Devin K. Grayson, the writer of the Black Widow limited series from Marvel Knights, and Catwoman and Titans for DC, answers a few quick questions here for a small but informative interview. She discusses characterization of the Widow and what role DD has in the Widow series. Many thanks to Ms. Grayson.
Kuljit Mithra: In the relaunch of Daredevil by Smith/Quesada/Palmiotti, the Black Widow has been drawn to look very young, even though she's probably much older than DD himself. Some fans have even commented that she is being written way out of character. In your Black Widow series, Natasha is going to be having problems with a 'younger' Black Widow trying to take her place. In your opinion, how old is Natasha? And how did this affect how you wrote her character?
Devin K. Grayson: This is a really good question. I had it in my head that Natasha was Soviet, as opposed to Russian, trained, I guess because we knew Red Guardian was Soviet-trained (not to mention that she's a Romanoff, which makes things more confusing yet) -- I probably completely made this up, but she seemed like a good representative of someone who trained in the Brezhnev era, influenced both by the Soviet/US detente of the early seventies (one way to explain her willingness to later join the Avengers), and also by the formal recognition of the Soviet Union as a nuclear power (one way to explain why such serious spy- training was taking place). We also know she began training to be a spy in the middle of a successful career as a ballerina -- so that could pretty much put her in her late thirties, which I found interesting, actually, and wanted to make part of the story. But there was editorial resistance, which I understand, to spelling out her age. Aging is still a thematic part of the story, and still one of the plot pieces I was most interested in (I got the assignment right around my twenty-eighth birthday, and I think the theme was on my mind), but I never say precisely how old she is. I have nothing but praise for JG's art, I think it's absolutely stunning, but I would have made her look a little older, had it been up to me. Yelena (the wannabe-Widow) is supposed to be in her early twenties. That said, though I respect continuity, I think all stories happen "once upon a time," and I shouldn't tell you anything about Natasha that she wouldn't tell you herself. A fan once demanded to know what, precisely, was in Batman's utility belt, and all I could think was, "would you walk up to HIM and ask that with any reasonable expectation of an answer?" Personally, as a reader, I think the older you make Natasha, the more interesting she is as a character, but as a freelancer contracted by Marvel to do this story, I do understand why it's better to leave the issue somewhat untouched upon.
Mithra: You've mentioned in other interviews that Daredevil will make a cameo in the Widow limited series. Does he have a major part of this story, or is he in the story to focus on the Widow's and DD's relationship? And does your story take place before or after the recent events in DD?
Grayson: The story takes place after the recent events in DD, and Matt's involvement is slight. I don't even think we see him in costume until Book Three. He works here sort of as a touchstone for Natasha -- because of where their relationship is now, she calls Matt rather than the Avengers in this story when she needs to touch base with someone outside the case.
Mithra: You've also mentioned in other interviews that the Widow was one of the few Marvel characters you were familiar with. In what comic did you first see the Widow, and what was your initial impression of the character? What's your impression of her now that you've written her?
Grayson: To be honest, I think I knew about the Black Widow sort of the same way I knew about Catwoman -- I didn't grow up reading comics, but sometimes characters would manage to make themselves known to me as cultural presences (maybe because of Spidey?). In any case, all I basically knew was that she was a spy, had red hair, had been a dancer, was Russian, and was "cool." It was actually a lot of fun reading up on her to do the mini-series -- I think that's still my favorite way to read comics, actually, to just set out on a fact-finding mission about one particular character or event and...immerse. But the absolute best way to get to know a fictional entity is to write them, so I definitely like Natasha even more now that I've written her -- I do feel closer to her, I like the rhythm of her "voice."
Someone asked me before how my interpretation of Natasha might differ from what others had done, and I just now thought of a better answer than what I gave them -- my methodology when researching and developing a personal relationship with a character is to read everything I can get my hands on and then, as contradictory as those accounts might be, to try to find a through- line, try to motivate ALL of it. So if two writers have treated a character very differently, I try to figure out who the character might be that would allow for both interpretations to be true. In other words, instead of trying to choose between, for example, Kevin Smith's version of Natasha and Kurt Busiek's version of Natasha, I try to assume that both accounts are "correct" and figure out what kind of woman Natasha would have to be if all of these things were true about her. It doesn't always work, of course, and sometimes I have to just decide that I don't have the room (or the patience!) to illustrate a certain aspect of the character's personality, but overall, I find I generally like the amalgamations I come up with. It makes the characters feel very three-dimensional to me, and my hope is that the readers can always find something familiar and "right seeming" about my interpretations of the characters they love.
If not, I'm sure they'll let me know. ;-)
(c) Kuljit Mithra 1999
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
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