Exciting news! I’m starting a new mini series of articles this week that focus extensively on one topic and one topic only: The Marvel Cinematic Universe vs. The Marvel Comics Universe. With so many films in the library we’re already seeing a wide divergence from the source material. Some of it is good and some of it is a jar of boiled monkey piss. Now I’m by no means a purist, the truncated origin stories for the Avengers have been some of the most spectacular stories ever told. But there are a few areas where changes were made that are a huge detriment to the characters of the cinematic universe. The change I’m going to talk about today is Black Widow’s love life.
This wouldn’t be a relevant topic had the internet not taken one look at “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” had thrown a fit. There were immediately people who threw up their hands and decried how Black Widow was written, her dependence on a man, her role being whittled down to simply girlfriend of an Avenger. It seemed that simply the idea of Black Widow in a romance was off kilter. To which I courteously respond: blow it out your ass. The idea that Black Widow is somehow diminished because she had done something so horrendous as fall in love is cuckoo banana pants crazy. Not only is love a great way to flush out a character but Black Widow has some of the most iconic romances in the Marvel canon.
Let’s take a look back shall we? It was the 1971 and Black Widow had recently had her first solo run ended. So where did she end up next? In the pages of Daredevil. That’s right, for a long time Matt Murdock and Natasha Romanoff were on again/off again. Sure their relationship might not have been substantive but the two of them had something special. Maybe the two of them weren’t for you though. That’s okay because she also had an iconic relationship with one of the most pivotal characters in Marvel, Bucky Barnes. Two super spies from Russia doing some “covert action” together if you know what I mean. Teaming up for some “stealth incursions”. Gearing up to “insertion behind enemy lines”. They liked to bang. But more than that they have one of the purest loves in the Marvel universe; a love that only two secret and disavowed brainwashed assassins could share.
Now I watched Age of Ultron and I can say Black Widow’s relationship with Bruce Banner didn’t feel at all far-fetched within the confines of the MCU. The thing is, because of the nature of the films, Natasha hasn’t been exposed to that many people, heroes or otherwise. For most of her life she has been an agent for the Soviet Union which she then traded in for S.H.I.E.L.D. and both of times she was a deep cover agent, covert and classified to only those in the highest positions of authority. So realistically, the number of people she has met and become familiar with are probably enough to count on one hand. Why wouldn’t she fall in love with Bruce Banner? He’s a swell guy. Not only is he one of the smartest Avengers but he is also genuinely one of the nicest, a trait that was only accentuated by the guilt he feels over the damage he causes. So we have a lonely super spy and a genuinely good guy, this is not hard to believe! Unfortunately the way Joss Whedon wrote their romance was one of the most ham fisted attempts I’ve ever seen, irreparably damaging the character.
Just so you know, I’m not the biggest Joss Whedon fan. I think Buffy was all right, Astonishing X-Men was good for two volumes until they fired off into space, and I’m glad Firefly exists but am more glad it only lasted a season. Here’s the problem with Joss Whedon, he shouldn’t be allowed to handle things for too long because he’ll pull a Lenny and pet them to death. And we see that same problem with Avengers. The first one was absolutely outstanding and knocked it out of the park. Number two… well, let me put it to you this way: if the Avengers movies were food the first one would be a delicious burger cooked to perfection and with a side of crispy fries to compliment the beef. The second movie would be a hastily written recipe for a lasagna scribbled on the back of a take-out menu. Case in point, the romance between Bruce and Natasha. As I established earlier, their romance doesn’t bother me—but what the shit is this about them both being monsters? When they are together on Clint’s farm, they have that heart to heart where Bruce reveals that he thinks he’s a monster—Gasp, shock, surprise. Natasha then counter reveals that she also feels like a monster and that he is the only one that can identify with her. Wrong!
Black Widow just burned through two hours and billions of defense spending dollars in Captain America: Winter Soldier fighting off the one guy that would understand every fucking thing she’s gone through. So now that Bruce and Natasha are broken up when she does get together with Bucky (because the Russo brothers are far more beholden to comic continuity) she gets to have that same exact connection with Bucky only now it is watered down quite a bit. That’s the thing about finding the only person in the world who understands what you’ve gone through; if you find them more than once then they’re not exactly the only person in the world. Why couldn’t she fall in love with Bruce because he’s a great guy? Valid reason. Plus, since Daredevil will never be able to afford an episode with Scarlett Johansson they don’t have to worry about stepping on Matt Murdock’s toes. But now, instead of allowing Natasha to choose something out of pure enjoyment, Joss Whedon has stolen the one thing about the romance between Natasha and Bucky that made it so powerful.
One of the things that’s not fun to address is how Joss decided on a whim that the KGB cut the uterus straight out of Black Widow. That in and of itself isn’t offensive—a little weird though considering both Bucky and Natasha were technically created and trained by Russia. Did they snip his balls to make sure he didn’t make any kids? Getting off topic. Anyway, the fact that she can’t have kids isn’t offensive. But then Joss made Natasha call herself a monster because she can’t have kids. What? You can write those words down on paper and not summon a demon to take you down to Hell. Bruce feels like a monster because he turns into a green rage machine and takes a bite out of a country’s GDP. Natasha feels like a monster because she can’t make babies? No! Even in the first movie, Natasha showed she had committed transgressions against the world and had to make up for them. That’s why she feels like a monster. If she had said she didn’t feel like a woman it would be fine. That is a perfectly reasonable thing for a character to feel, questioning what truly makes a person a woman. But for Black Widow to say she is a monster because she can’t have babies was incredibly sloppy by Joss Whedon.
There was a way that Bruce and Natasha could have worked. There was story reasons like that she could be the soothing force to calm the Hulk. There were also practical reasons because Universal Studios still owns all Hulk supporting characters and they needed a substitute for Betty Ross. But instead Joss Whedon acted like a drunk at a college party, vomiting over everything and leaving others to clean up his mess.