gone to Hell and then was sent back to Earth with magic powers, including a death touch that left people with a Black Widow mark. Basically, Satan wasn’t patient to wait around for evil people to die on their own anymore, so Claire was tasked with expediting their trips to Hell. Her outfit was a purple dress with a green cape and those colors are often associated with villains or sinister forces in comics, so it definitely fits with her dark nature.
On the other hand, this could just be an outfit one wore to a fancy Halloween party. There’s nothing to indicate that she may be magical or anything more than a girl with a cape and tight outfit. It’s not even that flattering an outfit. But we can’t judge it too harshly since costumes tended to be more simplistic in the days of the Golden Age of comics and this look is definitely a sign of the times.
A SPY WITHOUT A COSTUME
After a few adventures, Natasha started getting more physical, showing she could handle herself and didn’t have to rely on agents such as Hawkeye and the armored Crimson Dynamo to do all the legwork. Her superiors gave her a new costume with boots that allowed her to cling to surfaces, bracelets that acted as weapons, and a mask that emulated Hawkeye’s so that she could further convince the archer of her romantic devotion. This suit first appeared in Tales of Suspense #64 in 1965 and it is, frankly, bordering between “weird” and “lame.”
Another flaw of this look is that it’s so generic. You look at someone in this outfit, her name COULD be Black Widow. Or it could be Nightshade. Maybe she calls herself Black Canary. Or Mockingbird. Or Huntress of the Night. There’s nothing here to really give you a sense of identity, other than a tiny “B” emblem on her cape clasp that wasn’t even drawn half the time. She did get her famous wrist shooters at least, firing her famous “Widow’s bite” electric blasts and the grappling hooks that served as her “web-lines” or "widow's lines." But they’re pretty generic looking too, so there’s no reason to see them as anything beyond decoration until she actually uses them.
In some flashbacks to Natasha’s early days, some artists have tweaked this look a bit, removing the cape and making the outfit more of a body suit rather than a corset, belt and shorts. Still, this isn’t enough to stop her from looking like a girl at a masquerade ball rather than an intelligence agent.
Natasha kept this outfit even after she became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and wore it on several missions with them and alongside the Avengers. Some time later, she saw Spider-Man swinging through the city in his famous skin-tight outfit and found herself inspired to design a new, sleek look that would also emphasize that she was heading down a new direction in life. She got to the drawing board (literally) and figured out a suit that she thought was right for the “swingy 70s” (yeah, that’s a direct quote). Which leads us to…
THE FIRST BODYSUIT
The initial version of this outfit is black with gray/silver bracelets and belt. Occasionally, she’s gone back to this style over the years. It works and in a live action film it would probably make the most sense. But in comics, it blends together a little too well. There’s nothing to break up the color or make the weapons and belt stand out.
Some artists drew the belt with a group of rods in the back rather than discs all around. This makes sense since Widow carries different tools on her, though it can also make the belt seem more decorative rather than utilitarian. Occasionally, the belt would be dropped entirely. This still works, but I think it also makes her look more like a dancer or a typical superhero rather than a spy who has no real superpowers and has to rely on skills and tools. And yes, I realize that for a long time the Widow’s back story was that she was originally trained as a dancer when she was a child (before a retcon stated that this was a false memory), but that had really nothing to do with her later life as a spy and adventurer.
In the 1980s, the Black Widow changed things up. She got a new dark gray jumpsuit and a keen 80s haircut that, in my opinion, may have been more realistic for a lady who’s constantly engaged in hand-to-hand combat, sure, but did not flatter her as much as her previous style.
This greatly resembles a dancer’s outfit rather than a jumpsuit. And without her bracelets, belt and any visible zippers or seams, she looks a little naked. Even if you have the wrist-shooters now built into the gloves, wouldn’t you like at least a belt for extra batteries, extra web-lines, and survival equipment? What if she finds some important file or vital piece of evidence to shut down a terrorist cell? Where is she going to put that file/microchip/computer disc now without a belt? I certainly don’t see any room for pockets! The costume is so tight that you can usually see her belly button!
And have we mentioned the disco collar? Let’s just look at it for a second… Okay, we’ve looked enough. It’s silly. Some artists didn’t really draw the collar, fortunately, but that doesn’t fix the other flaws.
On the flipside, this outfit does have the nice touch of finally giving the Black Widow some kind of symbol. A tiny spider (sometimes drawn with an hourglass) over the heart and a large spider on the back. Simple but effective.
AND THEN CAME THE 90s
Red and black work, especially since they are the colors of a black widow spider. Sometimes she wore gold bracelets again instead. But I’d still like some kind of belt or a pants seam to break this outfit up a little bit. Just a personal preference for this style of character.
And then there’s the design of the spider itself. If those are supposed to be eight legs, why are they growing out of her stomach? And why would the lowest pair be of such greater length? This design is a little too abstract for its own good. It becomes distracting rather than something that gives her body a sense of unity or her limbs an increased sense of motion.
A few years later, Natasha figured, “Screw it, my 70s look was made of awesome.” Since then, she’s made a habit of wearing outfits based on that design. A lot of times, she’s added an hourglass symbol to her belt buckle, which is a great touch. It’s clear enough to make us think of a black widow spider but small and subtle enough to keep her from truly looking like a typical spandex-clad superhero.
Sometimes with gold bracelets and a black belt, sometimes with the classic gold belt, sometimes with silver bracelets and a silver belt, etc. Sometimes it's the black suit with simple black gloves and a black belt with a tiny red hourglass design. I personally still prefer the gold coloring as a nicer contrast against the black than gray or silver.
Normally, I’m against the entire outfit and its accessories sharing the same color, but it made sense for the mission where Nat needed camouflage and it wasn’t intended to be a new standard.
Natasha also got herself a personalized space suit for a space station adventure. The lines are interesting, but I don’t think Natasha’s bodysuit looks great in black and white. Black and red instead? Black and gray? Could be fun to experiment.
Not a bad compromise at all. But even with this design, I think the bracelets might look better in red or gold to make them stand out more.
YELENA, THE BLOND BLACK WIDOW
I mean, really, aside from occasionally adding a weapon or two to her thighs, she’s just taken Natasha’s costume and eliminated the bottom half of the shirt. Is that supposed to be threatening? I don’t know about you, but I don’t take many women seriously if their work clothes involve an exposed stomach and they are neither beach employees nor under the age of 22. This could be Baywatch Black Widow.
Later on, Yelena started wearing one of Natasha's standard black bodysuits, but still added nothing to make it unique as her own design. Maybe she could add blades to the bracelets or her boots? We’ll see if anyone comes up with something interesting for the future.
Along with several trades that collect old adventures and her origin, you can catch the Black Widow her in several Marvel comics, including the pages of Secret Avengers and Avengers Assemble. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.Other Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. movie Avengers profiles: FACEBOOK and TWITTER!