The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
of the Avengers
Natalia Alianovna Romanova (known more informally as "Natasha" Romanova) is better known as "Black Widow," a superheroine who has been a longstanding member of the Avengers.
The Black Widow is apparently Russian Orthodox, although she is in no way devout.
A scene in Marvel Knights #1 in which the Black Widow went to a Catholic Church for confession has been interpreted by some readers as an indication that the Black Widow is in fact Catholic rather than Eastern Orthodox. This scene was written by Chuck Dixon. Follow-up communication with Mr. Dixon indicated that he viewed the Black Widow as Eastern Orthodox, not Catholic. She had a desire to attend confession, even if it was in denomination similar to but not exactly the same as her own.
On balance, however, it appears that the Black Widow is best classified as Russian Orthodox. If she is a Catholic, she is not nearly as devout as some other Catholic superheroes (such as Nightcrawler). Regardless of whether she is Catholic or Orthodox, it can safely be stated that her Christian identity is not at all as strong and as frequently visible as that of her on-again-off-again Catholic boyfriend/lover Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil).
Perhaps the most compelling argument for the Black Widow being Eastern Orthodox rather than Catholic is the "limping waiter" story. The religious affiliation of Marvel comic book characters is nearly always chosen simply to reflect the predominant religious group of the character's upbringing. While there certainly are religious Russians whose religious background is not Russian Orthodoxy, Marvel comic book writers would almost certainly assume the Black Widow's religious affiliation is Russian Orthodoxy, in keeping with long-standing company tradition.
The religious tradition/philosophy that was most influential during the Black Widow's formative years was Soviet Communism, an all-embracing and forcibly invasive system of thought and practice which was far more than a mere "political" party for its supporters. The Black Widow's origin presents her as a loyal Communist spy who first encountered American super-heroes while she was working against U.S. interests. The Black Widow's time as a "villain" was relatively short-lived, however, as she defected to the U.S. and permanently became an American-based "super-hero." Although educated and trained by the Soviet Communist regime, the Black Widow appears to have abandoned Communism entirely. The Black Widow loves her native Russia, but has no affection for Communism.
In additional to rare portrayals of the Black Widow as Eastern Orthodox (or Catholic), the character has also referred to herself as a "godless Soviet," in reference to her upbringing and origins in the Soviet Union. One such self-reference was made in a Daredevil comic written by Kevin Smith (a self-described practicing Catholic). The degree to which Natasha Romanova is actually "godless" (i.e., an atheist) is not entirely clear. It is safe to say that she is mostly non-practicing, whatever her religious affiliation, but she rarely discusses her actual religious beliefs. She may have simply referred to herself as a "godless Communist" in a homorous reference to how Americans often spoke about Russian Communists.
From: "Who's Catholic in the Marvel Universe" forum discussion started 5 February 2005 on "HCRealms" website (http://www.hcrealms.com/forum/showthread.php?t=123637&page=2; viewed 22 December 2005):
Just thought of another Catholic - Black Widow! In Marvel Knights (I think it was issue #1) she was at confession, which is how she bumped into Dagger. She did admit that it was a very long time since her last confession though.
Black Widow is Russian, likely Orthodox if any faith.
From: "Religion of Comic Book Characters - The List" discussion board, started 29 January 2006 on "Millar World" website (http://forums.millarworld.tv/index.php?showtopic=57496; viewed 24 April 2006):
Jan 29 2006, 08:47 PM
"Black Widow - Catholic"
Erm...well, that's odd...
[This poster is referring to Adherents.com's "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters" website. He apparently finds it odd that the Black Widow was listed as Catholic rather than Eastern Orthodox like Elektra. The Black Widow's classification was later re-evaluated in light of additional information.]
And Elektra's Greek Orthodox? Y'know, I never woulda guessed.
Jan 30 2006, 11:52 PM
Yeah, you'd figure both the [Black] Widow and Elektra would be Orthodox (Russian and Greek). Actually, I'd figure the Widow would be a godless Communist.
Jan 31 2006, 06:27 AM
Apparently she is, or something. When she first appeared during Kevin Smith's run on Daredevil Matt made mention of going to church and she called herself a godless Soviet.
However, my favorite exchange between Matt and Natasha that made reference , the Church and/or religion has GOT to be the one in Bendis' run, the second issue of the Black Widow arc, I believe. If I recall correctly, it went something like this:
Matt: I'm married.
Natasha: To God?
Matt: Well, yeah...
John McDonagh wrote to us (24 May 2006) with some excellent points:
Subject: Black Widow Roman Catholic?
I find it odd that she would have had this affiliation, since Russia never was of this denomination.
She probably was not a member of that denomination, but decided since there were no churches of her denomination around, to go to a similar denomination.
Re: "Just thought of another Catholic - Black Widow! In Marvel Knights (I think it was issue #1) she was at confession, which is how she bumped into Dagger. She did admit that it was a very long time since her last confession though."
Yes, it is odd that Black Widow, a Russian born and raised in predominantly Russian Orthodox and/or Communist Russia, is a Catholic.
And maybe this scene is a poor basis for which to identify the Black Widow as a Catholic.
What I suspect is that in this case, as happens SO OFTEN in comics and popular fiction generally, the writer was simply LAZY and/or ignorant, and did not think about what the Black Widow's religious background would probably be. A religious scene was called for, so the default religion was used: Pop Fiction Catholicism.
That being said, there IS a sizeable Catholic minority in Russia and it wouldn't be out of the question for a Russian character to be Catholic. It just doesn't make as much sense as a Russian character being Russian Orthodox, Communist, Jewish, Muslim or even Buddhist. (Not in Moscow, but in other parts of Russia, there are large Muslim and Buddhist populations, and regions where these religions predominate.)
So while my first reaction is that the "Black Widow attends Catholic confession" scene is just a result of laziness on the part of the writer, it is ALSO possible that this writer was carefully maintaining continuity due to what a PREVIOUS writer had established: that the Black Widow is a Catholic. (In that case, it might be that a previous writer had slipped up or been lazy in establishing this fact.)
I have learned from experience that when one finds a single scene in comics which matter-of-factly shows that a character has a specific religious affiliation, it is usually because previous scenes and stories have already established the character as an adherent of that religious group, and the writer is simply being consistent.
Very good thinking -- pointing out that Natasha could have gone to the Catholic church because one of her own denomination wasn't around. The Russian immigrant minority in New York City is quite large, however, and there are are so many Russian Orthodox churches there, I'm not sure if this is accurate. (Although, of course, there are more Catholic churches there.)
More importantly, I'm not sure there is any way to interpret this scene in which, as was pointed out, Black Widow not only goes to a Catholic church for confession (a Catholic rite, not just for the solace of being in a church building), she also states that it had been a long time since her last confession. Natasha's words and this scene really only makes sense if she is a Catholic.
Is going to confession such a strong part of Russian Orthodox religious life that a lapsed church member such as Natasha would, in a time of spiritual crisis or yearning, feel so compelled to go to confession that she would go to an unfamiliar Catholic church and seek out a Catholic priest? Not that I'm aware of. But I am no expert on Russian Orthodoxy. I do know enough, however, to realize that Orthodox Christians do NOT think they are in the same denomination as Catholics. Eastern Orthodox Christians can be very vocal and unbending in explaining that, historically, it was their church (and not Catholicism) that was founded in the 1st Century A.D. (Catholics, of course, have a different perspective.)
Until we find information from the comics that contradicts this assessment, Black Widow has, for now, been classified as a lapsed Catholic Communist atheist, with notes on her sub-page pointing out that 1) she is rather lapsed in Catholicism, 2) she was previously Communist but abandoned Communism when she moved permanently to the U.S., and 3) she may or may not be joking about being an atheist.
But as a practical matter, I don't think the Black Widow's religious beliefs have ever been dealt with concretely or in sufficient detail to rule out a number of possibilities for her: Russian Orthodoxy, Catholicism, atheism, or some combination of these, or possibly something else (although that would be unlikely). A writer could "reveal" that Black Widow was raised in a family that was secretly observant in Russian Orthodoxy or Catholicism, and I don't think this would conflict with anything known about the character. A writer could reveal that despite years of estrangement from organized religious practice due to the pressures of working as a Communist spy and then a super-heroine, Natasha has quietly returned to (or converted to) religious practice. Such revelations could be done with little trouble, because so little has been established about the character in this area. But I doubt anything will be done along these lines, so we are left mostly to guesswork and to an overall assessment of the Black Widow as a mostly secular character.
John McDonagh replied:
Since the Black Widow has been on teams including Hercules and Thor, the difference between Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy must seem compartively slim.
The Black Widow must be quite ecumenical.
That's a very good point, and an interesting way of looking at the Black Widow's situation!
I agree that the Black Widow is probably quite ecumenical. Perhaps rubbing shoulders with Thor and Hercules could have something to do with that.
On the other hand, I seem to recall that it was Black Widow who (in The Ultimates) opined that the whole ancient gods and Norse pantheon thing that Thor believes in was total bunk. Granted, this opinion seems to be the case in the Ultimate universe more than in mainstream Marvel continuity, but I think this says something about Natasha's character.
Moreover, I believe that most people's "religious affiliation" and "religious identification" is not tied purely to their adult experiences, observations and conscious decisions, but also has much to do with their parentage and upbringing. If Jesus himself appeared to the Black Widow and told her which church he founded, or that all churches were correct, it might not make her any more or less Catholic or Eastern Orthodox than she is now. (Which is, to say - not much in practice, but somewhat by heritage and upbringing.) If her confessional scene is anything to go by, Natasha can be stirred to religious feeling and has a sense of the sacred. But she still doesn't strike me as a person who is particularly amenable to following religious authority. Her disillusionment over Communism may carry over into an unwillingness to fully embrace any belief system.
From: Steve Kurian (an Eastern Orthodox Christian), "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters", posted 12 June 2006 on "Steve Kurian: engineer... wandering skeptic... street theologian" blog website (http://stevenkurian.blogspot.com/2006/06/religious-affiliation-of-comic-book.html; viewed 14 June 2006):
(Because you really needed to know)
I'm not really this into comic books, but as this is the Summer movie season, comic book characters have been coming up over and over again. So apparently Adherents.com has categorized the religious affiliation of a good number of comic book heroes, obscure and otherwise. Making the list as Eastern Orthodox, Elektra (an assassin), Black Widow (another kind of assassin), and Confessor (an assassin who kills people using rosaries and Crosses). Superman is a Methodist, Batman is a lapsed Episcopalian or Catholic, and The Thing is Jewish, just to name a few.
From: Doug Tonks, "A Higher Power", posted 22 October 2006 on "All New! All Different! Howling Curmudgeons: Two-Fisted Comics Commentary and Criticism!" blog website (http://www.whiterose.org/howlingcurmudgeons/archives/009995.html; viewed 25 April 2007):
The never-identified but usually heeded "they" claim that there are two topics you should never talk about: religion and politics. But since Mike already brought up religion... I'll follow it up with a link to this page [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html], which lists the religious affiliations of various comic book characters...
Posted by Doug at October 22, 2006 7:12 PM
[Comments posted by readers of this page:]
...And why the Sam Hill are they saying that the Radioactive Man, who was a pretty prominent operative of Communist China and an agent of the communist government of Vietnam (remember the Titanic Three?), is a Buddhist? The Black Widow (the original one; not the blonde "Xenia Onatopp" one from Marvel's MAX line) gets listed as a "lapsed Communist" (Communism's a religion?) but the Radioactive Man doesn't? The compilers of this list aren't even following their own internal logic!
Posted by: Ron Dingman at October 23, 2006 1:57 AM
I think the site is using a very general definition of religion to mean a comprehensive metaphysic and its consequent ideology, discipline, or practice, not necessarily "worship." Not many might seem like religion, but neither is Buddhism from a purely theistic perspective... If the ideology has an eschatology, then I'd say yes.
In this sense "Objectivist" and "Communist" would qualify...
Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 23, 2006 2:18 PM
From: "What religion do superhero's belong to? [sic]" forum discussion started 18 July 2002 on "Toon Zone" website (http://forums.toonzone.net/showthread.php?t=41332; viewed 21 May 2007):
07-18-2002, 01:02 PM
What religion do superhero's [sic] belong to?
I'd like to discuss what religious beliefs are favorite costumed hero's belong to. Everyone knows Daredevil is Catholic. But beyond that, what do we know of superhero's beliefs? I'm thinking of mostly the Marvel Universe, but you DC fans feel free to contribute as well...
07-18-2002, 01:30 PM
This is a discussion I've had several times with my friends, and usually I step out of it when it turns offensive. (Which with my friends, it always does!) Thing to remember though that until recently, like the past decade, religion and talks of such were verboten in most main stream comic books. Now that's changed...
...Black Widow is an atheist. (That's a problem with coming from an atheist country!) And I believe Tony Stark is the same. (But James Rhodes is of faith, but what faith, I'm not certain.)...
From: "Comics and Religion Discussion (DC/Marvel)" forum discussion, started 30 May 2007 on "Killer Movies" website (http://www.killermovies.com/forums/453153_2-successful-religion-based-comics-dc-marvel; viewed 6 June 2007):
May 31st, 2007 09:12 PM
The Ultimates is full of religious symbolism. I mean there are numerous references to the Ultimates' fear of being portrayed as a new world order or the next Roman Empire which is referred to in John's Revelation. Loki turns into a snake in one scene to taunt Thor. In issue 9 Loki claims that "The great Satan has been liberated". Thor in his prison cell asks "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?" In Ultimates vol 1 ish 13 Thor even discredits the soviet atheist attitude with Black Widow over the teleportation of the universe destroying bomb to another dimension by saying "Oh ye of little faith."
Heck even Black Widow gets into a very quick and minor discussion with Hawkeye prior to her execution about the afterlife.
There are sooo many parallels that can be drawn up between Ultimate Thor and Jesus of Nazareth. Ironically we all know Thor to derive from the Pagan Norse Mythology which is vastly different from Christianity as a whole.
And that's just to name a few.
From: "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters" forum discussion, started 10 March 2007 on "Brian Michael Bendis" part of "Comic Creator Boards" section of "Jinxworld Forums" website (http://www.606studios.com/bendisboard/archive/index.php/t-106242.html; viewed 6 June 2007):
03-10-2007, 10:46 AM
An ASTONISHINGLY detailed site that delves into the religions of superheroes. Someone has WAY too much time on their hands.
03-10-2007, 10:52 AM
I always thought it was weird that the Black Widow was supposed to be Roman Catholic.
From: "Does Batman Go to Church?" forum discussion, started 21 March 2006 on AppleGeeks.com website (http://www.applegeeks.com/sm/index.php?action=printpage;topic=6662.0):
Title: Does Batman Go to Church?
Post by: gabrielzero on March 21, 2006, 01:11:16 PM
Well find out here:
and other inqueries on which superhero worships which religion. Its a pretty extensive sight with theories and findings.
Oh yeah: League of Eastern Orthodox Assassins and Heroes FTW ["for the win"]. [This poster seems to have been impressed or inspired by a collage picture of Eastern Orthodox comoic book characters, labelled "League of Eastern Orthodox Assassins and Heroes." The picture, at the time this poster wrote, consisted principally of Elektra and Black Widow.]
Webpage created 17 January 2005. Last modified 28 June 2007.
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