There are a lot of concepts flying around in this episode of Avengers: Ultron Revolution, from the appearance of the second Black Widow, to the Natasha/Hulk relationship, to the re-emergence of Hydra as a major threat to the Avengers. It seems the comics, animation, and cinematic universes converge on this one. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “Seeing Double.”
The relationship between the Hulk/Bruce Banner and the Black Widow is wholly a construct of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I believe. Don’t get me wrong, it works so beautifully I’m surprised someone didn’t think of it before, but the fact is that before the movies, the Widow and the Hulk had rare interaction, and as far as I know, never even served on the same Avengers team at the same time. In fact, for the longest time, the Hulk was only an Avenger for the first two issues of the series. He appeared much more often as the team’s adversary.
Here in the opening of the episode, they are friends as well as teammates, as a quite intelligent Hulk (who seems aware that he is puny Banner) convinces the Widow to take a night off from training and ‘hit the town’ with him, a wonderful bit of wordplay that writer Jacob Semahn has fun with. They trash the Abomination, flirt, and go out for hot dogs. Bonus points for Semahn for knowing Hulk’s weakness for hot dog carts.
Natasha goes for dogs but when she returns, her companion has been attacked and neutralized into his Bruce Banner form. As the kidnappers pull away there’s a huge Hydra insignia on their aircraft, so much for stealth. The Widow latches on and calls for help. And then there’s the matter of the woman who attacked the Hulk, who he thought was Natasha… but first things first…
As Captain America feared and regretted in the last two Kang episodes, Hydra has not been defeated (as seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and somewhat in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and is still active. Here in the Marvel Animated Universe, Baron Von Strucker is shown to be very much alive and in charge of this new Hydra faction, one that not only has access to the Winter Soldier technology, but also employs Yelena Belova.
The Other Black Widow
In the comics, our Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, has a long and storied history. From Russian spy to S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to Avenger, she is much older than she looks. The Red Room (as casually referenced by the Hulk in the opening scene), the program that trained her, did not create only one such living weapon. We’ve seen Dottie Underwood on Agent Carter in the Marvel Television Universe, but there’s also Yelena Belova, the second modern Black Widow.
Yelena, trained in the Red Room like Natasha, became the Black Widow in Russia once Natasha had left that life and country behind. She eventually clashed with our Black Widow several times. Belova later was scarred by X-Men foe Sauron, and transformed into a human version of the Super-Adaptoid… because, well, comics. Here animated, other than blonde hair color, Yelena has neon red piping in her costume, contrasting Natasha’s blue.
Widow vs. Widow
Strucker is designed in the style of the movies. His relationship with Belova is odd, almost a dysfunctional and abusive father to a needy but hateful daughter wanting to prove herself. This one goes deep, folks, and I like it. This is the kind of Avengers animated series I want. When he sics the new Black Widow on our Black Widow, the mood is tense and dynamic.
I complain a lot here and over on Guardians of the Galaxy how some of the fight sequences seem like time fillers, and have noted happily where they are not. This is one of the latter. At first glance, the Widows appear to fight the same, as one might think, both trained by the Red Room, but if you look close, Belova is sloppy, reckless. Props on the animation and choreography in this episode.
Of course, fighting Widow with Widow is not Von Strucker’s master plan, as exciting as it is. He wants to make a weapon of the Hulk, and using a program similar to the Red Room, Winter Soldier. So what may have started as some mad mash-up idea has deadly consequences. Imagine the Hulk with Winter Soldier’s programming, and (now the bad part) dressed like Winter Soldier, right down to the haircut.
Captain America and Iron Man show up just so no one forgets this is the Avengers. They handle the Hydra agents as Belova takes control of the Winter Hulk and turns on Hydra. Apparently betrayal is in the blood of the Widows, and it’s not just Yelena turning on her bad dad. The Widows continue to fight, as Cap and Iron Man go to save civilians from the Winter Hulk’s destruction of a Hydra facility.
Armed and Pre-Armed
My one question about the Winter Hulk transformation was the arm, the robot arm. Surely they didn’t remove the Hulk’s arm. It appears that as Banner, his arm grew into a machine sleeve when he became the Hulk. This arm is also weaponized with lasers (and a knife!), as if the Hulk isn’t deadly enough. Equally, the Winter Soldier programming gives the Hulk martial arts and stealth capability, making him an even more dangerous opponent.
I would have liked a bit more angst from Cap in fighting yet another Winterized friend and I found Iron Man’s instant Hulkbuster armor disconcerting for a number of reasons. Is he always ready to take down his friend at a second’s notice? I guess it’s so troubling, because as mentioned above, this is a more intelligent, much gentler Hulk. Would you really have backup plans for a guy with a glass menagerie fetish?
Lest you wonder who Yelena Belova betrayed Hydra for, it’s herself, and those like her. Apparently she’s used the Red Room programming to create more Widows. Interestingly Belova calls them washouts and Natasha refers to them as zombies. It made me almost feel sorry for them. But like the Hydra agents or the bots used by Ultron and Kang, they are merely cannon fodder.
What bothers me most about all these Widows is that it makes Natasha less unique. Much like Green Lantern over at DC Comics, with so many, why does one matter? Yes, it’s nice to have a favorite and all, but multiples of any character makes the original, or the best known, less distinctive. It goes back to that line from The Incredibles, when everyone is special, no one will be.
In the end, the good guys win, or at least as much as the powers-that-be allow them to. Yelena Belova and Baron Strucker are both in the wind and likely to show up again. Hydra is far from done, as no mention is made of the base being destroyed, or even dismantled. And Natasha was able to break Winter Hulk’s programming, despite an ending that seemed incredibly rushed.
I liked this episode a lot, the series is on a roll of late. This one I thought could have easily been a two-parter, with a bit more space to breathe and maybe show more of the Widow/Hulk relationship. We are left wondering about Natasha’s past, and if it will come back to bite her in the butt. One assumes she still has the flashdrive with her past on it. Much to ponder on in this one.
Next: The Black Panther! Captain Marvel! The Vision! In the words of Stan Lee, nuff said!