Tales of Suspense (1st series) #103

Issue Date: 
May 2018
Story Title: 
Red Ledger, part 4: Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

Matthew Rosenberg (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Clayton Cowles (letterer), Andrea Sorrentino (cover artist), Carlos Lao (graphic designer),  Alanna Smith (editor), Tom Brevoort (executive editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Brief Description: 

Natasha wakes on a beach. She has memories of Captain America killing her. Ursa Major is with her, and offers cryptic answers to her questions, as Natasha realizes that she is in the Red Room. She meets Comrade Cady and his associates who run the Red Room, and carries out various assignments for them, killing Hydra and SHIELD agents, while exploring the Red Room, and learning what she can about the organization since it was moved to the United States. To her horror, she comes across a room where clones of not only herself, but the other Black Widow, Yelena Belova, and Anya the Orphan Maker are being grown. Comrade Cady informs Natasha that the clones are grown here, and the man called Epsilon Red programmes them with the necessary memories, so that they can replace the original. Natasha confronts Ursa Major, who reveals that he arranged to have all of her memories downloaded into her new body. Ursa Major is being held prisoner in the Red Room, and tells Natasha that he wants to destroy it – but Natasha has a better idea. Natasha attends a briefing from Comrade Cady, who informs her that she is to kill the Winter Solder, Hawkeye, and former SHIELD agent Skids. Natasha retrieves three clones of Yelena Belova, and arranges for one of them to replace the real Belova. She then finds Skids who had just met with Hawkeye and Bucky, and replaces Skids with one of the Belova clones – who she then kills, making Hawkeye and Bucky think that Skids had been killed. Natasha observes Bucky and Hakweye as they follow a lead Skids gave them in their search for the Black Widow. She then kills the real Belova, and arranges for Comrade Cady to be killed. One of the Red Room leaders tells Natasha that they fear the Winter Soldier is coming to kill them, and Natasha assures him that she will handle their former agent. Now, Natasha reveals her presence to Bucky and Hawkeye. She escapes them, but they give chase, until she traps them inside the Red Room's panic room. She takes Hawkeye's bow, and breaks Bucky's bionic arm off, taking that too, before detonating an explosion and telling them that she tried to warn them, but this is for the best, as they won't like what comes next.

Full Summary: 

A month ago, a woman with long red hair is lying on a beach. She feels like she has been asleep for days – she isn't sure if she wants to wake up yet. Then she remembers what happened to her – she was fighting Captain America – and he killed her. The woman gasps and sits up, rubbing her neck where Captain America's shield struck. She realizes that doesn't explain what is happening now. She stands up and moves to the shore, where the water washes up near her feet. A large brown bear is sitting nearby. The woman's training comes back, like reflex, grasping for situational awareness is muscle memory. The woman calls herself Natasha, and tells herself to think, to go through the questions – where is she? Why? How did she get here? What is the fastest way out? And why is there a bear here? The bear tells the woman that she is on a beach, and they put her here because it is supposed to be calming. He informs her that two men carried her to it, the fastest way to out is to just say that she wants to leave. 'And I'm not supposed to be here. Shhh'.

The bear looks away and from the woman and tells her that after a trauma, they say it is best to go to a happy place. 'And you suffered quite the trauma, dear'. The bear looks down to the sand castle he is building as he tells the woman that someone said that an empty island with no people was her happy place. 'I understand this' he adds. 'I died' the woman realizes, rubbing her neck still. 'You did' the bear confirms. 'Steve. Steve killed me' the woman declares. 'Yes and no. It is...complicated' the bear replies. The woman walks over to the bear and asks 'So this is...what? Hell?' to which the bear exclaims 'Shame on you, Natasha Romanoff. Bears don't go to hell. Think. You know what it is'. '... the Red Room' the woman called Natasha realizes.

She sits down near the bear, who tells her that they have ways of bringing her back. 'So it's real? I died? I clearly remember what it felt like to die' Natasha tells him. 'That would be my fault' the bear admits, before breaking the sand castle apart with his paw and telling Natasha 'What this is... what they have become. It's not right. Just because you bring someone back to life doesn't mean you own that life. But you mustn't let them know you know' the bear remarks, before the beach vanishes, and Natasha falls backwards, appearing in a blank, sterile room. A man in a suit appear behind Natasha. He bids her good morning and introduces himself as Alexander Cady. He asks her to forgive their little holographic room, and adds that she must have some questions for them. He then turns to the bear and identifies him as Ursa Major, telling him that he is not supposed to be in here. 'Apologies, Comrade Cady. I get lost so easily these days' Ursa Major claims.

'So... the bear was real?' Natasha asks as she walks alongside Comrade Cady down a corridor. 'Unfortunately. You didn't realize the great Soviet hero, Ursa Major?' Cady replies. 'All bears look alike to me' Natasha remarks. 'Don't tell him that' Cady suggests, before they enter another room, where three other men are waiting. 'Greetings, Natasha. So nice to have you back at the Red Room' a man wearing a military uniform with a cap tells her. Natasha looks around the room, 'I don't know these men. Or you' she tells Comrade Cady. Cady explains that somethings have changed since she was last here, and that it has been a while since her last operation. 'What happened to me?' Natasha asks. Another of the men, with hollow looking eyes tells Natasha that she was injured on a mission and have been recuperating here, because the Red Room is loyal to its own, but that she is recovered now. 'And you are still loyal to the Red Room, yes?' the man enquires. 'Of course, comrade' Natasha replies, frowning.

Comrade Cady informs Natasha that they have a mission for her, and reveals that Hydra and SHIELD have dismantled each other, that their enemies are vulnerable – so it is time for them to finish them.

Natasha then set out on various assignments, killing Hydra agents – stabbing some through the chest, throwing another off a rooftop, shooting another in the back of the head. Even Ursa Major joined her on a mission, chomping down on one of the Hydra agent's heads.

Weeks later, within the mysterious Red Room, Natasha clung to pipes running along the ceiling of a corridor, as two soldiers passed underneath her. One of them remarked that the move went smoothly, but that he still does not like it here. 'You didn't like it at home' the other points out. The first replies that at least at home he could get decent vareniki, and announces that he is going to request a transfer as soon as he can. 'They can send me anywhere warm'. Natasha drops down from the pipes, in front of a  door – she holds an eye ball to a retinal scanner at the door, which then slides open – and inside, she is shocked to discover several glass tanks, with bodies of women being grown in them – bodies of...her. 'This is...this is what I am? They remade me?' Natasha thinks to herself, as she sees a sign with her name on the tanks. The bodies are each in different stages of development, with one nearly fully formed, two at an in-between formed stage, and another barely formed at all. 'But I remember everything' Natasha thinks, before she looks over and sees several other tanks, with labels that read “Yelena” and “Anya” and more bodies in different stages of growth contained inside.

'Why can I remember everything so clearly? My family... the wars...' Natasha thinks to herself. 'Bozhe moi!' she gasps, before turning as a voice calls out 'I remember'. 'What?' Natasha asks as she looks to where a man is strapped into a chair, several cables connected to his head. 'I remember what you do not. I remember -' the strange man remarks. Natasha looks at him, as Alexander Cady enters the room, 'Impressive, isn't he? Well, maybe not on the surface. But he is a wonder' Cady declares. Natasha looks at Cady, asking him who this other man is. Cady explains that his name is Yurgei Ivanov, codenamed Epsilon Red, their psychic patriot. Cady turns a dial on a monitor, which shines light into the room, and tells Natasha that Epsilon Red is the heart of all this, all these women – he gives them their memories. 'These are women to you?' Natasha snaps.

Comrade Cady asks 'Why not? Because they are born in a lab? Because theire genes are...borrowed?' and points out that they live in the golden age of scientific possibility – birth, death – that is not what defines them as human anymore. 'Surely you must have come across people brought back to life through science, through mysticism. How is this different?' Cady asks. 'These “women” have not lived lives' Natasha points out. 'You are talking about memories? Electrical impulses stored in the brain? That is what he is for' Cady explains, referring to Epsilon Red. He adds that if ever, God forbid, something were to happen to Natasha, Yurgei can give her a new body, all her memories – or even just the ones that she wants. 'If something were to happen...' Natasha mutters. 'God forbid' Cady reiterates, before telling Natasha that he does not want to even think about how she gained access to this part of the facility. Natasha tells him that she wanted to see how the Red Room was operating these days, and asks if this is the future of the Red Room program. 'No. It is not' Cady responds as he walks to the door, with Natasha following him. Comrade Cady tells Natasha that there was a dark time when this seemed like the future – but thankfully, things have turned around again, and they look forward by looking to their glorious past.

'You remember this, don't you, Natasha?' Comrade Cady asks as they step into another room – a literal red room, where several girls in ballerina costumes surround someone who has been covered by a blanket. 'Hello, children. We have a special guest instructor today. Miss Romanoff is here to give you all an important lesson' Cady tells the girls. 'I am?' Natasha asks. One of the girls passes Cady a gun, then pulls the blanket off the person on the floor, revealing them to be a Hydra agent. 'Please teach the children the proper way to execute a prisoner' Cady asks.

Ursa Major is laying on a hard slab in a dank room, reading a book, when he hears a loud BANG BANG BANG. He looks up as Natasha enters the room moments later. 'You told me it was your fault I could remember my whole life. My death. Why?' Natasha demands. 'By all means, come in' Ursa Major tells her. 'WHY' Natasha snaps. Ursa Major sits up and tells Natasha that she deserves to know what  she became, that she was something more than this – a hero. He adds that he couldn't stop them from giving her back her life, but he could stop them from erasing the good parts. 'How did you give me my memories back?' Natasha asks. Ursa Major explains that it eas Yurgei – Epsilon Red – as when the Red Room reformed, he was recommissioned, became a prisoner here – like him – and like Natasha. Ursa Major adds that Epsilon Red has a psychic bond with all of the Widows, although they don't know it. He stores their memories in his own, like a bank, and when one of them dies, the Red room makes a withdrawal. 'I simple bribed him to break protocl. Give back everything' Ursa reveals.

'Bribed him with what?' Natasha enquires. Ursa pauses, before revealing 'My fur. He loves my fur. I let him pet me'. Natasha frowns and asks if this is the first time she died. 'What difference does it make now?' Ursa responds, to which Natasha pauses, before asking Ursa if she wants him to destroy this, changing her speech to English. Ursa tells Natasha that he loves his country, he loves Russia and defends it with honor – but this – where he is a prisoner, where he was once a soldier – no freedom even in death, it would seem – no honor. Ursa Major confirms that he wants Natasha to destroy this place, all of it – he wants her to destroy them. 'What if I have a better plan?' Natasha asks.

Four days later, Natasha is in a meeting room with the other officials, and Comrade Cady motions to a monitor which depicts an image of General Petrov. Cady announces that the operation in Chernaya was a success and with the death of Ambassador Antone, both United States and Hydra influence in the region was weakened enough to allow General Petrov's coup to take root quickly. He adds that, barring any complications, Petrov's regime will be recognized by the United Nations and become a powerful ally for them in the region. He presses an antiquated device which changes the image on the monitor, depicting now Winter Soldier and Hawkeye, as Cady reveals there was one complication – one of their agents, the Winter Soldier, has gone rogue, teamed up with an American super hero called Hawkeye, and they are hunting the Black Widow. 'Am I to kill them?' Natasha asks. 'If possible, yes. We cannot risk them finding us' Cady replies, changing the image on the screen again, this time a young blonde woman in a yellow costume with a blue jacket appears. Cady tells Natasha that they cannot risk her being captured, which is why her initial target is this young woman, Sally Blevins – another American super hero playing spy. 'Kill her' Comrade Cady instructs Natasha, who asks if she is a SHIELD agent. 'Yes. Is that a problem?' Cady enquires. 'Nyet' Natasha responds.

Shortly, Natasha stands behind Epsilon Red and tells him 'I want her to remember nothing'. She thinks to herself that it is a puzzle, that you spend hours staring at its pieces, but they don't fit. Ursa Major helps Natasha with three clones of Yelena Belova, removing them from the tank, they wrap blankets around the clones, and Ursa points out that they are blank, so asks Natasha what good they are.

Soon, 'I'm sorry, Yelena' Natasha calls out as she appears behind the real Yelena Belova, in a corridor, and aims a gun at her head. 'Natasha?' Yelena asks, confused. She's even more confused when she sees the three clones, one who has her hair cut short to match Yelena's current hairstyle. 'What are you doing?' Yelena asks. 'I need you to disappear' Natasha tells her.

Natasha think to herself once more that you spend hours staring at pieces that don't fit – and sometimes, you are tempted to get rid of the pieces that cause you problems. Sometimes you can force them in where you need them without anyone noticing – but some pieces are more stubborn than others.

'Hello, Sally Blevins' Natasha remarks as she puts a gun to the back of Skids' head. 'Hmm. I just told someone you were dead' Sally remarks, while holding her hands up. 'You lied' Natasha tells her. Skids watches as one of the Yelena Belova clones, unaware she is a clone, climbs into her pastel yellow car and asks Natasha what game she is playing. 'One that you are lucy not to be a part of anymore' Natasha tells her. They watch from nearby a bridge running over the Hudson River as the Yelena Belova clone drives the car onto the bridge – and then Natasha presses a detonator device, causing the car to explode. Skids looks shocked, and asks Natasha what she is doing and why she would kill Yelena. 'To save your life' Natasha explains as she watches through binoculars as Hawkeye and Winter Soldier turn their attention to the explosion. Natasha thinks to herself that some pieces are more stubborn than others.

Later still, 'Why am I doing this?' one of the Yelena Belova clones asks as Natasha puts a red wig on her head. 'Because I was sloppy. They saw me on the bridge. I need you to make them doubt that it was me' Natasha explains. She soon watches as Hawkeye and Winter Soldier arrive at a mansion in Westchester, and realizes that a picture is taking shape. 'Oh, boys. How I love watching you work' Natasha remarks, as what seemed impossible becomes easy. She picks her phone up as Yelena rings her. Natasha tells Yelena to calm down. 'They just let you go? Meet me in fifteen minutes. You know where' Natasha remarks. She meets with Yelena – and shoots her point blank in the head. Natasha sees exactly what needs to be done, and as those final pieces fall into place, she sees what was in front of her all along. She appears at Comrade Cady's office and informs him that she needs to see him.

In her quarters, Natasha lies on the hard-looking, narrow bed as one of Comrade Cady's other officials, Comrade Usenko, barges into her room: 'You stupid little girl! You said you they wouldn't be a problem! You assured us you could handle it!' Usenko barks at Natasha, who looks up from the book she is reading. 'What happened?' Natasha enquires as she sits up. Usenko announces that the Winter Soldier killed Comrade Cady in his New York apartment two days ago. 'I knew moving the operation to America was a bad idea... I told him' Usenko mutters. 'Oh my God... what do we do?' Natasha asks. Usenko points out that they don't know how close he could be getting – he could be on his way now, so they are enacting the Hibernation Protocols. 'What?' Natasha asks, wide-eyed. Usenko infoms her that this facility will be dismantled, all active agents will go to ground, the trainees will be terminated, and they return home. 'No. I can stop him' Natasha tells Usenko convincingly, putting a hand on his shoulder. And just like that, she gets her chance.

'Hello, boys' Natasha remarks on a rooftop as she stands over the body of Anya the Orphan Maker, while Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye and Bucky Barnes the Winter Soldier look at her in awe. She hates doing this to them, the dumb looks on their faces. 'Nat, what the $%^&?' Clint exclaims, while Bucky asks her what is wrong, and tells her that she needs to talk to them right now. Bucky moves closer to Natasha and reminds her that they are her friends. He tells her that they want to help her, but they need her to put the gun down. 'I don't know what's happened, but everything's going to be -' Bucky begins, before Natasha slams the gun into his face, while thinking that Bucky and Clint make everything so complicated. 'Now, Clint!' Bucky shouts as Natasha knocks him backwards, and as Bucky drops to the rooftop, Natasha continues to punch him. 'Clint, a little help!' Bucky calls out.

But Hawkeye just watches as Natasha punches Bucky again. 'Hawkeye! Snap out of it! She's gonna kill me in a second if you don't stop her!' Bucky calls out, before Natasha punches him in the head yet again. 'Hey!' Clint calls out, raising his bow and arrow, but Natasha doesn't pay him any attention, and she flips Bucky off his back, and hurls him at Hawkeye. Natasha then grabs Hawkeye's bow, as Bucky crashes into him, and she snaps it, before she leaps off the rooftop, holding a rope.

Bucky and Clint look over the edge of the rooftop, 'I couldn't take the shot' Clint points out. 'I noticed' Bucky mutters. 'It's really her' Clint tells Bucky, who agrees  with him. The climb down the fire exit, and Clint runs ahead, while Bucky tells him to slow down. 'Think. She had the drop on us. Why would she run in here when she could -' Bucky calls after Clint as he follows him through a door, where they find an abandoned room, but hear a scratching noise. 'Shh' Clint tells Bucky. They move forward, and Bucky tells Clint to be careful. The next room is completely dark. 'I can't see anything, Nat. if you're in this room, don't kill us' Clint calls out. 'Real good, Clint' Bucky mutters. Clint raises a flare arrow, which lights up the room, and points out that she is not here, in this weird bunker. Bucky explains that it is a panic room, and informs Clint that every Red room safe house has one.

A cellphone on a table in the room lights up, and Natasha's voice can be heard, telling Bucky and Clint that she is sorry it had to come to this. 'No!' Bucky exclaims, turning back to a door, he pokes his bionic arm through the door, but the door slides closed on his arm, breaking it off. 'I guess this is why she'd run in -' Clint begins. 'Please shut the $%^& up' Bucky mutters.

Elsewhere, Natasha holds her phone, and presses a code into the screen as she tells Bucky and Clint that she tried to warn them, but they are always in the way. 'Maybe this is for the best… you wouldn't like what comes next' Natasha remarks as the final number in the code causes an explosion, and Natasha walks away from it holding Clint's broken arrow, and Bucky's bionic arm....

Characters Involved: 

Winter Soldier
Black Widow Red Room Clone / Natalia Romanova

Orphan Maker II / Anya (body only)

in flashback:

Black Widow Red Room Clone / Natalia Romanova
Black Widow II Red Room Clone / “Yelena Belova”
Black Widow II Red Room Clone II / “Yelena Belova”
Black Widow II Red Room Clone III / “Yelena Belova”
Black Widow II / Yelena Belova

Ursa Major

Comrade Alexander Cady
Comrade Usenko (unnamed)
Comrade Gunin (unnamed)
Epsilon Red / Yuregi Ivanov

Various agents

Hydra agents

(in memory)
Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff
Hydra Captain America

(image on monitor)
Winter Soldier

General Petrov

Story Notes: 

Skids was seemingly killed in Tales of Suspense #101, although this issue reveals that she was removed from her car and the second Yelena Belova clone took her place before the explosion. Quite exactly when between Skids driving away from Winter Soldier and Hawkeye Skids was taken by Natalia Romanova is not quite clear, especially as Hawkeye and Winter Soldier seemed to be watching the car the entire time before it exploded.

The real Black Widow was killed by the Hydra Captain America in Secret Empire #7.

The Russians seem obsessed with re-using the names of several of their notable super beings – cloning both Black Widows, many men and one woman have called themselves Red Guardian, there have been numerous wearers of various Crimson Dynamo armors and Darkstar's power was even replicated and given to two other women.

The Black Widow clone killed Yelena Belova last issue.

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