WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Tales of Suspense #101, written by Matthew Rosenberg, with art by Travel Foreman, colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, and letters by Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Right now, Tales of Suspense is one of the few Marvel titles dealing with the fallout from Secret Empire. In its pages, Bucky Barnes and Clint Barton are travelling the world, chasing the ghost of their former girlfriend, Natasha Romanov.
Despite their common goal, the two are at cross-purposes. Bucky believes Natasha is dead, and that an impostor -- possibly a Red Room operative -- is cribbing her signature moves, and killing military dictators, and members of Hydra worldwide. Hawkeye, on the other hand, is convinced that the Black Widow is still alive, despite her apparent death while saving Miles Morales from Hydra Cap.
Tales of Suspense #101 proves Bucky right -- at least for now. Having followed a trail of blood to Chernaya, the pair unmasks the assassin as Yelena Belova, the second Black Widow after Natasha.
Created by Devin Grayson and J.G. Jones, Yelena made her first appearance in the pages of Inhumans #5 (March 1999). This was followed by a starring turn in the Marvel Knights Black Widow miniseries. Like Natasha, Yelena trained at the Red Room. She was activated and became the second Black Widow upon the death of her trainer, Pyotr Vasilievich Starkovsky. Tasked to investigate his murder, she discovered that the killing was a ruse to push her into accepting the Black Widow mantle, and into fighting Natasha.
The Red Room wasn't alone in playing Yelena, of course. Natasha also manipulated her namesake, in order to convince her to leave espionage and forge her own path. Thus, Yelena retired to Cuba, where she became a model and a successful businesswoman. Later, Yelena was drawn back to espionage as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative for a mission that left her severely disfigured, and then genetically altered by Hydra, who gave her Adaptoid powers.
She was eventually killed, to hide the secret of Hydra’s manipulations, but as we all know, death is often impermanent in comics, so it's a surprise, but not a true shock, that she's surfaced here and now.
There are, of course, a number of questions surrounding her resurfacing. Although Yelena seems to have become the Black Widow again (and worn a red wig) as a tribute to Natasha, what are her motives? Why did she kill former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Skids Blevins, who was also after members of Hydra? Are one-time members of Maria Hill's former employer acting independently? Or has has an ad hoc, clandestine version of the agency emerged?
And why is Yelena terrified that she has failed the Winter Soldier? Why does she ask Bucky to kill her? Has she been braiwashed again? And most importantly, by whom? The questions far outnumber the answers at this point, but we suspect Natasha Romanov's story isn't over quite yet.