The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, after an unexpected year-plus delay, back on the big screen. Black Widow, the long-awaited solo outing for the MCU’s first major female superhero, has arrived in theaters and on Disney+, bringing with it all the action, quippy dialogue, and inscrutable hat tips to comic-book lore that we’ve come to expect in an hours-long installment to the ever-expanding multiverse. From Ursa to Crimson Dynamo, Yelena’s vest to that box of blonde hair dye, here is a breakdown of the references and Easter eggs you may or may not have caught throughout the movie’s runtime:
The North Institute
Natasha’s The Americans–style fake family is deep undercover in Ohio so that Alexei and Melina can steal the secret to “unlocking free will” from a S.H.I.E.L.D. (but really Hydra) facility called the North Institute. The laboratory takes its name from the 2004 Black Widow comic series, though it is functionally quite different, as in that storyline it was an agency that sent assassins after Red Room defectors.
The opening credits include a news broadcast about Soviet espionage in Ohio. The broadcast is from WHIH25, presumably a local affiliate for WHIH World News, the MCU’s go-to fake news channel. WHIH broadcasts have appeared in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and pretty much every Marvel TV show.
Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross
Speaking of The Incredible Hulk, one of the few things from that mostly forgotten MCU entry that have carried over into the larger franchise (at least until the Abomination returns in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) is William Hurt’s Secretary of State Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross. As the person responsible for attempting to get all the Avengers to sign the Sokovia Accords, and the guy in charge of tracking down anybody who goes rogue, it makes sense that he would be on Natasha’s tail. She certainly doesn’t have much trouble avoiding him, though.
The Sokovia Accords
Ross is after Natasha for two reasons. The first is that since she switched from Iron Man’s pro-Accords side at the end of Captain America: Civil War to Cap’s group of resisters, she’s in violation of the international agreement. The Sokovia Accords, so named for Wanda Maximoff’s homeland, which Ultron pretty much destroyed in Avengers: Age of Ultron, was intended to provide some level of accountability to the Avengers.
The King of Wakanda
Ross also mentions that Natasha is in trouble for assaulting the King of Wakanda, which is a very funny way of framing her brief fight with Black Panther at the end of Civil War. Sure, T’Challa is a superhero with incredible abilities and advanced technology, but he’s also a sitting head of state, so it makes a certain amount of sense that there would be consequences for fighting him.
“Barton, Wilson … and the Incredible Shrinking Convict”
While on the phone with Nat, Ross tells her that he has her friends in jail already, mentioning “Barton” (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), “Wilson” (Sam Wilson/the Falcon), and “the Incredible Shrinking Convict” (Scott Lang/Ant-Man). It’s just Natasha and Steve Rogers who are on the run. This is interesting because it actually means that Black Widow takes place during the events of Civil War rather than simply after it. That movie ends with Steve breaking those heroes out of the super-prison known as the Raft, but Black Widow reveals that they were apparently behind bars for a little longer than the movie implied — at least long enough for Nat to go on her own adventure and reunite with her Russian family. This also explains why Clint isn’t around to help his friend, and it means that Nat is especially isolated and lonely when the film begins.
Yelena (Florence Pugh) made her comics debut in 1999, first appearing in Inhumans No. 5. Her backstory on the page is largely the same as in the MCU, in that she’s a contemporary of Natasha’s who was also trained as an assassin in the Red Room. She too has held the mantle of “Black Widow.” However, the original comics character didn’t have quite the sisterly relationship with Nat as the film version does, and though she’s transitioned to being a hero, she began as a villain. She also spent a decent part of the ’00s as a cyborg monster known as a Super-Adaptoid, because of course she did.
The Widow who dies freeing Yelena from mind control is named Oksana (Michelle Lee), which might be a vague allusion to a couple of comics characters from Black Widow’s history. A 1987 issue of Solo Avengers featured a one-off appearance by Oksana Bolishinko, Natasha’s ballet instructor prior to her KGB recruitment. There’s also a more recent character named Oksana Davis who has appeared in stories featuring another Red Room trainee, the Red Widow. The MCU Oksana isn’t really similar to either character aside from the name, however, so it’s perhaps more likely that “Oksana” is a common Russian name.
Dreykov’s ultimate fighter — later revealed to be his own daughter (Olga Kurylenko) — has a different comic backstory. First appearing in 1980’s The Avengers No. 195, Taskmaster is a man named Tony Masters whose photographic memory and reflexes give him the ability to perfectly duplicate anybody’s fighting style — though his own memory and personality suffer as a result. He operates as a mercenary and frequently fights Marvel heroes, though he doesn’t have an explicit connection to Black Widow or the Red Room. When we first meet the MCU’s Taskmaster, she’s watching footage of Hawkeye and Black Panther’s fight from Civil War. Throughout the film, we see her mimic the fighting styles of Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Panther.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s O-T Fagbenle plays Natasha’s finder, Rick Mason, better known in the comics as simply Agent. The character first appeared in 1990’s Marvel Graphic Novel No. 57 and has since carved out a niche for himself as a highly skilled freelance secret agent. In the comics, he’s actually the son of the Spider-Man villain the Tinkerer, whom we saw as a supporting MCU baddie in Spider-Man: Homecoming, as played by Michael Chernus. There’s no relation between the movie versions of the characters.
One of the false identities that Mason gives Nat is “Fanny Longbottom.” Tragically, this mildly funny name is not a deep-cut reference to some obscure Bronze Age comics character. However, Yelena’s dog in the post-credits scene is named “Fanny.”
The Blonde Hair Dye
Among the supplies Natasha buys for herself and stashes in her remote trailer in Norway is blonde hair dye. Which makes sense, because when she next appears in the MCU’s chronology, in Avengers: Infinity War, she’s got blonde hair. She sports the new ’do at the very end of Black Widow.
While relaxing in that remote trailer, Natasha watches the James Bond movie Moonraker, a film she’s apparently seen enough times to be able to recite its dialogue. The 1979 movie is an appropriate Bond for Nat to watch, as the climax involves a super-spy battle on a space station. Natasha doesn’t quite leave the Earth’s atmosphere in Black Widow (she won’t do that until Endgame), but the film’s climax takes place on the satellitelike Red Room, which floats high in the sky. Moonraker begins with Bond jumping out of a plane without a parachute, which Nat essentially does at the end of Black Widow.
For almost a decade now, MCU fans have heard Natasha and Clint talking about Budapest, but it wasn’t until Black Widow that we got the full story of what went down in Hungary. As part of her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D., Nat helped Clint assassinate General Dreykov — that was the plan, at least. In the process, she thought she killed Dreykov’s daughter, Antonia, an event that Loki first teased back in The Avengers. (When he’s imprisoned on the helicarrier, the God of Mischief taunts Nat with all of the bad things she’s done, listing “Dreykov’s daughter” as just one example.) Black Widow reveals that Natasha willingly agreed to let Antonia, an innocent young girl, die, because the end (Dreykov’s intended death) justified the means. Dreykov, who survived the Budapest bombing along with his daughter, is an MCU-original character, although he’s based on aspects of various comic characters.
“Duck and Cover”
While fleeing Taskmaster, Yelena teases Natasha, asking if she has a plan or if they should just “stay duck and cover” while the other Widows attack them. “Duck and cover” was what American schoolchildren were taught to do during the height of the Cold War in the event that the U.S.S.R. opted for mutual nuclear destruction. Yelena, a former Soviet spy, is right that hiding under a desk would offer about as much protection from a nuke as crouching in a passenger seat would from a squad of super-assassins.
While Natasha and Yelena hide from Taskmaster in some subway vents, Nat notes that she and Clint hid there for two days while preparing for the Budapest mission. We get a glimpse of the games they carved into the metal to entertain themselves, including a game of hangman where it seems the word was probably “butterfly.”
At one point in the film, Yelena deems Natasha “one of the lesser Avengers,” noting that the god from space probably doesn’t need to take an ibuprofen after a fight. She’s referring, of course, to Thor, who as far as we know isn’t popping a couple of anti-inflammatories after saving the world.
That Fighting Pose
Yelena also teases her sister about the iconic “arm and hair” fighting pose that Natasha does during … pretty much all of her fights, starting with her debut in Iron Man 2. Natasha does it later in the movie, as does Yelena, to her own dismay.
The Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America made his debut in 1967’s The Avengers No. 43. Alexei Shostakov was a gifted pilot whom Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev chose to transform into a super-soldier over the runner-up, the real-life first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. There have been five other Red Guardians over the years, but Alexei is clearly the “main” one.
When we meet him, Red Guardian is locked in a Russian prison. It is not the first time that David Harbour has found himself in such an institution.
Red Guardian vs. Captain America
Red Guardian is attempting to regale his fellow inmates with a story about the time he fought Captain America. The only issue is that Captain America was still frozen in the mid-’80s, when he claims this encounter took place. In interviews, Harbour has said that Red Guardian is telling the truth — or at least he believes his character is telling the truth. In the comics, Red Guardian and Captain America have battled, including a notable encounter in Avengers Nos. 43–44 in 1967, but there’s no real comics equivalent to the ’83 or ’84 fight the movie references.
While bragging about his exploits, the Red Guardian effortlessly defeats prisoner after prisoner in an arm-wrestling marathon. The big guy whose arm he breaks is actually a reference to a comic character, Mikhail Ursus, a.k.a. Major Ursa. In the comics, Major Ursa is a Mutant who fights with the Winter Guard, Russia’s version of the Avengers. His Mutant ability is that he can, uh, transform into a big bear. Is this the MCU introducing Mutants and X-Men into continuity?
Red Guardian’s Tattoos
Alexei has gotten lots of tattoos behind bars, and many of them are subtle Easter eggs. (Well, his KARL and MARX knuckle tats are not at all subtle.) He has a neck tattoo of Rachel Weisz’s face with her character’s name, Melina, written underneath. According to Looper, his bicep tattoo says “Наташа” and “Елена,” which are the names of his two daughter figures, Natasha and Yelena, written in Cyrillic.
During an argument with Red Guardian, Yelena and Natasha casually (yet bitterly) mention that they do not have periods (or the capacity to have children) because the Red Room gave all the Widows involuntary hysterectomies. This is keeping with one of the more controversial parts of MCU canon, as Joss Whedon’s Age of Ultron was widely criticized for a scene in which Natasha suggests she’s a monster because she’s unable to conceive. Yelena’s quips, which are partially credited to Pugh, are a fairly explicit pushback to the Age of Ultron moment.
In an attempt to convey how proud he is of Natasha, Red Guardian praises both her and Yelena’s history of assassinations, claiming their “ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red.” This is the same phrasing Loki uses in the Avengers scene where he mentions Dreykov’s daughter. Natasha’s main motivating factor as a hero is that she wants to atone for all the red (blood) in her ledger, and here Red Guardian is praising her for it like a buffoon. Dads, man.
Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) goes by Iron Maiden in the comics, where she’s traditionally an enemy to Black Widow rather than a mother figure. In the movie, she’s the brains of the operation while Red Guardian is the muscle, but in the comics, she’s also a master assassin with a sort of metal exoskeleton. She made her debut in 1983’s Marvel Fanfare No. 11.
In the midst of Red Guardian’s story about his dad urinating on his hands to save him from frostbite, Yelena snaps, bemoaning his tales about his “stupid glory days as the Crimson Dynamo.” In the comics, the Crimson Dynamo is actually a different character, a Soviet supervillain named Anton Vanko who constructed a powerful, all-red armored suit. If Vanko’s name sounds familiar, it’s because his son Ivan Vanko appeared in Iron Man 2 as the villain Whiplash. That movie actually opens with Anton dying, though there’s no indication that he was ever actually the Crimson Dynamo in this continuity. Yelena’s jibe is likely just a comics shout-out rather than confirmation that the MCU had a character operating under the Crimson Dynamo moniker.
The Classic Black Widow Costume
Milena’s Black Widow costume, which we later learn is really being worn by Natasha, looks more like the iconic Black Widow costume from the comics than anything else the MCU version of the character has worn. It’s not an exact match, but the costume’s wrist weapon bracelets are gold, much like they’ve been in most illustrated depictions of her since this look first appeared in 1970’s Amazing Spider-Man No. 86. Black Widow’s “White Widow” costume that she wears for most of the movie also has a comics precedent, first appearing in the 2010 limited series Black Widow: Deadly Origin.
Yelena ends the movie by giving Natasha her vest — the very first article of clothing she ever bought for herself. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen that vest and its many, many pockets. Natasha is wearing the vest when we see her in Infinity War, which takes place after Black Widow.
The post-credits scene, which you can read about in more detail here, is the only part of the film that takes place in the MCU’s “present day” (which is technically 2023 due to Endgame’s five-year time jump). It has Yelena meet up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who first appeared in the Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. (Black Widow, remember, was originally supposed to premiere before any of the Disney+ shows before the pandemic changed everything.) She’s a somewhat dicey recruiter, and here she’s giving Yelena a job — assassinating Hawkeye. Guess we’ll see how this shakes out in the Disney+ Hawkeye series, in which Pugh is set to appear.