The mystery of Tony Stark’s true parentage has been swirling in the Marvel Universe for several years since Kieron Gillen introduced the idea that Tony is adopted. Now, International Iron Man #5 promises to reveal the identity of his birth mom leading up to the full family reveal later this year, and a new first look shows several pages – complete with redacted panels – that may just give away the secret.
Of course, you know how Marvel is with secret revelations these days. For Tony’s parentage to matter, it’s gotta be a bombshell, a blockbuster revelation that shakes the character to his core and calls into question everything we thought we knew ( ”Hail Hydra,” anyone?).
At the very least it has to reverberate with hardcore fans in some way - revealing his true mystery mom is someone readers have never met before would be the definition of anti-climactic.
But there aren’t many Marvel characters of relevance who could be revealed as Tony’s folks that fit that description – and who were adults in the time Tony would have been born in the 1960’s or whatever decade it was in Marvel's always-sliding timeline. Sure, Marvel could reveal that Nick Fury or Wolverine is Tony’s father, but they’re both M.I.A. – and both Nick Fury and Wolverine already had secret sons revealed. Steve Rogers could be his dad, but he’s already had one major shake-up lately, and that would just be a little too weird.
And Marvel has made it clear they're revealing his mother first - "Tony Stark comes face-to-face with his biological mother," the publisher promises.
So who is female, biologically old enough to theoretically give birth to Tony and would have some resonance with Marvel readers?
Starting to gather where we're going with this?
Yes, we’re talking about Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow.
Sure, she seems young, but in continuity she was born in the late 1930’s and given biological enhancements by her Soviet spymasters to keep her young well past what would have been her golden years. And, given how many times her memories have been altered, with real ones removed and false ones implanted by her Soviet programming, there’s no telling what she may or may not have been forced to forget – or even keep secret from the Soviets. She sure held onto that Winter Soldier bombshell for a long time, didn’t she?
Natasha had a whole life before coming to America. She trained with Bucky, was an assassin and spy, she even had a husband, the Red Guardian, who was taken from her by the government. If Natasha and one of her known paramours (Red Guardian, or even *gasp* Bucky) had a baby, you can bet the Soviets would have wiped her mind and stolen the child. Or, perhaps more compelling, if the child was fathered by one of her targets, she would definitely have wanted to keep him hidden from her spymasters.
And no, we’re not ignoring Tony and Natasha’s history. There’s some weird grey area around their first meeting and the flirting that could seem, well, kinda gross through the lens of Natasha secretly being Tony’s mother if you push it too hard. Tony and Natasha first met way back in Tales of Suspense #52, when she was sent to America to infiltrate Tony’s life and steal his tech – a pretty common Soviet plan back in those days. They had a few vaguely romantic encounters, mostly consisting of dancing and breathy flirting, before she fell in with Hawkeye and reformed. And of course, you can’t ignore their tryst (and the resulting sex tape) in the now-defunct Ultimate Universe, but they never explicitly hooked up in the mainstream Marvel Universe (and if we’re right about this theory, thank God for that).
So what would it mean if Black Widow was Tony’s mother? Well, there would be a lot of really weird subtext in some well-read Avengers stories, that’s for sure. But it would certainly give Marvel the kind of shocking grist for the mill that seems to drive them from headline to attention grabbing headline these days. Making Black Widow the biological mother of Tony Stark would definitely constitute one of those “break the Internet in half” moments Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel seem to be seeking every time one of these major revelations happens, and given the character's prominence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story would likely have some traction in the mainstream media.
And really, in Marvel Comics, stranger things have happened.