Beware the Black Widow! Marvel's slinky Soviet superspy is clearly flavour of the moment. Scarlett Johansson's dealing the deadly Widow Stingers in next year's Iron Man 2 and this November sees Ms Romanoff return to comics in Black Widow: Deadly Origin, a four-issue mini-series by writer Paul Cornell and artists Tom Raney and John Paul Leon. Paul tells SFX how you keep a Cold War espionage icon relevant in the age of Bourne and the reborn Bond...
What appealed to you about the Black Widow?
I like her longevity (she was born in the 1920s!) and how she's always been seen as thoroughly capable, right back to her first appearances. She's kind of this icon of glam confidence and ability. And I think such a long lifespan has given her this pitch black cynical sense of humour. She talks a bit like Daniel Craig in my version. And thumps like him in fights in aircraft cockpits too.
Do you remember the first time you saw her in the pages of a Marvel comic?
I think that would have been during Steve Gerber's run on Daredevil, in British reprints. All that fascinating, rather adult stuff, with Nekra and the Mandrill. And I loved her in The Champions. Who pop up in flashback in Deadly Origin, along with everyone else who's meaningful in her long history.
She's a character born in the Cold War. How do you keep her relevant to the 21st Century?
She herself has stayed relevant, by being this ultimate intelligence officer. Can you imagine preparing for combat against someone who's been continually training in hand to hand fighting for seven decades, while remaining at her physical peak? There must be people who turn and run when she raises an eyebrow. I've given her kind of a deep feeling for human nature, as well. She's got a lot of gadgets, but a lot of the time she gets by by just knowing what people are like. And this is the kind of widescreen action movie that anyone who's seen her in Iron Man 2 will get a kick out of.
Adi Granov's officially gorgeous cover art to Black Widow: Deadly Origin 3
Do you foreground espionage or superheroics?
A mixture of both. It's a flavour I really like, the intelligence officers who walk among the superheroes. It's got that serious spy novel flavour, chiefly in the flashbacks drawn by John Paul Leon (who does a terrific Joe Stalin), but also a lot of modern James Bond slam bang wallop in the sequences drawn by Tom Raney. He's got this fab flowing-haired glamour going on too. You can hear John Barry strings sometimes. And the first eight pages are purely a pre-titles sequence that ends on a big poster/title page.
Scarlett Johansson's playing the Widow in Iron Man 2. Who's playing her in your head?
I don't think of actors when I'm writing comics, but I think Scarlett's an amazing choice for that part. And she looks perfect.
What's the single greatest joy of playing in the Marvel Universe?
It's all about getting to use characters I've read about since I learned to read. You get to be part of this huge history. It's like playing Test Match cricket, the records go back back such a long way, and now you're part of that.
Black Widow: Deadly Origin # 1 is available in November from Marvel Comics