When you spend your days using combat and espionage skills to save the world as a member of the Marvel Universe’s premier super hero team, the Avengers, there’s a good chance you’ll want to spend your off days relaxing and catching up on mundane chores. That’s not how the Black Widow (AKA Natasha Romanoff) chooses to spend her free time, though. Writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto kept Natasha busy in the debut issue of the new “Black Widow” ongoing series, in which their protagonist moonlights as a highly paid mercenary.
The money she earns from these jobs goes toward atoning for the lives she ruined and destroyed during her days as a KGB spy and assassin. Why does Natasha feel she needs to atone? Who’s helping her in her quest? And what kinds of dangers will she run into in the immediate future? For those answers to those questions and more CBR News spoke with Edmondson and Noto about the All-New Marvel NOW! series, the second issue of which is on sale now.
CBR News: So Nathan and Phil, one of the things that’s clear from reading the stories in the “All-New Marvel NOW! Point One” anthology and “Black Widow” #1 is that there’s a lot of love going into this book. What is it about Natasha and her story that makes this book so compelling to work on?
Nathan Edmondson: I think first and foremost it’s working with Phil for editors and in a publishing environment that gives us the freedom to collaborate in a real way. Add to that a mutual love for the world, the character and the excitement of exploring ever-changing settings and characters in Natasha’s globe-trotting adventures.
Phil Noto: I’ve always enjoyed working in the spy/espionage genre and I love superhero stuff so this is a perfect mix of the two. It’s mostly Natasha doing her spy thing but there’s a nice little attachment to S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, etc. The one big joy of it all is being able to do a very personal style of art. I was given free reign and a great timeframe to do stuff that I had always wanted to do interior-wise.
Your “Black Widow” series is similar to the “Hawkeye” ongoing series in that it details what Natasha does in her time away from the Avengers, and it makes the most of your individual strengths as collaborators. Let’s talk about that collaboration. Nathan, what’s it like writing for Phil since he handles all the artistic elements on “Black Widow?” And Phil, as an artist, which elements of Nathan’s scripts do you especially enjoy?
Edmondson: There’s nothing Phil can’t do and do masterfully. I’ve enjoyed challenging him with new locations and moods with each issue, but I think the moments I treasure writing for him the most are the quiet and introspective bits where the elegance of Phil’s art truly shines through.
Noto: Nathan’s got an amazing touch when it comes to setting a mood for a scene. I always start by picturing something very cinematic in my head and then translating that into an interesting comic page. Nathan’s scripts have so much of that cinematic look built into them; it makes it very easy to hit the ground running when I start on the art.
Phil what’s it like working on “Black Widow” in the sense that you’re handling both art and colors? It feels like one of the elements you’re especially enjoying is the coloring process? Is that correct?
Noto: The coloring is probably the biggest part of the process. I start of with a simple line art pages without any blacks and essentially “paint” over them, digitally. I do a lot of drawing over the colors also so it’s essentially just illustrating in the traditional sense rather than a standard comic book system of pencils, inks and colors.
Let’s move away from the look and feel of “Black Widow” and into the head space of its title character. In issue #1 it was clear that Natasha is walking this path of redemption because she feels she needs to atone for the damage she did as a KGB operative. She says some interesting things about her past on the final page of issue #1 — that she can’t forgive herself and that we’ll never know who she was before. That has me wondering, with what kind of lens is Natasha viewing her past? Didn’t her training with the KGB begin at a young age? Is she being fair to herself when it comes to forgiveness and her assessment of what she used to be?
Edmondson: Natasha I think has a bit of a self-torture tendency. She’s hard on herself professionally — if she makes mistakes, she berates herself for the failure — and she doesn’t want to forgive herself for her past. Perhaps because if she does, she’ll lose her edge and fearlessness and, ironically, she might risk becoming a villain then. Even today, she’s not all that nice, sweet or even honorable, and the self-flagellation keeps her from extending those tendencies too far.
In issue #1 we saw one of the ways Black Widow is atoning for her past is by taking mercenary jobs that she uses to finance her trusts and her “web.” Is Natasha essentially a mercenary and a philanthropist?
Edmondson: I think philanthropist is the wrong word. It’s not out of charity or selflessness that she does these things, but atonement.
The nature of her trusts and her “web” will become a little clearer in the next few issues, but her history and methods are complex…
The man tasked with managing Natasha’s finances is her lawyer Isaiah. What can you tell us about him and why he was recruited? And what is it about his personality that made him accept Natasha’s offer?
Edmondson: I can tell you — read issue #2. Isaiah is more valuable to Natasha than she even knows, and while he’s a bit shy, a bit mousy even, he’s smart, wise and the perfect foil to Natasha. He is to her much like a manager to an artist and her work is an art; she needs him to keep her grounded and to work on the things she can’t be bothered to. Eventually we’ll learn where he came from and why he took the job.
Let’s talk about the stories coming up in the next few issues. In terms of plot and themes what are they about? Where do they take Natasha? And Nathan, in our initial interview you seemed to hint that something sinister behind the scenes would connect Natasha’s initial jobs. Will that be clear to the reader in these issues? Or will we get hints of what’s going on further down the road?
Edmondson: Issue #2 is about the cost of risk and mistakes. It’s based in Shanghai. Issue #3 is about trust, and it’s deep in a South American jungle.
Can you hint, tease, or talk about the villains Natasha will run afoul of in these next few issues? Are they new characters or familiar faces?
Edmondson: Lots of new faces. Who is the Hammer of God, and why doesn’t Natasha stand a chance against him? The second half of this six issue arc will address that question.
Finally, Phil what can you tell us about the look of these next few issues of “Black Widow?” How do they compare to issue #1 and the story in the latest “Point One” anthology? Are there any elements or characters you were especially excited to draw in these issues?
Noto: I’m still experimenting with different looks depending on the the story. That’s part of what makes this book so enjoyable to work on. I’m trying to set up a system on the book where there may be different styles in just one issue but each style has a reason in terms of the location or action taking place. Nathan’s come up with some great locales and really interesting villains. Each page is like starting a cover where I can just have fun with it.
After working on the book in secret for so long, it’s been nice to see such a great response to it. I was happy with everything I was doing in my little art cave but since it’s such a different comic book art style I was unsure how the fans were going to react. It was great knowing that Nathan’s stories were going to be strong no matter what I did art-wise. I think it’s all coming together better than I had ever hoped and I truly enjoy sitting down to work on it every day.
Edmondson: I hear we have a sellout and a second printing and rising sales, so a big thanks to our readers! And when are we going to get that first cover face on a red t-shirt, huh, folks?
“Black Widow” #1 & #2 by Edmondson are on sale now.