The line between the shadowy world of super espionage and the public spectacle of super heroics is a tough one to walk, but its one that Marvel Comics’ Black Widow has been expertly treading for decades. The former KGB spy and assassin turned occasional S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avenger knows that she needs cunning, combat skills and the ability to make quick and complicated moral decisions in order to survive in both worlds. That doesn’t mean the missions she undertakes as a super spy or super hero are ever easy, though, and they always come with a cost.
This March, the acclaimed “Daredevil” creative team of writer Mark Waid, writer/artist Chris Samnee, colorist Matt Wilson, and letterer Joe Caramagna will thrust Agent Romanoff into a particularly dangerous situation with the launch of a new “Black Widow” ongoing series. CBR News spoke with the entire creative team about the appeal of the new book, getting the “band back together,” their plans for Natasha and Samnee’s expanded role on the book as co-writer and artist.
CBR News: Black Widow is both a superhero and a super spy. She can do super hero action, James Bond-style super spy adventure, and even darker John le Carre-style espionage. With that in mind, what can you tell us about the initial feel of the book?
Mark Waid: Huge action. That was Chris’ idea — go big right off the bat. The early issues are somewhat removed from the MU for reasons that will become clear in issue one, but I’m not at all averse to brushing up against super-hero elements — as long as they have to fit the tone of Widow’s book, not vice-versa.
Chris Samnee: Issue #1 is our big, Bond-movie-style cold open for the series. I really wanted to start things off with a bang but with a character like Nat, who can position herself comfortably into any situation, there will be plenty of opportunities for us to tell a variety of types of stories. Ideally you’ll see moments in this series that could easily have been plucked from “Mission: Impossible” or [John] le Carre, “Avengers” (of the Steed & Peel variety) or “Modesty Blaise” to “Danger: Diabolik.”
I read that in terms of foes, you’re creating a new big bad for Natasha. What’s that like? Are there certain types of characters that make especially great foes for Natasha?
Waid: The best enemies for Natasha are the ones who can turn her strengths into weaknesses. Natasha’s naturally sealed off, naturally calculating. You know that thing they teach you in driver’s ed — always, always know what your escape route is in case of a sudden emergency? That’s Widow — always behind the wheel. But there are ways to use that against her.
Samnee: The new big bad’s plan and his main beef with Natasha was the hook that I tossed out to Mark when we first started talking about taking over the title. But he’s not he only one giving Nat a run for her money. We’ll have quite a few new baddies popping in to mix it up with Widow before all is said and done.
Can you offer up any hints or talk generally about “Black Widow’s” supporting cast? Will we see any familiar faces from her previous series like, say, her lawyer Isaiah Ross?
Samnee: Black Widow is out in the cold at the start of this volume, so any familiar faces would do well to keep their distance.
Waid: Love to — if she ever gets back to America.
Mark, Chris, Joe and Matt — the entire “Daredevil” team is moving to a character that’s been a pretty important part of Matt Murdock’s life. What drew you to “Black Widow”?
Waid: Speaking for me, it felt like a cool challenge. In terms of writing about her, Widow is about as different a character from Matt Murdock as I could imagine. She doesn’t wisecrack, she doesn’t relax with her best pals at night and she’s not juggling a personal life with her professional gig.
Samnee: I’ve had a soft spot for Daredevil and Black Widow since I was a kid, having grown up reading secondhand copies of their Roy Thomas and Gene Colan penned team-up adventures. “Daredevil” itself was a dream gig while it lasted but, after having been offered a few other titles that Mark and I could potentially have moved onto once we wrapped our run, we learned that the [Nathan] Edmondson/[Phil] Noto run would be ending right around the time we were winding things down on our end. It’s like it was meant to be.
From that moment on I was really fighting to get us on “Widow.” I couldn’t think of a more natural follow-up. And after a few years doing a very specific kind of superhero book, I really like the idea of switching things up and taking on something that’s so very different here.
Joe Caramagna: My collaborators didn’t give me a choice! I was basically told, “Hey, you’re doing this.” Who am I to say no to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee? But I was excited because I love the character that Black Widow has become in the Marvel U., and all of the attention she’s been getting as a major player of the Marvel U. This is right in our wheelhouse and I had to see what Mark had planned for her.
Matt Wilson: I’m drawn to the type of stories that are most likely to be told in a solo “Black Widow” book. The ones that deal with her as a spy and spy craft, that sort of thing. I mean, I enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, over the top superheroes, but for some reason stories dealing with espionage have always intrigued me the most. I appreciate a look at the Marvel universe from a more grounded point of view, with a character whose power comes from her wits and her training.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy more fantastical stuff too, because I very much do. When it comes to coloring comics, I like to have a variety of stories and genres to work in. In “Captain Marvel” I get to color a slick sci-fi story with fights between spaceships shooting lasers and neon lit space stations. In “The Mighty Thor” I get to color a very theatrically designed fantasy world, and in “Black Widow” I color very quiet, everyday scenes that are punctuated by moments of action. Each project lets me try different things, and flex different creative muscles.
Mark, which aspects of Natasha’s personality will your stories explore?
Waid: I’m fascinated by Natasha’s approach to people and situations. Daredevil defaults to trust mode until such time as you give him reason to distrust you. Natasha’s exactly the opposite. Her shields are up 24/7.
Chris, who is Natasha to you as an artist and co-writer? Which aspects of her character do you want to make sure you capture in your depictions of her?
Samnee: Visually I want her to come off as a graceful, acrobatic and incredibly skilled martial artist — but with a dark, brutal side. She’s very guarded, so there’s a lot going on under the surface. There’s a lot of subtle acting going on in my portrayal of her; small emotional beats that would read a lot broader with another character in the lead.
Story-wise I’m looking forward to putting a new spin on what kind of stories Nat can be a part of. For a character that’s been around since the sixties, she’s had very few solo outings.
With “Daredevil,” you were dealing with a character who protected a city so his adventures often took place in Hell’s Kitchen. With “Black Widow,” you have a character whose nature as a spy means she can regularly travel the world. In terms of setting, Chris, what’s it like moving from a character like DD to Black Widow? Do you enjoy drawing globe-hopping adventure stories?
Samnee: After a few years in Hell’s Kitchen and a year in San Francisco I was ready to switch things up a bit, sure. Not that I prefer one kind of tale over another but the idea from the outset with this book is that it would give us a chance to try out some things that we maybe haven’t gotten a chance to tackle before. At the end of the day, it’s really just about creating a believable world for the characters to inhabit, but I’m glad to not be resting on my laurels when it comes to picking locales.
Matt, one of the things I especially loved about Phil Noto’s gorgeous work on the last “Black Widow” series was the color palette. It seems like this is a character and a book where there’s lots of storytelling opportunities for you. Can you talk at all about your initial palette and approach to the book without spoiling things?
Wilson: Phil’s work is terrific. I’ve actually showed him some of our work on “Black Widow” already because I enjoyed his art on the previous volume so much.
This may be my favorite #1 of any series I’ve ever colored, and that’s all down to the great action going on in our opening issue. With the kind of story we’re telling, I knew I had a chance to clearly separate and highlight the action from the rest of the book by establishing a sort of guideline for my palettes. Nothing too rigid, as I want the freedom to adapt as the issues come in.
Much like “Daredevil,” the color red is important to the character Black Widow. Her logo, her hair color, her Soviet training and background, etc. I decided that anytime there is action in the book that I would rely heavily on saturated reds and oranges. To make that as effective as possible I’m trying to keep reds out of the rest of the book, and also keep all non-action palettes less saturated. Contrast is the key to making an impact with color, so knowing how I wanted to use red from the start I can set that all up by contrasting the surrounding scenes.
Joe, lettering is a job that often gets overlooked by many comic fans, but to me it seems like your job helps set the tone of the book. How do you integrate the story’s dialogue, captions and sound effects into the larger work?
Caramagna: The lettering does play a part in at least enhancing the tone if not setting it. The best lettering decision I made on “DD” was encouraging Chris to draw his own sound effects. He was afraid of stepping on my toes, but I’m a sucker for hand-lettered effects, and the result is a big part of what makes a Waid/Samnee book feel like a Waid/Samnee book. To me, the worst decision a letterer can make is to try to show off. I tend to stick to the basics and save my lettering tricks for when they have the most impact. Let the stars be the stars and make them look as great as possible.
Mark and Chris — you worked closely during your “Daredevil” run, but I understand your work on “Black Widow” is going to be even more collaborative. Does that mean you guys are essentially plotting the book together?
Waid: It’s a great arrangement and a true collaboration. Chris and I talk on the phone before each issue and sort of block out the rhythms, the plot points and character beats that need to happen. Chris then works up breakdowns, expanding all of those elements, giving them context, and doing the formal plotting. He and I and editor Jake Thomas go over that, make whatever little tweaks might be necessary, and a few weeks later, I’ve magically got 20 pages to dialogue.
Samnee: The whole first issue I had in my head before the word go, and rambled the beats over the phone to Jake and Mark. A couple notes from the guys and I was off to the races. Subsequent issues have been a bit closer to the latter issues of “Daredevil,” where we’d get on the phone and toss ideas back and forth until we hammer out a basic plot for an issue. From there I do tight thumbnail layouts with as many notes and rough dialogue as will fit, to get across the idea of each scene, and then Mark comes back in after those are approved by Jake to make sense of it all and add final dialogue. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Overall, how does it feel to have the whole “Daredevil” band back together for “Black Widow”
Waid: Relaxing. That was something we really, really pushed for, and Marvel and Jake were great about arranging it. Much appreciated.
Samnee: I wouldn’t have it any other way. These guys are family now. No sense fixing what ain’t broke, right?
Caramagna: Working with those guys — plus Paolo Rivera and Javier Rodriguez — on “Daredevil” is the highlight of my lettering career. It starts with Mark, who seeks input from everyone on the team, and that respect and acknowledgment trickles down. So whether it’s “DD” or “Black Widow” or anything else, I know it’s going to be a great working environment as long as I’m working with those guys.
Wilson: I’m glad we were able to keep the whole creative team together for this book. I enjoyed my time on “Daredevil” and I was very happy to be a part of such a noteworthy run. That said, for Chris and I in particular, we were extremely excited to be here for issue #1 of “Black Widow.”
We had the freedom to design the look and feel of “Black Widow” whereas on “Daredevil,” we took over for the previous artists and did our best to maintain the tone that had been established. It was a brilliant tone that we were thrilled to continue. I feel like I learned a lot on my year coloring “Daredevil” from looking at what had been done with the book’s colors before me.
On top of that, once you’ve worked on something for an extended amount of time, you’re ready to try new things and make some changes to how you approach the art. So, with the end of “Daredevil” and the start of “Black Widow” Chris and I took that opportunity to try a different look with our art. Chris has changed some of his inking, and I’m using a few different techniques with the coloring, such as more limited palettes, a textured look to the colors, and a bit more subtlety with the mark making.
Finally, can you offer up any specific hints about your inaugural “Black Widow?” story? What can you tell us about Natasha’s sort of status quo when you pick up with her in issue #1?
Samnee: We pick up eight months after the end of the previous volume with Nat on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and on a mission that she’s not exactly thrilled to be taking on.
“Black Widow” #1 is scheduled for release March 2 from Marvel Comics.