Tales of Suspense (1st series) #104

Issue Date: 
June 2018
Story Title: 
Red Ledger, part 5: The Cure for Pain

Matthew Rosenberg (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Clayton Cowles (letterer), Yasmine Putri (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: 

The Black Widow informs Red Room officials that Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier are dead, and gives them Hawkeye's bow and Winter Soldier's bionic arm. General Usenko welcomes the Black Widow as a new commander in the Red Room. The Black Widow takes a particular interest in the ballerina assassins that General Usenko is responsible for, and builds a connection with them, despite Usenko instructing her not to get close to them. When she's not doing that, the Black Widow is undertaking more missions against Hydra, whispering secrets to Epsilon Red and studying everything she can about the Red Room. Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier, meanwhile, are trapped in the panic room of a Red Room safehouse. Hawkeye devises an escape plan, which enables Winter Soldier to leave through an air duct, and return with fire fighters, who free Hawkeye. The Black Widow meets with the Red Room officials and tries to convince them to focus their attention on Hydra, SHIELD and the AIM, she thinks those organizations are currently weak. Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier arrive at a facility where they rescue Skids and Ursa Major and retrieve their bow and bionic arm. With Ursa Major, they arrive at the main part of the Red Room, which is seen by the officials. This gives the Black Widow an opportunity to start shooting several officials and soldiers. Usenko and Gunin are not among them, and the officials quickly spread the word throughout the facility that the Black Widow has betrayed them. Hawkeye, Winter Soldier and Ursa Major find a trail of bodies throughout the facility, and hear the announcement that the Black Widow has turned traitor. They find the room full of ballerina assassins, and quickly run from it when the girls go after them. But the room they run into is just as deadly, as they find the Black Widow fighting many clones of herself and Yelena Belova. The Black Widow wants to kill them all, and starts shooting them. The Winter Soldier joins her, but Hawkeye doesn't want to kill the clones. Their troubles increase when Gunin arrives with soldiers – luckily Ursa Major and the ballerina assassins are brought into the room by the Black Widow, evening the odds, and the Black Widow eventually shoots Gunin in the head. When all the soldiers and clones are dead, Black Widow instructs Ursa Major to get the young assassins to safety, as Usenko will spread the word that this facility has been compromised and there is likely a remote detonator that will be triggered. Hawkeye and Winter Soldier help the Black Widow take the bodies of Yelena, or at least a clone, and Anya the Orphan Maker to Epsilon Red, who has promised the Black Widow to restore their memories and revive them. He does so, and in return, the Black Widow grants Epsilon Red his freedom – by killing him. Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier take the unconscious Yelena and Anya out of the facility, the Black Widow is with them until she heads back inside, wanting to get some information which she doesn't want falling into the hands of Skids, an ex-SHIELD agent. Skids is outside with Ursa Major and the children, FBI and emergency crews, just in time, as the facility explodes. A short time later, Skids meets with Hawkeye and Winter Soldier and summarises the events as she understands them – and warns them not to leave town. Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier know that the Black Widow won't be dead, and a fire fighter brings them notes which were found on a tree. The notes are from the Black Widow. Hawkeye reads his, and in it, the Black Widow thanks him for not giving up on her, while the Winter Soldier's note tells him that he will know where to find her in one week, but that he is not to bring Hawkeye.

Full Summary: 

At a Red Room command facility in Westchester, New York.

'Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier are dead' announces the Black Widow clone, Natalia Romanova as she places Hawkeye's broken bow and the Winter Soldier's bionic arm on a table in front of General Usenko and other Red Room officials. Usenko picks up the Winter Soldier's arm and tells the Widow that this is most impressive, and informs her that they were just discussing the astounding work she has been doing them recently, and that with the passing of Comrade Cady, it seems only right to promote her to take his place. 'Let these trophies be the first of many things you bring to the Red Room as a new commander' Usenko declares.

But, Natasha takes back the arm and announces that these are for her personal collection. She informs him that she is honored and would like to continue Comrade Cady's work with the young girls in the assassins program. But Usenko motions to his left, where the chubby bald Comrade Gunin sits, and informs Natasha that that role has already been filled, but he is sure Comrade Gunin could use the insight of someone as skilled as herself. Comrade Gunin tells the Black Widow that it would be an honor to work with her – the killer of the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye!

Elsewhere, inside the panic room of a destroyed Red Room safehouse in Westchester, New York.

'I can't believe she almost blew us up!' Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye exclaims as he tries to break out of the panic room. 'She did' the one-armed Bucky Barnes a.k.a. Winter Soldier mutters.

At the Red Room, Natasha has changed into a dress suit as she meets with Gunin and the young assassin girls, dressed as ballerinas. Gunin tells the children to say hello to their new co-instructor, Comrade Romanoff. 'What she says, you do. Understand?' he asks the children. The children are paired up and begin training against each other. Natasha stands near two of the girls and tells them that against larger assailants, the eyes, throat and genitals are their first targets.

Back in the panic room, Hawkeye and Bucky are still struggling to break free. Clint mutters that it is pretty crappy they spent all this time looking for her only to have her try to kill them. Bucky struggles as he tries to open a door, and points out that if Natasha really wanted them dead, they would be dead by now. 'We're pretty close' Hawkeye remarks, but Bucky tells him that they are just trapped, and that this is part od her plan – somehow, while Clint looks up at the ceiling, which has many cracks appearing.

In the Red Room:

'Since you do not listen, you do not train today!' Gunin exclaims as he smacks one of the young assassins. The little girl goes across the room and sits down. Natasha goes over to her, and tells the girl that she is all right – and all the anger she is feeling right now, she should hold onto it.

Clint continues to examine the panic room, and holding up a flare arrow to shine some light into the room, he locates an air duct. Clint attaches an arrow to the air duct, and some sort of cable hangs from the arrow. Clint tells Bucky that if this works, he won't be stuck listening to him brood anymore. 'And if it doesn't?' Bucky replies, as he continues to pull on the panic room door in an attempt to open it. 'Well, same, I guess' Clint mutters.

In the Red Room again, Gunin tells Natasha that they have a system, that she knows this, and that the assassins are loyal to the Red Room because they fear them. 'That fear is what keeps them in line' he explains. Natasha looks Gunin in the eye and asks him what happens when little girls no longer have anything to fear?

As Clint climbs under a table in the panic room, he tells Bucky that he might want to get under here as well. An instant later, there is an explosion caused by the arrow Clint stuck into the air duct.

'#$%& this and #$%& you, Black Widow' Gunin mutters as he leaves the training room. Natasha turns back to the little girls, who all look at her as she asks them 'Now...where were we?'

'I hate this plan' Bucky complains as Clint helps him climb into the semi-destroyed air duct. 'You're a skinny little dude without your scary-ass robot arm. You probably won't get stuck' Clint points out, before adding that Bucky is naturally greasy. Clint then sits down and leans against a wall while playing a game on his phone.

The Black Widow spends some of her time fighting Hydra agents – strangling one of them with a thin rope, while escaping a a group of agents as flames blaze around them.

'Up and at 'em. Barton. Time to get to work' Bucky calls out as several firefighters break into the panic room, rescuing Clint. One of the firefighters announces that they didn't even know this room was down here. Clint informs Bucky that he has a tracking device in his bow, that they can use it to find Natasha, assuming she didn't just dispose of it. 'And assuming you didn't kill your phone battery playing Tetris' Bucky points out. 'That, too' Clint agrees.

In a secret room at the Red Room command, the Black Widow whispers something to the imprisoned Epsilon Red. Later, Comrade Usenko enters the Black Widow's quarters. 'We turn our best agent into a commander and now all she does is study?' he remarks. A computer screen glows in front of her as Natasha tells Usenko that she has a lot to catch up on. Usenko tells Natasha to take a break and come with him.

Shortly, night has fallen. 'This is it' Hawkeye tells the Winter Soldier as they arrive at a facility hidden in a forest.

Usenko, Gunin and other Red Room officials meet with the Black Widow in a conference room. Usenko announces that ambition like this creates unnecessary risks that they can't afford. 'Natasha is new to the leadership -' Usenko begins.

At that moment, Hawkeye fires an arrow at a door, breaking the lock and enabling him and Bucky to break into the room. 'Boom-Boom! You're not dead!' Hawkeye exclaims as he and Bucky find Sally “Skids” Blevins chained to a table, eating “Froot e Dooz” cereal and watching a very small television. 'Are you #$%&%!# kidding me, Robin Hood?' Sally exclaims.

'ENOUGH!' the Black Widow shouts as she slams a fist down on the conference room table. She declares that they need to be more aggressive, as Hydra, SHIELD and the AIM are all at the weakest they have ever been in their lifetimes.

Back in the room where Skids is being held prisoner, Hawkeye uses an arrow head to unlock the chains around Skids wrists. Hawkeye calls her Skids this time as he asks her where Natasha is. Skids tells him that she doesn't know, but that she can't be staying too far, as she comes visits a lot. 'But this is just some stash house where she keeps random stuff. Your bow. His arm...me' Sally explains. 'Umm...is that why there's a bear in here?' the Winter Soldier asks as he turns and aims a gun at Ursa Major, who sits on the other side of the eoom. '$%#&' Ursa Major swears in his native Russian.

The Black Widow tells the other officials that they have their enemies right where they want them. 'This operation exists – has existed – exactly because of this discretion that you -' Usenko begins, when a voice over an intercom pardons the interruption, but announces that they have a situation at the front gates. Gunin tells them to put it on trhe monitor. 'Ehat the hell?' Usenko gasps as the monitor displays Hakweye, bow in hand and the Winter Soldier, riding on Ursa Major's shoulders. 'I'm sorry, Natasha. They were going to kill me' Ursa Major's voice can be heard. 'You said they were dead' Usenko declares. Natasha suddenly grabs a gun from a soldier standing nearby and shoots him in the face. 'Idiots' she mutters, while Usenko, Gunin and the other officials watch in shock. 

Natasha then jumps onto the large conference table, and uses her weight to flip it onto its side, causing it to break the screens hanging above it. Several of the men begin ro run, while she shoots others – some straight through the head. 'Hey! What's going on?' a soldier asks as he rushes into the room – only for Natasha to shoot him in the head, too. She takes his large machine gun, and makes her way through the facility, gunning down more and more soldiers as an announcement sounds throughout the facility, warning Red Room operatives that the Black Widow has betrayed them, and they are under attack by her.

Elsewhere, the Winter Soldier guns down several Red Room operatives, while Hawkeye fires an arrow at one of them. 'Where could she be, Ursa Major?' Bucky asks as Ursa Major lumbers behind them. 'How should I know? She is a human woman. She could be anywhere' Ursa Major responds. The trio enter another room, and find it littered with bodies, as the announcement once again reports that they are under attack by the Black Widow. Hawkeye points out that it looks like they are in the right place, and as they step over the bodies, he realizes that Natasha has just killed a lot of people. 'Yup' Bucky agrees. They enter another hallway, lined with several doors. 'You want to pick a door or should I?' Clint asks Bucky.

Bucky slides open a door, 'I pick this one' he announces, as they discover the room full of the young ballerina assassins. 'What the... are we in the wrong... whose nightmare is this?' Clint asks, before stepping into the room.

'Heeeey little girl. We're looking for a friend' he tells one of the girls. Bucky suggests to him that he waits. 'They're ballerina's Bucky. Are you afraid of the “Nutcracker” or -' Clint begins, before one of the girls kicks him in his groin. 'That one was my fault. I asked for that. Little Baryshinkov for me good' Clint frowns as he leans forward, clutching his groin. 'Baryshinkov is a man' Bucky clarifies. The assassins surround Bucky and Hawkeye, ready to fight them. 'Are we doing this?' Bucky asks. 'In what David Lynch universe do you think I'm fighting these evil little -' Hawkeye begins. 'So we...?' Bucky asks him. 'Run!' Hawkeye shouts as he rushes from the room.

Bucky turns and follows, 'C'mon! This way! And where's our bear?' Hawkeye calls out to Bucky, slamming the door behind Bucky and preventing the little girls from following them. 'If they start breaking through this door...' Hawkeye begins. 'Clint!' Bucky calls out, but gets no answer, but Clint doesn't look at him. 'I...I don't even know. I'll probably start crying' Hawkeye mutters. 'Clint!' Bucky shouts, this time, Clint turns around, and sees that they are in a room lined with stasis tubes, and, more importantly, Natasha is here – along with numerous clones of both herself and Yelena Belova. 'Ooooh. I get it' Clint mutters. '...I died back in that safe room, didn't I?' he asks as one of the Black Widow clones grabs Natasha bu her throat, and another pulls Natasha's arm above her head, holding her gun back, while others move towards her with shards of glass.

'How do we know which one is the real Natasha?' Bucky asks 'Are you #$%&*$% kidding me right now, James?' Natasha screams. 'That one's her' the Winter Soldier remarks as he punches one of the Belova clones, knocking her backwards, while Hawkeye fires several grappling arrows towards some of the clones and asks Natasha if she wants to explain what is going on here. 'They're duplicates' Natasha explains. The grapple moves upwards and sticks into the ceiling, before the cable yanks the clones upwards, suspending them over the others. 'Clint was right. It wasn't you that killed all those people and tried to blow us up' the Winter Soldier exclaims. Natasha shoots two of the Belova clones and replies 'No, that was me' as she slams her elbow into the face of one of her clones.

Natasha continues firing at the clones and reveals that the Red Room has been keeping cloned bodies oh high-value agents for some time now, that they had a program to replace their bodies with Super-Adaptoids in the past, too, but that this is the preferred method for replacing a dead agent. She grabs one of her clones and breaks her neck, as the Winter Soldier punches one, Hawkeye asks Natasha if these things were the Red Room's backup plan in case she died. 'I did die, Clint. You saw it. I am these things. I am the backup plan' Natasha announces. Natasha and Bucky then open fire as more Black Widow clones move towards them. Natasha tells Bucky not to hold back and that she wants to make sure this never happens again, that she needs all of them killed. 'Nat, hang on. I can't just kill -' Hawkeye calls out, as the Winter Soldier fires a bullet straight into the brain of one of the clones at close range.

'What the hell are you doing?' Clint shouts at Bucky. 'Making sure we survive' Bucky replies. Suddenly, Gunin enters the room with several soldiers. 'There she is! Get the traitor!' Gunin shouts. This causes Natasha, Clint and Bucky to begin to run, as between the clones and soldiers, there are too many opponents. The trio take shelter behind some equipment, 'They've got us pinned down' Hawkeye points out as he readies a bow and arrow. Natasha motions to a door and tells Clint to blast it open, but Clint tells her that is the way they came in, and there is nothing good behind there. 'Fine. Then cover me' Natasha responds as she moves past Bucky and Clint. 'No, Nat! Wait!' Hawkeye calls out, but she doesn't stop. 'Dammit' Clint mutters, firing three arrows which create an explosion ahead of several soldiers, keeping them back from Natasha, who opens the door. 'Greetings, comrade' Ursa Major greets Natasha, several of the ballerina assassins are with him. 'Get them' Natasha screams, pointing at the soldiers.

Ursa Major rushes forward, straight into the soldiers, knocking several of them backwards, while the deadly ballerina assassins move in after him, one of them leaping onto a soldier and wrapping her arms around his neck. 'So it's a coup, then? I always knew you lacked the loyalty to be one of us' Gunin remarks as Natasha puts a gun to his head. 'And you lacked the vision to become something better' Natasha replies. 'Nat! Stop!' Hawkeye calls out to her, but before he can move towards her, Bucky grabs him and holds him back, telling him to let Natasha finish this. Ursa Major stands in front of Natasha, protecting her from any remaining soldiers as she shoots Gunin in the head – his body drops to the ground immediately. 'It's over' Natasha announces, as the ballerina assassins look over to her. 'Get the #$%& off me, Barnes' Hawkeye snaps at Bucky, pulling himself away from him.

Natasha informs Ursa Major that Usenko has escaped and instructs him to get the children out of here, adding that the Red Room officials will have a way to remote detonate this site once Usenko reports that it is lost. 'Da' Ursa Major replies. Natasha goes over to a Yelena Belova clone and the body of Anya the Orphan Maker, laying nearby. She tells Bucky to help her move them. 'What are you doing?' Bucky asks her. 'I owe them back what I took from them' Natasha explains as the move the bodies into the room where Yurgei Ivanov is still sitting, connected to various machines. Natasha asks him if he can restore them, like he promised her. 'Do this one last thing for me and I will set you free' she tells him. 'Natasha, this guy's a vegetable' Bucky remarks. 'Yes' Yurgei responds as he stands up and walks towards where Yelena and Anya lay on the floor. 'God, I hate psychics' Clint mutters. 'Clint...' Bucky begins, 'What? He knows I was thinking it' Clint points out, before asking Natasha what this is all about.

'This is the Red Room. Even in death they control you' Natasha responds as Yurgei lays down with his head between Yelena and Anya. 'So if you're so anti-Red Room, how come you tried to blow us up for them?' Clint enquires. 'It wasn't for them. It was for me. I was working on a plan...and I knew you'd just get in the way' Natasha explains. 'Hey!' Clint exclaims, but Bucky tells him that Natasha isn't wrong. 'Not the point' Clint declares, asking if Natasha thinks that because they didn't die and Skids didn't die and that she can revive the people she did kill, that all is forgotten? Angrily, Natasha tells Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier that she isn't asking for forgiveness, that she has not asked for anything from either of them. 'That's what you boys never seem to understand. This was never about you. This is about the things I lost' Natasha explains.

'It is done' Yurgei reports as he sits up. Natasha thanks Yurgei and informs him that he is free. Yurgei thanks Natasha, before she shoots him in the face. 'Dammit, Nat! Dammit. What is this? What happened to you?' Hawkeye asks, throwing his arms into the air. 'I told you, Clint. I died' Natasha reminds him. 'That's it?' Clint asks. 'Death can give you a change in perspective, yes' Natasha remarks. 'The assassinations. The kidnappings. The children killers. All of this. That's a hell of a “change in perspective”' Clint points out. Natasha assures Clint that she wants it to end, to which Clint asks her what she is talking about. 'No more spies' Natasha utters. 'Not to ruin whatever this is...but didn't you mention something about this building blowing up, Natasha?' Bucky asks.

Shortly, Bucky and Clint carry the unconscious Yelena and Anya as they and Natasha leave the Red Room building. 'Little late, but it looks like Skids came through with the cavalry' Hawkeye points out as they find dozens of FBI operatives waiting for them. Ursa Major is there, with the rescued little girls, too. 'I have to go back in' Natasha informs Clint and Bucky. 'Natasha...' Bucky begins, but Natasha explains that there is information inside that she does not want in an ex-SHIELD agent's hands any more than she wants it in the Red Room's. She asks Bucky and Hawkeye to stall Skids for a few minutes, as Skids gets out of an FBI vehicle and approaches them. 'Hey, Sally. We were just -' Bucky begins, before the entire Red Room facility behind them suddenly explodes.

Forty minutes later, Clint and Bucky sit on some rocks in front of the remains of the flaming building, as Skids stands in front of them. 'Let's go over it again' she begins, stating that there are a dozen blood-soaked ballerinas who won't speak a word'. Skids adds that there are maybe two dozen dead Russian spies roasting behind them, two confused ladies sitting in the back of a squad car – despite the fact that she has read their autopsies. 'State troopers are giving me reports of a bear runninh down Route 84 cursing at motorists, which I feel has to be related to you morons' Sally adds, pointing out that everyone and their mother wants to know how all of this happened in sleepy Westchester, New York. Neither Clint nor Bucky respond, so Skids asks them if they know they royally %$&%&* this up. 'Yup' they both admit.

Sally continues, informing them that the powers that be don't like it when she threatens Avengers, so suggests that perhaps they shouldn't leave town in case they need to ID Natasha's body when they find it. 'But don't even $%&*#$% think about leaving down' Sally adds, before turning and walking away. 'You know she's not dead, right?' Bucky asks Clint, who tells him that he knows. A fire fighter approaches them, asking if they are “Clint” and “James” and hands them two envelopes, informing them that Westchester Fire Department found them stuck to a nearby tree. Bucky and Clint stare at the envelopes in silence. 'You've got mine' Bucky mutters 'Gimme mine' Clint snaps, as they trade envelopes.

Clint opens his and reads it. Natasha thanks him for not giving up on her and for coming after her – for trying to teach her how to be better. She tells him that she is sorry it didn't take, and that she cares about him deeply, but that where she is going, he can't follow. She hopes that he will understand, and that if he can't, she hopes he can learn to stop caring about the people who always hurt him.

Clint folds the letter up and puts it in his back pocket, as Bucky looks at his own letter, and asks Clint what his letter said. 'Nothing much' Clint responds. 'What did yours say?' Clint asks. 'Same' Bucky tells him as they get to their feet, and start to walk away. Clint tells Bucky that, all things considered, that could have gone worse. 'You make a pretty good sidekick' he adds. Bucky ignores that comment as he drops his letter towards some flames on the ground. 'Want to get some breakfast?' Clint asks. 'No' Bucky replies, as he starts to walk in the opposite direction, as his letter catches fire. The letter from Natasha informs James that she has an idea, maybe it will work, or maybe she will die trying – but she knows she will stand a better chance with him at her side The letter tells Bucky that if he wants to know more, then he can find her in exactly one week – he will know where, and if not, then he needs to forget about this. The letter ends with Natasha telling Bucky that Clint can't know about this....

Characters Involved: 


Winter Soldier

Black Widow Red Room Clone / Natalia Romanova


Ursa Major


Comrade Usenko

Comrade Gunin

Epsilon Red / Yuregi Ivanov

Red Room Children

Orphan Maker II / Anya

Black Widow II Red Room Clone / “Yelena Belova”


Hydra agents


FBI agents

Story Notes: 

Hawkeye jokingly (or perhaps not) called Skids “Boom-Boom” in Tales of Suspense #101.

Skids' ability to extend her force field should have meant that she could have broken free from the chains around her wrists.

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

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