…Logan’s parentage?

Followers of this blog may recall its first big success back in January 2013 when it recruited as a guest contributor comics’ royalty, Paty Cockrum, member of Marvel’s bullpen and wife of the late legendary creator of the All-New, All-Different X-Men Dave Cockrum.  This time around the proverb “good things come to those who wait” has finally come true for this blog, with Nate recently having the ridiculous good fortune to speak exclusively with the Godfather of The X-Men, Chris Claremont, over many elements of his original, seventeen year run . The following essay represents his thoughts on yet another of his dropped stitches, the true parentage of Logan, the mutant known as Wolverine.

I wouldn’t want to in this particular instance.  That is, as long-time readers of this blog will know, I am a Claremont-purist.  So for the remainder of this blog post I will attempt to highlight how Chris’s explanation for who he intended Logan’s parents to be, more specifically his biological mother, was RIGHT THERE during his original run… and yet no X-fan saw it, but how in the hell did they MISS it?

In Chris’s conception, Wolverine is, in many respects, the anodyne of what Charles Xavier preaches to the student X-Men.

He is not a natural-born man of honour, he is not a non-violent person.  He is significantly older than all of the other X-Men, he has a life experience that is unlike any of theirs, and in terms of his inherent character, he is fundamentally, and continually, in conflict with himself.

Chris Claremont’s evolution of who and what Wolverine is, and where he came from, is substantially different from what evolved into traditional Marvel origin tropes. To Chris, he is a man in conflict with himself by virtue of the fact that half of his persona, and his physical abilities, are derived from his father, i.e. Sabretooth, and half is defined from his mother who in his conception was the fallen angel, Seraph, who ran the Princess Bar in Madripoor.

From that you have the reason why he is significantly height-challenged compared to Sabretooth…

…but also why, in Chris’s presentation of the character, every year on his birthday Sabretooth shows up and basically kills him… since from Sabretooth’s perception, this is a rite of passage.

Figure 03_WLV10p19

He’s totally aware of the reality, i.e. Logan has a healing factor that is as ruthlessly efficient as Sabretooth’s own.  So when one says Sabretooth kills him, he gets better and Sabretooth knows this.  But from his perception,

“If you’re my son, then the only way you get to be ‘top dog’ in the ‘pack’ is by getting rid of ‘the top dog in the pack,’ which is me.  And until you can do that, I’m not going to give you any respect…especially if you refuse to do that.”

And it’s even from Sabretooth’s perception Logan is even more of a blot on the family escutcheon because, not simply because of his height and his flawed attitude, i.e. a sense of morality, but also because he’s a cyborg thanks to the Weapon X foolishness.  He has adamantium-laced bones, he has the adamantium claws, so as far as Sabretooth’s concerned, Logan is broken goods.

From Logan’s perspective, he is torn between the half of his persona that is derived solely from his father, which is he’s a kick-arse hellraiser, i.e. if you look at any room he lives in, half of it is a total shithole and the other half derived from his perception of fulfilling his mother’s aspect of his persona, i.e. in him it’s epitomised by the essence of Japanese/ samurai culture, is almost a perfect symmetry of form and substance.  It is simple, it is unique, it is clean, it is essential…

…and that’s the battle that is always going on with him.  There is a part of him that always wants to be the passionate, but honourable, mate of Mariko Yashida, but the other half of him is even more passionately bound to Phoenix, or more importantly Dark Phoenix.  He wants to tear the Omniverse to shreds because that’s the way to win his lady’s heart…

…and he is constantly in conflict… and it drives him absolutely fucking crazy… which is about as brilliant a presentation for a character in a melodramatic setting like the X-Men as one could get.

So everything, for Chris at least, defining about Wolverine is the two aspects of his life are his past, in terms of the details of his past, who he is and where he came from, he doesn’t care, from Chris’s way of thinking, he has no interest in his origins, he knows his origins.  As far as where the claws came from, the fact that he doesn’t know doesn’t bother him, they’re here… he will deal with it. He isn’t interested in getting revenge, unless of course the person who did it is doing it to other people… if a person indeed did it.  His focus is on the present and what is yet to be, getting in this instance the X-Men and by extension the New Mutants and all the students associated with Xavier at the school ready for whatever will come at them down the pike.  But aside from that, he is not that concerned.  Part of that is solipsism on Chris’s part; basically he did not trust himself to come up with an origin that was so unbelievable… and unique… and absolutely kick-arse… that he wanted to risk it.  And the other half of Chris was even if he did come up with that, in ten years it would be stale and someone would want to change it.

Chris’s pitched Dark Wolverine Saga, where he would have the Hand turning Logan into their assassin, was a feint.  That is, Chris intended to reveal that the Hand were not interested in Logan except as a lure to reel in Jean, knowing that if he was needing rescuing she would be the one who would come after him…

…and then they would have Dark Phoenix and finally cut her lose.

But the kicker… this was the Shadow King’s plan.

That is, he was responsible for shaking up the Club and coordinating a more ruthless Inner Circle, Matsu’o his agent to use the Hand to put this plan into play.

As for Kitty, she is the next best thing to Logan’s daughter, she came in part to be because of him and was intended by him to become the inheritor of everything scary about Wolverine…

…including his immortality… the consequences of which would come down the line (the background to this being that the Shadow King came to learn her connection in Madripoor and this was behind him fading, not into the background, but cross-time where he manipulated others to his “cause” with the intention of using them to corrupt her – his big clue to us re: this was Sat-Yr-9, in guise of our Courtney…

…joining the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle).

The above all leads to a number of questions, including:

1. If Logan besmirched the “family escutcheon”, this mean his father(Sabretooth)’s side of the family had a coat-of-arms which suggests they are of noble lineage, and not too far back if Sabretooth is directly aware of this… and a family that believed morality to be a weakness/ flawed attitude.  So just where does this family come from?

Baron Strucker came from a line of Prussian noblemen.  He led the Death’s Head Squadron, first mentioned in Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos #5, but not SEEN UNTIL, yes, Chris’s Uncanny X-Men #268.  Although an S.S. division, they operated independently from the Reich, following only Baron Strucker’s orders, and were the ones shown in pursuit of young Natalia Romanova.  In that particular issue they were killed by Seraph, Madripoor’s self-appointed guardian.  The Death’s Head originated with pirates, e.g. the Jolly Roger, but there was also a Prussian version which had the crossbones behind the skull. Wolfgang came from a long line of Struckers who were all military leaders cut from the same cloth…

…a family that believed morality a weakness/ flawed attitude. So did Logan besmirch the Strucker escutcheon? Seraph went out of her way to shoot the Death’s Head Squadron. Hmm, interesting…

2. If Seraph was a “fallen angel” (and Chris insists this wasn’t a metaphor), what led to her fall?

How interesting is it that her son is destined to partner with the corrupted Phoenix, when the Second Book of Enoch denotes the Seraphim as the Phoenix, “flying elements of the Sun”.

3. There’s also the question of how Seraph came to meet Sabretooth?

Marvel Comics Presents #2 revealed the woman on David Chapel’s pendant, which he gave to Wolverine in the Australian desert, as the woman for whom the Princess Bar was named (at the time it seemed to be Jessan Hoan but at this point she had not long migrated there – given the later revelation in Wolverine #126, it was obviously Seraph).

Before she built the Princess Bar, Seraph met Sabes in Canada, had some fun, even worked together for a time as circuits clicked and emotions heated up between them. One thing led to another and they had a child (i.e. Logan). Early on he had been a proper rotter – think the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas…

… – leading to major conflict between the two of them.  Seraph hit the road to put some necessary distance between herself and Sabes while she figured out where to go from there.  To his surprise as much as hers, Sabes felt a connection with Logan so remained back to continue raising Logan.  Seraph went on to settle in Madripoor, it turning out to be the sole place in Earth where she felt safe (which of course makes one wonder what-who she might be afraid of).

4. Had a Princess ruled Madripoor before Prince Baran…

…and Seraph built the Bar on her behalf? Or did Seraph institute herself as reigning princess of the island of thieves?

This might explain why Viper felt it important to institute herself in that position.  That is, by marrying the son of Seraph…

…she believed she had inherited the title.

That means Logan is entitled to the position of Prince of Madripoor, and Sabretooth perhaps King of Madripoor.

If Wolverine wants the title of King, he will have to kill Sabretooth;)

5. What or who might Seraph be afraid of?

Well if she had been an Angel, but had lost her celestial attributes, does this mean she had been a member of Lucifer’s host who all “fell” after banishing the N’Garai from Earth (cf. Marvel Preview #7)?  Given the Camarilla of the N’Garai wished to punish Satana as revenge on her father, the seraph, Lucifer, for his role in their banishment from Earth…

…did the demons similarly have their agents after Seraph? I can see it now while she is working in the Kluane, the N’Garai curse that was the Wendigo in pursuit of her, leading to a showdown between the creature and Sabretooth.

Or did she seek Sabretooth out because she heard of his power and perhaps thought by having a child with him she could raise a champion to defeat the N’Garai?

Post-script: In X-Men #98, one of Stephen Lang’s technicians comments on the odd readings they get from Wolverine, suggesting he was not a full-fledged mutant.

Figure 17a_UXM98p12

In Wolverine: Wizard Tribute Edition (1996), Dave Cockrum claims the original intention for this throwaway line inserted by Chris Claremont was due to his intention to reveal Logan to be an actual wolverine who was mutated by the High Evolutionary (an idea nixed by Stan Lee but later picked up for Spider-Woman’s origin).  When John Byrne replaced Cockrum as artist on X-Men, he recalled the plot dangler so made the suggestion that it could be resolved by revealing Sabretooth as Logan’s biological father and that because he was also a mutant, that the mutation had bred true so Wolverine was actually the first of a new species, and that’s why it confused the technician. However, Byrne ended up off the book before the actual idea got implemented and Claremont seemingly never got to actually do it despite many a hint he dropped with regard to Sabretooth being Logan’s father… or so we thought.  That is, with the above-noted groundwork of Seraph as Logan’s biological mother being laid down, Lang’s technicians comments would have come full circle in that the odd readings he got from Wolverine would be explained by the fact that in addition to inheriting the mutant gene from his father, he carried the DNA of a fallen angel (i.e. Seraph).  And so, a forty-year plot dangler is finally resolved.

…Black Widow’s unusually youthful lifespan?

A year after the Communists rejected Nixon’s Five-Point Peace Plan for Southeast Asia and Matt Damon’s birth, Brian C. Saunders was born to redress the balance. Regrettably, the infant failed to stop either the Vietnam conflict or Matt Damon’s career.  For his sins, he was punished with enrolment in US public education and, addled with lack of knowledge, went on to public university for good measure. During this time, he filled his hours with drugs, alcohol and sex with women comic books!, which filled his days with a warm and happy glow. Many careers later, he writes for the public good, using facts and avoiding social media for information or human interaction.  You who read this are welcome.

Natalia Alianovna “Natasha” Romanov, aka the Black Widow, was at a bit of a crossroads in 1990.  That’s when she unexpectedly appeared in one of the most popular issues of the Uncanny X-Men, #268, written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Jim Lee.

figure-01_uxm268At the time, for anyone who had been reading comics for over five years, it would have come as no surprise to see the late 20’s Black Widow turning out to have known Wolverine since her childhood since by that stage, the trope of Wolverine already knowing everyone who turned up in his path had become an entrenched part of the character.

figure-02a_mfan24_loganfuryfigure-02b_uxm228_gyrichWhat would have confused readers, though, is the fact that Uncanny #268 depicts Natasha as a young child in World War II, almost 50 years before the present of the issue’s main story.

figure-03a_uxm268So what sort of perspective might Chris Claremont have had to account for the Black Widow’s apparent lack of aging?

Readers would sadly never find out, since while the September 1990 dated issue of Uncanny X-Men #268 raises the question, it never provides an answer, and Claremont is booted off the title before having an opportunity to follow the story up at a later date.

“Madripoor Knights” is very much a Wolverine story.  It is early in Captain America’s career, in “Late-Summer 1941” that he engages ninjas (genin field agents) of the Hand on the streets of Madripoor to rescue Ivan Petrovich.

figure-03b_uxm268Both men are hard pressed to overcome the tide of battle against them, when Logan (the character we are to know as Wolverine) appears, turning the tide in Cap and Ivan’s favour.  After the fight, Logan takes the two men to a local establishment, Seraph’s Bar, where Logan and Cap are briefed by Ivan on his mission and Logan narrowly avoids causing a bar fight with Baron von Strucker and his Nazi aide.

Natasha Romanov has been captured by Strucker to be delivered to the Hand.  The Hand has identified her as gifted with extraordinary aptitude for the martial arts, and means to begin her indoctrination into their organisation.

figure-03c_uxm268The men rescue Natasha but lose Logan, and instead of returning to the bar they go to the local American Consul, who, turning out to be a fascist loyal to the Nazis, promptly delivers them back to Strucker and the Hand.  Only Logan’s return to the conflict halts the ritual death of Ivan and Cap by a blade wielded by the Hand-entranced Natasha.  Freed to act, together the three men defeat Strucker and the Hand, and Logan sees to the safe return of all involved to their respective countries.

In the present of the story, Natasha, as the Black Widow, is surveilling the sibling group Fenris: Andrea and Andreas von Strucker, mutant children of the abovementioned Baron.  She falls prey to Hand field agents under the command of the evil organisation’s new jonin, Matsuo Tsurayaba, but is rescued by Wolverine, Jubilee and Psylocke who are on the run and searching for the missing X-Men. Upon her recovery, Natasha hugs her “Little Uncle”, Logan, and expresses concern at his debilitated state.  After briefing them, Logan and Natasha draw comparisons with their previous encounter almost 50 years ago to a dismayed Jubilee’s shock.

figure-03d_uxm268Natasha and the X-Men find an informant who gives up a meet location for Fenris and Matsuo. The location turns out to be a sham with decoys, and the villains themselves drink a toast to their victory from a safe, alternative location.

To understand this curious story requires a little history of Marvel itself.  Established in 1961, the Marvel Universe was born piecemeal from characters created in the late 1930’s and 40’s such as Captain America.  Steve Rogers was created in fact early in the year of 1941, a year partially known for fighting in Europe and sabre-rattling from the Pacific.  Nazi political interference with Jews in Germany had by this point become rumors of Ghettos and disappearing of Jewish citizens under German political influence.  These rumors of later proven fact became the impetus that Captain America was created out of, and Marvel had a patriotic Nazi fighter all ready when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Captain America would go on to return again and again after the war in Marvel’s publishing history, but it was only in Avengers #4 in 1963 that Steve Rogers would return to ongoing publication.  Not long after, 1964 to be precise, the Black Widow was created.  She was a secret agent for the USSR who bedeviled Iron Man…

figure-04a_tos52…a Cold War femme fatale who seduces the unaware Hawkeye into supporting her missions against the USA.

figure-04d_tos57In a few years, she has defected to the West, gotten a makeover as a superhero and uses her Soviet training and “Widow Sting” equipment to fight for the Avengers…

figure-05_avengers-30_-1st-widows-sting…go on to work for the Western-based spy organization, SHIELD…

figure-06_avengers-38_-1st-mission-for-shield…and date Daredevil.

figure-07_daredevil-84_1st-dateAt this time, some background started to be established for the Black Widow.  She acquired a chauffeur who apparently had a long standing relationship with Natasha and he rescued her from her bombed house in Stalingrad during WWII.

figure-08b_daredevil-88_ivan-rescues-natThen, in Daredevil #102, Chris Claremont went on to establish two things about the Black Widow.  Her middle name was Alianovna.  Russian middle names are patronyms which means the name is a version of their father’s first name.  So Natasha’s father is named Alian Romanoff.

figure-09_daredevil-102_1st-alianovnaThe second thing was that in the omnipotent captions, she is referred to as a Tsarina, which means “Empress Queen”.

figure-10_daredevil-102_1st-tsarinaAs Natasha is called Princess throughout Uncanny #268…

figure-11_uxm268_tsarina…Claremont is clearly implying that Natasha is in fact the last surviving heir to the Russian monarchy and Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias!

figure-12_uxm268_last-surviving-heir-of-the-russian-monarchyBut by 1990, Madame Romanoff would have been well over 50 years the age that she was depicted in 1990.  In 1964, this would have not been a problem.  In 1990, though, she was still a clearly young woman and always had been.

figure-13_uxm268_over-50-years-oldAt this point, it is necessary to remember that the Marvel Universe has a compressed time line.  Though most of it has been depicted beginning from 1967, in fact, the compression means that working backward from the present (currently early 21st Century, the beginning of the modern Marvel Universe, Fantastic Four #1, takes place in the early 2000’s and not 1961.  However, characters tied into fixed events, such as the Cold War or World War II, require explanations to orient the reader into how they can exist in the endless present of the Marvel Universe.  For instance, Captain America, fell into suspension animation towards the end of WWII until he awoke in Avengers #4.  But the Black Widow, a WWII child survivor, had no ready reference for her youth.  How could this be?

Some real word history is called for at this point.  During the Russian Civil War, the ruling monarchy was killed.

figure-14a_-colour-restored-picture-of-romanov-familyAmong them was Grand Duchess (or Princess) Anastasia, about whom rumors persisted throughout the 20th Century to the extent that she had survived and escaped.

figure-14b_grand-duchess-princess-anastasiaSeveral women claimed to be the surviving Anastasia, but none were accepted as such in their lifetimes and have since been disproven upon the discovery of the real Anastasia’s grave and subsequent DNA testing.

However, we are talking about the Marvel Universe, which can diverge from ours in subtle ways.  Anastasia was born in 1901.  Natasha Romanoff would have been born in the mid-to-late 1930’s.  It is possible she could be the daughter of Anastasia, if her mother had survived and stayed in Stalingrad and married a man named Alian Romanoff.  This seems unlikely to me as the Secret Police would never have countenanced the existence of a Royal Heir surviving or furthering the line.  The real Anastasia and her family were executed to prevent any threat to the dominance of the Communist Party’s control on the new government.  Moreover, none of the women who claimed to be Anastasia did so within the USSR, but safely in foreign countries far away.  It’s therefore very unlikely the real Anastasia could have lived in open sight in Stalingrad until World War II.

So how could Chris Claremont have reasoned this?

Natasha survived the destruction of her own home during the Battle of Stalingrad which took place from August 23, 1942 to February, 2 1943.  We know this because she told this to Viper in Marvel Team-Up #85.

figure-15_marvel-team-up-85-p13She could only safely exist in her homeland if all the ruling Romanoffs were believed dead.  But, what if there was a heretofore unknown infant born just before the February Revolution?  Conceived and born in secret because of the impeding revolution, this boy would have been the last hope for Nicholas II to continue the Romanoff house and restore the monarchy.  He could not remain in St. Petersburg, but was removed by a trusted retainer to the city of Stalingrad, where he could be raised in safety.  Nicholas II gives his lastborn son Alian Romanoff to his trusted retainer, Ivan Petrovitch.  Petrovitch raises the young Alian in a house purchased with what would be his family inheritance and there, Alian would grow to manhood, being trained by Ivan and study, waiting for the opportunity to regain the throne. Alian marries and the union produces Natasha, who is naturally athletic.  As World War II commences, Alian and his wife allow Natasha to train in ballet.  Her ballet performances expose the child’s prowess to the local martial arts community, resulting in her abduction by the Hand.  Unwilling to alert the Russian authorities, Ivan is enlisted to undertake the mission to save Natasha.  Alian’s wealth has allowed him to make contacts with foreign governments such as the USA, who are very interested when the heir to Russia’s throne asks for help and send their top asset, Steve Rogers as Captain America to Madripoor to meet Ivan, thus setting the stage for a young Steve Rogers to meet Logan and rescue Natasha.

In 1990, it had been many years since Black Widow’s WWII history had been referenced and many political changes had befallen the relationship with East and West since.  It was a shock to see it thoroughly and somewhat definitely referenced.  The floating timeline of the Marvel Universe wherein all present day issues took place in a past circa some eight to nine years since Fantastic Four #1 meant that the Black Widow’s childhood, fixed in WWII made her older than her apparent age.  While her present day adventures could be compressed, her past expanded as her meeting Wolverine and Captain America, and presence at the battle of Stalingrad locked her origins much the same way as Captain America and the Sub-Mariner’s were.  Steve Rogers was in a state of suspended animation until Avengers #4, Namor is a hybrid with an enhanced lifespan.  How does the Black Widow, a human peak athlete remain so?

The answer, I posit, lies in Claremont’s Spider-Woman #42, “The Judas Man.”

figure-16a_spider-woman-42_the-judas-manMichael Kramer has disappeared and daughter Pamela hires Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman to find him.  Michael is on the run from Viper and Silver Samurai.  Viper has gotten the catalyst for a virus that’s 99% fatal to all human beings.  In 1944, Kramer and his fellow American servicemen went down behind enemy lines, only to end up implanted with the deadly virus by the Red Skull.  The virus, dubbed the Judas Plague, required genetic modification to create immune plague carriers for distribution of the agent.  The antidote for the plague is generated via human reproduction by the “Judas Men”: their children will be born with the mutated matrix that will provide the antidote.  However, Captain America and Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes destroyed the lab and all the research…

figure-16b_sw42_recap…except for the catalyst which was later found.  The sole survivor of the Judas Plague experiment, Michael escaped, and hid.  He also gained extended longevity…

figure-16c_sw42_michael-kramer-longevity…and his virus was discovered to have mutated into an inert form after Spider-Woman defeated Viper and Samurai’s plot.

figure-16d_sw43_michael-kramers-virus-discovered-to-be-inertIn 1945, we know victorious Russian forces in Germany took resources and assets from the conquered country as reparations for the War.  As part of this process, it is likely the Russians would have been instructed to collect any scientific research or seize sites of laboratories.  Although Fury and Captain America reported the Judas Plague research destroyed, the report was obviously not entirely accurate, given Michael Kramer’s status and the catalyst’s destruction given Viper’s later obtaining of it?

Jessica Drew recounts in Spider-Woman #43 that the Judas Plague was “required reading” for all Hydra agents.

figure-17a_sw43_jessica-recalls-judas-plague-knowledge-from-hydra-trainingViper, having likewise been a Hydra recruit, would have likely known about the site of the experiment and that Fury’s report was inaccurate.

figure-17b_sw42_viper-knew-furys-report-was-inaccurateIt stands to reason, then, that acquiring the Plague was an operational goal for Hydra, so at some point, Hydra got the catalyst from the Russians and Viper later stole it from Hydra.

But what were the Russians doing with it for so long?

By the late 40’s, early 50’s, Natasha Romanoff would have been identified as a prime candidate for espionage.  Instead Natasha was allowed to be a ballerina…

figure-18a_dd104_bolshoi-ballet…and marry Alexei Alanovich Shostakov, a top pilot for the Soviet military.

figure-18b_avengers-44_bw-married-soviet-military-pilot-alexei-shostakovAfter she was told he was killed (in reality, Shostakov was in training as the Red Guardian) she volunteered and trained for the KGB.

figure-18c_avengers-44-flashbackThe aptitude for martial arts that the Hand had seen in 1941 would have been manifest and she would have been trained in those arts and spy craft to serve the USSR.  As a Hand candidate for Master Assassin, she would have been top in her class and a prime asset.

figure-18d_dd88_bw-married-soviet-military-pilot-alexei-shostakovAs the Red Guardian, Alexei would have been a public figure, a role model to rally Soviet patriotism in the public and inspire fear of the strength of Russian might in the world.

figure-18d_avengers-44-red-guardian-projectThis did not happen because of his apparent death after Avengers #44 and the length of his experiment, which displayed considerable flaws such as his psychological volatility and his willingness to die to save the embodiment of Soviet Russia’s arch-rival.

figure-18d_avengers-44-flashbackHad that not happened, however, he would have been an individual of considerable influence according to Soviet planning.

I would further posit, therefore, that the Soviet government could not allow either Natasha or Alexei such unchecked influence.  Thus, both of them married and were subsequently separated for training alone.  The KGB by this time would have found the surviving German scientists of the Judas Plague experiment site.  Natasha was then subjected to a KGB-run Judas Plague experiment as the agency’s scientists would have deemed her likely to survive and then used as a spy. Natasha would assume the code name of the project, “Black Widow,” although she would be likely be unaware of the actual project or her status as a vector of a plague that could virtually depopulate the planet.  At the time that Alexei completed his training, Natasha would have been reunited with him.

figure-18f_natasha-and-alexeiAnd with that reunion, Alexei would be exposed to the plague, it likely being a sexually transmitted disease, and thereafter he could be deployed in the field with full confidence, either under Natasha’s influence as a loyal wife and operative or blackmailed with his life should he turn against the motherland.  He would serve as public relations at home and at the forefront in the Rodina’s military defense.

However, it obviously took much longer for Alexei to complete his “training.”  The Marvel compressed timeline meant that when Natasha was told Alexei was “dead” in the flashback in Avengers #44…

figure-18c_avengers-44-flashback…she spent decades believing he was dead.  During this time, the Red Guardian project crawled on.  Obviously inspired by the West’s Super Soldier Project, the Soviets’ process was flawed, with Alexei being endowed with superior strength, but a volatile psyche.  These setbacks might have required lengthy periods of mental conditioning, revealing the Super Soldier longevity effect.  Being the first operational asset, any other subjects of the project were likely driven insane if they survived the physical and psychological trauma of the incomplete chemical and radiological procedure.  Alexei’s personality was so altered, Natasha perceived little of the man she loved.  It’s likely he was brainwashed repeatedly in an effort to restore his sanity and bring him to operational readiness.  By the time he was, Natasha’s Judas Plague infection, like Michael Kramer’s, would have been found inert.  Well before then, she would have noticed her own longevity via the Judas Plague process and found out about what happened to her.  She would have been about 40 some years old and although youthful, she would have also realized she was infertile from the Judas Plague treatment (designed for men, I have to assume it wouldn’t be good for a woman’s reproductive ability).  This would have been another factor leading to her eventual defection to the West.

Without either Natasha or the Judas Plague, the Red Guardian project would have needed another control, but it’s likely at this point the break-up of the USSR would have loosened the paranoia and the need for a counterpart to Captain America.  At any rate, the Red Guardian went into the field with an unstable mentality and apparently died, leaving Natasha an indefinitely young widow.  Considering Alexei’s mental instability, his mission would have been selected to cause the most damage and result in his death.  Ironically, he died a hero, saving his wife and Captain America, somewhere in Southeast Asia.

figure-18f_avengers-44-death-of-alexei-shostakovWhen Natasha defected and her infection was inert, the catalyst would have been of no use and the Russians would have been either glad to sell it, or warehouse it.  Through either of those opportunities, Hydra and Viper could have acquired it, not knowing that the lifespan of the active virus in Michael Kramer had already expired.  After Viper stole the project from Hydra, she acquired Michael Kramer before the virus’s efficacy was verified.  By the time Spider-Woman freed Kramer, Viper’s scientists had determined his infection was inert as well.  The project was a failure and was subsequently abandoned, leaving two survivors, Michael Kramer and the Black Widow, forever changed.

Among her friends, such as Ivan and Logan, Natasha is called Princess or Tsarina.  It seems like a nickname to those who overhear, but in truth, she is the last surviving member of the Romanoffs and the rightful heir to the long deposed Russian Monarchy. She will never claim that crown, because her calling is a higher one.  She claims the titles of S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Avenger, and most importantly the Black Widow as a remembrance of the insidious exploitation of female agents by the Rodina through projects like the one that created her.