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MARVEL COMICS’ BLACK WIDOW Relaunch Takes NATASHA Away From the RED ROOM and Into ‘Retirement’

Black Widow #1 (2020)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Credit: Adam Hughes (Marvel Comics)

Thanks to her central role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow has risen to become one of Marvel’s most recognizable superheroes – and now, as her film prepares for eventual release (postponed from its planned May 1 opening due to coronavirus), Marvel Comics is also prepping a new volume of her solo title from writer Kelly Thompson with artists Elena Casagrande and Jordie Bellaire.

As with movies, comic book release dates are somewhat fluid thanks to Diamond Comic Distributors’ impending shutdown just as Black Widow #1’s planned April 1 release looms a week out. But with the issue still presumably planned to arrive in some form eventually, Newsarama spoke with Thompson about weaving a new web of intrigue around Natasha Romanov – away from the Red Room, and into a totally unexpected “retirement” of sorts.

With Black Widow solidifying her reputation as Marvel’s top super spy and launching into a mystery so complex Thompson has to watch how much she divulges lest she lose security clearance, we’re digging into the writer’s philosophy on what makes Natasha tick, who’s coming along for the ride, and what makes Black Widow more than just the sum of her nearly inexhaustible skills.

Newsarama: Kelly, you’re launching a new volume of Black Widow just as she’s about to have her biggest pop culture moment ever with her solo film. How does that inform the stakes you’re setting as you take Natasha into a new chapter?

Kelly Thompson: Well, I don’t know about Natasha, but it certainly ups the stakes for me. Lotta pressure! But here’s the thing…the movie is set in Black Widow’s past…so we can’t tie ourselves too tightly to it…and we shouldn’t want to, it’s up to us to blaze new trails for her not repeat what has come before.

So my biggest hope is that longtime comics readers, longtime Black Widow fans, and new fans that see the movie will seek us out and find in our book the Black Widow they know and love in a fantastic and emotionally resonant story that sets Nat up to launch her into a bold new future. Fingers crossed we can pull it off.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: We don’t know a whole lot about the intrigue you’ve got in store – appropriate for Marvel’s greatest spy – but we know she’s going back to San Francisco for a story that “changes everything”. What can you tell us about what Natasha finds on the west coast?

Thompson: Not a lot to be honest! Talking about how things are for Nat in San Francisco is a pretty big spoiler. We begin this first issue with a very traditional Black Widow story and then we shift partway through to something that is dramatically different.

And part of this first arc, part of the mystery, is how that all came to be, and why. This is a big, emotional, game-changing story for Black Widow and at the end of it she will be changed. There are classic elements that longtime Widow fans will definitely recognize in our story but I think we’ve twisted them into some interesting new angles.

Nrama: Black Widow is deeply entrenched in the world of Marvel’s espionage community. Who are the other players in this mystery?

Thompson: Clint and Bucky will be showing up in the first arc, as will Yelena Bolova and Red Guardian. But the real players behind Nat’s mysterious circumstances are still a mystery themselves and we can’t reveal yet what that’s all about – it’s some of the usual suspects and some intriguing new players too.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: The solicitation for Black Widow #2 hints at a life in retirement – but that never seems to last for characters like Natasha. What’s driving her attempt to settle down? How does someone like Black Widow adjust to “normal” life?

Thompson: I’m sorry these answers are so deeply unsatisfying! This book is really hard to talk about without spoiling everything. I can say that this is not your typical retirement…and that Nat takes to “normal” life like a pro…but that all is also not exactly as it seems? I agree that any kind of permanent retirement is likely not in the cards for Natasha and we’ll be exploring that for sure.

Nrama: You’re working with Elena Casagrande on Black Widow. She’s got a sleek, edgy style that calls to mind classic pulp femmes fatale like Modesty Blaise. How has your working relationship developed as you’ve been working on the series? What does she bring to the table?

Thompson: It’s always a challenge – but generally a fun one – to work with a new artist and figure out how to bring out the best in each other. That’s been really true for Elena, who is absolutely wonderful – she’s got a perfect style for this story and a real passion for it too. Her work has always been terrific, but I think what she’s doing for Black Widow is her best work yet…like I can feel her leveling up and it’s awesome to get to be a part of that. I also think that Jordie Bellaire, who is literally one of the best colorists in the business (among other things!), is bringing such a vision to this book via color. It’s turning out truly magnificent.

Nrama: What’s your favorite thing she’s drawn for Black Widow so far?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thompson: Well, if you had asked me yesterday I would have said it was that incredible mind-bending double-page spread from our first issue that’s been floating around the internet from the early preview. I love it so much.

But she did just turn in a page for #2 that is completely the opposite end of the spectrum from that page – it’s quiet and subtle whereas that spread is kinetic and badass – but I think this new page is simply masterful in how emotional it is. It’s powerful enough that we could almost leave it silent. Unfortunately it’s a huge spoiler…so I can’t tell you what it is. Sorry!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Black Widow is often portrayed as a cipher, as mysterious and aloof as her adventures. What do you see as the defining aspects of her character? What makes her more than her training and experience?

Thompson: Natasha is different than a lot of her contemporaries in that she’s so much more than just a superhero both in her past and her present, and that gives her a lot of fun grey areas to play with and a lot of duality for her to confront, which is something we definitely lean into in our first arc.

I think that a lot of Nat is her training and experience…it informs her pretty powerfully. And I love the lore Natasha comes from…but I’ve seen enough Red Room-related stories to last me a lifetime. I think it’s high time we explore other facets of her in more depth.

So part of what we are doing in our book is trying to distill Natasha down to her core. Who is Natasha really? em=””> is she? If she is free to choose…what does that look like? These are the questions that excite me about this book and Nat as a character.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Black Widow is a character who dates back to the 60s, but she’s just now coming into her own as an A-list Marvel hero. What’s it like guiding her into this new era as that’s taking place?

Thompson: It’s thrilling and also completely terrifying. I went through this same thing last year with Captain Marvel and it worked out really well (our 16th issue comes out this month and I’m writing #20 right now)…I can only hope for that same success with Black Widow.

She deserves all that and more as a character and I’m honored to be part of the team charting this new course for her at such an exciting time. Where I’m trying to take her is not somewhere she’s really been before…and I think it’s long overdue. Hopefully I can get the rest of comic book reading world to agree with me.

That seems reasonable, right?

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