A great big, long, very slow hand-clap to Marvel: Black Widow Strikes

Way to get female readers on board, Marvel… not

So, as we all know, not a lot of women read comics. Or at least superhero comics. There have been lots of theories as to why this should be, largely put out by men. However, at least one of these theories is that there aren’t any good representations of women in comics – that the female characters that there are are secondary, aren’t well characterised and are usually sexualised for the benefit of younger male readers, making female readers not seem very welcome.

Now DC hasn’t been doing particularly well here, with only about 7% of its readers female. But at least it has a few titles with female leads: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Voodoo, Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, and Catwoman, for starters, although some treat their female characters better than others. Over at Marvel, the situation is far worse, with the last female-led title, X-23, following hot on the heels of Ms. Marvel and Black Widow in getting cancelled.

That’s right – there’s not a single superhero title with a female lead at Marvel.

Now you’d have thought that with the largest opening movie of all time, The Avengers/Avengers Assemble, at the box office right now, it would be a golden opportunity for Marvel to capitalise on the fact that there’s a superheroine in the line up – Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow – who, thanks to the mighty word processing powers of Joss Whedon, gets to kick arse a lot, isn’t second-fiddle to the men, and isn’t there to be someone’s girlfriend.

In fact, you’d be right. Look! It’s Marvel’s The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes, a prequel to the movie available in comic stores now.

Black Widow Strikes

Brilliant. All those women going into movies, seeing a decent superheroine character. They’ll pick up Black Widow Strikes, see there’s nothing to fear from the medium and hey presto, loads of new female comics readers, right?

Oh, wait.

Here’s Black Widow infiltrating a club… as a VIP hostess.

Black Widow Strikes

That’s a wig, incidentally, so big you can fit a sawn-off shotgun underneath it. Practical, huh?

And here’s Black Widow being ambushed. Naturally, this has to happen when she’s in her underwear.

Black Widow getting ambushed

It’s not the title is badly written – it’s okay. Nothing world-shaking, but nothing too terrible compared to a lot of titles.

It’s not that Black Widow has nothing to do. In fact, she gets to kick a lot of arse around the place in the issue. It’s just that, once again, the character is sexualised, making it clear this is largely for male readers, and uses her sexuality, rather than using cunning, to get what she wants in at least one situation.

It’s not like there’s something intrinsic to Black Widow that requires her sexualisation, bad art, etc. Marjorie Liu/Daniel Acuña’s Black Widow – The Name of the Rose was actually rather a good, well drawn story (albeit very Marvel-esque), that draws on Black Widow’s long history, as well as her long, pre-World War 2 life, with minimum sexualisation, for example.

Black Widow #4

Black Widow - Name of the Rose

Black Widow

Black Widow

Black Widow

Black Widow

Black Widow #4

It’s just this was Marvel’s idea of how to get new readers after the movie – clearly, women weren’t on that list. So a great big slow hand-clap to Marvel for squandering its best chance to get some new female readers on board.

Well done, Marvel. Well done.




  • SK

    This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if the reason there are fewer female readers of superhero comics is that male readers just have lower standards.

  • Lisa Rullsenberg

    Oh dear: that really is a bit depressing.� Could have done so much – ended up doing so little.� A wasted opportunity.

  • Lisa Rullsenberg

    Oh dear: that really is a bit depressing.  Could have done so much – ended up doing so little.  A wasted opportunity.

  • Matthew Bradford

    You're absolutely right that this was a missed opportunity.�I do wish Marvel had started a real Black Widow series to coincide with the movie and capitalize on its success rather than just reprinting some strips from Russian Maxim, where this one began its life.�

    Name of the Rose was OK, but the best modern take on Black Widow by far (and also the least sexualized—to the extent that a comic about a woman clad in a skintight black catsuit CAN be desexualized) was Richard K. Morgan's run collected in two trades, Black Widow: Homecoming (ignore the cover; the art inside is much better) and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her.� There was supposed to be a third volume, but it never happened.

  • Matthew Bradford

    You’re absolutely right that this was a missed opportunity. I do wish Marvel had started a real Black Widow series to coincide with the movie and capitalize on its success rather than just reprinting some strips from Russian Maxim, where this one began its life. 

    Name of the Rose was OK, but the best modern take on Black Widow by far (and also the least sexualized—to the extent that a comic about a woman clad in a skintight black catsuit CAN be desexualized) was Richard K. Morgan’s run collected in two trades, Black Widow: Homecoming (ignore the cover; the art inside is much better) and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her.  There was supposed to be a third volume, but it never happened.

    • Russian Maxim? FFS, Marvel!

      Thing is that one of the reasons that the comics industry was supposed to be pushing digital was to pursue markets that might not want to go into comics stores (e.g. women). Currently, only Black Widow Strikes and eight issues beginning with Name of the Rose are available from Marvel digitally.

  • Russian Maxim? FFS, Marvel!

    Thing is that one of the reasons that the comics industry was supposed to be pushing digital was to pursue markets that might not want to go into comics stores (e.g. women). Currently, only Black Widow Strikes and eight issues beginning with Name of the Rose are available from Marvel digitally.