'This isn’t just an action movie style comic book that happens to star Black Widow. This is a very Black Widow book.'
When Marvel announced their new books that would launch as part of the All-New All-Different initiative, there was one character that seemed conspicuously absent from the titles: Black Widow. That will change in early 2016, when Marvel debuts Black Widow #1 helmed by not only a brand new team, but also the entire creative team of the recently completed Daredevil series: writer Mark Waid, artist Chris Samnee, colorist Matthew Wilson and letterer Joe Caramagna.
The new series comes on the heels of Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s acclaimed run, which recently concluded at the beginning of Secret Wars. And with the character’s first ever YA novel set to debut next week, there’s never been a more relevant time to continue telling Natasha’s story. EW spoke with Waid, Samnee, and Marvel editor Jake Thomas to find out where they plan to take the newest incarnation of Black Widow, and what we can expect.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know this book is going to be its own story, but Natasha has very specific themes that have been prominent throughout all of her series. Are we going to see any kind of a continuation in terms of the way she evolved at the end of the most recent run?
MARK WAID: It’s a little bit of both. It’s similar to way we approached Daredevil, in that we’re not picking up specifically from the end of the previous issue or specifically from any one moment. But we’re acknowledging that, and making use of the fact that what happened in the previous series happened, and using some of that stuff as a springboard. And it is, by Marvel time, at least eight months later. It’s not the next day, anyway. Especially in issue 2 in particular, we’re sort of spring boarding off of some of the previous events, but not so specifically that anyone should feel like they’re missing anything if they didn’t read the previous run.
CHRIS SAMNEE: It’s not a necessity to have read the previous series. Certainly, it wouldn’t hurt, but you should be able to jump right into this one.
Like most of Marvel’s established characters, Natasha has a great, rich history, and there’s always a ton to work with. As writers and artists, what are you both looking forward to exploring in this book?
WAID: Even more than Daredevil, this is very much a partnership. Not only are we bringing the rest of the creative team over, but Chris and I are going back and forth on story, and Chris is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. With Daredevil, he came on after we were already running for a year. Being able to launch something from the ground zero with Chris means that he gets even more of a chance to put his vision into it.
SAMNEE: I try to think of it as how we would do a creator-owned book, but we’re just doing it at Marvel with an established character. I’m just having a ton of fun playing with an established character in a world we all know, but without any constraints. We can kind of do whatever. We’ve started coming up with a new Big Bad for Widow — she’s had a few big opponents over the years, but I think this is the biggest threat to her.
WAID: What I always ask myself going into these things — and I ask Chris and we talk about it — is always, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to this character?” Because that tells you everything about them. That tells you what they’re made of, that tells you what you’re putting them up against, their greatest fears or greatest threat. It just makes it a real fight, and that’s what we talked about with this. And that’s kind of where we’re starting with this.
Related to all of that, how do you go about creating that approach — taking a character that has had so many incarnations and making her your own?
SAMNEE: We both talked about it ahead of time. As we chatted it out, we had an idea of where we both sort of wanted her to go, and we’re both heading in the same direction instead of fighting against each other. I just know the kind of stories I want to draw, even if they’re the kind of things I hate drawing. Like, the first issue, there’s so many things in there aren’t inherently what I would sit down and draw if I would draw for fun. There’s a motorcycle, and a car, and a helicarrier, and all these things that are time intensive and all these things that I see in the script and go, “Come on!” [laughs] But when I sat down to come up with something to do, it was just, “I want this to be as big as possible,” and these were the action pieces I wanted to see in a comic. You don’t see a lot of car chases in a comic, and I wanted to see if I could one-up what we did with Daredevil. I wanted the first issue to feel like an action movie, and there were certain things I had to get on paper, regardless. Just trying to push myself out of a comfort zone and trying to make something that’s really fun and entertaining for people to read.
Marvel tends to plan things well in advance, especially with a lot of these All-New, All-Different books. With Daredevil ending, at what point did you guys know you were going to be reunited and involved with Black Widow?
WAID: We had been planning our exit on Daredevil for awhile. But part of the dance we were doing was, “Okay, where do we go next?” We want to stay together, we want to do something together, but neither of us are big fans of strong-arming people off books. That said, it was a weird combination of, “There’s only so many books open at this exact moment, but that changes with Secret Wars, do you guys want to stay on Daredevil a little bit longer? Or leave a little bit sooner?” And that’s the dance we waffled around for about six months or so — not so much us pitching them what we want to do next, but sort of taking a lead from them as, “What’s available?” And we turned down a couple of things that weren’t in Chris’ wheelhouse or mine, but once Widow became available, I think we knew instantly that was the one.
SAMNEE: I just kept my fingers crossed for one of our bucket list books, and Widow was definitely on there. And I feel lucky that we were a chance to get offered it.
You’ve done a little bit of work with Black Widow in the Daredevil series, when she cameoed in an issue. But now, Natasha is your complete focus, which means you really have to dive into her head.
WAID: And even then, it’s a much trickier situation, because Daredevil was a very internal book. Daredevil was narrated by Daredevil and we were very much inside Matt [Murdock]’s head the entire time. We’re very close to Daredevil as a person in this book, whereas with Natasha and the Black Widow book, it’s the opposite. We don’t want to get a running narration of what’s happening in her head at every moment. We need her to be a little more distant and a little more removed, because that’s just who she is. She’s not open with her thoughts and her feelings. So it’s a whole different challenge with us. How do you tell emotional really intimate stories with these characters, without having that tool in our toolbox?
I’m always in awe of how well Marvel picks their creative teams, because every book seems to fit them so well and this one is obviously no exception. Jake, from an editor perspective, can you talk a little bit about why Mark and Chris were the best team to take on Natasha’s story?
JAKE THOMAS: I remember I had inherited Black Widow from [former editor] Ellie Pyle, and when she passed the reigns over to me, I knew that the end was coming for that arc. We had the Final Days story right before Secret Wars, and I talked with Nathan Edmondson a lot about how we were going to wrap that series up. And his last two issues came to such a beautiful end that I thought, we really need to start over after this. There’s gotta be a new fresh take on this, because I think Nathan really captured it here. So we were searching around, trying to figure out what we were going to do with Black Widow, and there were a bunch of options on the table. And then I sort of heard someone mention, “Hey, I think Mark might be interested.” As soon as I heard that, for me, all the other options were off the table. This is perfect. Because I think what we like to talk about with our books, particularly when we’re transitioning them, is the idea that all characters exist on a pendulum. And they go from one side to another, but they always sort of come back to the center — that’s where they live, that’s their truth. One creative team will take them one direction and another creative team takes them in another, but they spin around that center. I thought Mark would be a great answer to Nathan when you look over the long life of Widow, what the next great sort of swing for her pendulum was. Like Mark was saying, Nathan wrote a lot of captions with Widow, he got very internal with her and got very much into the private life of Natasha. And Waid and Samnee have created this great approach to her where we’re kept in the distance. This Natasha is all about her secrets, and she’s going to have secrets from the audience. We are going to be kept at a distance. And it’s going to be Natasha as the spy, Natasha as the inscrutable figure, and because Waid and Samnee are very good at finding that different take, that thing that we haven’t quite seen before, I knew they would come in with something different and something fresh and they absolutely did. I think the story they’re putting together is stunning and is everything that I wanted. I’m thrilled to have these guys on this team.
Chris and Mark: Between mapping out Widow’s story and getting inside her head, what part of this process has been the most fun so far?
WAID: I think what we can say, without giving anything really away, is that it’s one of the approaches that we’re taking — and one of the things you’re going to be seeing in the first arc — is a lot more old school spy. We have a reason why Natasha isn’t able in those first few issues to go super high tech. She can’t just call Tony Stark and say, “Give me the most recent stuff.” She can’t just call Maria Hill at S.H.I.E.L.D. and say, “What’s new with the world of spy business?” In fact, she has to turn to a lot of people, some of who we’ve never seen before but we’ll be introducing, who taught her spy craft at an early age. And in a weird way, that gives her a strange advantage over some of the people she’s facing because that’s the problem when you’re too reliant on technology: sometimes you miss the basics.
SAMNEE: I’m just glad Mark is doing this with us. Mark is the king of “back to center,” and I feel like that’s what All-New All-Different Marvel should be, and Mark’s the best at that. I feel like every character would benefit from having him on it.
WAID: And what’s great about Chris’ work is it’s a nice blend of the classic feel of Marvel stuff, but not in any way feeling dated or old fashioned. Like me, he’s attracted most directly to the source material. Like me, I think when you talk about these characters, you want to go back to the beginning and build back from there.
SAMNEE: Over the past couple of months, I’ve been reading Black Widow. I started when she was a spy in Iron Man, and now I’m working my way up. I bounce around a little bit and sort of find a new way of looking at the character in all the different interpretations. What’s fun about this is, we can play with all the sides of it. So we can play introspective and calm and quiet and spy craft, and then we can do big explosive actions. We can kind of jump around and have fun.
WAID: And even when we talk about how this year progresses, it’s, how do we draw in an occasional guest star or two, but into Widow’s world? And vice versa. Kind of the same way we drew Silver Surfer into Daredevil’s world, but it was still a Daredevil story. And the contrast was interesting. That’s an interesting challenge that we might want to play around with.
Without giving too much away, what can fans expect from this run? Old friends? New friends? Natasha being awesome, as usual?
THOMAS: I think people are going to go out of their minds for this first issue, because this first issue is essentially just one big chase scene. The book hits the ground running and is unrelenting. Chris turned in the last of the pages an hour ago, and they’re incredible. It’s such a fun, crazy, balls-to-the-wall action set piece.
SAMNEE: I started work on Widow a week after I finished Daredevil. It’s my love letter to Gerry Conway and Gene Colan in a way, but also we’re doing the absolute worst things possible to Widow. But I think that’s kind of what you have to do — kill your darlings. If I didn’t love her so much, I wouldn’t give her such a hard time. She gets beat down, but the great thing about Widow is that she always gets back up. And I think we’re going to see that for at least a year: getting beat down and getting back up on top. I’m looking forward to dragging Widow through the dirt.
THOMAS: Something that I think Mark mentioned earlier is that the best thing to do with these characters is to find villains or adversaries, or something that speak directly to them. One of the questions that we’re asked frequently when we’re going through stories is, “Why this character? Why now?” And Chris and Mark have got a real solid answer for that. This is a very personal, very Natasha story they’ve been crafting. So I think the particularly big Natasha fans are going to be really excited, because this isn’t just an action movie style comic book that happens to star Black Widow. This is a very Black Widow book that they’ve put together.
SAMNEE: It’s spy craft and secrets and all of her pasts, and it all ties together in ways that it couldn’t be anything else.