The aftermath of Secret Empire in the Marvel Universe has been…well, interesting, to say the least. Which is to say, it’s been nearly non-existent. After the return of the “original” Captain America to reality and the re-revision of history from its Hydra-dominated twist, the sentient cosmic cube, Kobik, didn’t actually undo much anything. Everyone still remembered exactly what happened, and the people who had died were all still dead, but very few people seem to be batting an eye over the loss of their friends and fellow heroes.
Among those casualties was Natasha Romanoff, who was actually killed by the evil Steve Rogers himself during a valiant attempt to assassinate him. Natasha’s been dead in real time for about four months, but oddly, after a brief panel of a funeral in Secret Empire: Omega, no one has made much mention of her absence; a pretty strange situation given how well connected she is on the page, and how beloved she is off of it. But, thankfully, that all changed this week.
Tales of Suspense #100 is actually the first issue of a six issue mini series — the #100 is due to the Legacy renumbering — and it’s the first real post-Secret Empire look at the fallout of Natasha’s death, from the perspective of two of her ex-boyfriends, Clint Barton and Bucky Barnes.
According to Tales of Suspense, Nat’s actually been dead for three weeks — a helpful timestamp when trying to put the sequence of events here together. By and large, Marvel seems to have adapted to not dealing with Secret Empire fallout method of dealing with it — core titles like Captain America have been glancing off the consequences since the event ended with only passing mention that anything had gone wrong at all — so it’s difficult to tell where this mini series is actually happening in relationship to the other stories going on right now, but it’s nice to know nonetheless. Three weeks is a lot more understandable than the real-time months it’s been, in any case.
The situation is this: Clint believes that Natasha is still alive — and it’s not just his grief messing with him. Some of Nat’s enemies are cropping up dead all over the world in mysterious circumstances, and he’s got a feeling that she’s the one behind it, the logic being that having faked her death would free her to pick off her enemies quickly and easily. So, he’s on hunt, trying to piece together clues and track down the ghost of Black Widow to prove once and for all that she’s still breathing — and, hopefully, to keep her from murdering more people.
But he’s not alone in this. Bucky Barnes — another one of Secret Empire’s major players who has not been around or had much to do since the event ended, is also on the case. Bucky’s entire Secret Empire situation is…a little complicated. Presumed dead for nearly the full event, it turned out that he’d actually been living in Atlantis in secret with Namor, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. That opportunity came right at the end of the event, in the 11th hour, where he convinced Kobik to return regular Steve to reality once more — but after that? He basically disappeared. He was seen very briefly in the Omega issue, but other than that, it’s been radio silence — a pretty strange situation, given how integral he was to the build up to Secret Empire and how heavily connected he was to Kobik via Thunderbolts.
That all is yet to be really addressed. Apparently, during that radio silence, he’s been on the same trail Clint’s been on. Though Bucky is considerably less optimistic about Nat actually being alive. It’s not explicitly clear what he’s been getting up to in the past three weeks, but whatever it is, it lands he and Clint together trying to prevent the same assassination.
The mystery deepens when the two of them find one of Nat’s old Red Room “calling cards” at the scene of the assassination attempt, giving her credit for the kill…but neither of them realize that no one has actually died yet until it’s too late. A bomb goes off in the room, leaving the issue ending in a cliffhanger.
So, is Natasha alive? Great question. As far as characters who could and would fake their own death and commit to the bit entirely, she’s pretty high up on the list, and the fact that her personal symbol was used at the scene of the crime seems like pretty damning evidence. However, Natasha also ranks pretty high on the list of characters who have no shortage of enemies who are very capable of duplicating her every move — Red Room doppelgangers, super spies, you name it. There is a laundry list of potential suspects who would absolutely be capable of replicating an authentic Black Widow-style caper.
No matter how things pan out, the hope is that Tales of Suspense will continue to pick at the scabs left behind by Secret Empire in a way that makes the event feel like, at the very least, it meant something. Marvel’s eagerness to leave the event in the rearview is understandable, considering how divisive the response wound up being, but some loose ends need to be dealt with head on.
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