Here is the required post about the Avengers film, that Loki interrogation sequence, and themes of weakness, expectation, and vulnerability. When I say required, I mean everybody else is doing it, but that I will soldier on bravely, just like every other person on the internet in love with their own opinion.
So, Natasha’s most constant recurring themes are themes of control. Comic books are vast and largely un-sum-up-able, but every character has central metaphors that shine through multiple arcs and adaptations, and I think questions of control, questions of agency, are a huge part of her equation. Duane Swierczynski is the current writer on the DC series Birds of Prey, but he also did a run on Black Widow, and this is something he had to say about it:
From the very beginning, she had no say in her own destiny, which is a very noir, very dark kind of outlook on life. And yet, she fought back from that and has now taken her own life in her own hands again. I guess I respond to those kinds of characters. Characters that seem screwed, who are also talented but are put in a difficult position and who fight their way out of it. That’s what appeals to me about her. Despite the convoluted, difficult life, she’s come out on top. And now her mission, the way I see it, is that she wants to free other people from being controlled and used. That’s her thing, I believe, and why she is equally super hero as she is a spy.
Natasha is someone whose specific skillset was forced upon her, something beyond her immediate control, but it’s also the only means she has to take her own life back.
So here is a thing I’ve been wanting to talk about since I saw The Avengers and haven’t been able to because I was too busy writing we were emergencies: Natasha Romanov? Is terrified of the Hulk. Let me stop right here and address the comment I least want to receive in response to this statement, and, unfortunately, the comment I believe I am most likely to get:
- No she’s not, because that fear would make her less of a badass/Yes she is, and that fear makes her less of a badass/any permutation of the idea that being afraid of things somehow negates badassery:
What? No. Human beings are afraid of stuff, the end. It’s part of the human condition. People eat, sleep, breathe, shit, and fear things. Like, universally. Even Chuck Norris, wherever he may roam, has at least one thing that is his mental equivalent of something going bump in the night. Having fear is not a determinate of strength of character; how you handle that fear is. DONE.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s first establish how we know Natasha is afraid of the Hulk. There’s the scene in the helicarrier, yeah, definitely, where she tries to keep Bruce from Hulking and then has to deal with him while Hulked; then there’s the scene afterwards, where she is visibly freaking the fuck out until she stands up and goes to beat the brainwashing out of a close friend, and yep, that’s fear, no question. But, you know what, I’m pretty sure any reasonable human not-immortal-like-Thor person would be a little bit like HOLY SHIT THAT WAS TERRIFYING AS FUCK JESUS GOD in the wake of being the target of an indestructible giant green rage monster. So, really, I think the more telling scene in her reaction when Bruce screws with her at the beginning of the movie—the degree to which her reaction is visibly, palpably one of fear is something we’ve never seen from Black Widow. And it’s not because the Hulk has showed up; it’s because there’s been the suggestion that he might. Or, to be more accurate, it’s because she’s just watched what she thought was Bruce losing control.
Because that’s what this is about, guys; that’s what it’s always about, with Natasha. Go grab yourselves some artist formerly and currently known as Prince, because this is a story about control.
Seriously, there is something in her eyes behind that instantaneous control that is screaming silently. ScarJo’s performance is flawless.
I know this is the interaction where most people fell in love with Bruce’s character, but this is where I fell hard for Natasha. Because up to this point, yeah, she’s a cool-headed badass who can use other people’s assumptions about her femininity to bring them down, and that’s awesome. But when she’s faced with potential incoming Hulk, we get to see her screaming silently with terror and doing her job anyway.
This is the moment where I realized just how fucking impressive Natasha is. Look at the rest of her team: Hulk and Thor are invincible (or very nearly so), Cap’s protected by super strength, accelerated healing, and a shield, and Iron Man has a metal suit separating him from the outside world. Hawkeye is the only one near as vulnerable as Black Widow, and he prefers to pick his targets off from a distance. Black Widow puts herself right in the middle of the fray with no protection but ammo and a bodysuit. She’s capable of feeling just as much terror as the rest of us, and she does it anyway. That, to me, makes her both awesomely human and the biggest goddamn badass in the movie.
NOW WHERE’S OUR BLACK WIDOW MOVIE? I WANT TWO HOURS OF THIS PERFECTION IN MY EYES, STAT.