PREVIOUSLY, IN COMICS 101: When last we left our history of Marvel’s Black Widow, she’d made the journey from Soviet spy to super-villain to Avengers associate, and even been a card-carrying Avenger fir about an hour and a half before leaving the team once more to return to the West Coast and her relationship with Daredevil. And when that didn’t work out, where would Natasha go then? Read on…
We catch up with Natasha in the first issue of THE CHAMPIONS (October 1975), when she finds herself unexpectedly teamed up with ex-Avenger Hercules, ex-X-Men Angel and Iceman and demon biker Ghost Rider on a visit to the UCLA campus, as they try to stop the Greek God Pluto from kidnapping the goddess Venus.
Seriously, that’s what’s going on here.
In this motley crew of super-types, the Black Widow swiftly finds herself being the voice of reason, which is certainly something new:
In fact, before too long, Natasha has become the team’s de facto leader:
And even better, no one seems to mind:
Not everyone is a fan of Natasha joining up with these new “Champions,” however; her pal from the old country, Ivan, is quite the Russian buzzkill on the subject:
And even though it’s the Angel who’s footing the bills for this new super-team, he’s got very definite ideas about who should be in charge:
And luckily, Hercules agrees:
The Widow’s past would come back to haunt her when she and Ivan would be hunted by one of her old KGB intelligence trainers, a man known as Bruskin, or “The Commissar!”
Don’t turn around, uh-oh. Der Commissar’s in town, uh-oh. Soon, the Widow, Ivan and the Commissar are all in turn hunted by the Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo, Soviet armored types, with the Dynamo armor now being piloted by Ivan’s son, Yuri Petrovitch. All of a sudden it’s raining Russkies in THE CHAMPIONS.
Eventually the Champions (with new recruit Darkstar, another Russian émigré) drive off the Crimson Dynamo, though the team seems a little worse for wear, thanks in part to the Widow’s secretive nature.
The team even starts to bristle at Natasha’s leadership, though there’s certainly not a better alternative in this bunch:
Before too long, the team falls apart and disbands permanently, with Natasha not taking it too well, in a really out-of-character moment:
Even weirder, Natasha is taking off with Hercules, which really makes no sense (although it’s funny that, from the dialogue, it seems like the Widow is already planning her eventual breakup with Herc…):
The Black Widow just kind of bounced around the Marvel Universe for the next decade or so, occasionally making guest appearances in books like DAREDEVIL, CAPTAIN AMERICA or MARVEL FANFARE, but never being much in the spotlight until the ’90s, when she had her first prolonged stint as an Avenger on a team with the Black Knight, Sersi, Crystal, Hercules and the Vision. This was not a well-loved period for Avengers comics, and it doesn’t really hold up well today, especially with their matching leather jackets and all. (I mean, really. The Black Knight is wearing a leather jacket over chain mail and plate armor.)
And by the way, the Widow’s own look isn’t much better:
The Widow didn’t really get a higher profile again in the Marvel Universe until after the events of CIVIL WAR, when she began to be much more involved in both Avengers and SHIELD operations across a variety of books (and not coincidentally was returned to her much superior older costume). And now with her movie-star status thanks to IRON MAN 2 and THE AVENGERS, it’s hard to find a Marvel comics that doesn’t have the Widow in it these days, including her brand-new and critically acclaimed solo series from Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto. And that ain’t bad at all.