In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hawkeye and Black Widow enjoy a close partnership. Both Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff know they can count on each other in the toughest of circumstances and refuse to judge each other on their worst mistakes. Unfortunately, this isn’t true in every branch of the multiverse. Some alternate universes get to showcase the darkest versions of these characters, causing them to behave in ways movie fans would consider horrifying.
In Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe, for instance, readers get to see a world very similar to the MCU. In fact, many aspects of Marvel’s Ultimates series – including a Nick Fury based on Samuel L. Jackson and the Triskelion base – were adapted for the films. The comics, which were originally created and written by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, even showcased a Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff who shared a close friendship… or so it seemed.
In this universe, “Natalia Romanova” is a descendant of Russian royalty who was abandoned as a child and joined Russia’s KGB spy organization. Thanks to government enhancements, Natalia – going by the alias “Natasha Romanov” – becomes an elite intelligence operative and assassin. Codenamed the Black Widow, Natasha eventually defects to the United States and joins S.H.I.E.L.D. When S.H.I.E.L.D forms a black ops team to conduct covert operations, Natasha joins along with Clint Barton, the sharpshooter known as Hawkeye.
Later on, Fury forms a more public team that includes high profile members like Iron Man, Giant Man, Captain America, and the Wasp. Natasha joins this group and even enters into a relationship with Tony Stark, who goes so far as to propose to her and design a custom suit of armor for her superhero activities. Hawkeye also joins this more public superhero team and remarks to Nick Fury that it is very cool that their originally small, covert group can now operate on such a huge stage.
Unfortunately, Natasha turns out to be a traitor who sides with an extremist group known as the Liberators. Blaming the US for turning Russia into a “bankrupt nation of hookers and gangsters,” Natasha leaks the Hulk’s true identity to the press, frames Thor and Captain America, and even kills Edwin Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler. She goes so far as to hold Tony Stark hostage, but here it turns out she has overplayed her hand, since the nanites Stark injected into her blood to help her pilot her armor can be overridden, allowing Stark to take her down.
However, the person most hurt by Natasha’s actions is Clint, whose family is killed thanks to the Black Widow’s manipulations. Distraught, Hawkeye tracks Natasha down to the hospital where she is recovering and brutally attacks. Unrepentant and knowing her former ally has no intention of sparing her life, Natasha simply asks Clint if he has a message she can pass along to his wife and children. In response, Hawkeye tells her she won’t be seeing them where she is going – and fires an arrow into her head.
It’s a horrifying end to what is usually one of the strongest friendships in comics, taking Natasha’s role as a turncoat spy – and her and Clint’s experience as black-ops killers – to its logical conclusion. Many Marvel stories have questioned whether the Avengers can really trust Natasha, but the answer is almost always a resounding yes. In The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2, Millar and Hitch took things in another direction, shocking fans by finding a whole host of ways to tear the beloved team apart, with Clint’s murder of Natasha serving the Ultimate Universe’s remit to tell stories mainstream Marvel couldn’t (albeit in the darkest way possible.) Hawkeye and Black Widow may have fought over who would die for the other in Avengers: Endgame (2019), but in the Ultimate Universe, their loyalty to each other was a lie Natasha used to try and bring down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.