Comic Charater Spotlight: Yelena Belova 

Welcome to this week’s Comic Character Spotlight! To continue the trajectory of last week – highlighting a side character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who is set to rise into the spotlight – we’ll be looking at Yelena Belova.  

Yelena was created by Devin Grayson and J.G. Jones. She first appeared in “Inhumans” issue #5 in 1999. She was the second character within the present timeline to be dubbed as Black Widow, the first being Natasha Romanov. She has also been depicted as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D, Vanguard and HYDRA.  

She possesses a wide range of combat-focused abilities such as peak athleticism, gymnastics, martial arts as well as military and espionage training. 

She was born in Moscow, Soviet Russia and similarly to Natasha Romanov, Yelena was trained as both a spy and assassin in the Red Room – the Soviet training facility created to produce highly specialized spies. After the murder of her trainer, Pyotr Vasilievich Starkovsky,  she takes on the mantle of ‘Black Widow’ and volunteers for a mission that leads her to cross paths with Natasha. 

Despite their similar origins, Yelena’s mission entailed murdering Natasha. However, understanding them both to be victims of their upbringing, Natasha guides Yelena to seek her own identity. Moreover, Natasha emphasizes that blind adherence to the role of ‘Black Widow’ and its accompanying responsibilities to the nation will not ultimately benefit Yelena. Through learning the realities of the espionage industry, Yelena is free from the manipulation she suffered at its hands.  

After the death of Natasha as a result of HYDRA’s cruelty, Yelena assumes the ‘Black Widow’ role once again for the purpose of honoring her foe-turned-ally. She avenges her through eliminating HYDRA’s remnants throughout the world.  

Yelena Belova is also featured in the third season of the “Avengers Assemble” (2013) animated series and is voiced by Julie Nathanson. Otherwise, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe she is portrayed by Florence Pugh and appears in various projects such as the film “Black Widow” (2020) and Disney Plus series “Hawkeye” (2021). Additionally, Florence is set to reprise her role as Yelena in the 2024 film “Thunderbolts.” Interestingly, in the MCU, she and Natasha are sisters who were raised and trained in the Red Room together. This contrasts with the comic books which saw them unrelated and trained in the Red Room at separate time periods.  

Despite only being in two projects in the MCU thus far, Yelena has risen in popularity as a personal and fan favorite. Her performance in “Black Widow” (2020) was well received, although the film itself was subjected to mixed reviews. Similarly, many agreed that she was the highlight of “Hawkeye” (2021). I’m excited to see her continue flourishing in the MCU and eagerly anticipate her return in 2024’s “Thunderbolts.”