Who Is Yelena Belova?
Yelena Belova recently appeared as an antagonist in episode 4 of Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye television series, airing now on Disney+. But her first on-screen appearance was one of a hero; in Black Widow, Yelena saved thousands of lives and rekindled her loving familial bond with her adoptive sister Natasha Romanoff.
So, who is Yelana Belova? And how did Yelena go from taking bullets for an Avenger to shooting at one? To understand her motivations, let’s look at this character’s complicated comic and cinematic history.
Yelena Belova in Marvel Comics
At age 15, Yelena Belova is recruited and raised in the Red Room as a promising young assassin and the replacement Black Widow. She is an intelligent, Olympic-level athlete and martial artist trained in espionage and combat. Considering Natalia Romanova a traitorous rival, Yelena trains to exceed her physical test scores.
In her first mission against Natasha, however, Yelena fails, and is eventually captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. After a few other traumatic events, Yelena quits life as a spy. She works as a model and humanitarian before returning to the hero life in order to assist Daredevil in recovering Natasha from a mafia kidnapping.
And that’s when things get more complex. She partners with A.I.M. against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and takes on the abilities of Adaptoid, who can re-use any power. However, she fails in her mission and upon the explosion that causes her death, it’s revealed that there are various villainous Yelena clones at play from within the Red Room. In the end, Natasha kills the Yelena clones. And that’s really the extent of her story in the comics.
The MCU Black Widow film essentially reinvents Yelena Belova. Another one of the Red Room’s child soldiers, Yelena is placed in an undercover family unit along with super soldier Alexei Shostakov and Black Widows Melina Vostokoff and Natasha Romanoff. Natasha and Yelena play sisters while the adults play their parents, but the illusion is shattered once the agents are asked to return home. When they rendezvous with the Red Room General, he promptly separates the girls.
Natasha leaves the Red Room to join S.H.I.E.L.D., but Yelena is stuck in that cycle of abuse and a victim of a mind-control chemical in her bloodstream. Coming in contact with the antidote, Yelena flees and attempts to enlist the aide of Black Widow and the other Avengers. After escaping from Taskmaster, Natasha joins up with her sister. Together they plan to defeat the Red Room for good.
Yelena breaks Alexei out of prison. Reuniting with her adoptive father, she explains some of the horrors she underwent in the Red Room, including an involuntary hysterectomy. Despite that and many other physical and emotional traumas, Yelena seems to be a generally positive person. She cracks jokes with a strange yet endearing sense of humor, mocks her poser sister, and loves her pocket-filled vest. Not only is she still lighthearted, but she also has a mature concept of death and is exceedingly altruistic, putting her life on the line in order to save the other Black Widows from the manipulative General Dreykov.
At the end of the film, Yelena is becoming her own person with her own fashion sense and purpose beyond indoctrinated ideals. Yelena and Natasha have also strengthened their sisterly bond. She and Natasha part ways, with Yelena joining the other Widows, likely to rehabilitate them. She gifts Natasha her vest, an army green bulletproof top worn by the disguised Avenger throughout Infinity War.
It is in the post-credits scene that Yelena’s narrative takes a turn for the worse. Approached by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine — the woman who recruited U.S. Agent John Walker — Yelena is told that there’s a lead on Natasha’s murderer. The file incriminates one man: Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye.
In Hawkeye episode 4, “Partners, Am I Right?” a masked assassin attacks Hawkeye. They grapple on a rooftop, the assassin gaining the upper hand with a swift Black Widow stinger bracelet attack. Then her mask is removed. With familiar blonde hair askew and a scowl on her face, Yelena stares down Kate Bishop and shakes her head, warning the girl not to let her arrow loose.
What is most interesting about Yelena’s appearance is that Clint tells Kate Bishop “someone has hired a Black Widow assassin.” The Red Room is defunct thanks to Natasha — did she not inform Hawkeye of that development? Or is the program still active in some capacity, and, to such a severe degree that Clint is concerned about not Yelena’s individual presence but the group to which she belongs?
In any case, Yelena escapes into the night to fight another day. And she’ll absolutely be back to exact her revenge.
What do you think will happen to Yelena in the future of the MCU? Is she poised as the next heroic Black Widow, or doomed to be a longterm enemy of Hawkeye and Kate Bishop? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!