Poor Black Widow hasn't had an easy time of it. After Iron Man 2 shoot her to the giddy heights of fan-fave status, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff went on to appear in The Avengers, [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](tag:254973), and [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035)... but was conspicuously absent from the toys that accompanied these films' releases. Despite fans clamouring for a Black Widow origin movie, she was not included in Marvel's Phase 3, and there are no plans to give her a solo film in the near future (though we WILL be getting yet another Spider-Man origin movie, now that Disney have got their sticky hands on the lucrative teen hero).
But fear not, Black Widow fans! There's been a huge shakeup at Marvel Studios recently, with the old guard ousted and a new(ish) order in place. So why is this the best thing for Nat? One word: merchandising.
The Power Of Play
This may seem like a very frivolous consideration, but merchandise is actually a really big deal. From serious collectors to kids who want to relive their favourite stories, the desire for merchandise has fueled many a franchise, and Marvel is no different. There's countless Avengers merch: T shirts, mugs, toys, action figures, etc. They're not exactly rare... unless you want anything Black Widow. Finding her merchandise is quite a quest. Forget a Natasha action figure - you'll be lucky if you find a T shirt or poster where she's included in the teams!
This omission hasn't gone unnoticed, and the furor was only provoked further when the toys for Age Of Ultron where released. Remember that awesome scene, included in the trailers, where Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow drops from the Quinjet mid-flight, driving a motorcycle?
Well, now you can re-enact that scene... without Black Widow!
She's... not even included on the box. But she is mentioned in the description!
"With your Captain America figure racing away, somebody needs to stick around in the cockpit. Luckily, the Cycle Blast Quinjet holds up to 4 2.5-inch Avengers figures! Additional figures sold separately. Imagine your own battles as you put Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, or Iron Man behind the controls and follow Captain America into the fight!"
Great, so you can just buy a separate Black Widow! Except you can't. Because the action figure line doesn't include Natasha.
So what's the reason for this aggravating omission of one of Marvel's most popular heroes? Obviously it's because Natasha's a girl! And kids don't want to play with girl toys! By kids, I of course mean boys, because girls don't like superhero films, duh!
Or so ex-CEO Ike Perlmutter would have us believe.
Out With The Old...
So what's this shakeup? Basically, Kevin Feige will now report directly to Disney instead of having to go through Ike Perlmutter. While Feige isn't exactly a paragon of progressive representation in media, he's supposedly not as restrictive as Perlmutter. Apparently, Perlmutter is the one who repeatedly shot down ideas for female hero merchandising, eliminating Black Widow and Gamora from recent toy lines. Using his professional history in toys as justification, Perlmutter prevented Black Widow from being included in merchandising, according to this report...
"I understand the reason there are no Black Widow toys is specifically because Ike, with a background in toys, believes girl toys do not sell and thus vetoed them again and again. One guy was the roadblock."
While it would be fantastic to be able to pin all the responsibility on one guy, it's likely that the merchandising issue is just endemic of a much larger problem. Despite always being comic fans, women just aren't considered a big part of the audience, and aren't catered to nearly as much. But there was that recent email leak that proved Perlmutter believes female-lead hero movies are doomed to fail...
Ok, maybe we're getting our hopes up. But that's because merchandise is important. It's not just about owning the hot new nerd merch, it's about seeing yourself reflected in fiction. Especially when it comes to children: girls and boys alike should get the chance to feel heroic. DC gets it...
And who knows, with Perlmutter out, maybe we'll finally get that Black Widow solo movie! Weirder things have happened.