'Black Widow': Scarlett Johansson's Successor Will Sustain the Spy Saga

It's time to meet Natasha's MCU succesor.

Inverse photo illustration

Part of the Marvel Studios Phase Four presentation at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend focused on the long-awaited, upcoming Black Widow solo movie.

Among the announcements pertaining to Black Widow was confirmation of the cast, which includes Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova (the second Black Widow in the comics), Rachel Weisz as Melina, and David Harbour as Red Guardian. Additionally, it was confirmed the Black Widow villain will be Taskmaster. The flashback film will take place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War in the MCU timeline.

The character of Black Widow has had an interesting arc in the MCU; fans don’t know too much about her within the confines of the movies and her forthcoming solo film will seek to rectify that.

The biggest question about Black Widow is just how Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff will hand over the Black Widow mantle to her successor, despite the fact that Romanoff is dead in the MCU’s present-day after Avengers: Endgame. Perhaps we’ll learn of some sort of Black Widow contingency plan in the movie, which opens in theaters on May 1, 2020.

Before we can even begin to consider how a new Black Widow will figure into the MCU, it’s probably best to discuss the history of the Black Widow name, Natasha and Yelena’s character biographies, and their relationship to the shadowy Red Room Academy.

Possible spoilers for Black Widow below.

Natasha Romanoff as Black Widow in 'Marvel's The Avengers'

Marvel Studios

Who Is Black Widow in Marvel Comics?

There are multiple Black Widows in the world of Marvel comics, but the most well-known of them all is Natalia Romanova, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff. Her character was first introduced into the Marvel comics canon in 1964 with Tales of Suspense #52 and her last appearance was in Secret Empire #17 in September 2017.

Natasha was born in the 1920s in Soviet Russia. She was orphaned after her mother threw her out a window to a Russian soldier, Ivan Petrovitch, after the building she and her mother lived in was set on fire. Ivan became a foster parent figure to Natasha. Ivan handed Natasha over to Department X, where they immediately funneled her into the Black Widow program. She grew up a trainee of the Red Room Academy, learned how to become a skilled fighter and spy.

By the time she was an adult, she was one of the most formidable assassins in the world. Natasha was never born with superpowers. Instead, she was genetically enhanced by those overseeing the Red Room Academy program in Soviet Russia. Those genetic enhancements, combined with extensive weapons and hand-to-hand combat training, helped mold her into the operative readers knew her as during her comics run. Natasha has also been subjected to the implantation of false memories at the hands of Department X and the KGB. At various points in her comics career, she has been both friend and foe to heroes including Iron Man, Daredevil, The Green Goblin, and many more.

Who Is Black Widow in the MCU?

Natasha Romanoff was first introduced as Black Widow in Iron Man 2 in 2010. In her first MCU film, it was established that Nat was working on behalf of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., commissioned to do recon of Tony Stark to see if he’d be a viable candidate for the Avengers initiative. Nat was able to show of her skills in hand-to-hand combat in Iron Man 2, further establishing her as a formidable MCU character even though she had no superpowers.

Nat’s importance in the MCU grew as time went on, with 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers confirming her as an integral member of the core Avengers team. In The Avengers, a scene between Nat and Loki clued audiences to her pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. past, which she hinted was full of actions she later regretted and was working to atone for. Audiences never knew what specifically Nat had done in the past that made her feel this way, but the implication is it was truly awful.

From The Avengers onward, Nat was utilized primarily as a clutch spy, fighter, and primary ally of Steve Rogers, standing by his side in MCU installments like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Nat’s story came to an end in the MCU in Avengers: Endgame, when she sacrificed herself on Vormir so Hawkeye could get the Soul Stone and bring it back to Avengers HQ as part of the bigger plan to defeat Thanos.

Nat’s death was a surprise blow to the Avengers, but it confirmed that she would no longer be part of the MCU in future phases (the one exception is her final appearance in Black Widow, which shows her at work, on her own, between Civil War and Infinity War).

Who Is Yelena Belova?

Yelena Belova was first introduced into the world of Marvel Comics in Inhumans Vol. 2 in March 1999 and ended her run in May 2018 with Tales of Suspense #103. Yelena’s early years, before she became a trainee of the Red Room Academy, are unknown. During her time in the Red Room, she had some of the highest test scores of any Black Widow operative, making her one of the best of the best in her group. She and Natasha have always had a tenuous alliance; at various points they were allies and at others, they would find themselves in opposition.

Yelena’s life in the world of Marvel comics is wild: On top of some truly bonkers missions, there are some standout arcs which have come to define Yelena. There was a brief time when Yelena left her life as a Black Widow behind, instead becoming a lingerie model and running a few softcore porn channels in Russia. She also worked to keep sex workers in places like Havana, Cuba, safe and did philanthropic work distributing medicine to those affected by the AIDS crisis. It seems very unlikely that this part of Yelena’s life will be incorporated into the MCU, based on the largely family-friendly themes in all the movies so far.

In one particularly bizarre and disturbing storyline, Yelena was kidnapped by Nick Fury and Natasha, and had her face surgically swapped with Nat’s. Yelena nearly went insane from the loss of her identity as she tried to live with Nat’s face. Nat later explained it was done in an attempt to convince her spies were not heroes and she was trained to be nothing more than a villain.

Yelena has spent most of her life in the comics working in opposition to the heroes we know and love. The Black Widow movie offers Yelena a new shot at playing the hero and rewriting some of her backstory to fit that.

Natasha and Yelena battle it out.

Marvel Comics

What Is the Red Room Academy?

As seen in the comics, the Red Room Academy was created by Department X (the covert Soviet agency who also created the Winter Soldier) with the intention of training a group of young women to become adept sleeper and deep cover agents. The Red Room is responsible for also working to physically enhance their Black Widow trainees in order to make them as powerful as possible short of having actual superpowers. The Red Room will likely figure into Black Widow as we learn more about Nat’s backstory and Yelena’s involvement in the film.

How Many Black Widows Are There?

Nat and Yelena are not the only Black Widows to exist in the comics or in the MCU. According to the comics, we know the Red Room trained at least 28 orphan girls to become Black Widow operatives who would later be sent on missions in China and the West, where they would live and work as sleeper or deep cover agents. Nat and Yelena are two of the most well-know Black Widow agents in the comics; this will soon be the case when Black Widow also arrives in theaters. It’s unclear if the MCU has plans to introduce any other Black Widow agents in addition to those who will be featured in the Black Widow movie, but it seems that’s now a possibility.

The last time we see Natasha as Black Widow is in 'Avengers: Endgame.' Who will be the next Black Widow?

Marvel Studios

Black Widow’s Future in the MCU

As Black Widow actor Rachel Weisz confirmed in an interview with IGN at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, there would be multiple Black Widows in the solo film. Here’s Weisz:

“There are quite a number [of them]. I’m a Black Widow and Scarlet and Florence [Pugh]. There are quite a lot of other characters that you meet who are also Black Widows.”

Weisz’s comments suggest the possibility of another Red Room agent taking up the mantle of “Black Widow” in future MCU films. Establishing the existence of multiple Black Widow assassins means one introduced during Black Widow — most likely Yelena — could surely appear in a future Avengers film and take over Nat’s role. Marvel Studios has yet to hint, let alone confirm, this theory. That said, what would the Avengers be without a Black Widow on deck to take care of business? The character will surely have to return, even if it’s a new Black Widow who steps into Nat’s shoes.

Black Widow arrives in theaters May 1, 2020.