Marvel introduced too many characters recently. The original cast featured six main heroes, three of whom earned solo series that marked them as the headliners. The new lineup struggles to find the icons it needs to build a franchise. Marvel’s solution is to bring back old favorites, but they have better options. Their stable of secondary characters could hide a star in plain sight. Yelena Belova has everything she needs to be Marvel’s next main character.
The Audience Picks Marvel’s Main Character
Type Yelena Belova’s name into YouTube sometime. She’s the beneficiary of a unique type of fan content. Devotees edit a handful of clips into adorable compilations with titles like “Yelena Belova being an icon.” Most examples came out a year ago, shortly after the release of Hawkeye, which gave the character a prominent showcase. She’s hilarious, charming, excellent in action scenes, sympathetic, and reminiscent of a classic Avenger without being a retread. Those compilations recently started appearing on TikTok, attaining a second life and keeping the character fresh in any fan’s memory. Much of her impact comes from her portrayer. Florence Pugh is a stellar performer who also happens to bring an army of fans to any project she occupies. Aside from the Guardians of the Galaxy, Yelena likely has the biggest independent fanbase of any currently active Marvel hero.
Yelena Belova first appeared in Black Widow. She’s the film’s secondary protagonist, Natasha Romanov’s long-lost sister, who helps forge a team to take down the lab that made them who they are. Unfortunately, Marvel waited until Natasha’s onscreen death to give her a solo film. Without Nat, the espionage corner of the franchise falls onto Nick Fury’s overburdened shoulders. Instead, Yelena can carry the torch her sister dropped. While she could occupy the awkward place Nat held, she’d be better served as a second chance. This Black Widow could enjoy a greater spotlight, perhaps even among the upper echelon of the franchise. Black Widow is a recognizable name, but Yelena can grow beyond that restriction.
How a Hero Becomes Iconic
Cast your mind back to the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The franchise gave up its most popular character to star in Sam Raimi’s excellent trilogy. Most of their heavy hitters were trapped elsewhere. Instead, they rest their hopes on Iron Man, a character experiencing record-low comic book sales. He appeared in a straight-to-video animated short a year before his live-action debut but remained otherwise quiet. Iron Man didn’t succeed off the back of the character’s notoriety. No one cared about Tony Stark before Robert Downey Jr. brought him to life. He became iconic because the right performer occupied the role and the right creative team wrote his dialogue. This is the best argument against the idea that superhero movies de-emphasize movie stars. Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow would still be more memorable as drawings without their portrayers. Yelena Belova could prove that Marvel maxim again.
Yelena Belova has the personality, presence, performer, action scenes, and open place in the franchise she’d need to become a headline player. Florence Pugh can bring a Marvel icon previously on the D-list to the highest echelon of popularity. Currently, the character enjoys two showcase appearances. Her next project will be Thunderbolts, which is unlike her earlier work. That’s one deuteragonist role, one minor villain role, and a team-up packed with other villains. These are not star vehicles for the new Black Widow. Instead, the wisest new direction would be introducing a Black Widows series or film. Imagine Florence Pugh’s Yelena setting out to experience the things she’s missed, uncovering some Soviet conspiracy, and getting her old Black Widow friends back together to save the day.
Marvel’s current cast of characters is a bit of a mess. Who could lead the stable? Ms. Marvel seems like a frontrunner. Sam Wilson’s Captain America might step up like Steve did before him. Riri Williams is set to become Ironheart so that she might inherit Tony’s mantle. These characters might become leaders in the Avengers. They may carry the torch and earn the big close-ups. In contrast, Black Widow likely won’t carry the same position. Instead, Yelena Belova has what it takes to be the Marvel fan-favorite icon at the center of it all.