Natasha Romanoff has been a lot of things in her life: A spy, a killer, an Avenger, a crimefighter and more, but always true to herself.
She debuted in the 1960s as a scheming Soviet spy who swayed archer Hawkeye to join her. Turning on her masters, Natasha defected to the West and would eventually become an Avenger herself.
Her fame has grown and been enhanced by Scarlett Johansson’s performance as her in the Avengers movies, emphasizing that, while beautiful, the Widow is as deadly as her namesake and never backing down from a fight.
While she wants to help others, Natasha is haunted by her past and balancing the scales for her darker actions. Under it all, Natasha is a heroine, and that courage wins over fans.
Naturally, there have been a lot of great stories involving the Widow and her supporting cast, but these ten are terrific reads to prepare for this July’s Black Widow movie and show why the Widow still has a bite when it comes to thrilling adventures.
Honorable mentions: Tales of Suspense #52 (Natasha’s first appearance), Amazing Spider-Man #86 (the debut of her black costume), The Finely Woven Thread (Black Widow vol 5 #1-6) and SHIELD’S Most Wanted (Black Widow vol 6 #1-6).
The Red Guardian (Avengers vol 1 #43-45)
After starting as a villainess, Natasha was adjusting to being a hero and ally of the Avengers, but her past came calling big time in this tale.
When the Widow is abducted, lover Hawkeye is naturally on her trail with the Avengers helping out.
However, when he catches up to her, Hawkeye is in for a shock as Natasha reveals abductor the Red Guardian is her supposedly dead husband, Alexi.
It leads to a great battle between the Avengers during which Alexi sacrifices himself to save Natasha, still loving her despite everything.
It’s a good tale exploring Natasha’s origins and the debut of the Guardian, who plays a major role in the movie.
Enter the Taskmaster (Avengers #195-196)
The Taskmaster is set to be a prime villain in this movie so his debut in the Marvel Universe is a great way to see why he’s such a threat.
While investigating a criminal academy, Yellowjacket, Ant-Man and the Wasp are captured by Taskmaster, the guy who trains all the low-level masked minions super-villains are constantly using as their cannon fodder.
Gifted with “photographic reflexes” that allow him to replicate any physical action after seeing it once, Taskmaster is a fantastic fighter as he is able to throw a shield like Captain America or fire a bow like Hawkeye.
Taskmaster also decides there’s no profit in fighting the Avengers to escape, but the fact he gave the entire team a run for the money on his own speaks volumes about his skills.
Web of Intrigue (Marvel Fanfare #10-13)
George Perez provided sensational artwork for this exciting solo tale for Natasha.
Sent on a mission to Moscow, Natasha is framed for murder and targeted by a super-powered set of assassins. Despite that, Natasha is fantastic at handling them all by herself.
It delves more into Natasha’s background as she attempts to save the man who was a father figure to her, only to discover some darker secrets to his own past.
Perez transforms Natasha into a beautiful warrior who can still take on any foe and makes this one of her best solo adventures.
The Itsy Bitsy Spider (Black Widow vol 1, #1-3)
Devin Grayson provided a stunning tale of Natasha while also introducing a key supporting character.
When she finds herself blamed for various attacks, Natasha learns that another Black Widow is out there, Yelena Belova, who wants the title for herself.
The conflict between them is amazing, thanks to the terrific artwork of JG Jones. However, it also examines the evolution of Natasha as a heroine as she warns Yelena how becoming the Widow can be as much a target as an honor.
It’s a classic Widow tale that the movie seems ready to adapt nicely.
Breakdown (Black Widow vol 2 #1-3)
This is like a Marvel Comics version of the cult action movie Face/Off.
Realizing Yelena will not stop in her quest to become the Black Widow, Natasha teaches her a twisted lesson. Using SHIELD’s super-science, she has them literally swapping appearances, so Yelena discovers how many people are gunning after Natasha.
The plan hits a snag when the procedure means Yelena believes she really is Natasha and embarking on her own private mission. So Natasha finds herself in a bizarre mirror battle.
The story is packed with twists and turns as the reader is often unsure who is who. It shows how spies can fall into a life of lies so deep that they can’t see the truth and why it takes a particular person like Natasha to handle it.
Homecoming (Black Widow vol 3 #1-6)
A recurring theme in Widow stories is Natasha’s dark past coming back to haunt her.
In this case, Natasha thinks she’s finally out of the spy game and settled into life in Arizona. But, like Michael Corleone, she realizes the more she tries to get out, she’s pulled back in.
When an attempt is made on her life, Natasha has to return to Moscow and find out who’s after her. The comic explores her past and the realization she may actually deserve the fate coming for her.
Richard K. Morgan expertly details Natasha’s persona as a darker figure trying to make amends while also a stunning fighter.
It shows that like it or not, Natasha was born for this game and can never truly let it go.
Deadly Origin (Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1-4)
Retelling a comic book character’s origins can be tricky, but this mini-series does a fine job retconning Natasha’s past.
It updates Natasha’s previous World War II childhood for the modern age while also detailing her brutal training in the Red Room and time as a Soviet assassin.
Also included are Natasha’s meetings with Wolverine and the Winter Soldier while showcasing that, even as a hardened killer, Natasha had a moral code that would lead to her transformation into a hero.
While there’s plenty of action, the true heart of the book is showing what changed Natasha into a staunch ally who can never escape the red in her ledger.
Black Widow Hunt (Winter Soldier #10-14)
A nice twist in Natasha’s origins was revealing how she had taught Bucky Barnes when the latter was the brainwashed Winter Soldier in her time in the Red Room.
After Bucky was restored to life, the pair reignited their partnership which soon grew into a romance that’s put to the test.
When Widow suddenly goes on a killing spree, Bucky realizes that someone has reactivated old programming in her mind to make her their agent.
It’s a daring storyline that shows how dangerous Natasha can be when freed of her moral compass and Bucky trying to save her as well as defeat her.
It has a bittersweet ending that shifts up their relationship forever and also a powerful turning point for Natasha’s life.
Death and Rebirth (Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye and Winter Soldier #100-104)
It appeared Natasha had met her end at the hands of an evil Steve Rogers in the controversial Secret Empire storyline.
But when assassinations with a familiar signature happen, former lovers Hawkeye and Bucky Barnes believe it’s Natasha and are soon on the hunt to find her.
It’s fun watching the two men bond on their mutual past with the Widow while noting how important she is.
It ends with a wild turn of Natasha reborn in a new cloned body which gives her a fresh lease on life and how, unlike the MCU, death could not hold the Widow long.
A Quiet Life (Black Widow vol 9 #1-5)
Natasha has always spoken about wanting a quiet life somewhere. In the first arc of her current series, she got it.
Seeing Natasha on TV, Hawkeye and Winter Soldier are shocked to find she’s now living as “Natalie,” a San Francisco housewife complete with a husband and son and no memory of her past.
It turns out a pack of enemies decided if they couldn’t kill Widow, they would brainwash her with this fake identity to remove her from the game.
Eventually, Natasha’s memories resurface, and she has to fake the deaths of her “family” to keep them safe. She’s now on the hunt to find those responsible.
It’s almost heartbreaking to see how close Natasha comes to finding true happiness before realizing her destiny is always to be a warrior.
Black Widow premieres in theaters and Disney+ on July 7.