She's beauty, she's grace and she'll punch you in the face. That pretty much sums up MARVEL's former KGB spy turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow. The red-headed assassin made her appearance in Iron Man 2 as the demure and professional Natalie Rushman who was hired as Tony's personal secretary after Pepper took over Stark Industries. Since then, Natasha has taken the fan-world by storm with her combination of beauty, brains, practicality and common sense. Although a skilled martial artist, Natasha's incredible fighting abilities contribute only a small percentage to her immense popularity. It's truly Natasha's fight to overcome her tortuous past that has endeared herself to fans and has proven that a female character can go beyond just a pretty face and a great body.
As the MARVEL franchise has progressed over the years, so has Natasha's storyline. With each movie she's in, the audience is given a more personal account of her life as a spy for the KGB faction, "The Red Room." In The Avengers, she recounts to Loki of her life as a Russian spy and assassin who did whatever it took to get the job done. When S.H.I.E.L.D. got her on their radar, they sent one of their own, Clint Barton or Hawkeye, to kill her. However, as Natasha says, "Clint made a different call," and instead brought her to S.H.I.E.L.D. to train as an agent.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, more of Natasha's painful past is revealed including the 'graduation ceremony' at the Red Room which was the sterilization of all girls to prevent pregnancies. In only a matter of seconds, the brave and brazen assassin becomes a conflicted and guilt ridden young women who is aching for love and a place to belong. The prevention of having children made Natasha more human and relatable than any other character in the MARVEL storyline. While femi-nazis complained that Natasha's grief made her weak, others applauded the decision to really show how vulnerable and broken she was. Through that brokenness, though, she was healed by the work she did at S.H.I.E.L.D. the friends she made, and the unexpected love she found.
You can hardly put Natasha's whole storyarch in nutshell, but to put it simply, Natasha is a women who is driven to do what is best for the world she lives in. She has a strong sense of justice and right and wrong, is sacrificial to a fault and always gives people the benefit of the doubt. Another admirable quality about Natasha is that she has no desire to lead; she is perfectly content with being the second in command and does not question the male authority she is under (unless she believes that there is a better way). While Natasha fights alongside men, she is still undeniably feminine and does not feel that she has 'to be a man' in order to be a woman.
Writing a female character is difficult. Writing a complex female character who is the sole women working in a man's world is next to impossible. Yet, MARVEL hit the jackpot with Natasha who has also paved the way for other female heroes such as Agent Peggy Carter, Wanda Maximoff, Maria Hill and Agent Sharon Carter. While beauty and agility are capable qualities, Natasha's strong sense of duty, submission to good authority, and compassionate nature have taken her beyond the title of 'strong female character' and have made her a women that truly lives instead of just surviving.