REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE BLACK WIDOW FIGURE
She's been a member of the short-lived super-team known as the Champions. She's been an off-again, on-again Avenger, including the team's leader at one point. And, thanks to her appearance in the Iron Man 2 movie, she's been raised to a level of prominence in the Marvel Universe that she arguably hasn't really had before.
Her name is BLACK WIDOW -- former Soviet super-spy, and she's a recent addition to the Marvel Universe line of 4" scale action figures from Hasbro. I was more impressed with the figure than I expected. So I decided to being her in to my admittedly rather limited collection of Marvel Universe figures. The day I found her, I assumed that she was a relatively scarce figures. And yet, I saw her a second time that day in another store, and then once more at a third store a couple of days later. I don't know what her availability will be by the time you read this review, but at least when I found her, she didn't seem to be nearly as scarce as one might have expected.
My familiarity with the Black Widow was somewhat limited, so I decided to do a little online research. The research actually turned up the Russian spelling of her name, which I can't really duplicate here, since I'm not sure that MasterCollector is set up with Cyrillic lettering. However, the English transliteration of her Russian name would be "Chyornaya Vdova". I think we'll stick with Black Widow, thanks much.
Black Widow's real name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova, although she generally uses a slightly Americanized version, Natasha Romanoff. She first appeared in Tales of Suspense #52, in April of 1964, and was created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck.
Tales of Suspense was the title which hosted Iron Man, and the Black Widow's first appearances were as a recurring, non-costumed Soviet spy antagonist against the armored Avenger. Her government supplied her with her first Black Widow costume and high-tech weaponry, but she eventually defected to the United States, becoming an ally of the Avengers before formally joining the team.
The Black Widow first appeared in her trademark all-black costume in Amazing Spider-Man #86, in July of 1970. She subsequently starred in her own series in the title Amazing Adventures, and later co-starred with Daredevil in his title, and then joined the Champions for their 17-issue run.
Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, Black Widow appeared frequently as both an Avengers member and a freelance agent of SHIELD, as well as starring in her own serialized feature within the title Marvel Fanfare, written by George Perez and Ralph Macchio, with art by Perez.
There have been other assorted appearances, limited series, specials, and whatever. Most recently, Black Widow has gained her own title, as of April 2010, due I suspect to her sudden rise in recognition in the Iron Man 2 movie.
As to her origins, Natasha was born in Stalingrad, Russia. She was trained by the Soviet government as a spy, martial artist, and sniper, and was outfitted with an arsenal of high-tech weaponry, including a pair of wrist-mounted energy weapons dubber her "Widow's Bite". She had no official costume in her earliest appearances, tending to wear evening wear and a veil. She eventually defected to the United States for various reasons, including her affection for the one-time criminal turned super-hero, Hawkeye.
Her parents were killed in a fire when she was a child. Early stories indicate that she was saved by a man named Ivan Petrovich, who raised her as a surrogate father. She is shown as a child in a flashback to 1941, in which Petrovich, Captain America, and the mutant Logan, better known as Wolverine, rescue her from Nazis.
A revised origin establishes her as being raised from early childhood by the USSR's "Black Widow Ops" program, rather than solely by Petrovich. With other young female orphans, she is trained in combat and espionage at the covert "Red Room" facility. There, she is biotechnologically and psycho-technologically enhanced, which accounts for her unusually long and youthful lifespan. Each Black Widow is deployed with false memories to help ensure her loyalty. Romanova eventually discovers this.
On her first mission to the United States, she and her partner Boris Turgenev were sent to America to assassinate Professor Anton Vanko and Iron Man. The pair battled Iron Man, and Boris stole and wore the Crimson Dynamo armor. Vanko killed himself and Boris to save Iron Man. Natasha later met the archer Hawkeye and set him against Iron Man. Hawkeye ultimately reformed and joined the Avengers.
Natasha later attempted to defect from the Soviet Union, and was wounded by a KGB agent. The KGB brainwashed her, and sent her along with two super-powered agents to battle the Avengers. Later still, she successfully defected to the United States, becoming an ally and member of the Avengers.
Later still, she began freelancing as an agent of the international espionage group known as SHIELD. She also operated as an independent super-hero alongside Daredevil, also developing a relationship with Daredevil's alter-ego, attorney Matt Murdock.
Following a breakup, Black Widow moved to Los Angeles and became leader of the newly created -- and short-lived -- super team known as The Champions, which consisted of herself, Hercules, Ghost Rider, and former X-Men Angel -- who bankrolled the group -- and Iceman.
As to the difference in her names, "Natasha" is considered an informal version of "Natalia", and the last name "Romanoff" is thought to be a private joke on those who are not aware that Russian family names use different endings for males and females (and apparently Stan Lee wasn't aware of it in 1964, but hey, back then, comics didn't tend to quibble over details like that too much...) She has been hinted to be a descendant of the destroyed Romanov family and a relation to Nicholas II of Russia.
Most recently, she has become a member of a covert ops wing of the Avengers, dubbed the Secret Avengers, recruited by Steve Rogers.
As to her powers and abilities, Black Widow is a world-class athlete and gymnast, expert martial artist (including karate, judo, aikido, savate, various styles of kung fu, and boxing), markswoman, and weapons specialist, as well as having extensive espionage training. She is also an accomplished ballerina.
The Black Widow uses a variety of equipment invented by Soviet scientists, with later improvements by SHIELD. He usually wears distinctive bracelets which fire the "Widow's Bite" energy blasts, as well as "Widow's Line" grappling hooks, and tear gas pellets. She wears a belt of metallic disc-charges containing plastic explosives. Her costume consists of synthetic stretch fabric equipped with micro suction cups on the fingers and feet, enabling her to adhere to walls and ceilings. Black Widow has been enhanced by biotechnology that makes her body resistant to aging and disease, and heals at an above-human rate.
So -- how's the figure? Really extremely impressive. I would readily rate this figure as distinctly above average in the Marvel Universe line.
Now, maybe it's because this is the first female figure I've picked up in the Marvel Universe line, but one thing I've especially noticed is that most of the really obvious articulation points that are featured in the line aren't nearly as obvious on the Black Widow. Her articulation is a little more limited, in that she lacks an upper arm swivel, but this isn't all that big of a deal. And the mid-torso articulation point has a -- how can I put this politely -- rather obvious dividing point, at least on the front of the figure.
Granted, not all designs in the Marvel Universe line are consistent. I took at look at three of the figures that I own -- Spider-Man, the AIM Soldier, and Deadpool -- and they have differences among themselves. Then there's the similarly scaled line based on Iron Man 2, and it has even more differences in design. However, I think it would be fair to say that the Black Widow figure is an extremely capably designed and articulated figure that takes the best possible advantage of her basic physical design insofar as incorporating the articulation points into that design.
Black Widow is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, double-jointed knees, and ankles. There are two unusual points here that I would like to address. It's very unusual for a 4" scale Hasbro figure -- and I'm talking Marvel, Star Wars, or G.I. Joe, to be articulated at both the mid-torso and the waist. Usually it's one or the other, and more often than not these days, it's the former. Black Widow has both. That's pretty impressive. Secondly, the leg articulation. Some Marvel Universe and especially Iron Man 2 figures have a rather curious leg articulation design that looks like a ball-and-socket design, but isn't quite, and unfortunately can be a little restrictive. Black Widow's leg design is far closer to that of the "T-hook" leg-design used on G.I. Joe figures, a sort of modified ball-and-socket, and it works exceptionally well on her, giving her legs an excellent range of motion without any odd quirks.
Most of the painted detail for Black Widow is on her face, as one would expect. The headsculpt for this figure is truly excellent. It looks like the character, the details are neat and precise, and the paint work is superb. I have to say that I can't imagine what it must take to get eye details painted with this sort of precision on such a small face. The eyes are about 3/32" across, and yet they include the whites of the eyes, blue irises, black pupils, and black eyelashes. Add to this narrow reddish-brown eyebrows, and red lipstick. All very neatly in place.
Black Widow's long, reddish-brown hair was sculpted as a separate piece, with considerable detail, and secured to the head. It has been molded from very flexible plastic, and doesn't hinder head movement in the least. If anything, it looks good regardless of which direction she turns her head.
Black Widow's costume is, obviously, not the most dynamic in the Marvel Universe, but Hasbro has done an excellent job of making it look cool nevertheless. Nearly the entire costume has been given a metallic blue-black sheen that really looks just outstanding. This comes to a stop at about boot level, and her boots appear to be straight black, even though there's no sculpted dividing line to delineate the boots themselves. It's a cool effect, really.
Black Widow has her expected wrist bands and belt. These are separately-molded pieces that were attached to the figure during assembly, and although they move freely, I don't believe they're intended to be removed. Both the wrist bands and the belt have been molded in a pale silver-gray. The wristbands are appropriately ridged, and the belt is comprised of a series of linked circles. The central circle has been given a Black Widow logo on it, painted black with the "hourglass" shape in the center painted red.
Black Widow comes with several accessories. One is a display base. Another is a rifle, which is an M-16 with an M-203 Grenade Launcher attached to it. If this thing wasn't brought over from somebody in the G.I. Joe line, I'd be stunned. It might seem unusual for a former Soviet agent to be using an M-16, but what the heck, she probably got it from SHIELD.
Then there's a little "Top Secret" envelope, that includes a trading-card-sized "file card". It has basic data on the Black Widow, including the fact, which wasn't revealed in my online research, that she can attribute some of her abilities to the fact that her biotechnological enhancements included a variant of the Super-Soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America!
There's also a nasty letter directed to Norman Osborn. Black Widow is from a series of figures that was released during a time in Marvel Comics when Osborn had taken over SHIELD, and renamed it HAMMER, and was running it to his own purposes as much as anything. The letter is from one of Osborn's scientists, who proposes that since they haven't had much luck extracting the Super-Soldier serum from samples they acquired from Captain America (presumably after his "death"), that they might be able to use the Black Widow instead -- not that she'd survive the process. Charming... Can't say I'm sorry that that particular storyline has come to an end in the comics.
One last note here. It's almost inevitable to ask how compatible Hasbro's various 4" scale lines are with each other these days. Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Marvel, Spider-Man, Iron Man... And given that the Black Widow does have military history, one might ask -- would she work with G.I. Joe? And I find that the answer is -- yes, definitely. She's a little too tall to work with the original-style figures, although she almost makes it here. She'd certainly work well alongside the modern-style figures, although there are some slight differences in construction, body proportion, and skin tone. But these are all relatively minor points. Anybody looking for a cross-concept team-up, here's someone that would work. Of course, how well she'd get along with Scarlett is anybody's guess. Don't get me started on the irony that in the Iron Man 2 movie, Black Widow was played by Scarlett Johansson...
So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. The Black Widow is easily one of the finest figures to come out of the Marvel Universe line. Excellent design, well-made, well-articulated, looks great. It's an extremely effective rendition of someone who has not really been a major player, but who I suspect is finally going to get some time in the spotlight because of her presence in the Iron Man sequel. That will carry over to the comics, and it has certainly carried over to the action figure world. There's reportedly a movie-based Black Widow figure in the works, but it's going to have a ways to go to match how cool this comics-based Black Widow figure is.
The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of BLACK WIDOW definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!