While Black Widow fans await Yelena Belova’s MCU debut, the comics have now effectively shaped her into a more formidable hero than Natasha Romanoff.
Spoilers ahead for Widowmakers: Red Guardian and Yelena Belova #1
Ahead of her MCU debut, the second Russian spy known as the Black Widow, Yelena Belova has been granted the Marvel comic spotlight, with her latest development showcasing the extent of her heroism. But Yelena hasn’t always been considered a hero. Unlike Natasha Romanoff, Yelena’s path to redemption has been a winding, fork-riddled road.
While Natasha joined S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers after realizing her skills as a living weapon were being utilized for all the wrong reasons, Yelena’s overcoming of her KGB overlords didn’t immediately result in her jumping to the side of “good.” Over the years, as she’s tried to find her own atonement, she’s fought both for and against Natasha and her super-powered teammates. But now, it seems that Yelena’s finally found a method for making the world a better place, and it puts Natasha’s personal approach to shame.
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It all begins in Widowmakers: Red Guardian and Yelena Belova #1 by Devin Grayson and Michele Bandini, when Yelena accepts a top-secret mission from an extremely wealthy one-percenter named Justin Cask. Yelena knows before even the reader does that Cask is a corrupt tycoon using her as a pawn, but to know how to bring him down, she must play along. Cask sends Yelena to an Antarctic prison where she’s tasked with rescuing a man named Doctor Durst. Only, upon arrival, Yelena discovers Durst is in no need of saving, as he’s the prison’s warden. The Black Widow was sent as nothing more than a skilled opponent for testing his men’s abilities.
From here, Yelena uses every accessory in the spy handbook to escape the trap she walked so freely into. From her debilitating Widow’s Bite to cyanide spray canisters, the white-cladded assassin fights tooth and nail out of the prison and back to freedom. Only now, Yelena concocts the perfect way to repay her no-good employer Cask. While Natasha, or most other superheroes for that matter, would resort to beating, threatening or turning Cask over to the authorities at this point, Yelena opts for a more creative approach. She uses her expertise as a spy to redistribute Cask’s immense personal fortune into mega-donations for numerous charities. As Yelena puts it, “How do you destroy small handful of people who rule world… You make them heroes!“
Yelena’s latest stride to make the world a better place takes precedence over Natasha’s thanks to its permanence and avoidance of any bloodshed. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of broken limbs and bodies left behind in the prison trap she escaped from (a trained-to-kill assassin’s gotta do what she’s gotta do), but Yelena’s final checkmate displays a maturity rarely seen from her superhero counterparts. While wealth inequality continues on as a very real world issue, it becomes harder to imagine the Avengers beating down and throwing an elite billionaire like Cask in prison would actually bring about any positive change.
In a rigged system, he’d simply buy his way out of confinement and return worse than ever. Yelena’s move is so genius because it manages to put Cask in a corner by manipulating his public image, thus turning him into a hero. And since appearances are everything in Cask’s world, he’ll have no choice but to go along with the charitable persona Yelena’s bestowed upon him. While Natasha joined the Avengers to wipe out the red in the Black Widow‘s ledger, Yelena’s now made the insignia more worthy of the term “hero” than ever before.
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