It’s difficult to imagine some of the greatest heroes in the Marvel universe tasting the bitterness of defeat. But even those with the most amazing powers and hardened experience can stumble and fall. Daredevil and Black Widow, two expert superheroes, met their match when a deranged serial killer nearly killed them both during a truly nightmarish mission.
1993’s Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir (by Jim Starlin and Joe Chiodo) began with Black Widow chained up inside a bloodstained cabin. Tools of torture fill the room alongside the remains of previous victims. A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was bound beside her, the body of another man growing cold on the floor before them. Two other people are in the cabin: a hulking brute of a man, named Charlie, covered in blood, and a young woman clad in black leather.
Just as the woman, named Rose, took a knife and approached Black Widow the story backtracks chronologically. On a cold and rainy winter’s day, Black Widow met with Nick Fury. An old friend of Black Widow’s, a woman named Anne Baxter, had been killed, and Nick Fury delivered a small statue to Widow, Anne’s dying wish. Determined to find Anne’s killer, Black Widow enlisted the aid of Daredevil in her search.
As a stroke of terrible luck left Black Widow in the clutches of the serial killers, Daredevil pleaded with Nick Fury to send help for Black Widow, but an approaching blizzard and heavy New York City traffic prevented S.H.I.E.L.D. from giving aid. Relying on his heightened senses and pure luck, Daredevil hijacked a taxi and followed the van Black Widow's captors into the Catskill Mountains. Returning to the events at the beginning of the story, Black Widow watches Rose laugh in ecstasy as she killed the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Black Widow realized then that Rose is psychic, deriving pleasure from other people’s anguish. Rose’s powers were unrefined, however, and Black Widow was able to enter into Rose’s mind.
What Black Widow saw within Rose’s mind is a life full of pain and sorrow. As a young girl Rose was abused by her father and her pleas for help went ignored by her mother. When her father inadvertently killed her mother, Rose discovered her telepathic powers and was able to mind control her father into leaping off a building. From that moment on Rose took to a life of murder, vowing to spread the same pain she suffered as a girl.
The climax of the story was swift and bloody as Daredevil was defeated by Charlie just outside the cabin. An axe wound to the shoulder left him stunned as Charlie dragged him inside. Black Widow was able to escape her bonds and kill Charlie. Rose nearly forced Black Widow to stab herself, but a shove by Daredevil sent Rose onto the floor, impaled by her own knife. Later, aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Daredevil checked in on Black Widow. She’s stunned by her own tears, not for the pain she endured, but by the pain, Rose suffered. As stoic as she is, the lifetime of agony that Rose experienced cut through Widow’s defenses and left her feeling raw and unclean. This is significant as Black Widow has always portrayed herself as a hardened assassin and operative, as showcased in 2012’s film The Avengers with her interrogation of Loki.
It's terrible that such an event would be the one to show the humanity beneath Black Widow's hardened exterior, but her senses of compassion and empathy are what make her such an outstanding hero. As someone who had suffered a hellish upbringing herself, reliving the trauma that Rose had endured was a triggering experience for Black Widow. It's a grim reminder that even the toughest heroes aren't completely invulnerable.
Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir is a dark tale, but it casts light into the darker corners of the Marvel universe. As gruesome as the story is, there is a profound sense of tenderness as Black Widow feels such sympathy and sorrow for someone so undeserving. Some villains are victims of circumstance, and it's the injustice of the world that impacted Black Widow so strongly. The only silver lining in such an event was that in the depths of depravity Black Widow was able to help a tormented soul find peace.