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May 10 2015

What Age of Ultron got right about Black Widow. An article on Salon concerning a controversial scene in Age of Ultron.

I agree with this article, I think it is important to have female characters that are sterile in media. However, I still think that the scene in AoU could have been much better.

My issue is this, I'm a Marvel fan. Marjorie Liu wrote the fantastic 'Black Widow: the name of a Rose'. This piece was cathartic, and I put the 5-issue volume down feeling better about my lack of fertility.

Now, I realize AoU revolved around the desire to have a family/home. Clint's family, Steve realizing that a family life is no longer for him, Tony leaving the Avengers to spend time with Pepper, and Natasha/Bruce's inability and desire for the option to have a family the conventional way.

But what I'm not happy about is

1) The fact that they took a story arc of Natasha's that could have been told in a solo movie and crammed it down to a ~5-10 minute minute talk in AoU to build up the Bruce/Natasha romance.

2) The Red Room is comprised of both men and women. The three most notable men in the Red Room/Department X is Bucky Barnes, Alexi Shostakov, and Leo Novokkov. I guarantee you we won't find out any of these character's are eunuchs. In the comics, Natasha was given a serum that slowed aging and an immune system that works too well (growing a fetus is considered parasitic, and the serum would make it difficult to get pregnant & almost always end in a miscarriage). History has proven that eunuchs make much better soldiers. In fact, in the comics Natasha and Bucky and a Sierra/Victor like relationship in the Red Room. Natasha and Bucky were human weapons with no free will/dehumanized, and Bucky's 'man reactions' were a huge threat to the Soviet's mission, since it caused their two best assets to question what they were doing and rekindled their agency and humanity. My point is that we will not see any 'graduation ceremony' with Bucky getting castrated to obtain a perfect assassin.

3) Comic Natasha has always been a very private person. In AoU, we find out that Nat and Fury are the only ones to know about Clint's family, and after Ultron crashes Avengers Tower, Natasha says "Ultron has been through our files, he probably knows more about us than we know about each other." The previous films did not adequately build up to the Bruce/Banner friendship, let alone romance. Cap2 dedicated the whole movie to solidify Steve and Natasha's platonic friendship. The movie expects us to buy into this close relationship (which I felt could have worked if they established their friendship and decided their romantic relationship could be explored in a future movie) and Natasha disclosed something very personal to him (and IMHO it felt like the only reason this happened was to give them something to bond over). In the comics, Natasha has difficulty in discussing this to close friends, old soviet's who knew what went on in the Red Room and James Howlett her close friend.
Regarding male characters having also sterility issues, I have to admit I was surprised to learn that Banner couldn't have children. It's not clear whether he's sterile due to irradiation or if it's something else, but still, Natasha is not the first one to bring sterility in the equation.
"1) The fact that they took a story arc of Natasha's that could have been told in a solo movie and crammed it down to a ~5-10 minute minute talk in AoU to build up the Bruce/Natasha romance. "

Joss can't be expected write his movie based upon a speculative unplanned non-existent other movie in your head.
Ragondux, about that: it didn't even occur to me but while everybody is talking about Natasha, Banner can't have children too!
I could be wrong but I didn't get the sense Banner was sterile. I thought he was just unwilling to have children in light of his anger management issues.
Squishy, it is also possible that the extreme dosage of gamma radiation he was exposed to has left him sterile.
(Although the film wasn't specific about which option it was.)
Squishy, I read the line the same way as you did, but (crouching here behind the anonymity of our screen names) as a young person, I went and got a vasectomy specifically because I didn't want to pass my father's disease of rage on to any children that I might have.

So I identify 100% with Banner on this (again, given the way you and I both understand the line), but would like to point out that there's more than one way that such a statement can be true at the same time.
Yeah I also always thought Banner just won't dare to have children, because he's afraid what might happen if he hulks out. But of course, it makes sense that all the radiation made him sterile as well.
Whether physically incapable of fathering children or concerned that he might unleash a baby-hulk (or something along those lines) for all intents and purposes, he can't have kids.

On another note, I see absolutely no reason to believe that Widow's arc in AoU diminishes her stature as the most bad ass Avenger of them all. If anything, it elevates her. Then again, I don't feel like we live in a world where everyone is judging everyone else's worth by their ability to bear children.
I AUO Banner said he "physically" can't have children. Not just unwilling.
I agree with the article and with hpgwbtvs. I also felt that another line between her forced sterility and her ability to easily kill would've been nice because, honestly, the way it is the flow of her statement is inability to have children led to ease of killing which led to monsterhood. A line between the two clearly marking them as separate trains of thought would've been ideal, imo.
The intent of that conversation was so clear to me and the five adult children of mine who saw it. It was being a killer or having serious rage issues that made them monsters, not the infertility. Sterilization was done to her to harden her and keep her on mission. Whether he's sterile, or fears his rage issues could harm people he loves, Bruce seems less able to move beyond that than Natasha.

I find it amusing that that scene was filmed while Scarlett Johansson was pregnant.
Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that they brought up sterility, I just think that they could have handled the topic a bit better. Natasha is my favorite character (both in MCU and Earth-616 comics) and her inability to bear children never made me see her as less. What does diminish her character in AoU is having her OOC i.e., wanting to run away (could arguably explained by Wanda's hex), and being unable to escape a jail cell but capable of breaking into Fort Meade to obtain the Falcon suit.

bivith, I expect Joss to at least somewhat stick to the comics. These are not his characters. These movies come with an established fan base. "Black Widow: The Name of the Rose" is an important comic in Natasha's history that could have stood alone in a potential movie. I get changing Wanda and Pietro's origin story. Hank Pym not creating Ultron, I don't understand why Avengers2 had to fight Ultron. They could have had an Antman and Wasp movie before they fought Ultron. As of now, Dottie Underwood feels more like Earth 616 Natasha and MCU Natasha feels like Yelena Belova. I think part of the problem is a generational one, it is obvious he has not kept up with Marvel comics within the last two decades.

As for Banner, he physically can't have kids (the conventional way) because if he gets his heart rate elevated he'd hulk out. Imagine a code green during sex, can't be fun. But I think it is important to point out Dr. Banner chose to expose himself to gamma radiation in his desperation to recreate the super soldier serum. What happened to Natasha was done against her will. She ends up in the Red Room 2 different ways in the comic, based on Agent Carter I'm guessing she was stolen from an orphanage at a young age and forced into this lifestyle.

[ edited by hpgwbtvs on 2015-05-11 17:10 ]

I should clarify my above statement. In no way am I trying to say Dr. Banner’s infertility should be seen as less important as Natasha’s. What I am trying to criticize is the origin story MCU decided to pick for Natasha’s introduction to the Red Room. The alternative to being inducted into the Red Room as a child would have been if they brought her into the Red Room as an adult, much like the ‘dolls’ in Dollhouse when they sign up with Rossum. Sterilization wasn't Dr. Banner's intended goal. He wanted to create another Captain America knowing he could accidentally create a new Red Skull in the process. He chose to play Dr. Frankenstein on himself and continued to do so in the future with Ultron and Vision. I'm stating he had more agency leading up to his sterilization than Natasha. He had free will; he was a well informed educated adult who most likely researched all potential outcomes, which doesn't make Banner's situation any less heart wrenching. He may have not known that his experiments would lead to turning into a green hulking rage monster, but he should have not ruled it out based on Johann Shmidt's outcome. And radiation, gamma or UV, are known to alter DNA. He took a risk. Does this mean I'm any less empathetic to Dr. Banner's situation? No, he is still a human being who desires a family and normalcy, which was stripped away from him. I indentify with Banner as much as I identify with Romanoff when it comes to their fertility issues. There is no arbitrary scale that says ‘x’ has it worse than ‘y’, I'm merely commentating on the different events that led up to their infertility and the power that these character's have/don't have. The point I was trying and failed to get at is that the MCU chose to go the route with forced sterilization for Natasha, when they could have had her enter the KGB at the age of 28 to save Ivan, her foster father, which is compliant with the comics. She had more control over her body in the comics than in the movie because she willingly surrendered her body as a tool for the Soviet Union to spare her foster father's life. This would have given Banner and Romanoff more in common and could have led into some interesting discussions. In both cases, their infertility would have stemmed from an unforeseen consequence of a variant of the super soldier serum that they agreed to put into their body. It would have been obvious that their choices that led them to become the Hulk/KGB assassin and their actions in those persona's are why they view themselves as monsters. What I’m questioning is was it necessary for the MCU to decide to give Natasha the origin story of the orphaned child soldier as opposed to the WW2 veteran desperate to save her foster father?

Infertility is a personal and weighty matter to some people. While I'm glad it is being discussed in mainstream media, I think it would have benefited if they spent more time on this topic in AoU or if they left it for a solo movie, either Hulk or Black Widow. The 2008 Ed Norton Hulk movie did a great job at setting up this discussion, but I feel that cramming it into a 10 minute talk in a movie that is introducing 5 new characters to an already large cast did not do it justice. I can't speak for everyone, but I went through a period of self-hatred and feeling worthless because of my infertility, and that seems to be where Banner and Romanoff are in AoU. But if you are going down that road, you need to ride it to the end of the line. You need to reach the moment where you can picture a different future or look outside of conventional means such as adoption. That's not to say reaching that stage of acceptance is easy, fast or painless, but they could have taken the time to properly deal with the grief and anger that is initially felt when you realize what you have been robbed of. Age of Ultron was a fantastic movie, and since a major theme in the story was finding or redefining your notion of family/home, I think that Banner and Romanoff's story has a nice contrast to Barton, Rogers, and Stark's situation. I also really appreciate the different ways Banner and Romanoff deal with infertility, since everyone copes with it differently.

[ edited by hpgwbtvs on 2015-05-12 02:37 ]
Cool it - Simon

[ edited by Simon on 2015-05-11 18:27 ]
As a reminder, if posters starting having a go at each other - action will be taken. Be nice to each other. I'm closing this thread for a wee while.

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