Ever since news broke of Florence Pugh’s casting in Black Widow, fans have speculated that she was playing Yelena Belova.
At Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con, Pugh was quickly confirmed to be playing Yelena in the upcoming film.
While this was exciting news for comic book fans, those who have come to the Marvel fandom through movies alone may be left scratching their heads as to why this is a big deal.
For those fans, here’s everything you need to know about Yelena Belova, the ‘other’ Black Widow.
Yelena was trained in the Red Room.
The Red Room, where Natasha Romanoff was trained, is seen briefly in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, when Scarlet Witch forces Natasha to experience visions of her dark past.
In comic canon, Yelena Belova was also trained in the Red Room. However, whether she was in training at the same time as Natasha differs between mediums. In her first major comic appearance, Yelena is said to have started training after Natasha had completed hers, but in one Marvel novel, Yelena is Nat’s former roommate from the Red Room.
It is unknown at this stage which backstory the film will use. Considering the nearly eleven-year age gap between Pugh and Johannson, having Yelena trained later seems likely. However, Black Widow’s cast list describes Yelena as a ‘sister figure’ to Natasha.
This suggests they were in the Red Room together at some point. Natasha herself may have had a hand in Yelena’s early training.
Yelena Belova is one of the Red Room’s top graduates.
In the comics, Yelena comes second only to Natasha in terms of her Red Room training results. Throughout her training, Yelena strives to be better than Natasha, believing she will not be good enough until she beats her.
Some time after Natasha defects to the U.S, Yelena was activated as Russia’s new Black Widow. Her first mission was to hunt down the murderer of Pyotr Vasilievich Starkovsky, the man who trained her.
Natasha and Yelena have a complicated relationship.
In her first major comic appearance, Yelena believes that she must kill Natasha to truly claim the title of Black Widow for her own. At one point, she almost succeeds. Despite this, Natasha saves Yelena’s life at the story’s conclusion, ensuring she has the antidote to a poison gas released by Russian soldiers.
When they are not fighting to the death, Natasha behaves almost affectionately towards Yelena, often referring to her as ‘little one’. She spends many of their early encounters trying to prevent Yelena from repeating her mistakes. Eventually, Yelena takes Nat’s advice and gives up the Black Widow life for a while.
Unfortunately, circumstances beyond Yelena’s control drag her back into the spy game. In more recent appearances, Yelena takes the Black Widow mantle in tribute to an assumed dead Natasha.
The complicated relationship between Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova is reflected in what we know of the Black Widow film so far. One set photo shows Yelena riding on the back of Natasha’s motorcycle. Meanwhile, in footage screened exclusively for comic-con attendees, Natasha and Yelena engage in a ‘friendly’ brawl before getting a drink together. Natasha also refers to Yelena as ‘sis’, suggesting a past closeness between the two.
This is different from the comics, but fits with the recent theory that Pugh’s Yelena Belova may be being set up to permanently take over as the MCU’s Black Widow.
We’ll know more about Marvel’s plans for Yelena when the film’s release date grows closer.
Black Widow is set to hit theaters on May 1, 2020.