Marvel Comics’ Black Widow is best known as a member of the Avengers and a top operative of the U.N. controlled espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., but she wasn’t always a hero. In the early days of the Cold War, the woman who would come to be known as the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, was transformed into a genetically enhanced spy, saboteur and assassin by a secret arm of the Soviet Union’s intelligence service.
After years of faithful service Natasha’s Soviet masters tasked her with bringing down Tony Stark. It was her encounters with Iron Man and another future Avenger, Hawkeye, that led to her defection from the Soviet Union and a new heroic path. Though she’s walked the righteous path for many years now, the death and destruction in the Black Widow’s past still weigh heavily on her conscience — and she’s ready to do more than atone for them.
This January, writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto kick off a new “Black Widow” ongoing series that will allow her to do exactly that. CBR News spoke with Edmondson about his plans for the All-New Marvel NOW! series, announced by Marvel during yesterday’s “Avengers” panel at New York Comic Con, which chronicles Natasha time away from the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.
CBR News: Nathan, as a writer of books like “The Activity,” “Who is Jake Ellis?”, and “Dancer” you regularly write espionage thrillers ranging from grounded to fantastic. As the writer of a new “Black Widow” series you’re given a chance to bring those kinds of stories into the Marvel Universe. How does that feel? And in terms of balancing the realistic and fantastic, how will “Black Widow” compare to some of your other works? Or will that vary on a story by story basis?
Nathan Edmondson: It feels great! We are having a total blast with this book. The story is fast paced, character-driven, and action-packed. Phil’s approach on art is fully fresh and thoroughly sexy. We couldn’t have struck a better balance, I don’t think, to tell an ongoing Natasha story.
Certainly, Marvel’s favorite spy assassin warrants a more grounded book than many others in the NOW! canon. Her world is real; her apartment is small, her enemies are warlords or martial arts killers and the gun she aims at them fires very real hollow points; she dangles on steel wire outside of towering Dubai hotels, she doesn’t have a jetpack.
That said, you’re right — it will vary story to story. We may not find Black Widow hunting an alien on the moon, but this is the Marvel Universe. Natasha will have to face super villains, and at times work alongside an Avenger or two. What makes her such a great character to write in the Marvel U, though, is that she has an advantage over Iron Man or Thor: they can’t really go anywhere secret, and their foes are usually as famous (infamous) as they are. Natasha can slip into a country, a city, a hotel, a laboratory unseen, she can move in the shadows and strike in the dead of night. The Avengers need a secret agent, and S.H.I.E.L.D. needs a bad ass. She’s the only girl for the job.
Let’s move on from the tone of the series to its title character, Natasha Romanoff. What about her do you find most compelling? And which aspects of her personality you are you especially interested in exploring in this series? Can you talk about what her motivations are and what she’s up to when the series begins?
Without giving too many of our plot turns away, Natasha is a character driven by atonement. She’s a hero now, but she was a villain, and a dirty one. The kinds of things she’s guilty of in her past, in Russia, do not go away with some vitamin B and a glass of water in the morning. She has a lifetime to make up for her past deeds, and we’ll see that her “penance,” if you will, is both interior and exterior: she’s helping her own psyche as well as those she’s injured, in a very particular way.
So she’s broken, but she’s also a lethal, professional killer. How to reconcile those two? What makes this side of her so great for storytelling is that her past gives her every choice in the present much more weight, much more significance. And it gives this Avenger, this instrument of espionage, great humility; which is not something you find a lot of in the superhero world. I mean, hey, if I could drop onto a train, separate the cars, kill the bad guys and steal the MacGuffin all in an afternoon — and get paid a heckuva lot to do it, I’d go out on the town and celebrate in grand fashion. Natasha doesn’t. She goes home. Alone.
Natasha doesn’t look it thanks to the experiments the Red
Room subjected her to, but she’s very long lived. How important will exploring her past be in this series? Will we get flashback sequences showing us the person Natasha used to be? And are there any eras of her past you’re especially interested in exploring?
Don’t dwell on the past! Initially when structuring this series we decided to make it a fast book that’s moving forward quickly in the present. So initially, you jump into the action and the missions and the big scary something that Natasha starts to uncover…
That said, her past is certainly relevant, and we will see some flashbacks both familiar and not as the story progresses. But it’s not a book about Natasha’s past. It’s a book about her future — and the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers and the safety of people at large, at least in some respects.
What can you tell us about the supporting cast of “Black Widow?” Will Natasha have any support on her missions? Will any of the Marvel heroes she has strong ties with like, say, Hawkeye or Iron Man play a roles in the series?
This will definitely be her book and you’ll feel that she’s the loner that she is. So not a whole lot of teaming up. But there is her (only) confidant: Isaac, her attorney. The S.H.I.E.L.D. director and a few other key people are in her “social circle,” and of course, some ruthless villains. But she’s the female Bond: not a team player, except for those rare times when she picks up the phone for S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Avengers. And who knows, at some point she might make a call herself to get some support from one or the other. You never know when you need Iron Man to pull you out of something.
Keep your eyes peeled. You can’t throw a stone into the Marvel pond and not see ripples hit all kinds of other familiar faces, good and bad.
What kinds of obstacles and adversaries are you interested in pitting Natasha against in “Black Widow?” Are there certain character types or organizations that especially lend themselves to the role of antagonists in the stories you’re interested in telling?
Black Widow chooses her jobs carefully, and we’ll find her up against or infiltrating or spying or extorting all kinds of do-no-gooders around the globe. Some are relatively small time thugs who need a beating. Some are political leaders, and some are super-power-endowed, grudge-holding villains. In the first six issues, we’ll find her facing off against a variety, but we will also see that there is something going on behind the scenes, something sinister, something big, and she is coming up against it.
Phil Noto recently showed off his flair for action-espionage stories with fantastic Marvel Universe style twists in an arc on “Thunderbolts,” but what do you feel he brings to this book and the character of Natasha specifically?
You’re going to see something from Phil you’ve never seen before, in style and quality. We all know how great Phil is. His art needs no introduction. And yet, when you crack the pages of issue one I’m convinced you’ll be very pleasantly awestruck by what he’s cooked up. And then, in issue #2, and beyond, you’ll see a variety of style suiting each mission so that the book is always fresh and alive and yet always, beautifully, Phil Noto. And under his pencil, Natasha is one very lovely, very mysterious woman you just won’t get enough of.
Finally, what can you tell us about your initial “Black Widow” story? Is it a done-in-one story or the beginning of a longer arc?
The first few issues are fairly stand-alone. The reader will quickly learn, however, that something bigger is unfolding, something that will start to rear its head at the end of the first arc. But don’t miss issue #1. It’s special and we’re damn proud of it.
This ain’t your momma’s Black Widow. And this ain’t a book you’d expect to find in the halls of Marvel NOW!, in the same way that “Hawkeye” was such a surprise: so be ready for something unexpected!
“Black Widow” #1 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto debuts in January from Marvel Comics.