This past weekend, film goers across the country flocked to movie theaters to see the summer’s first blockbuster film, “Iron Man 2.” Over the course of the two hour adventure, they were introduced to a number of intriguing characters, including Scarlett Johansson’s mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Natasha Romanoff. In the film, Romanoff was a supporting character, but she’s been an important part of the Marvel Universe for decades. Marvel Comics fans know Romanoff best as the Black Widow, a former Russian spy who began her costumed career back in 1964’s “Tales of Suspense” #52, where she served as a foil for Iron Man. The Widow later broke free from her Soviet masters and used her training as a spy to become hero and a valuable member of two super teams: the Avengers and the Champions.
In recent years the character has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Several miniseries have explored the Widow’s origins and it’s been revealed that Romanoff is a lot older than anybody realized. Born shortly before World War II, genetic tampering by Soviet scientists kept her young and gave her enhanced physical abilities. She also recently became a supporting character in “Captain America” when she began dating the series’ current title character, James “Bucky” Barnes. Last month, the Black Widow graduated to her own self-titled ongoing series by writer Marjorie Liu and artist Daniel Acuna. “Black Widow” #2 is in stores this Wednesday and CBR News spoke with Liu about the her protagonist, the series and what new Black Widow fans need to know to start picking the book up.
CBR News: So, Marjorie, how does it feel to be working on a “Black Widow” ongoing series now that the character is a part of the public zeitgeist thanks to “Iron Man 2?”
Marjorie Liu: It makes me wish I had a trampoline so I could jump up and down and do funny somersaults without hurting myself, but as I don’t have a trampoline and I’m not much of a gymnast, let’s just say that I’m excited that I’ve been given the opportunity to write the “Black Widow” ongoing and that it’s been incredible fun delving into her character.
Of course, you’d think I’d be first in line to see the movie, but I live far away from a theater and my deadlines keep getting in the way.
What do you feel are the essential characteristics of Natasha Romanoff? In order for a film portrayal or comic story to remain true to the character of Black Widow, which of her traits does it need to highlight?
I once heard someone say that art brings abstraction down to reality and that fiction allows us to experience a particular set of values that are manifested within the characters that inhabit our stories. Good, evil, courage, frailty…
I mention this only because Natasha represents, to me, certain timeless qualities that everyone, in some way, aspires to bring into their own lives. Natasha, for example, is perfectly and utterly capable. Throw her into any situation and she’ll find a way to succeed, no matter the odds. She’s a survivor, a true master at understanding human nature, an elegant manipulator – and yet for all that, she’s a spy. One thing I love about Natasha is that she doesn’t change herself to suit the people around her. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. You accept Natasha, or you don’t – but if it’s the latter, then consider it your loss.
Perhaps one of the reasons Natasha is so capable is because she’s had such a long and eventful life. We know that she was a teenager during World War II, though her age is a facet of her personality that doesn’t seem to be explored a lot. Do you think the Black Widow’s long life has affected her personality, perhaps making her more cynical? More hopeful? Or somewhere in between?
For all that she’s a spy and a modern day heroine, Natasha grew up in the middle of a war that makes our current struggles look like a walk in the park. That was a brutal time, especially in Russia and given the history of how she was practically raised by soldiers, she must have seen some really horrific things growing up. I bet she learned a lot, too. Strategy, survival – all those mental games you need to play to keep one foot ahead of death – as well as honor and sacrifice. All at a young age.
I don’t think that’s made her cynical, though. A pragmatist, certainly – capable of dealing with and accepting death, without getting bogged down emotionally. You’re right, she’s lived a long time – seen the worst, the best – and like anyone who grows up in the middle of a war, you don’t forget how bad it can get. You don’t take for granted all the little freedoms and niceties. Despite appearances, she’s part of the same generation as our grandparents – and while she’s “hip with the times,” you can’t tell me that she doesn’t retain certain sensibilities that come from living through that era.
Really, it makes perfect sense that she and Bucky are an item, because they’re both from the same generation and were raised in a military setting in WWII. They’ve seen things and speak a common language, that not many others around them will ever understand. Except Logan, perhaps.
Another interesting facet to Natasha is that when she joins super teams, she often winds up in command of them. Why do you think that is? Do people just automatically look to her for leadership and do you think the Black Widow is comfortable in a leadership role?
I think that the Black Widow is a survivor and that leaders tend to have big red targets painted on their backs. I suspect that Natasha leads when she feels there’s a pressing need – she’s not one to back down when something has to be done. She gets it done, whether she’s comfortable or not. But leading requires her to be upfront and center in a way that doesn’t give her room to explore all the shadows – or stay in the shadows, where she can be the eyes and the ears. Instead she has to be there , with the team – still acting as the eyes and ears and brain, but in a different capacity.
And yes, I think people would look to her for leadership – they’d be idiots not to. She’s not just a spy, but also a superb tactician who knows just about everything about everyone. She’s also fearless. Fearless and totally committed to getting the job done, whatever that might be.
Thanks to the opening of “Iron Man 2” the Black Widow has a much higher profile than she did before. So there’s a good chance there might be a number of new readers picking up this week’s “Black Widow” #2. How new reader friendly is issue #2? Is there anything new fans need to know?
I’m not convinced that comic book continuity in any form is ever entirely friendly to new readers, but in this case, if you’ve never picked up a Black Widow comic and you know nothing about Natasha, you should have a pretty good sense of who she is by the end of this second issue. You won’t be too lost. Unless, of course, you have no idea who Elektra is. And even then, Daniel Acuna has given our ninja assassin such an iconic appearance that you won’t care if she’s a strange, new character. His Elektra is stunning. His Natasha is fabulous. I love his use of inks and color. He is a wonderful artist and the readers are going to go wild over his work in this arc.
In terms of plot and themes what is this first arc of “Black Widow” about?
It’s about Natasha being Natasha and what happens when her secrets and survival instincts collide – in a very public manner.
It seems that in this inaugural arc of the “Black Widow” ongoing, Natasha will be especially committed to accomplishing her goals considering the personal implications of the events in issue #1 where she was attacked by a mysterious enemy who did something unknown but seemingly horrific to her insides. How is this affecting her in issue #2? Will we learn what was done to Natasha, or will this be a mystery for awhile?
You’ll find out rather quickly what was done and why. More or less. There’s no fun in answering everything right away.
In the first issue of “Black Widow,” readers only saw the outline of the person who attacked Natasha. Can you offer any hints or clues as to who this person is? How dangerous are they and how do they feel about Natasha?
This character is an old enemy of Natasha’s. Very dangerous, a bit of a manipulator. He or she sees Natasha as a challenge – the one who got away.
“Black Widow” #1 was exciting but it was also a pretty dark, violent and morally murky tale. Will the remaining chapters of this arc feature a similar tone?
More or less. I’ve never thought the life of a spy would be that glamorous. You’re always running the risk of ending up dead, you have to earn the trust of those around you – then betray them – and where’s the break? It’s a constant edge that can only wear you down after a while. So yes, dark and murky is the tone and it’s not going to let up.
Natasha is a well connected individual who has close relationships with several of the Marvel U’s biggest heroes like Wolverine, Captain America and Iron Man, but when something personal happens to her, is she the type to ask for help to solve it, or does she insist on solving things alone?
Natasha is practical enough to ask for help when she needs it, but in this case her investigation is personal. She’s not going to want involvement from any of her friends. There are some secrets she has worked hard to keep – not because they’re dangerous to her, but because they’re deeply personal and no one’s business but her own. She doesn’t live in a bubble, though, and her actions end up drawing in those who care about her, like Logan and Bucky. Of course, she also draws in some enemies, as well.
Any hints or teases as to where you’re taking “Black Widow” after this initial arc?
Not yet. I’m taking this one issue at time!
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