Natasha: You never thank me— never accept me for what I am— a person— someone apart from you— someone who acts and reacts for her own reasons— not just for yours!
We tend to remember the old comics days as a time that was unfair to Natasha, to women heroes in general. Here is when Natasha got passed off from man to man in a love interest cycle. A “love interest” is implicitly not enough of a female character, the label boils her down to a plot function, a romantic reward, and not a romantic actor.
But while yes those old comics were unfair to Natasha, this is pretty unfair to those old comics. Natasha was never a love prize for Hawkeye; she was the one who began the relationship and ended it. She lived a single, swinging life for a brief while, and significantly wasn’t shamed for bringing dreamy bachelors up to her penthouse. And even more significantly, she wasn’t shamed for rejecting them all.
“His kiss is so warm… so thrilling… yet I can’t help but compare it with that of my late husband, the only man I loved enough to marry…” Natasha thinks to herself in Amazing Adventures #2, before sending famous director Roman Wilson packing. Haunted by her late husband’s second death, she found it hard to find true romance. Her melancholy was melodramatic, but it belonged to her, and men of this period also felt in four colors. She had an interiority in her love life from the very start.
By the time she hooked up with Daredevil, she had her own fortress of motivations. It was her idea to speed off to San Francisco (go Giants) and her desire to create a fresh start. For Natasha, a new city, a new love, a new career, these all meant freedom. She reminded readers and Matt how thoroughly convinced she was of her own personhood; this was heroic, current, revolutionary. Natasha’s story was a liberation story at a time when feminism was still called women’s lib. And part of that liberation was always being able to choose who she was with, how to act on her own desires. The man she loved enough to marry was taken away from her by the KGB, by finding and negotiating new romance she was expressing her own agency, control. The guys weren’t perfect, but she liked them anyway. She made up her own mind, and made her own mistakes.
From Daredevil #91, by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan.