Natasha was born in Stalingrad (now Volgograd), Russia. The first and best-known Black Widow is a Soviet agent trained as a spy, martial artist, and sniper, and outfitted with an arsenal of high-tech weaponry, including a pair of wrist-mounted energy weapons dubbed her "Widow's Bite". She wears no costume during her first few appearances but simply evening wear and a veil. Romanova eventually defects to the U.S. for reasons that include her love for the reluctant-criminal turned superhero archer Hawkeye.
Romanova's parents were killed in a fire when Romanova was a child. She was saved from death herself by Ivan Petrovitch, who raised her as a surrogate father. He first appears in Marvel continuity in the Widow's 1970s Amazing Adventures feature, in which he is introduced as her chauffeur and confidant, without this back-story revealed. Romanova as a child appears in a flashback to 1941, in which Petrovitch, the superhero Captain America, and the mutant Logan who would become the superhero Wolverine, rescue her from Nazis on the fictional island principality of Madripoor.
A revised, retconned origin establishes her as being raised from early childhood by the U.S.S.R.'s "Black Widow Ops" program, rather than solely by Ivan Petrovitch. With other young female orphans, she is trained in combat and espionage at the covert "Red Room" facility. There, she is biotechnologically and psycho-technologically enhancedan accounting that provides a rationale for her unusually long and youthful lifespan. While there, she was trained by, and a lover of, the Winter Soldier. Each Black Widow is deployed with false memories to help ensure her loyalty. Romanova eventually discovers this, including the fact that she had never, as she had believed, been a ballerina. She further discovers that the Red Room is still active as "2R".
Natasha married the renowned Soviet test pilot Alexi Shostakov. When the Soviet government decided to make Alexi into their new operative, the Red Guardian, he is told that he can have no further contact with his wife. Natasha is told that he had died and is trained as a secret agent separately.
Romanova grows up to serve as a femme fatale who attempts to seduce American defense contractor Tony Stark and inevitably confronts his superhero alter ego, Iron Man. On her first mission in the United States, she and her partner Boris Turgenov are sent to America to assassinate Prof. Anton Vanko. The pair battle Iron Man, and Turgenev steals and wears the Crimson Dynamo suit. Vanko sacrifices himself to save Iron Man, killing Turgenev in the process, using an unstable experimental laser light pistol. Romanova later meets the criminal archer Hawkeye and sets him against Iron Man, and later helped Hawkeye battle Iron Man
Romanova later attempts to defect from the Soviet Union, but is wounded by a KGB agent The KGB brainwashes her, and with the Swordsman and the first Power Man, she battles the Avengers.She eventually does successfully defect, having further adventures with Spider-Man, with Hawkeye and with Daredevil.[volume & issue needed] She ultimately joins the Avengers as a costumed heroine herself.
Later still, she begins freelancing as an agent of the international espionage group S.H.I.E.L.D. She is sent on a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. mission to China by Nick Fury. There, with the Avengers, she battles Col. Ling, Gen. Brushov, and her ex-husband the Red Guardian. For a time, as historian Les Daniels noted in a contemporaneous study in 1971,
...her left-wing upbringing was put to better use, and she has lately taken to fighting realistic oppressor-of-the-people types. She helps young Puerto Ricans clean up police corruption and saves young hippies from organized crime. [The splash page of Amazing Adventures No. 3 (Nov. 1970)] reflects the recent trend toward involving fantastic characters in contemporary social problems, a move which has gained widespread publicity for Marvel and its competitor, DC.
During her romantic involvement with Matt Murdock in San Francisco, she operates as an independent superhero alongside Murdock's alter ego, Daredevil. There she tries unsuccessfully to find a new career for herself as a fashion designer. Eventually, her relationship with Murdock stagnates, and after briefly working with Avengers finally breaks up with Murdock. During a HYDRA attempt to take over S.H.I.E.L.D., she is tortured to such an extent that she regresses back to an old cover identity of schoolteacher Nancy Rushman, but she is recovered by Spider-Man in time to help Nick Fury and Shang-Chi work out what had happened and restore her memory, with "Nancy" developing an attraction to Spider-Man before her memory is restored during the final fight against Madam Viper, Boomerang and the Silver Samurai. She later returns to Matt Murdock's life just as he begins dating another woman, Heather Glenn] prompting her to leave New York.
After being poisoned by members of the Hand, Natasha refused medical aid and fought her way past S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in a bid to seek out Matt. Her body briefly succumbed to the poison, but she was revived by Stone, a pupil of Matt's mentor Stick. Natasha found that Matt had been going through personal hardships in light of his one true love, Elektra's reappearance, apparent betrayal, surprising redemption, and recent murder. She also reconciled with Foggy, and learned from him that Matt's relationship with his fiance Heather had degenerated into a bitter, almost misogynistic power struggle stemming from Matt's depression over Elektra's death. Natasha and Foggy arranged for the two to break up, sending forged farewell letters to both parties.
Despite helping Matt to overcome the Hand and revive Elektra, Natasha realized that Matt still only thought of her in platonic terms, despite how much they loved the other, and elected to restrain herself from any advances.
After their breakup, the Widow moves to Los Angeles and becomes leader of the newly created and short-lived super team known as The Champions, consisting of her, Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze), Hercules (with whom she has a brief romance), and former X-Men Angel and Iceman.
Her friends often call her "Natasha", the informal version of "Natalia". She has sometimes chosen the last-name alias "Romanoff"evidently as a private joke on those who are not aware that Russian family names use different endings for males and females. She has been hinted to be a descendant of the destroyed Romanov royal family and a relation to Nicholas II of Russia.