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The Untold Truth Of Marvel's Yelena Belova

Yelena Belova, the second woman to claim the mantle of the Black Widow, has primarily been defined in comparison and opposition to the original, Natasha Romanoff. A fellow graduate of the Russian spy factory the Red Room, Belova shattered many of Romanoff's marks as a spy-in-training. Both agents were loyal to their Russian masters for a period of time, but both later broke away to look after their own interests. 

However, while Belova played at being a hero for a while, she didn't have the strong moral backbone or intense self-determination of Natasha. She later turned her loyalty to Russia into a cynical, mercantile career. Her thirst for vengeance led her to a grotesque transformation. She dabbled with being a spy, for both good and evil, without ever committing to any cause for long. When you spend your entire life trying to compare yourself to somebody else, it's hard to build your own personality — and that's exactly what happened to Yelena Belova. What's even worse is that Natasha always got the best of her, outsmarted her, and even used her at times for her own purposes. 

Given that Florence Pugh portrays Yelena in the Black Widow movie, let's learn more about her triumphs and tragedies. 

Fear and loathing In Moscow

In one of the more lurid origin stories ever, back when Marvel was still publishing comics in its adults-only MAX line, Yelena Belova's backstory was revealed in the series Black Widow: Pale Little Spider. Her trainer and mentor, Colonel Starkovsky, was found murdered in a Russian fetish club. Starkovsky had been training her in combat since she was a pre-teen, and Yelena thought of him as a father figure. He found himself thinking of her in a different way and felt tremendous guilt about it. He never did anything inappropriate with his student, but had to find a way to deal with his feelings.

He went with professionals: the BDSM experts at club Fabrika, headed by a mysterious woman named Nikki. She groomed a Yelena lookalike named Petra using files Starkovsky had stolen, in order to give him a truly authentic experience. Petra/Yelena would humiliate and degrade him while fulfilling his fantasies, and this allowed Starkovsky to stay sane. However, Petra went crazy, believed that she deserved to be the Black Widow, and murdered him. Yelena went undercover and encountered Nikki, who first teased her psychologically and then seemed to join forces with Yelena to capture Petra. 

Yelena killed Petra without hesitation and returned to receive her next orders as the new Black Widow. After she left, it was revealed that Nikki was a spy and the whole mission was designed to test Yelena' field readiness.

Destabilizing the Inhumans

Yelena Belova's first appearance came in the Marvel Knights Inhumans series, when General Yuri Stalyenko was leading an assault on Attilan, the home of the Inhumans. The Inhumans had isolated themselves from the human race for years for precisely this reason: they didn't want to engage with the wars and politics of the human race. Of course, while Attilan was ruled by the wise Black Bolt, his brother Maximus the Mad was always stirring up trouble. Maximus had secretly reached out to Stalyenko, giving him information and technology that he knew would allow the invaders to pierce Attilan's defenses and ultimately allow him to rule. 

In order to make this work, a lot of espionage had to occur. Stalyenko sent his newly activated Black Widow, Yelena, to deliver what appeared to be a gift to a U.S. ambassador. She told him that he needed to get it into the hands of the Inhumans and it would act as a Trojan horse, emitting a frequency that lowered the negative space barrier that protected Attilan. The plan worked, as the ambassador gave the gift to an Inhuman diplomat after the U.S. refused to intervene directly to stop the attacks on Attilan. In the end, Black Bolt knew what Maximus had planned all along and went along with it before he crushed Stalyenko's forces and made it appear as though Attilan had been destroyed.

Meeting Natasha

Colonel Khan of the Rhapastanian army commissioned a scientist named Dr. Didier Ines to create a biological weapon called the Deathless Frenzy. This bio-toxin, once it infected its targets, turned them into invincible berserker warriors until it cycled through their bodies and ravaged them. They would not feel pain — the only thing its victims wanted was blood. 

Naturally, the U.S. and Russia didn't want a rogue state in possession of such a dangerous weapon. More to the point, both countries wanted it for themselves. So both countries sent their Black Widows to retrieve it: Natasha Romanoff for the U.S., and Yelena Belova for Russia. In their first encounter, Natasha's experience overcame Yelena's surprise factor and sheer ruthlessness. Yelena immediately told Natasha that she was the new Black Widow, revealing her obsession with her. Natasha understood how to use that to her advantage as she coolly manipulated the younger spy. 

Natasha kidnapped Ines and forced him to create a vaccine — then she drew Yelena out of hiding and faked her own death, manipulating Yelena to go back to Rhapastan. Natasha genuinely felt sorry for Yelena and the life that was chosen for her, but that didn't mean that she wasn't going to use her. Natasha went undercover to vaccinate Khan's men and destroyed the virus while Yelena served as her distraction. When Yelena tried to kill her, Natasha said that Yelena's passion for the game wouldn't let her do it just yet... and she was right. 

Face/Off

Yelena's next encounter with Natasha was even more one-sided and brutal. During their first encounter, Natasha learned that the new head of the Red Room was General Yuri Stalyenko, a former mob-level thug who managed to worm his way into a position of power. Natasha had SHIELD abduct Yelena from her apartment and perform Face/Off-style facial cosmetic surgery. A confused Yelena woke up in Natasha's New York apartment with Natasha's face and a cheery Daredevil there to hit on her. Natasha (as Yelena) picked a fight with her in public, baiting Yelena (as Natasha) to shoot her. A confused but angry Yelena obliged, even as Natasha was really pretending to be Yelena, taunting her that she was too old and too slow.

The whole point of this was for Natasha to get in with Stalyenko and learn his plans. He had a bunch of nukes stashed in New York, and though Stalyenko suspected she wasn't really Yelena and sent an assassin after her, she was still a step ahead of him. Meanwhile, SHIELD was pretending to chase Yelena all around New York, exhausting the confused and fragile spy before Daredevil finally let her off the hook. 

Natasha then made sure Yelena heard Stalyenko admit that Yelena was expendable and he'd use her without hesitation. After the Widows captured him, Yelena attacked Natasha. Natasha revealed that she was trying to save Yelena and teach her that everyone gets used in espionage. 

Queen of capitalism

When Natasha met Yelena for the third time, things got weird. The Red Room was hunting down former Black Widow agents, but she turned the tables and killed her pursuers and their accomplice, the CEO of an American drug company. That made her a wanted fugitive, so she found her way to Cuba, where she knew Yelena had defected. This is where their relationship thawed, as a mellow Yelena had been living it up after making millions as a lingerie model and business owner. She had retired from the spy game and was living in luxury. She also provided a place for girls to get off the street and gave them medicine.

She was happy to offer safe harbor for Natasha in exchange for Natasha roughing up some drug suppliers who had jacked up the prices on their supply. Natasha did this, but realized that these dealers were working for Gynacon, the company whose CEO she had killed. Natasha was later kidnapped by a couple of killers looking for revenge, but Yelena and Daredevil rescued her after she had been drugged. Yelena had claimed that she hadn't had any combat training in a while, but her skill in rescuing Natasha demonstrated otherwise. Natasha stayed in Cuba for a while, recovering, and they became friends. 

Super Adaptoid

Yelena went back into the spy game and started working for SHIELD, although she was part of a renegade unit that was mining Savage Land Vibranium. Unlike Wakandan Vibranium, which absorbed sound, Savage Land Vibranium destroyed the integrity of anything metallic. The New Avengers came across the operation while they were hunting down Karl Lykos, the mutant who could transform into a sentient pteranodon called Sauron, an energy leech who specifically homed in on mutant energy. Belova and her unit also attacked the New Avengers, but Sauron scalded her with an acid attack before he was finally defeated. 

Belova was whisked away by AIM, who saved her life and offered her a deal. Her body was now permanently scarred and broken, but if she agreed to have her consciousness transferred into the body of the new Super Adaptoid, her power would be limitless and she could get back at the New Avengers. The Super Adaptoid could absorb the powers of anyone upon contact, and those powers would stack. 

Right before Luke Cage married Jessica Jones, Yelena attacked Avengers Tower. When she absorbed the powers of the Sentry, it appeared that there was no way the Avengers could stop her. Iron Man summoned his entire armory of suits against her, wearing her down as they fought her remotely. That gave the Sentry time to activate his other, evil self within him, the Void, and push it in Yelena. Sensing a mission failure, AIM destroyed Yelena remotely. 

Vanguard

Yelena Belova has often been involved in the corners and cracks of the Marvel Universe. One of the stranger ones was her membership in a secret team called Vanguard, an elite black-ops squad that specialized in assassinations across the world. Their leader was Trenton Craft, alias Colonel America, the product of a companion to the Super Soldier program of World War II. Whereas Captain America was developed as a peak physical specimen, Craft was developed as the most powerful telekinetic mind on the planet. However, he was too powerful and couldn't control his powers, as his disastrous first mission revealed when he destroyed an entire city. He spent the next 60 years secretly honing his powers as he oversaw this team.

When he appeared to be murdered, a cop named Stacy Dolan uncovered a mind-control killer named Jaafar Yoosuf. That in turn led to Vanguard being uncovered. That team consisted of Blade the vampire hunter, mercenary Dominic Fortune, size-changer Micromax, Yelena Belova as the Black Widow (not the Super Adaptoid), and a memory-wiping telepath named Retcon. Micromax was outed as a traitor, but Craft showed up alive and decided to obliterate the team since they were compromised. Retcon bought them a little time by fooling Craft, but he tracked Blade down. Whether or not this version of Yelena was still alive was unclear. 

Who's that Widow?

Yelena disappeared from the public eye until Norman Osborn found her breaking into a SHIELD facility, and he offered her to lead his team of Thunderbolts during Dark Reign. She proved to be a capable tactician and leader of a group that included the Headsman, Scourge, Paladin, the Ghost, Ant-Man, and Mister X. However, this wasn't actually Yelena at all — it was once again Natasha Romanoff assuming Yelena's identity in order to infiltrate the Thunderbolts for Nick Fury. She secretly reported her activities to Fury, who directed her on her missions.

Of course, this wasn't actually Fury. Osborn knew she wasn't Belova, because he had Belova in a stasis tube, recovering from her destruction as the Super Adaptoid. So he intercepted Natasha's communications and pretended to be Fury, hoping that Natasha would eventually lead him to his foe. He had the Thunderbolts track down Songbird and then ended the charade, ordering the Thunderbolts to kill them. Natasha and Songbird managed to escape when several of the Thunderbolts turned on each other. 

AIM High Council

Andrew Forson, the Scientist Supreme of AIM, recovered that stasis tube from Osborn and revived her. AIM had purchased the island of Barbuda (a real place, and part of Antigua and Barbuda) and decided to declare themselves a sovereign nation. Barbuda became a haven for super-villains, and the members of its High Council were especially notable. Mentallo became Minister of Public Affairs, Superia the Minister of Education, Graviton the Minister of Science, Jude the Entropic Man the Minister of Health, the Taskmaster the Minister of Defense, and Yelena became the Minister of State. 

The Taskmaster was a double-agent for SHIELD, as AIM and SHIELD skirmished with each other through espionage. When AIM captured Mockingbird, Forson revealed that she was a deep-cover plant for his real organization: the Cult of Entropy. Dedicated to the destruction of everything, he had given Mockingbird a second personality that he could activate to do his bidding. Meanwhile, Yelena killed Senator Rebel Ralston (formerly of the Howling Commandos) at an arms expo, claiming self-defense.

The Secret Avengers stormed the facility as things began to fall apart for AIM. Mockingbird tried to escape but was met by Yelena, and they fought. Mockingbird showed up at the last second but was shot and killed... except it wasn't Mockingbird. She'd placed a hologram device on Yelena that made her look like Mockingbird. Yelena was dead, yet again.

Clone shuffle

How was Yelena turned into the Super Adaptoid, building an empire in Cuba, and a member of Vanguard at the same time? Clones, of course. The Red Room spy program that produced deadly female spies quite literally produced deadly female spies. They kept clones of Natasha and Yelena on hand and had a psychic operative named Epsilon Red, who maintained all of their memories and could download them into new bodies. 

Natasha Romanoff was killed by the HYDRA version of Captain America during Secret Empire. However, the Red Room activated a new Natasha clone. When the clone became aware of all this, she used a blank slate Yelena clone as fodder to impersonate SHIELD agent Sally "Skids" Blevins in order to fake Sally's death. She then took apart the Red Room and destroyed all of the clones. Natasha sent another Yelena clone disguised as her in order to throw off Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier... but not before she killed the real Yelena. Then she killed the clone as well to put an end to her friend and rival, once and for all.