In the Marvel Universe, epic battles between good and evil often occur out in the open in broad daylight. However, that doesn’t mean things don’t happen in the shadows. Many dangerous conflicts take place at night or in remote and concealed locations, and when these shadowy conflicts do occur, it’s often hard to tell who the good guys and bad guys really are. Thankfully, there are heroes who excel at these type of fights, like Natasha Romanoff AKA the Black Widow, a highly trained ex-Soviet Spy and member of the Avengers. In the early days of the Cold War, Romanoff underwent an experimental procedure that enhanced her physical abilities while simultaneously slowing down the aging process. After breaking from her Soviet masters, she began a successful career as both a superhero and a freelance operative for the espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D.
These days, the world of superheroes and super spies regularly overlap for the Black Widow. She currently appears in Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato’s new “Secret Avengers” series along with her own ongoing “Black Widow” series which launched in April under the auspices of writer Marjorie Liu and artist Daniel Acuna. In September, a new era begins for Natasha Romanoff as writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Manuel Garcia take over the creative reigns of “Black Widow” with issue #6. CBR News spoke with them about their plans for the series.
CBR News: Duane, What was it about the character of the Black Widow and the world she inhabits that made you want to take on this assignment?
Duane Swierczynski: I’m a huge spy fiction nerd, from “Three Days of the Condor” to Greg Rucka’s “Queen & Country” to Trevanian’s Jonathan Hemlock novels to “Alias” to Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels (and sure, Ian Fleming’s Bond novels as well, but Helm could kick Bond’s ass in a country minute) to Olen Steinhauer’s “The Tourist” and…well, many, many others.
I’ve also written at least one quasi-espionage novel, “Severance Package,” featuring a lethal operative posing as an executive assistant named “Molly.” The funny thing is, one of my inspirations for Molly was Black Widow! I read Devin Grayson’s and Rucka’s Marvel Knights take on the character almost 10 years ago, and went crazy for it. I loved her resourcefulness, her sexiness and yeah, her wrist bracelets loaded with cool spy tools.
The main appeal of Black Widow is that it’s so much fun to watch her work. She’s inventive, skilled, smart, super-tough and ready for any crazy situation you throw at her. How can you not fall in love with someone like that?
Manuel, for the past few years at Marvel, your work seems to be pretty much about characters who are antiheroes or sort of walk the line between good and evil and light and dark. Like Pete Wisdom, Ares, and Mystique. The Widow is a character who definitely seems to fall into that category. What is it about these characters that makes them so interesting to you as an artist?
Manuel Garcia: To tell you the truth, I’ve thought about that myself, but well, in the end the most important thing is that they are all very interesting characters. I suppose they probably fit well with my style as an artist, which I think is also somewhat dark and dirty. Anyway, I tend to feel more comfortable with these kind of characters than with the more traditional clean cut superhero ones. I like to give my comics a realistic feel, and these characters and their situations make that easier.
Natasha is almost a century old and has been and done a lot of things. What do you feel are sort of the essential character traits of the Black Widow? What has motivated her over the years? And do you think she’s still motivated by the same things now?
Swierczynski: And she doesn’t look a day over 26. (God, I’d love some of that serum.)
From birth, Black Widow (a.k.a. Natalia Romanova) has been trained for spycraft and controlled by various factions. I think she has a special grudge against organizations who seek to control others – from government puppetmasters to human traffickers. They’re all in her line or fire, and this is what draws the superhero tendencies out of this former Soviet spy.
Manuel, who is the Black Widow to you? What aspects and elements of the character do you really want to capture and bring forth in your work?
Garcia: Well, the Black Widow is one of the hottest characters out there, and she is also a lethal superspy. Don’t ask me why, but that is something that makes the character very sexy [Laughs]. Seriously, I think about her as a character that has to make drastic decisions, so in occasion she’s forced to behave as a really cold blooded animal to save the day and that’s a side of her that I will try to take to the surface. You shouldn’t really feel very comfortable having Natasha in front of you…
You guys are picking up “Black Widow” after Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna’s introductory arc. How connected is your story to Marjorie’s?
Swierczynski: While Marjorie hasn’t left any unfinished business for me, I’m definitely following her lead in keeping Black Widow a suspenseful, gritty and wild book.
In terms of plot and themes ,what is the second arc of Black Widow about? Is this more of a spy story or a superhero one? Who’s perspective is it told from?
Swierczynski: The essence of any good spy story (actually, any good story) is simple: things are not what they seem. That’s the case here with “Kiss or Kill,” where an alleged “suicide” is actually the opening move in much larger chess game.
The series will be a blend of superhero and spy stories – and the “Kiss or Kill” arc will be told from Black Widow’s POV. As she learns things, so will you.
From the information Marvel sent us it sounds like one of the most important characters in this story is a journalist named Nick Crane. What can you tell us about this character and the publication he writes for?
Swierczynski: Nick is the son of a Senator who was caught in a sordid affair while running for higher office. A few days after bowing out of the race, the Senator took his own life…or did he? Nick thinks someone set his Dad up. Thing is, Nick’s only 22, just out of college and beginning a career as a journalist – and everybody thinks he’s crazy. Still, he’s determined to write the story of his life and clear his father’s name.
So, yeah, he’s not exactly being a dispassionate observer here. Nick has an agenda, and that’s part of what I want to explore in this arc. The truth doesn’t always set you free. Sometimes the truth gets you killed.
It sounds like Nick and the Widow will have an adversarial relationship, at least at the beginning of the story. Who are some of the other antagonists you have lined up to test your protagonist’s mettle? How dangerous are they and what do they appear to want?
Swierczynski: Oh yeah – Nick doesn’t trust the Widow at all. We’ll also meet a shadowy blonde who calls herself “Fatale,” whose moves are awfully familiar to the Widow.
And there will be other supervillains, only I don’t want to tip my hand just yet. You’ll meet them when Black Widow meets them.
The Black Widow is a pretty well connected superhero: Tony Stark is a friend and ex-lover, the current Captain America is her boyfriend and Wolverine is pretty much an uncle like figure for her. Will any of Widow’s heroic friends play a role in this story? Or is this pretty much a tale of Natasha on her own?
Swierczynski: Any good spy will use the contacts at her disposal – be they colleagues, friends or lovers. So definitely keep your eyes peeled for some familiar faces. (Well, familiar faces wearing masks.)
How would you describe the tone of this story? Is it a James Bond superspy action style piece? A gritty John LeCarre style morally murky thriller? Somewhere between the two?
Swierczynski: Actually, I’m going for the anything-can-happen spirit of Trevanian, along with the bone-snapping realism of Donald Hamilton, only firmly set in the Marvel U.
Manuel, How would you describe the style you’ll be employing for this story? Will it be similar to some of your recent work like “Dark Avengers: Ares,” or does the nature of the story call for a different approach?
Garcia: I’ll be doing the best I can, of course, but unfortunately, you draw the best you can, which doesn’t always mean you draw the book exactly as you want it to look…The main goal is always to tell the story the writer had in mind the best way possible so the readers can follow it and enjoy it…And I’m pretty sure Duane’s scripts will inspire me and that will help me find and give the series the atmosphere it needs…
As an artist what elements of this story did you find most interesting?
Garcia: As an artist, I’m a sucker for action scenes, so the more of those there is on a book, the better for me. Also, I’m very happy to have the chance of draw more sophisticated environments – “Dark Avengers: Ares” was a horror / war story and the “Iron Man Noir” mini takes place in the 30s, so there was no place in any of those books for a Ferrari or high-tech architecture, weaponry and the like, so those are things I hope I will be able to draw in this book! [Laughs]
Are you on “Black Widow” for just this one arc? Or do you have more stories you want to tell with the character?
Swierczynski: I’m planning to stay with this series for as long as Marvel (and readers) will have me. I pitched a half dozen story arcs when I first started talking to my editors (the awesome Ralph Macchio and Charlie Beckerman); I’d love to be able to get to them all, and then some.
Garcia: I will stay on Black Widow as long as Marvel allows me to stay on the book…Since I came back to Marvel, I have been doing a lot of great miniseries, but my “problem” is that I always get sad having to leave a book when I’m beginning to feel comfortable with it and the characters, and that always happens to me when I’m about to finish a mini!