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Black Widow & Winter Soldier

Marvel Legends
by yo go re

It's kind of ridiculous, today, to think of anyone actually being afraid of communists. Even in the '80s, they were more like jerky rivals than a real enemy, which is why anyone who still tries to use communism as some terrifying spectre (usually in political circles) looks like an idiot. Still, we've got a lot of villains with Communist origins still running around in comics.

When the Black Widow first met the Winter Soldier, he was a man without a name, brainwashed into absolute loyalty to his Soviet masters. She too was a loyal soldier, fascinated by the apparently emotionless young spy. Guided by her conscience, she saw past the brainwashing, and found the soul of a good man deep within the Winter Soldier. It broke her heart to leave him behind when she left her life as a Soviet spy. When he reappeared, his bondage to his old masters had finally been broken by Captain America. She was more than happy to team up with him once again, this time as part of the Avengers.

In 1940, Timely Comics introduced the first female character in comics to wear a flashy costume and use mystical powers (we hesitate to call her a superhero, because she was powered by Satan and her job was to kill evildoers so he got their souls sooner). She was called the Black Widow, and 24 years later Marvel Comics reused her name for the new femme fatale spy they were sending after Tony Stark. Being a Russian villain in the '60s, she was of course defeated, but she came back, and was eventually on the road to redemption.

When she was originally introduced, this Black Widow was identified as Natasha Romanoff - however, the "-off" suffix is only used for male children, so it was eventually changed to the more correct Romanova. Her full name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova, which means her father was "Alian (something) Romanov" (surnames, as all Russian adjectives, have different forms depending on gender).

The Black Widow was released as a Marvel Legend before, ages ago in Marvel Legends 8. from the shoulders down, she was one of the best 6" female figures ever released, so this version has a lot to live up to (from the shoulders up, she had that god-awful Elektra neck). Fortunately, it more than meets the challenge. This isn't a new body - having already been used for Elektra and the SHIELD girls - but it's a very lovely sculpt, quite shapely and well-proportioned. The upper torso is a new piece, with her catsuit unzipped to show off some cleavage. This new piece is very crisp, with none of the "softness" displayed on the earliest Hasbro Legends.

The figure has two interchangeable heads: the one she's wearing the package has long hair that spills about her shoulders, and her bangs fall into her eyes. The second head has the short hair she wore in the '80s. The sculpt on both faces is identical, though paint differences make slight variations. Neither the torso nor the head match the prototype shown at SDCC.

Natasha has new molds for her Widow's Sting bracelets, and her gold medallion belt, but those hardly count as accessories - no, her actual accessories both come from the male SHIELD agent figures. You know, the futuristic pistol and the M-16 with the grenade launcher underneath. Her hands are open a bit too wide to hold them tightly, but a little warm water can fix that.

There's a variant Widow available, as well, but it's not the Yelena Belova that ML8 Black Widow had as a variant, but amusingly enough, it is the potential variant we mentioned back then: her light gray '80s outfit. Same mold as this figure, just given new paint, and sporting the short-haired head in the package. If I'd found that version first I would have been content with it, but this isn't a case where hunting down the variant is a necessity.

It's been said that the only characters in comics who stay dead are Uncle Ben, Jason Todd, and Bucky. In 2005, that proved wrong for all three of them. "Ben" returned in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Jason came back as Red Hood (and eventually tried to be Batman), and Bucky was revealed as the Winter Soldier.

The original stories painted Bucky as an orphaned kid who hung around the military base and became Cap's sidekick after heedlessly barging into a grown man's tent while he was taking off his clothes. That's a good lesson for the kiddies! The recent retcon revealed that the boy's naivete was all a cover, and that even as a 16-year-old, he was a highly trained operative, counted on to do the dirty work Captain America couldn't; it's hard for the living symbol of America to commit assassinations, you know? Unless it's the '80s, and then that sort of thing seems perfectly natural.

After the rocket airplane they were on exploded and Captain America went off to be frozen in ice for a constantly expanding number of decades, Bucky's body was recovered by a Russian submarine. He was missing an arm and had some brain damage, but they took him back to Moscow for medical attention. He was fitted with a simple prosthetic, which got regular upgrades as improved technology came along. By the modern day, the arm is as organic as Deathlok's or Colossus', with a hose running from the wrist to the triceps. The rest of his uniform is dark blue, a repaint of Nick Fury's mold, and the right arm is new as well. To create the flap on the front of his shirt, the figure has a separate, free-floating piece that combines the buttoned flap with Bucky's usual harness, allowing the joints beneath to work well without requiring a remold. The variant has a red star on his shoulder, rather than this version's red, white and blue.

Like his current girlfriend Black Widow, Winter Soldier has two heads: the first shows him with the long hair he had when he first showed up, while the second has a shorter 'do. The face is clearly that of an adult, not a child; the reason he's doesn't look like an octogenarian is that the Russians kept him in cryogenic stasis when he wasn't on a mission.

Winter Soldier's weapons include a German HK USP .45 pistol that can be holstered on his leg, and a Bulgarian AR-M9F assault rifle with an UBGL-M6 grenade launcher. Those are both accessories which, like the mold for the body, originated with Fury. They make sense for the character, and that's all that really matters, isn't it? Since his robot hand is clenched in a fist, he can only hold one at a time. The hinge joint in his left shoulder seems very tight, and I was initially worried about breaking something when I tried to move it - you know, like the bicep peg would snap off while pushing down on the arm. It's moving better now, but it was still a tough joint to work.

When Hasbro ran their poll to see what three figures fans wanted as Marvel Legends, it was assumed that the figures they'd be paired with would be other candidates from the vote - however, that's clearly not the case, because Winter Soldier wasn't one of our options. It is very interesting, though, to look at the three figures the fans did get to choose: there's Deadpool, of course, the one figure everybody knew was going to win. But then the ones we actually picked are Valkyrie and Black Widow; out of all the figures available, we wanted two women. Now where are all those idiots who say female figures don't sell?

-- 11/17/10

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