By Kevin Mahadeo
As befitting the most venomous spider in North America, the bite of the black widow can cause severe pain and sometimes even lead to death. However, when writer Paul Cornell first felt the sultry sting of the comic world's Black Widow, like many males in the Marvel Universe, he felt something else entirely.
"I've loved her since I was a small boy buying CHAMPIONS at a tiny news agent in a seaside town," recalls Cornell. "I really loved that run by Steve Gerber in DAREDEVIL with the Black Widow where it got quite scarily adult for my tiny senses at the time. It was about real people and real relationships. I followed her for a very long time, from the classic Frank Miller look to many other incarnations as well. I'm a great fan of the character."
Cornell's childhood crush enters his professional life this week with the release of BLACK WIDOW: DEADLY ORIGIN, a four-issue limited series written by Cornell and with art by Tom Raney and John Paul Leon. The series explores the long life of the Widow, aka Natalia Romanova, as a present day mystery forces her to recall key events from her past in order to resolve the plot and save the lives of those closest to her. Cornell managed to pull himself away from spending time with his leading lady to talk about the series, the struggles of untangling the Widow's tangled web of continuity and the bizarre similarities between DEADLY ORIGIN and a scrumptious cooled cream treat.
Marvel.com: What about Black Widow makes her such a compelling character to you?
BLACK WIDOW: DEADLY ORIGIN #1 cover by Greg Land
Paul Cornell: She's exotic. I think these days that that exoticism is experience. She's been around so long that she's a young woman who was born in the 1920's. She's had more than seven decades of martial arts training and remains at her physical peak. She's the sort of intelligence officer who can make people turn and run away through sheer reputation. I've also given her two things. I think there was always a kind of sighing Russian wit to her, and I wanted to bring that out a bit more. People who have been around that long are bound to have seen everything several times and feel tired at the latest hideousness that comes flying their way. I also wanted to give her this feeling of getting the job done a lot of the time just by knowing people really well. A couple of times in the limited series, where we could have had a high tech gadget-although there are plenty of those-do the job, instead she just relies on her knowledge of human nature, which is extensive. It's a really interesting series. There's a really high-powered, exciting modern day streak illustrated by Tom Raney, which is all pow-pow-pow. The flavor I'm looking for [with that] is a Daniel Craig James Bond movie. It starts with an eight-page fistfight in a suborbital aircraft. It's actually a pre-title sequence. There [are] eight pages of that then a big title page like the titles of a Bond movie. Beside that we've got John Paul Leon illustrating some rather deep, serious, beautiful flashbacks with Joseph Stalin in them and things like that, which give it historical weight. So, I think we've got the best of both worlds here. We've got your raspberry ripple ice cream-a thick red strand of communism going through the vanilla.
Marvel.com: That sounds beyond delicious. As you said, this is a story across time. It's called DEADLY ORIGIN, but there is a present day story that ties into past events. How exactly does all this play out in the limited series?
Paul Cornell: Basically, something is threatening everyone that Natalia has ever felt even a slight fondness to in the modern day. The paperboy whose hair she ruffled once and everybody she cared about more than that. It's made her think who can be doing it and why and how. She resolves that across the four issues by examining her past and what all these people that she goes out and finds to save mean to her. We've got very organic ways of showing all the points where she's intersected with the Marvel Universe. In a book like this, the big risk is that guest stars might
|BLACK WIDOW: DEADLY ORIGIN #1 cover by Adi Granov|
Marvel.com: Speaking of people like Tony Stark and Hawkeye and Daredevil, she's been in a number of relationships throughout her long career. Will you be exploring these in the limited series?
Paul Cornell: I've stopped wanting to underline that so much because the initial Internet reaction to my initial interview about this was, "Ugh. Boys and girls. Ugh." [Laughs] It's not about her sexual relationships. It's about the whole spectrum of people she's cared about. But especially about how they've all tipped the course of her story and vice versa. For instance, she first really becomes a super hero when she gets together with Matt Murdock. Before that, she's purely a spy or purely somebody who takes on the mantle of hero every now and then. She's consciously being a super hero when she's with Daredevil. I think that's really interesting. It's kind of the point where she gets her mind together from all the Red Room shenanigans and all of the multiple personalities and decides, "This is what I want to be." It's also where she gets her fatalism from because at that point she decides that there's something destined to go wrong.
Marvel.com: Natasha has been around for quite some time, both as a character and in terms of continuity. How did you go about making a
timeline of her origin and putting all those pieces together?
BLACK WIDOW: DEADLY ORIGIN #1 cover by Tom Raney
Paul Cornell: Thank goodness I have the resources of Stuart Vandal-who writes for THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE-to call upon. His entries of her were very useful. But there is a moment where we go out of historical time and into Marvel time in the middle of the Tony Stark stuff. Hopefully it's a graceful movement, but we stop quoting dates from that point. There is a little time trick that I've had to do, which I'm sure people will note but I hope will appreciate as the only way to do this. So, yes, she moves out of historical time and into Marvel time, and it's interesting. Time in Marvel is something I'd like to write a dissertation about one day. Or a [limited series] starring Galactus. One of the two. [Laughs] But, the issue of time in the Marvel Universe is the hundreds of sprinkles on top the raspberry ripple of communism.
Marvel.com: When the Black Widow was originally introduced into comics, the idea of this Russian spy was very much of the time. She's obviously developed a lot more as a character since then, but what do you think about how a Russian superspy fits into modern society?
Paul Cornell: What's really interesting is that she's actually dressed as a widow. That's why Don Heck put her in that veil she was wearing. She's literally-thanks to the apparent death of her husband at the time-a widow who is dressed in black. It's a character who these days doesn't play well, so she's kind of been retconned as having been interfered with at that point. One of the things that I do is that I don't believe in retconning retcons. I think that everything anybody has ever said about this character is true and what's interesting is putting that into a timeline that isn't just a series of box tics or a diagram but is actually an emotional story. In the case of the Widow, that's actually pretty easy because all these huge, turbulent wrenches to her life are like a person's emotional history would be-if they were born in 1928 and were a super-secret agent. It just feels natural. It's not a continuity list. It's the life story of a person.
Marvel.com: We touched upon these guys earlier, but Tom Raney and John Paul Leon provide the art and each add their own unique touch to the story. What about their styles do you think fits the dichotic nature of the series, with Tom in the "James Bond" present and John Paul in the subtle visuals of time past?
BLACK WIDOW: DEADLY ORIGIN #2 cover by Adi Granov
Paul Cornell: I think they're really well chosen for each job. Tom is really punchy. You should see her hair. The way Tom draws it he must have spent hours drawing each individual strand. There is a kind of John Barry, big romantic theme moment stuff to his work. And he can also do the punchy punchy stuff really well. And also the acting. There's an awful lot of those Mission Impossible "we wait until somebody raises their eyebrow a notch and then all hell breaks loose with gunfire" moments and he does that really well. John Paul is called upon more to design lovely splash pages of the Moscow ballet and blood running down the walls of the Red Room and Joseph Stalin running across Natalia in the park. His stuff has got this historical crunchiness to it, which feels distant and alienated and pale. So, it's all hot-blooded stuff in the modern day and beautiful, pale reflection in the past stuff. No ice cream analogy there. [Laughs]
Marvel.com: Well, to close off the interview, can you go over one last time this amazing limited series ice cream that fans will be getting their first glorious taste of tomorrow?
Paul Cornell: [Laughs] There's a creamy vanilla-actually vanilla makes it sound boring and plain. So, it's a luxury-clotted cream modern day action story, with a thick raspberry streak of nostalgic Communism, with a sprinkling of sugared continuity and a chocolate flake of emotional characterization. All inside a delicious biscuit cone.
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