Oooh, this is complicated. I can’t quite dismiss the romantic element entirely, because it was so much of what Clint and Natasha were. Silver Age romances had a way of being sudden and all-consuming and largely unexplained— Clint fell head-over-heels in love with Natasha at first sight, to desperate and and amusing degrees. They were star-crossed, melodramatic lovers, which is really a much different dynamic from the movie, and something that can’t easily be discussed around. I actually feel the same way, regarding her and Bucky: that relationship was never presented as anything but a romance, though comics have grown more subtle since 1965. I actually have a longer write-up that synopsizes the Natasha/Clint relationship here, you might be interested.
Clint in the movies is borrowed more from his Ultimate counterpart than the rest of the set, and 1610 Clint was reinvented as a SHIELD sniper rather than a gaudy circus performer turned villain turned Avenger. The idea of Clint and Natasha as SHIELD’s top agents, partners in wetworks, and professional counterpoints to the gods and monsters on the rest of the assembled superhero team, that’s something straight out of Ultimates. Now, Ultimates later had Natasha turn terribad evil and murder Clint’s wife and children, and later Clint killed her for it, so that is a major difference!! But the trust-between-spies, badass-normal contingent that I think is one of the things people liken to her 616 relationship with Bucky, that’s probably got its roots in Ultimates.
In truth, I think how Clint and Natasha interact in 616 is quite different. 616 Clint is just louder, he wears purple sunglasses at night, he’d hate the life of a SHIELD assassin and is notably terrible at spy work though for some reason he keeps trying. But his significance in Natasha’s story is similar. Bucky, you know, is someone from Natasha’s past come back long after she’s made peace with that past, someone she can help come to terms with something she herself has come to terms with.
Clint was different. Clint met Natasha at her worst, when she was still caught up in all that bad stuff, still in the bright red thick of it. And his basic human kindness and regards towards her was something Natasha could grab on, and repay with kindness of her own. Clint was there when she defected, when she decided to redeem herself, and when she decided she was worth redeeming. I don’t believe they are a matched set— they both really do have their own origins. But they became ~superheroes~ together. Natasha is a really fantastic spy, but she decided she could be more than that, and caring about Clint, and knowing that cared for him, knowing that he cared about her, that was a reminder of all the other things she could be.
That significance is something I think the movies have in common with 616.
I am not a purist when it comes to one canon over another. I actually love 616, the Ultimates, and MCU equally ( but differently). This pretty much sums it all for me.
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